Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Tibet 2006 - Part 3 - Drepung Monastery

May 3, 2006 - Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet

The plan for the day was to visit Drepung Monastery. Period.

Up at 9:00 AM. Sun-Ling had another bad night sleeping or “not sleeping night”. Had breakfast at the same spot as yesterday with the addition of youtiao (fried bread sticks) for 5Y total. Then over to the Summit CafĂ© for coffee: 1 T Latte, 1 Tall Cappuccino, and a freshly baked pastry for 52Y.

We walked directly to Beijing Dong Lu and hired a taxi (20Y) to take us to Drepung Monastery, 8 km to the west, our main event of the day. We were dropped off almost at the top of the entrance road. Paid the entrance fee 60Y each. Later paid 20Y to take photos in the main assembly hall. Drepung Monastery was founded in 1416.

After a clockwise circuit of dorms and other buildings, we arrived at the main assembly hall just as most of the monks were filing out for a stretch before lunch. I guess it had been a hard morning of praying.

The main assembly hall, or Tsokchen, is a large space with a roof supported by 180 wooden columns.
Lhasa, Tibet  - Drepung Monastery  - May 2006

We went inside the mostly empty assembly hall, made a clockwise circuit and noticed a few things that made us think we had arrived just in time to watch the monks eat lunch. The monks began to file back into the building. The younger monks, pre-teen boys, carried in large bags of buns which they distributed up and down the rows. Then out came the eating bowls as teenage monks walked down the aisles with big buckets of what looked like potato curry and ladled it into the bowls. The monks ate the buns and curry with chopsticks. It was very quiet. No talking, no slurping, no clicking.

Also herbs were burning in a pan at the side entrance to the building and there appeared to be about 100 bricks of ganja stacked by the front door. Strange. I did not know of this practice.

After lunch the monks practiced reading scriptures, reading them independently. This assembly hall was about 50% full of monks, maybe a total of 300. After watching the monks for an hour, we noted that some of them had cell phones tucked in their robes and looked to be text messaging.

Back outside, we ate our lunch and took a photo of am old women who was collecting plastic bottles to recycle.
The monks had given her some potato curry. Maybe she hangs out there all the time.

Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

There is a huge kitchen next to the temple, but I did not want to pay 20RMB to enter and take photos.

Then we climbed to the top of the uppermost temple. Rested. Magnificent views of the valley. Took some photos. Sheep were grazing at the base of these buildings. There were a fair number of pilgrims on the circuit with us. They have lots of energy. More than us.

On leaving, there were no taxis at the upper drop off, so we rode down to the main rode in the back of a truck with an energetic group of Spanish speaking young men. We then caught bus #302 back to town (5Y total). It took the “scenic route” so we had a free tour of the city.

We went directly to dinner at a Muslim noodle place on the corner of Barkhor Square. It is run by a Chinese couple. We ate 2 very tasty noodles dishes (noodles and “food” served in separate bowls) and 2 cold dishes for 32Y total.

Then back to the hotel. We were both exhausted. Too tired to wash. We just sat on the inside balcony and watched the locals down in the courtyard. The hotel is opening a bar and restaurant and it’s a festival! Eventually we regained some energy, showered, and went to bed.

Here is the day's story in photos.

Drepung: Sun-Ling resting in front of the Ganden Palace, home to the 2nd to 5th Dalai Lamas.
Lhasa, Tibet  - Drepung Monastery - May 2006

Drepung: Monasteries were not immune from Party politics.
Note the Chinese characters on the upper left which Sun-Ling could not completely translate but is pretty sure it’s an army recruitment slogan.

Lhasa, Tibet  - Drepung Monastery  - May 2006

Drepung: Monks resting before lunch. You can just see a young monk handing out buns from a yellow sack.
What a fantastic view of the Khichu Valley.

