It’s a beautiful sunny autumn morning. We wake to the sounds of monks chanting and bells jingling in the faint breeze. We stumble out of our room and onto the roof top terrace of the Samye Monastery Hotel. The sunlight is blinding. We sit for a while, sipping hot tea, taking in the views over the monastery and postponing the packing for as long as possible.
We’d have loved to have spent another day, but eventually we peel ourselves away and go in search of a truck that will take us and the locals to the ferry quay to cross the Yalung Tsampa (the Brahmaputra River). Today we are heading to the Yumbulagang Palace.
Even in 2007, when Tibet was somewhat more open than now to foreigners travelling without organized tours, it was still difficult to travel on public transport outside Lhasa. One exception was the Ganden Monastery bus. It left from the west side of Barkhor Square at 6.00 in the morning and returned in the early afternoon.
The night before our excursion, the taxi driver had rung at 11.00 pm to say that he had been offered a more lucrative trip to the Everest Base Camp and the Nepalese Border and he wouldn’t be taking us to the Ganden Monastery in the morning as previously arranged. “It’s the pilgrim bus then.” Margie and I decided, and set our alarm for 5.00 am.
Going to Ganden
Approaching the bus in the pitch black we could make out the shape of a large group of people standing silently in front of its closed doors. The only other sign of life at this time in the morning were the mysterious, hazy figures of pilgrims on the Barkhor Circuit, mumbling prayers and twirling their prayer wheels, the personification of piety.
This series of photos was taken during a Tibetan Festival in the Tashilunpo Monastery in Shigatse, Tibet. A group of young children were dressed up as white paper horses and led around the square in the front of the monastery by a pair of Tibetan clowns; two guys dressed in animal skins with shaggy white wigs and red masks who built an elaborate contraption with a hoop at one end and set it on fire. Finally, the children had to jump through the ring of fire. Unfortunately, the last child got himself hooked on the hoop and his costume caught fire. For a brief moment I feared the worst as he was engulfed in a ball of in flames. My anxiousness must have been down to that overly western obsession with children’s safety, for the rest of the crowd, monks included, were all rolling around on the floor in a fit of hysterical laughter. Of course nothing happened, and the poor boy was left to face the ridicule and jokes of his mates.
Accommodation and Food: We stayed at the Shigatse Post Hotel, a new-ish place right opposite the posh Shigatse Hotel, down Shanghai Lu. Our double room was painted and furnished in Tibetan style, complete with thankas and white ceremonial scarves, all very bright and clean; good value for 180 Yuan.
Going down Shanghai Lu towards the centre we found plenty of food, though restaurants were mostly of the simple, snack food variety. A ten-minute walk from the hotel will take you to the night market.
Festival info: We were in Shigatse on September 15 (2007), but we have no idea whether there is a fixed date for the festival, or whether it is related to the lunar calendar. We never even found out what it was called; any clarifications are welcome!
We visited 3 monasteries within a 30 kilometre radius of Ganzi: Dagei Gompa, Began Gompa, or Baigei Si, and Beri Gompa, or Baili Si (all names are approximate).
In order to do this, we hired a taxi for a half day for 250 Yuan. Our driver was a friendly chap who seemed to be of mixed Chinese- Tibetan origin and could speak both Mandarin (of sorts) and Tibetan. More importantly, he seemed to get on well with everybody.
Our first stop, Dagei Gompa, is about 30 kilometres back towards Manigango. The landscape along the way is glorious: lots of grazing animals, imposing mountains and small villages, their houses and walls covered in vertical beige and white stripes.
If asked about our favourite place in China, Ganzi would be one of the first to spring to mind.
We have passed through this small town in the heart of Tibetan Sichuan a few times since 2004, and last year was another opportunity. Ganzi has everything – except nightlife perhaps – a traveller could possibly want: wild and majestic mountains rise up just beyond its last houses, offering amazing hiking opportunities; scarcely explored, ancient monasteries dot the landscape in every direction; the large Ganzi Si looms high above the Tibetan quarter, offering great views of the surrounding countryside.
Down below, in the town centre, there are quiet, old streets of wonderful traditional architecture, bustling shopping streets, lined with colourful shops selling a whole array of exotic Buddhist paraphernalia, a hidden temple or two, as well as a cool Continue reading “Ganzi /Garze /甘孜 Revisited”
Thursday, September 20, 2007, on the famous train at last!
5.45: Our alarm goes off at this barbaric hour, so that we can finish our monster packing, trying to stuff all our Tibet souvenirs into our backpacks, which are straining at the seams.
6.50: Since Lhasa, like the whole of China, is run on Beijing time, it’s still dark when we leave the hotel and go looking for a taxi. Even so, we can dimly make out the silhouettes of the pilgrims, as they quietly make their way past us, turning their prayer wheels and softly murmuring sacred mantras, headed for the Barkhor Circuit.
7.15: The mammoth station is virtually deserted at this time, as the first passengers are only just beginning to arrive. We are let into a huge marble hall with shiny floors and high ceilings, but nothing inside: no shops, no cafeteria or restaurants. There is nothing to do but sit in the waiting room, instructed and lectured by uniformed staff with megaphones who tell us not to put luggage on the seats, not to smoke, to fill in our boarding cards, etc. etc.
It seems that foreign tourists will be allowed back into Tibet. The Question for indivdual travellers is whether they will be allowed in too? Or will travel be limited to expensive and highly controlled tour groups? And what about the Tibetan areas around Tibet?
The journey to Litang takes about 7 or 8 hours and takes you through some pretty rural scenery. For the first two hours or so, the bus goes through farming land and past some gorgeous two-or three-storey Tibetan farmhouses; these are sturdy stone and wood dwellings with a courtyard and….