We woke up and caught another standing-holding-for-dear-life truck to the Chim-puk Hermitage, which is an hour-long drive from Samye Monastery. We rode with a few other tourists and some Buddhist nuns that were also climbing to the monastery. The roads were incredibly, incredibly bad and more than once we felt like we could tip over. But the gorgeous scenery was enough to distract us from looking at the road. Kath says that the roads are un-drivable in rainy season and tour groups must hike for two hours to get to the Hermitage path.
This is beautiful mountainous country. Within 20 minutes, we could see the nunnery, the monastery and the hermitages with prayer flags strewn all over and so were anxious to get there. There are also sacred caves in the mountains where monks would go to meditate for months at a time. When we finally got to the point where the truck could go no further, we began the climb and definitely felt the altitude. We had to stop to breathe every 15-20 minutes, but that was fine because everywhere we looked there were gorgeous views of the valley below. We got to the nunnery in about 45 minutes where we listened to the nuns chanting before we continued up to the caves and the monastery.
Guru Rimpoche was an 8th century master who helped to establish Buddhism in Tibet. It’s said that he cleansed the country of evil spirits. He is sort of regarded as the second Buddha and is very revered in this country. The Chim-puk Heritage was a retreat for him for some time, and he apparently came here to meditate and pray for his daughter who was deathly ill. On parts of the climb, we passed a few shrines that had been erected because – for example – “Guru Rimpoche touched this rock”, or “Guru Rimpoche rested here on the this spot”.
The other hermits and monks that came here to meditate often stayed for many, many months and ate nothing but rocks. That’s right. Rocks. We saw along the way some rocks suspended from bushes by yarn. We couldn’t quite get an answer as to whether this was a sacred symbol or someone’s dinner, but it was interesting to see!
Finally – we made it!
The climb was incredibly steep, but the locals were easily passing us by. We continued to stop for breaths as much as we could, but were getting a bit frustrated because the Monastery/Hermitage seemed so close but was taking so long to get to! At one point on the climb, we passed a dwelling that had a stack of branches for kindling outside of it. The branches were the perfect height for walking sticks, so I took one and left the owners some Jiao bills in return. Jon teased me that – just like a New Yorker – everything can be bought for a price.
As we neared the Monastery, Norbu, our guide, showed a small group of us a very holy cave in which a little old monk was meditating. The caves here are really rock overhangs with walls built around it. Guru Rimpoche apparently mediated in this particular cave for a bit.
Finally, after 2 hours, we made it to the monastery where we sat on the ledge and ate lunch looking out over the valley below. Within the little monastery there was a sacred cave where Guru Rimpoche prostrated on a rock over and over again until the rock began to erode in the shapes of his knees. It’s said that this is where he died.
The group at lunch – what a view!
Around the monastery and dispersed along the mountainside were many little hermitages and buildings in which the monks live. It’s hard to believe that they live out their lives on the side of this mountain with these stunning views every day.
We could have ascended further to explore more caves, but some very ominous clouds were moving in through the valley and we didn’t want to get caught in the rain. So we hustled back down the mountain in about 45 minutes, where we stopped by a babbling brook/stream to cool off and wash up a bit. We have decided that – although this was only a day hike – we will henceforth refer to this as our “Himalayan Trek”. After chilling by the stream for a half hour, we climbed into the truck to head back to Samye. Laura – clearly insane because of the altitude – decided to walk back to Samye and waved goodbye to us as we drove away. The ride back was much the same as the ride out there – tipping and bouncing – but downhill so this time it was faster!
Despite the fact that the Guest House has no showers, the girls of the group decided to wash their hair using the well pump in the courtyard. Jon and I decided that this was a brilliant idea, because we felt quite gritty after our Himalayan Trek. The water was freezing cold but it was so nice to have a major part of my body clean even if the rest of my body wasn’t!
Laura returned from her little “stroll” in 2 hours and 45 minutes. Our guide Norbu went with her, and I guess she picked up a bit of Tibetan on the way, and she seemed quite happy with the hike. She was really excited about the well-water-hair-wash so she and I went down and I helped her wash her hair.
Washing Laura’s Hair in the Well
Today is Lhasa’s birthday, but she unfortunately hasn’t been feeling well. She didn’t do the entire hike today, and had very little for dinner. But we wanted to surprise her with a little celebration anyway. Kath had brought her a brownie/cake from Lhasa before we left, Alex had bought her some gifts, and we had all signed the birthday card. So the waiter brought a candle to put into the brownie and we sang happy birthday to her. She was very surprised and quite touched.
Just after we broke out the birthday cake, a HUGE thunderstorm rolled into the valley and we all ran to close the windows in our bedrooms so the rooms wouldn’t get soaked. We also bemoaned the fact that we could no longer get to the 3rd floor bathrooms but hoped that perhaps the rain would clean out the 2nd floor bathrooms tonight.
As we later prepared for bed, some very stern-looking Chinese army men were making rounds of the compound – knocking on every door. Laura answered the door but they had already moved onto the next room and weren’t too concerned with us. So bizarre!
It rained all night long and the walls of our room were soaking wet from the leaky roof, but at least our beds were dry!