Lhasa, Tibet  - Drepung Monastery  - May 2006

Another great view. See the young monks carrying bags of buns.
Lhasa, Tibet  - Drepung Monastery  - May 2006

Drepung: The monk with the blue apron has a bucket filled with potato curry.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: Closer view of lunch time.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: Monks carry bucket after bucket of food in from the kitchen next door.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: Some of the religious figures in the main hall.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: The monks leave their shoes outside the assembly hall.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: The guy in the lower left tried to conceal is cell phone when he saw my camera.
Note the brightly colored hangings.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: Monks study the sutras after lunch.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: Another of the religious figures in the main hall. Drepung: From the roof of the main assembly looking down to the monks. You can get a good look at the brocade hangings.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: The outside of one of the other buildings. Note the solar water heaters in foreground.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: Sun-Ling resting in front of a dormitory.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: These prayer flags have inscriptions and are very colorful.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: Wall painting.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: Sun-Ling resting as we enjoy the view of the valley from the rooftop of one of the highest buildings.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: On the way back down, we noticed some pilgrims circling a stupa. See next two photos.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: Another wall painting. This is a familiar scene in Lhasa of a monk and a tiger.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: These folks are leaving the monastery building with grandson after performing some rituals.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Drepung: Riding down the hill with our Spanish speaking buddies.
Drepung Monastery - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Back at the hotel, the staff was getting ready for a party to celebrate the opening of the new bar (upper left corner).
This celebration would last several days.

Daxia Hotel - Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Tibet 2006 - Part 2 - Lhasa: Barkhor Square

Tuesday May 2, 2006 - Lhasa, Tibet

Up at 8:30. Had breakfast at a Chinese dumpling stand across the street: rice soup, pickled vegetables, and salted eggs for 4Y total (50 cents US). Then to the Summit Coffee House, which is right next to our hotel, for 1 Tall Latte, 1 Tall Mocha, and 2 buns, all for 55 Y. The Summit is run by a western couple (Americans, judging by their accent) and is like any other trendy, independent coffee shop in the world.

Then after some teeth brushing and we headed down to Barkhor Square and to Jokhang Temple . But first we walked the Barkhor Circuit clockwise around the temple complex.

The clockwise circuit: Tibetan Buddhism is oriented “clockwise”. The large walking circuits -- around the Potala, around the Barkhor, around any religious building– are completed in the clockwise direction. Once inside a monastery or temple grounds, the various buildings are visited in clockwise order. Once inside a temple, the various chapels are visited in clockwise order. Once inside a chapel, the clockwise route is taken around the room. And, finally, prayer wheels are rotated in the clockwise direction.

Three quarters of the way around the circuit, we spotted a sign for the Daxia Hotel. The Pentoc was OK but having to walk up and down stairs to use the bath and showers no fun at 12,000 feet. So we decided to move to the Daxia, owned and run by Tibetans, and booked room #303 for the next 5 nights at 120 Y per night with toilet and shower en suite and 24-hour hot water.

We completed the Barkhor circuit and paid 70Y each to enter the Jokhang Temple (it used to be free says our guide book). You get a mini CD with the entrance ticket but it would not play on my laptop when I got back to Shanghai. Spent about 2 hours wandering clockwise around the Jokhang with the Tibetan pilgrims, discreet western tourists, and the typically loud Chinese tour groups.

The inside of the temple was dimly lit with yak butter candles packed with pilgrims patiently waiting their turn to pray at each chapel as they made the mini clockwise circuit around the temple interior. The chapels and candles reminded us of Catholics churches in Europe or Mexico. All that Yak butter can make the floors and stairs quite slippery. Monks are stationed in the most sacred chapels to keep the pilgrims upright, traffic moving, and change money (change pilgrim’s money into small denominations so they can leave money at each of the hundreds of shrines).

Up on the roof of the Jokhang, we met a Chinese couple from Wuhan who are practicing Buddhists and come to Lhasa every year on the May holiday. The recommended going to an “oxygen bar” for altitude sickness and gave the location of a restaurant that servers vegetarian jiaoze (dumplings).

