AsiaRound The World TripTibet

Tibet: Samye Monastery

Being Sick Sucks

At 8:15, we piled into the bus to begin our trip to Samye Monastery.  I am really weak because of yesterday’s illness, but at least I’m keeping liquids in.  Before we left Lhasa, we stopped by Drepung Monastery to see the beginning celebrations of the Yoghurt Festival.  The monks at the monastery hang a HUGE thanka (a large silk tapestry) on the side of the mountain that is a must-see.

Drepung Monastery

There were pilgrims everywhere, and the streets were so packed that our bus couldn’t get through.  So we parked and walked the 15-20 minutes up the road to get to the monastery.  After 10 minutes, I caved.  I was out of breath and exhausted.  So Jon left me at a large rock on a grassy knoll and went on to see the sights.  I sat on the rock for a good half-hour and people-watched, which I enjoyed very much.  We tourists were definitely in the minority, and the Tibetans were obviously very excited about the festival.  Pilgrims smiled at me and said “Tashi Delhi!” as they walked by, and some even said “Hello!” to me.  They were so happy when I said Tashi Delhi or Hello back, but I wonder how much of the amusement was due to my freaky short blond hair.

The pilgrims are so cool to watch.  Most of them are little old ladies with scrunched, wrinkled faces and precious smiles.  But there are also women with the long traditional braids and turquoise hair ornaments.  Some men also had traditional braids, which they wrapped around their head and secured with bright red cloth.  All of them are quick to smile and obviously happy.

At 10:15, it was time for me to make my way back to the bus, where we’d agreed to meet at 10:30.  I ran into the Wonder Twins – Alex and Lhasa – on their way back from the monastery.  They said it was too crowded to even get in to see the thanka.  As we walked back, the roads were packed with people walking in either direction, jostling and pushing, and – at one particular place – there were 2-3 cars trying to get through.  There were donkeys, horses, horns, people… next thing I knew, I was up against a car with the tire rolling over my foot.  OW!

I limped off to the side and stared at the obvious tread marks on my hiking boots.  Preliminary movement proved that nothing was seriously injured, although my toe-ring might have been slightly bent up.  But I wasn’t concerned about my foot.  (Sadly, I’ve had my foot run over at least once before so I know that it’s not terribly damaging).

Jon got a bit of view of the thanka, which you can see faintly in this picture just over the peoples’ heads behind the buildings:

The Ferry to Samye Monastery

We drove for 2 hours back near the airport, where we turned and headed toward the river – Yarlung Tsangpo. The ferry compound had about 6-8 brick and mud buildings of various states of decay and only about 6 Tibetans milling about.  The first “restaurant” (read: hut) didn’t have any veggies so the group couldn’t order lunch.  But the 2nd restaurant did, so everyone put in their orders and the 6 Tibetans ran up and down the road with veggies and noodles.  I had a piece of toast (a major accomplishment).  Jon said that the noodle soup was very good until he found the dead fly on the bottom of it.  Then he was done.

The ferry ride was one of the most fantastic rides I’ve ever done.  The “ferry” was nothing but a long wooden dingy with a motor on the back.  But the views of the Himalayas were gorgeous, and most of us had nothing to say because we were so busy taking pictures.  The ride was a little over an hour long, and we reached the other side 9 km north of Samye Monastery.

The View from the Ferry

The Truck Ride To Samye

We got out and piled into the back of a large truck.  There were no seats, and the roads were hardly roads so were standing and hanging onto the bars of the truck for dear life.  We did stop to pick up some nuns on the way, so this is obviously the preferred mode of travel here.

Samye Monastery Guest House

Samye Monastery is a beautiful old place with large gold rooftops.  The Guest House is right next door with basic, basic, BASIC accommodations.  Basically, we’re staying in the same place as the pilgrims, the toilets are unspeakable, and there is no running water aside from the well in the courtyard.  But we were expecting this so it comes as no surprise to us.  We are rooming with our new favorite Brits – Mark and Laura – which is cool because we get along well with them.  We were warned well in advance to bring sleep sheets because Tibetans really don’t wash sheets every day.  And it’s not that they were filthy, but the room itself wasn’t terribly clean overall.  So we were glad to have brought sleeping bags and sheets.

There are 3 floors to the guest house, and apparently the 3rd floor has the best bathrooms.  Most of the 3rd floor is wide-open and the toilets are a little hut in the corner.  But the views are amazing and – since there’s more air-flow – the toilets are much less odiferous.

Samye Monastery

We took a tour of Samye Monastery, which is about 1200 years old and very pretty.  In one of the rooms, a monk was singing prayers, clanging symbols, and beating a prayer drum.  We sat and watched him for a while.  We walked up to the 2nd and 3rd floors where – we later found out – Laura got a very eerie feeling and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up.  I suppose that – between the various wars and the Chinese Revolution – this place can probably claim a few ghosts.

Samye Monk

Dinner at the Monastery

Dinner was at the monastery restaurant, where I ate a few French Fries and Jon finished off my very spicy veggie fried rice.  We all sat around the table laughing and enjoying Lhasa beers (well, not me) until about 9:30 or 10:00.  Then we turned in.  Tomorrow is Lhasa’s birthday and Alex has organized a pad of paper to which everyone is to write a little birthday wish.  I did one for Jon and me and Laura also wrote one out.  But Mark wanted to do one of his own.  He wrote: “Dear Lhasa, In the brief time I have known you, you seem like a very nice person.  You remind me of a friend of mine who is Japanese.”

That’s it.

It gave us quite a laugh because he didn’t even mention whether he particularly liked this friend of his or not.  So we teased him about it endlessly, and I had the giggles so badly that I couldn’t get to sleep.