Day 31

Trip Start Sep 21, 2011
Trip End Sep 21, 2012

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Flag of China  , Tibet,
Friday, October 21, 2011

Had a lovely experience of a 'Chinese Laundry' today. Laundries in Asia either charge you by weight, or by item. The laundry I went to was by item. It's an interesting experience to have some Chinese lady sifting through your smalls, all the while laughing and pointing at the size of your bras. A real esteem booster, I must say.

Went to Gandan Monastery today, the largest monastery in Tibet, built in the 15th century. On the way, we see people making the pilgrimage to Lhasa. They prostrate - literally throw themselves down in the road - and apparently do this every few steps all the way to Lhasa - 20 km or so. Unfortunately my knowledge of Buddhism is woefully lacking so i don't know if this is just a Tibetan Buddhist thing. All I do know is - someone's gonna get run over.

The road up to the monastery is one of the scariest roads I've encountered so far, and that is saying something. They have a ready-made Tibetan Grand Prix on this road, and the driver seems to be doing a dry-run. Slow down on the hairpin bends - why would you wanna do that??

So Gandan monastery is huge. Apparently there used to be over 100 monasteries on this site, but i think something may have happened which meant most of them got destroyed or something? (Shhh, don't mention the Cultural Revolution.) But fair dos, the Chinese seem to have acknowledged that destroying and burning the largest monastery in Tibet, and one of the most sacred Buddhist sites, might not have been the right thing to do, so they're re-building it. Isn't that nice?

Went on the 'high kora' around Gandan, which is supposed to be a walk. Turns out that this 'walk' was in fact a 3-hour trek up to an altitude of 4500m. In sandals. "Just follow the trail" the guide said. Turns out that the 'trail' was a set of sodding yak footprints that no human could possibly follow. Still, nice view from the top. Saw lots of birds circling a stupa on the hill. "Vultures - for sky burial" explained the guide. Oh God. For those not aware of this particular custom, a sky burial is where they take a dead body to the top of the hill, chop it up and let the vultures strip it bare. Then they crush the bones, mix it with blood and barley flour and feed that to the birds too. The only inedible bit? The hair. A bit too much for me I'm afraid.
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