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.
Spectacular, stunning, other-worldly, an extravaganza of colour, are just some of the adjectives you’ll be spluttering to anyone you meet after a visit to the Princess Wencheng Temple. And this before you have actually seen the temple which, in all truth, is nice, but nothing special. It is the Kora, the sacred pilgrims’ trail performed by walking around, or circumambulating, a temple, that provokes such awe and stupor. Even veteran travellers to Tibet will find themselves struggling to recall anything like it.
The temple was supposedly built to mark the spot where Princess Wencheng and her husband, the Tibetan King Songtsän Gampo, stopped for a month on their journey from Xian to Tibet. The marriage of the Tang dynasty Princess, a niece of Emperor Taizong, to the Tibetan King is celebrated by both the Chinese and Tibetans; though their interpretation of the events varies. The Chinese claim it was Princess Wencheng who brought Buddhism to Tibet, by converting her husband; the Tibetans dispute this. According to the Tibetans, Songtsän Gampo forced the Tang Emperor to hand over his niece, after a string of military victories over the Chinese and their allies. In the Chinese point of view, the Princess’s hand was offered as a sign of friendship, to seal the long lasting bond between the Chinese and Tibetan peoples. There is even a famous Chinese opera that corroborates this view.