Tibet Trip: Monasteries

You can find aspects of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon culture throughout the Tibetan plateau. I figured that there would be many places that had stupas, prayer wheels, and prayer flags. I just never realized how much it would appear while we were driving through the windy roads. I’m sure that you are not supposed to take pictures of many things, although I asked every time if it was okay to take a picture, if it wasn’t I didn’t. I’m sure during that process I took a picture of something I shouldn’t have, and that will be a learning curve for future trips.

On the side of the road.

Lhagang Monastery

During our trip we visited many different monasteries and the first one we saw was Lhagang Monastery.To the right of this is the original building of the monastery that was under renovation. We weren’t able to take photos of the inside of it, but I was allowed to take a photo inside the main hall of Lhagang Monastery.

Inside Lhagang Monastery

As we headed back on the road we saw a nunnery and decided to stop by and take a look around. There are many stone slabs with prayers written on them piled high above the mini stupas and prayer wheels.  I was surprised by how many prayer wheels there were and we did the Kora (Circumambulating) around them one time.

Stupas, Prayer Wheels, and stone slabs with prayers on them at the Nunnery.

The nunnery was very pretty from the outside and surrounded by rolling grasslands. One thing I did learn about monasteries is that the back of the building is normally towards a mountain.

A nunnery near Lhagang.
The 10th Panchen Lama’s Stupa.

This stupa was the largest one we visited and it is dedicated to the 10th Panchen Lama. It was a beautiful stupa and there were wonderful views from the top of it. One of the interesting things about visiting monasteries  was that because these areas are not inside the T.A.R. the rules are a bit more relaxed though the monasteries still keep tabs on people taking photos or ban them out right. This is mostly due to the fact that there may be a picture of the Dalai Lama inside the monastery and they do not want photos of it to get out as the  monastery will get in trouble from the government.

Kandze Monastery.
Kandze Monastery. 

Enjoy my shitty panorama  photo skills. However, we were very lucky at Kandze Monastery as while we were walking around it seemed like no one was around, however we happened upon one monk, who showed us around the inside of the monastery and gave us permission to take photos. Normally our tour guide explained that photos are not allowed inside this temple, but since we are not Chinese tourists he would make an exception.

I was really fascinated by the Monk’s kitchen as I have never seen one before and I thought it had an aspect of simplicity and beautiful furniture  in it. It was really cool to see the place where the cooking happened as during my whole trip it was the only time I happened to see a kitchen at a monastery.

Kandze Monastery Kitchen.
Wrapped prayer wheels on the side of the road.

You can find prayer wheels all through out the Tibetan plateau and each of them are a little different. They may be hand painted or they may be the golden wheel most people picture when they imagine prayer wheels. The prayer wheels below were stunningly beautiful and the only ones I saw in this bronze metal, they were extremely heavy to rotate but they were absolutely mesmerizing to look at. I walked around them three times I think.

Beautiful Prayer Wheels on the side of the road.
Butter Sculptures at Labrang Monastery.

I’m always fascinated by butter sculptures when I see them. I have trouble making frosted cupcakes look beautiful, so I can only imagine the kind of patience and skill that is required to complete something like this. I’ve seen butter sculptures taller than me when I went to India during the Tibetan Lunar New Year, Losar. And I imagine it is a lot of butter, a lot of time, and a lot of devotion to create these masterpieces.

People circumambulating Labrang Monastery.

When you circumambulate prayer wheels, monasteries, or stupas, it is is called doing the ‘Kora.’ While we were at Labrang Monastery  I was told that this Stupa in particular is supposed to be very special, because of the artifacts inside it. Many people do the Kora to get better, cure illness, or have their prayers be heard. I think for me being agnostic watching people Kora out of devotion is fascinating. Mostly because it shows a kind of devotion that I don’t see much to our beliefs. A few things I took out of doing the Kora a few times myself was that it is good to get some fresh air and walk around, so one it offers exercise and it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you go. There were elderly Tibetans who blazed right past me while they were doing their Kora. I think also showing that kind of devotion and having a belief in something that it can cure illness, or your prayers can be heard is a good thing. Its a way to one be mindful of what you want while you are doing the Kora ,and at the same time while you are slowly walking around or spinning the prayer wheels you are emptying your head while focusing on the task at hand. So in many ways it helps to de-stress a person, which I think nowadays stress is a source of many illnesses.

Circumambulating around the Stupa at Labrang Monastery.

I expected to find out that Tibetans did the Kora often, but I was surprised to know that there were a number of Chinese people who also believed in the affects of doing the Kora, and have come to heal themselves after hearing stories of others who have done the Kora so many times a day for a certain amount of time and cured cancer. It makes you wonder how a powerful resolve, your mind, and the aspect of focusing on something could make a difference in your life.

Selfie with a novice monk we met at Thakstang Lhamo.

At Thakstang Lhamo we ran into a little monk who said, “Hello,” to us and I asked him if he’d be willing to take a photo together. Luckily, he said yes. I don’t like to force people to take photos with me, there were a few who had said no before, so it was nice to have this cute little monk join us for a selfie. We were here for awhile and we watched the monks debate for about an hour from sunset into the night. Its a really interesting and fascinating experience as you have one person hitting their hand while asking a question to the person sitting on the ground who answers.

Monks debating at Thakstang Lhamo.

Tibet has lost many of its monasteries, nunneries and stupas due to the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.  Slowly some of these are being rebuilt, but seeing the ones that are standing even though they are restricted helps to preserve parts of the culture. Some people get really burnt out viewing temples and palaces in other countries. I find them fascinating and though similar you might find something new at each place you visit.  So its always worth seeing one more.

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