Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tibet Day 2: Tsetang

With the kitchen barely awake, we ordered our first "Tibetan" breakfast at the Tashi Restaurant in Tsetang. With yogurt sour enough to curl your toes, 3/4" thick pancakes, a wondrous blend of Nescafe, and eggs, we were ready to tackle our first sight.

Gaden had recommended that while Yumbulagang (also known as Yumbu Lhakang = castle on the top of a female deer-like hill) wasn't on our itinerary, it was a real must. There was some mumbling about needing to be permits, a friend needing to be the office, one permit received, and well, perhaps we needed to make this the first stop. Maybe not an auspicious opening to the capricious nature of the controls on travel in Tibet, but he was right - Yumbulagang was a phenomenal stop.

Perched atop a hill with views across the river valley, this legendary first building was spectacular. According to, Yumbulagang , “palace of mother and son” in Tibetan dialect, is the first palace and one of the earliest buildings in Tibet, having a history of more than 2,000 years. It’s said that it was built for Nyatri Tsanpo, the first Tibetan King by Bon believers in the 2nd century BC. Then it became the summer palace of Songtsan Gampo and Princess Wencheng. The 5thDalai Lama changed it as the monastery of Old-Yellow Hat Sect (Kadamspa).

Getting to the palace presented the first challenge for our oxygen starved lungs, and the first experience of the large thigh muscles screaming for oxygen on stair climbs. The vendors were just setting up for the day, but Ian was still able to pick up his prayer flags to leave a bit of his soul on the peak behind the palace.

Before entering the palace, offerings of heather and juniper incense were burnt; presumably joining the raveling flags in sending prayers to the gods. Here's Karl sending out his thoughts to the world.

Looking down from the palace, the fields were under heavy cultivation. The forests long gone, with the Chinese putting money into limited reforestation in some areas to stabilize the land.

By the time we made it back down the hill (much simpler than going up), we were ready to tackle the monasteries of the Tibet. Next stop: Trandruk Monastery (aka Traduk Temple). Trandruk is one of Tibet's oldest monasteries built in the 7th century during the reign of Songstan Gampo. It’s said that renowned figures in the history of Tibetan Buddhism, such as Padmasambhava and Milariba, had practised Buddhism nearby after it was built and the remaining relics are sacred land for the devotees. Trandruk later converted to the Gelugpa sect of Buddhism and experienced large-scale reconstruction.

Tran means roc and druk means dragon in Tibetan. The monastery got is name from the legend that it could only be built after Songtsan Gampo had turned into a roc and conquered an evil dragon.

Monasteries live off the offerings left of the Buddhas, gods, lamas and guardians. This monastery was most intriguing with the temple festival masks garnished with offerings poking out of every opening.

Lunch back at the Tashi Restaurant then onwards in our journey to Samye.

See the beginning of the trip at: Planning for Tibet, and Arriving in Tibet and Off to Tsetang

Link forward to Tibet Day 2: Journey to Samye

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