Samye (Elevation 3540M / 11600FT)
November 29, 2010, 7:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A few days before leaving Lhasa I joined some friends on a trip to Samye, Tibet’s first Buddhist monastery. Situated in a wide river valley, the temple complex is built in the shape of a giant mandala. We were there for the full moon and the beginning of the annual cham, a festival of religious dance performed by Samye’s monks.

The last part of the drive courses through dunes and follows a river that stretches along the sand like a big broken mirror:

That night we wandered around the temple grounds in the moonlight and stumbled upon camps of local pilgrims singing and dancing in large circles. They kept it up until way after midnight. In the morning, festivities were in full motion with those same pilgrims waiting for their turn to enter the main temple to receive blessed pills (small, round pellets of sweetened barley flour and butter) from a high lama.  A few thousand people were on-site by mid-day. Here is the end of the line:

We didn’t get our chance to make it into the temple, far too much competition. But as I was wandering around, a monastery carpenter pulled me aside and gave me a handful of the prized blessed pills. With them, he gave me a short lecture on the benefits of their blessing to my life and body and made me promise that I’d bring some back for my Dad. He was very insistent that my Dad be the recipient, keeping my Mom a little lower on the list for some reason. Seeing that they are made from a substantial amount of butter, and that my Dad may not appreciate being fed pellets of soon to be rancid Tibetan butter in 6 months from now, I ended up giving the rest to appreciative friends in Nepal. After the sweet gift and conversation, I wandered around noticing the little details of this thousand+ year-old monastery:

When the monks were just about to start their dancing, my attention was diverted to the main reason for our Samye trip: to present 50 large garbage cans to a nearby community of cave meditators. Yup. We were actually there to help a set up a waste management system and transport the heavy bins up the side of a mountain. 

I’m afraid I don’t have any photos of the process, which was humorous. We were met by a few dozen nuns from the community’s nunnery and together we fastened the heavy bins to concrete bases and hauled them up the hillsides until past dusk. That night we were invited in for a meal and a bed in a high lama’s shrine room and then packed up after early morning prayer ceremonies the next day. 

But after hiking down the mountain and returning to the car, we found that we had locked the keys inside. To get in, the back window had to be shattered. MacGyver-like, we propped the broken pieces of the window back into place with some Scotch tape I just happened to have in a pocket:


We then took a little time to play along the dunes. Despite the obvious fun of dune-play, desertification in this region is no joke.


Lhasa (Elevation 12,000+ FT)
November 1, 2010, 2:50 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In honor of Halloween, this post will be dedicated to cool costumes– or more specifically, headdresses. My friend Tsetru wears the most magnificent collection of turquoise and coral in her hair. Her style is typical of her home area in eastern Tibet, where most women still wear this ornate gear. But our adventure to the hot springs necessitated that she take them out (possibly for fear of sinking). When we returned to Lhasa, I hung around for the 3+ hours that it took to braid, weave and sew the jewels back into her gorgeously long hair.

After a good wash, she braids her hair into around 50 smaller braids. Then, with the help of an in-law, sews a felt strip adorned with chunks of coral, turquoise and the larger gold and turquoise piece, to the hair at the crown of her head:

Also with needle and thread, she then attaches two side pieces at the height of each ear:

They check their work:

Then ready to attach the next piece: a strip made of woven red string adorned with dozens of chunks of turquoise and strings of coral beads:

She attaches it by tying one end with a string to the middle of her mass of braids:

Then wraps her hair and the attached strip of beads around her head like a long, incredibly heavy turban:

And she’s done! Now fully sewn into place, she won’t redo it for a month or two. It is most definitely as heavy as it looks. She wears it down at night but must even sleep on it. Lucky for us who have the fortune of admiring her, she loves it and feels uncomfortable without it.

Current location: Udaipur, India with Halloween spent wandering the floating palaces of the 1983 Bond flick Octopussy. I really wish this blog would catch up with my actual location already. We’re getting there…