Special guest appearance by Jon: Nobody’s sick today and I have decided to write today’s journal anyway. Where to begin? Well, it was kind of a slow day…
After yesterday’s long bus ride to Shigatse, almost everyone was in favor of meeting at 9:30am and sleeping in a bit. And maybe even taking another shower in the morning, just because we could–after three days without showers, you really want to take advantage of such luxuries when you have them!
It had rained for most of the night but the rain let up in time for breakfast and Mother Nature teased us a bit by making us think that it wouldn’t rain again. About half way to Tashilhunpo Monastery it began to rain again (it is still monsoon season!), catching one or two of the group off-guard and causing them to get a bit wet.
Tashilhunpo Monastery is quite large, and is also the traditional home of the Panchen Lama. The eleventh, and current, Panchen Lama lives exclusively in China and is traditionally the leader of the Monastery. So the obvious question is probably: If he is the leader of the Monastery, why does he live in China and not at the Monastery? Well, in May 1995 the Dalai Lama identified a six-year old boy as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama who had died a few years earlier. Within a month the young boy was forcibly relocated to a government compound in Beijing and the Chinese government, crying foul (because they wanted the reincarnation to be more open to Chinese rule) ordered the senior lamas of the Tashilhunpo Monastery to come up with a second, Chinese approved choice. The abbot of the monastery was later arrested for ‘revealing state secrets’ after consulting the Dalai Lama over the selection and the monastery was closed to tourists for a few months. Eventually the senior lamas of the Monastery selected the son of Communist Party members who was approved by Beijing (wow, there’s a surprise!). It would seem that by controlling Tibet’s #2 spiritual leader, China hopes to eventually be able to influence the identification of the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama after his death. It is also noteworthy to point out that the current (14th) Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, believes that as long as China occupies Tibet there will be no reincarnation of himself. Meanwhile, the 11th Panchen Lama that was arrested at the age of six is still under house arrest! Ah, the wonders of Communism…
Political commentary aside, and it’s very difficult not to be interested in the politics of the Chinese ‘liberation’ of Tibet – Tibet was self-ruled until China liberated Tibet in 1957, thus liberating the Tibetans to be ruled by the Chinese – the Monastery was very nice. In addition to several living quarters and a large dining area/prayer area, there were 5 stupas in total within the Monastery’s fortress-like walls some of which contain the remains of former Panchen Lamas and some of which are chapels.
I should also point out that there are a considerable number of stray dogs wandering around the Monastery. The Buddhists regard these dogs as holy creatures and are affectionately referred to as the reincarnations of naughty monks! So I suppose that the fact that the dogs have found their way back to a Monastery is sort of their way of atoning for their mischievous acts in a previous life. The monks of the Monastery treat the dogs very well and I even saw a couple of monks slipping a few dogs some food and playing with them.
After the monastery we were rather hungry and headed to a Tibetan restaurant with our British friends Mark & Laura, and were later joined by our group leader, Kath. Lunch took forever to get served, but this seems to be par for the course in Tibet so we are getting used to it, but it can be a point of frustration when the restaurant is otherwise empty but it still takes an hour to get a simple lunch of Chow Mein noodles, fried rice, and maybe some chips (french fries).
After lunch the group was going to head out to Shalu Monastery, which is 19km from Shigatse, but Heidi and I decided that we would rather get on the internet for the first time in about a week – we are a bit ‘monasteried out’. It turns out that the road to the Monastery was washed out by the monsoon rains and the road that they had to take was actually more of a river. The drive took about 1.5 to 2 hours each way but the group really enjoyed the people in the small town surrounding the Monastery and spent more time with them than they did at the Monastery.
Meanwhile, after the internet Heidi and I headed back to the hotel room and caught up on some much needed sleep, and woke up just in time to meet the group for dinner. Dinner was at the Tibetan restaurant where we had eaten lunch, which was fine by us as we already knew what food we liked (and also considered safe!) and didn’t have to think about what to order. In addition to a significant lack of appetite attributable to the altitude, we have decided to order the safest dishes on the menu, which tends to mean no meat and only vegetable dishes. We don’t want to get sick again! We are already thinking that this same game plan may need to be adopted while in mainland China.