Asia | China | Tibet – Tashilunpo Monastery, Shigatse
Entering through the gate of the monastery I’m amazed by the sheer size of it. There are buildings all over and little alleys parting in all directions from the large entry square. A large puzzle of white buildings, golden roofs and red, solid doors. Gold, white and brown against a brilliantly blue sky. A soon to become very familiar picture, as this is only the first of a row of monasteries we will see.
The different chapels and halls are all fascinating and harbour buddhas and Lama figures, mostly in gold, surrounded by small butter candles throwing a mysterious light around. The walls are meticuloudsly painted with scenes out of the Buddhist scriptures, displaying both Buddhas and peaceful looking figures as well as scary and intimidating protective deities with wild masks. Everywhere you lookm, you see an extreme care for detail and all the pilars are handpainted in fresh colours, mostly blue and red, with tiny carvings and pictures.
A prayer wheel wall is erected around 3 stunningly white and gold stupas and the locals, pilgrims and some monks start their praying routine by walking around the wall, all the while turning their hand held prayer wheels or turning the ones in the wall. In doing so, they send up prayers in the air and add to their good karma.
At the end of the afternoon, we are invited to listen to the chanting of the monks that are all assembled in a big hall. A rythmic, steady humming is soon filling the air, while we sit outside enjoying the last rays of the sun.
A very soothing sound, soon disturbed however by Peter fleeing out of the Assembly Hall, clasping his minidisc recorder to his chest – in spite of an OK from one of the young monks to register the chanting, the head monk doesn’t think it such an excellent idea and almost closed him in with the monks…
Soon after, the air is filled with the distinctive greasy smell of yak butter tea. Big brass cans are brought out to the monks, holding their everyday drink, consisting of tea, milk (so far, so good), yak butter and, can you imagine it, salt! The national drink in Tibet.
Getting up early the next morning, the monastery is blinking beautifully in the soft morning light and pilgrims are streaming into the monastery for their praying. Whole families, old couples, children, all stunningly dressed in traditional outfits with hand sewn woolen boots and leather and whool long jackets that have extremely long sleeves, worn crossed with one arm in and one arm out. The longer the sleeves, the more prestige to the bearer. The men carry ornately decorated daggers and money purses, while the women compete with their stunningly beautiful jewellery, in turquoise, coral and gold and silver, laid out in beautiful patterns on pendants, or braided into their hair.
I am sitting in the main square, transfixed by all the interesting people that pass by.
An incredibly interesting and inspiring place, where I could have sat for hours, watching. But I have to tear myself away to be in time for the bus and continue our travels in this mystic country. An inspiring start, with promises of more beauty to come.