Completed the hotel switch at 4PM. Walked to the nearby Makye Ame Restaurant, a good place to watch folks on the Barkhor circuit from the 2nd floor, and had Momos with vegetables (also a local specialty), all for 33Y. Very tasty.

The late afternoon weather was quite pleasant, some clouds with bright blue skies between, a strong sun, and temps about 21C or72F. For dinner, a small snack: French fries, pakoras, and a cold “Lhasa” beer for 30Y on the rooftop of the Mandela Restaurant which overlooks Barkhor Square. After the snack, we did the Barkhor Circuit walk again with some shopping. Lots of other strollers: monks, pilgrims, tourists, and locals. Back to the Daxia and crashed.

Here are the photos for the day:

Approaching Jokhang Temple.
Barkhor Square - Lhasa Tibet - May 2006

Walking the clockwise circuit around the outside of JokhangTemple. Barkhor Circuit - Lhasa, Tibet  - May 2006

Walking the circuit inside the temple. Notice the large stationary prayer wheels on the right.
Jokhang Temple - Lhasa ,Tibet  - May 2006

More walking the circuit inside the temple. More prayer wheels. The pilgrims sometimes give them a spin as they walk by. I did.
Jokhang Temple -  Lhasa, Tibet - May 2006

The view of Barkhor square from atop Jokhang temple. You can see the Potala Palace in the back right. Barkhor  Square - Lhasa, Tibet May - 2006

Pilgrims prostate themselves on the ground in front of the Jokhang.
200605tibet 336_zz.jpg

John and Sun-Ling atop the Jokhang Temple.
Jokhang Temple - Lhasa Tibet - May 2006

Another view of the Barkhor circuit from the Makye Ame Restaurant. A fellow traveler is typing her journal. Lhasa, Tibet  - May 2006, Barkhor Circuit

These Tibetan ladies have colorful aprons. Does her hat still have the tag?
Barkhor Circuit -  Lhasa, Tibet  - May 2006

These guys are spinning prayer wheels with their right hands and carrying prayer breads in their left hands. Lhasa, Tibet - Barkhor Circuit - May 2006

The local women wear aprons.
Lhasa, Tibet - Barkhor Circuit - May 2006

Check out the monk's headgear and see the women in foreground talking on her mobile.
Barkhor Circuit -  Lhasa, Tibet   - May 2006

A final sunset view of Barkhor Square, Jokhang Temple, the market, and the mountains. Lhasa, Tibet - Barkhor Square - May 2006

Monday, May 01, 2006

Tibet 2006 - Part 1 - Shanghai to Chengdu to Lhasa

Tibet Clockwise - 2006

The Chinese celebrate May 1 (Labor Day or International Workers Day) with a weeklong public holiday from May 1 to May 7. Sun-Ling and I decided to go to Tibet. Here’s the story.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

We both left work early on Sunday, April 30 for an 8:00 pm flight to Chengdu. The flight left on time and we arrived in Chengdu about 10:45. Working on Sunday?

Golden Weeks: In order to squeeze in a 7-day holiday, a so-called Golden week, with a minimum of missed working days, the Chinese execute the following scenario: Work 7 days in a row, Monday through Sunday, and then have 7 days off, Monday through Sunday, and return to work on Monday for the usual 5-day work week. Got it?

Sun-Ling eating dinner at the airport.
Sun-Ling @ Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG) - 2006

The modern stylings of the Shanghai Pudong airport.
Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG)

We had previously arranged for a Chengdu airport pickup and one night’s accommodation at Sims Cozy Guesthouse. Yes, it’s actually called Sims Cozy Guesthouse. Conveniently, Sims has an onsite travel agency run by a guy named Bill and we had booked our travel permits and air tickets with Bill. More about that later.

