Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tibet Day 2: Journey to Samye Monastery

See the beginning of the trip at: Planning for Tibet, Arriving in Tibet and Off to Tsetang, and Tibet Day 2: Tsetang

Leaving Tsetang behind, we head back to the Yellow River (aka Yarlung Tsangpo, aka Brahmaputra) for our "ferry" ride to Samye. The ferry leaves from the southern shore when full, though clearly Gaden had a favorite driver in mind. So off through the shoreline mud we head to the last boat nearly ready to depart ... apart from the additional six foreigners!

Whether the boat was beyond capacity or not, we'll never know. Suffice it to say that there weren't 6 more life jackets to be had. Not a great loss, since the life jackets were well beyond the state of having any use - torn, ties ripped off and foam compressed beyond flotation.

The Yarlung River is wide, shallow, sand bar ridden and flowing with a swift current. The journey was longer than it looked, as we wound west through the sand bars and then back to the east. We could imagine the problems if the boat were to overturn. Useless life jackets, Tibetans who probably don't know how to swim, layers of heavy wool clothes, frigid waters and a swift current. I took comfort in the prayers swirling around me, as prayer wheels spun.

In the meantime, the six of us gave plenty of entertainment to other passengers. From the silver hair of Judy and I, the hair on Douglas's legs, to the pictures Tim was taking, the ride was more interesting than normal for all involved.

Perhaps that's why Gaden wanted our boat and driver, and not this one who had his own style to boat driving!

Somewhere along the journey, it would appear to be wise to pull a small cup from your robe, dip water out of the Yarlung River, drink it, and dowse your head. Or perhaps, that’s only wise if you’re a Tibetan Buddhist.

Loaded onto a bus with the other locals and visitors, we head to the Samye Monastery and town. The monastery was built between 750 and 779 AD by King Trisong Detsen, a great Indian master Shanirakshita, and the Tantric adept Padmasambhava. This trio is remembered in Tibetan history as the "Abbott, Master and Dharma King". This is the first monastery of Tibet and considered to be the source of the "river of Tibetan Buddhism". It is place where Buddhist scriptures were first translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan.

The monastery is ringed by four large stupas - one each is white, red, black and green. A wall surrounds the entire complex, topped by 1028 stupas.

A Chinese town is being slowly built outside the walls of the monastery complex. It is here that you can find excellent food (dinner and breakfast) at the English Snowlands Restaurant ("WE HAVE ANENGLISH MENV") . With the sun so strong in Tibet, fuel (frequently cow/yak pies) isn't wasted on boiling water - solar powered tea kettles were seen everywhere.

Accommodations are at the Monastery Guesthouse. Rooms were equipped with decent twin beds and blankets, easy chairs with shredded covers, a washstand with two basins for washing, and a chamber pot. Showers are available in the ground floor bath - Tim recommended not even looking. Toilets were at the most basic level, though moderately clean as these things go. I expect that the foreigners are routinely put on the top floor for a reason. Views were stunning as the sun set, and early in the morning at the brisk sunrise.

Back in the bus and off to the river for the journey back across the Yarlung River. Eschewing the loaded ferry, we headed to the empty boat with the driver "my friend". Here's Gaden enjoying the trip back across the river.

Link to Tibet Day 3: Road to Gyantse

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