Monk Mayhem

Trip Start Sep 05, 2010
1
137
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Trip End Aug 21, 2011


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Where I stayed
Trichang Labrang Hotel, Lhasa, Tibet

Flag of China  , Tibet,
Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dragging ourselves out of bed and down for breakfast at 8.30, we discovered the entire place in darkness. At 9, when everyone else appeared, it turned out that our super guide Norbu had once again changed the time and not told everyone. In the restaurant, it was clear he had not told the staff either and they weren't ready. At 9.45, Norbu arrived and was cross with us all for not being ready! Anyway, he rushed us all out and into a minibus so that we would reach the Potola Palace in time for our designated slot.

               As expected the palace was pretty spectacular, although the climb up hundreds of steps left all of us gasping. Aged Tibetans with walking sticks, stormed past us clearly thinking that these foreigners were hideously unfit. Inside the top, white section of the building, we strolled through the various different Dalai Lama’s living quarters and saw the tombs of numbers 7 to 13.  A cave built in the 7th century by the 5th(I think) Dalai Lama, was immaculately preserved. (As usual photography strictly forbidden inside).

                The white section of the palace is used as a monastery and inhabited by about 600 monks. We saw the expected assembly hall and rooms packed with scriptures. The books had pathways underneath them, which pilgrims walk through for luck. They also had rooms and rooms full of hundreds of valuable statues of Buddha, donated by wealthy patrons. We also saw what Norbu claimed was the second largest stupa in the world – made of 3 tonnes of gold. Throughout the palace and monastery they were burning juniper leaves, which made the entire place reek of cannabis, but is also for good luck.

On our descent in the gorgeous Tibetan sunshine, Mikey and I met a student at Lhasa University eager to use her excellent English on us. Super spy Will met a monk who let him take a photo of the little monk he was sitting with on the condition that Will showed him some photos of the outside world.

                Back at the hotel, over lunch, Norbu gave us the money back for the train tickets we had bought from Tashi Delek in Kathmandu. 170 dollars each in cash! On the bus we heard him arguing with his boss, and I think he was explaining that these English people weren’t going to take no for an answer (He’d seen us in action at the border when he said we couldn’t take the bikes!). Anyway, it was a big relief and meant we could relax.

                Before setting off in the bus to the Sera Monastery, Mikey and I quickly got some sheep skin insoles fitted into our flimsy plimsolls – very cosy. To be honest, we were unsure whether we could be bothered to go to another monastery, but it was actually quite different as it was set up so that you could see some of the monk’s practises in action. The mandalas (pictures made out of sand) were completely incredible and it was interesting to see the monks printing new scriptures. Norbu said the highlight would be watching the monks debating scriptures, which unlike other monasteries we were allowed to watch.

Having now visited 4 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and encountered many monks in the street, I feel confused by them.  In the monasteries some sit intent on prayer and reading, while others laugh and joke with the pilgrims. In the palace, some sat selling religious artefacts, and were pushy and effective sale people, as demonstrated by the enormous drawer of money they had. Both in a shop and in the street I have been pushed over and shoved by monks in a hurry, and I’ve also seen fat monks on their mobile phones, or shopping with lay person friends.  It doesn’t seem a particularly spiritual way to live frankly, and certainly not in line with any of the strict rules that the monks in Chithurst Buddhist Monastery, Midhurst, have to adhere to. Far from not wearing shoes, most have comfy walking boots and one Nike trainers! To be completely honest, a lot of them seem very like the naughty Buddhist monks from last year’s Year 4, who had to be disrobed on Buddhist monk day and sent to Year 5.  I asked Norbu, if the monks had to do chores and he said yes, but there was certainly no evidence of it.

The debating of the scriptures at Sera was another example of contradictory behaviour. It seemed to involve pairs of monks shouting at each other, one clapping when the other person was wrong or took too long.  Some were clearly completely enthralled and taking it very seriously, others however were just having a giggle with their mates and seemed more interested in watching the crowd of foreigners than anything else.  

                Back at the hotel, Mikey and I got stuck back into putting the bikes together, but were gutted on the test ride to find that my gears are STILL slipping and we will have to have work done in Chengdu. SO annoying, but at least we the train gets in at 8am on Sunday so we have an entire day to get it sorted.

                To cheer ourselves up we had another meal in our lovely San Jose Coffee house – Mikey ate an entire meal himself for the first time in 7 days  - phew! Before bed we ' packing controlled’ all the panniers so that we will be completely ready to ride when we arrive in Chengdu – Can’t wait!
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Comments

Teresa on

I laughed at your bit about Buddhist monk day. Yes I can see the similarities.Hope you got out of Tibet ok. Love Teresa xxx

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