Yushu Gompa Excursion
We start our second excursion around Yushu at the nearby Domkar Gompa, scenically located on the mountainside, overlooking the main road. Today, our driver has brought his little son along, a boy of about five, with a Fu Manchu pigtail at the back of his otherwise bald head. Both father and son are in good spirits, as if they are looking forward to the day’s sightseeing as well.
First, we are shown around the Gompa’s main Assembly Hall, which houses an impressive collection of large, gem-studded statues. For 15 Yuan, our business-like guide allows us to take one photo, but no more than one.
Then, we move on to the highlight of the monastery: the scary temple, dedicated to the God of Hell. Before we are allowed to enter, we have to take a sip of a scary, coloured liquid one of the monks has poured into our hands…. Then, we step into a dark hall and almost do a double-take when we are confronted with the growling faces and bared fangs of several huge mastiffs and wolves… Fortunately for us, these are stuffed ones, dangling spookily from the ceiling, in the company of a shaggy yak.
The temple itself holds some very black thankas and many gruesome depictions of what happens to those souls unfortunate enough to end up in Hell. Both sides of the door feature a human body, half flesh and half skeleton. Our little companion is quite frightened by it all and keen to get away.
We hit the main road again and after a while take a right turn, into the Sebda Gorge. The road, if you can call it that, is seriously scary, especially at the beginning. A couple of times our car lurches precariously close to the edge, so we look down into the wild, rushing river below.I certainly wouldn’t have brought my kid here!
The countryside and the nearby village are rather picturesque, but what really grabs our attention is the construction of a 58- metre statue of Guanyin, right next to the main hall. Why such a monumental, costly project, in such an isolated spot? Who is paying for it? Who will come and pray to the Goddess?
Once the key-monk has been found, we can continue our visit. The main Assembly Hall here has a handsome, 18- metre statue, as well as the usual wall paintings and thankas, but we are more interested in the little ethnological museum next door. There are some curious exhibits, such as human thighbones, used to beat musical instruments, or drinking vessels, made of human skulls. Our driver studies all items carefully, but his son is only interested in the knives and daggers.
Fortunately, we make it back safely down the same track, and continue our journey on the main road. Our final destination is the Drogon Gompa, perched high above Xiewu village, by the turn- off for Sershu.
Our driver has never been here and is amazed that the place figures in our guide book. Like Sebda, the monastery seems abandoned at first, but soon a monk comes driving up and parks next to our car. He unlocks the main Hall for us, which is old and venerable, like the others we have seen today. But this Hall is not the main reason why we are here: Lonely Planet mentions a ‘scary Protector Chapel’ with stuffed wolves and Tantric masks, where only men are allowed to enter.
And lo and behold, when our dedicated driver asks if there are any other places worth seeing, he and Adam are directed up the hill. ‘Nu ren’, or women, can’t go, so I’ll just have to wait.
By a stroke of luck, another monk turns up, followed by a very good-looking young couple, and unlocks the temple I’m sitting in front of. We all walk in together. It turns out that the girl is Tibetan, but living in New York. She speaks Tibetan and English, but no Chinese. The boy, who may be a local, can speak Tibetan and Chinese, but no English. Both are obviously devout, practising Buddhists who prostrate themselves in front of the statues and burn yak butter lamps. While they are praying and the monk is gathering copper candle holders for cleaning, I admire the beautiful collection of small, bronze statues, all with different expressions and faces.
The men come back, impressed by their visit to the Protector Chapel which, besides stuffed animals and masks, also contains real machine guns. All, presumably, to keep Evil Spirits away.
We end our excursion with a quick stop at the Mani Wall, as it’s on our way. We are, however, completely templed-out, and decide to come back another day.