The flight to Chengdu was uneventful, the airport pickup was smooth, and we were at Sims by 10:45PM. After checking in, we paid Bill for our roundtrip air tickets to Lhasa and he gave us the tickets for the Chengdu to Lhasa leg. The return tickets would have to be picked up from a travel agent in Lhasa. Don’t ask.

By midnight we were in bed and hoping to get some sleep as our ride to the airport would leave at 4:30AM for our 6:20AM flight.

Non-Chinese citizens require a permit to enter Tibet and are also required to be on an official tour. Sims and Bill arrange permits for what I call a “fake” tour. Our tour had 23 people for A Many 1 departure to Tibet; however, we were all on separate flights and would never see each other once in Tibet. Get it? A tour that exists only as a list of names on a permit.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Up at 4:00Am for the 4:30AM drive to the airport which is about 50kms outside of town. We are picked up at Sims right at 4:30 by a driver and our “guide”. At the airport, our “guide” shows the “permit” as we check in, shows it again when we go through security, and then that’s it, we never see the “guide” nor of the other members of our “tour’. Neat. The permit cost us 50 USD each.

The plane left on time at 6:20 and it was an uneventful flight to Lhasa except that the scenery out the window is spectacular. About 15 minutes after takeoff, you start seeing the ridges, peaks, and valleys of Tibetan plateau. The sun was just rising and the view from the airplane was spectacular.

You can make out a river valley running left to right in the middle of this photo.
View of Tibetan plateau from airplane - May 2006

View of Tibetan plateau from airplane - May 2006

The Lhasa airport is located about 90kms outside town. The air temperature was just above freezing when we landed at 8:10AM. The CAAC bus ride from the airport to town was 25Y each and took about 90 minutes. The drive in from the airport was very cool. Lots of prayer flags, locals in native costumes, and teams of yaks plowing the fields. We crossed one long bridge over a mostly dry river basin and went through one long tunnel. As we entered Lhasa my first impression was of a bright, clean, and lively city. Many pilgrims were circling the Potala.

Arrival near the east end of the Potala Palace.
Lhasa, Tibet Potala Palace - May 2006

We were dropped off right at the east end of the Potala Palace and immediately took a taxi (10 Yuan) to the Snowlands Hotel where we found that we had made a big mistake – our reservation was actually at some other Snowlands Hotel in another province. Whoops. And although the Snowlands had a few rooms, there were none with bath en suite, only some “common” rooms. The common rooms were not so good and the Snowlands is in the middle of a renovation so we walked across the street to the Pentoc Hotel and got a room for 60Y, about 8 USD.

Money: Chinese currency, RMB or Yuan, is used in Tibet. 8 Yuan = $1 US OR 80 RMB = 10 USD.

The Pentoc has an interesting history. Previously it was associated with a Pentecostal Missionary (that’s how you get Pentoc I suppose). Currently it seems to be associated with the nearby, 4-star Shangbala hotel and also it seems to be only half the previous size. The room keys are attached to a 5 inch wooden cross or it could be the “T” in Tibet. Who knows?

By 10:37 AM we were established in the Pentoc just off Mentseekhang Lam. The room was furnished with twin beds, a TV, a wash basin, a night stand, a trashcan, a clothes tree, and 2 tea cups. No closet, no sink. The shared shower and toilet were relatively close but up and down a short flight of stairs respectively.

The plan was to rest for the whole day and start sight seeing on the 2nd. The altitude of 3700 meters or 12000 ft makes all activity, physical and mental, a test for the newly arrived. Also, we were tired from the lack of sleep in Chengdu.

I had a headache, downed a handful of Vitamin I (Ibuprofen), and slept most of the afternoon. Sun-Ling did not acclimatize well, threw up twice during the afternoon, and said she felt like she was going to die. She took some Chinese medicine for altitude sickness, but did not feel better.

Around 8:00 PM we walked the 20 meters to the Shangbala and had a Chinese style dinner of 3 dishes for 70 Y. Then took brief stroll, bought a 1.5L bottle of Nongfu spring water for 5Y, then to bed.

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