Friday, February 18, 2011

We visited the Johkung temple, which is in the midde of the city not far from our hotel.  It dates from the 7th Century.  As you will see from the pictures, it is by no means a grand structure compared to what we will see today; but it has its charm.  It is primarily a wooden structure and numerous courtyards have been added.

There is a large square in front of the temple which is lined with neat rows of vendors.  This is a great place for people watching.  You see everything from tourists to monks to nomadic people who have come to town.  The latter are the most interesting with their non-Western dress and weathered brown faces.  I will post a picture of one such group.There are also people outside the temple who have mats who are prostrating themselves as a part of their religious exercise.

We were lead through the temple by a local who speaks very good English.  But it is clear that he is Tibetan as opposed to Chinese because of his dark skin.  At times in the temple, we would be gathered around him for an explanation of what we were observing.  The nomadic people would come around us and listen and look.  I think there were two things going on here. They thought it strange that one of their own would be speaking a foreign language.  And then, I think they were just curious about these strange looking foreigners.  Some of them may have never seen foreigners.  It was really a funny scene.  They were looking at us and we were looking at them.

We could not take pictures inside the temple but it was generally dark and was lit by numerous candles.  There was one interesting situation.  One of the grand pooh bahs from the 7th Century married a girl from Nepal.  Part of the dowery was a large statue of Buddha.  The temple was built to house this and another statue.  As we were approaching the statue, there was a good size group gazing at the statute and chanting.  But our guide led us right between the people and the statue.  Just did not seem right to do it that way.

In the morning we visited the Portala Palace, the iconic image of Tibet.  I can not figure how it escaped the destruction of the Red Guards during the "Cultural Revolution" of the 1970s. It was started in the seventh century by the fifth Dahli Lama if I have my facts right.  It has a red part and a white part as your will see from the picture I will post.  One served as thequarters for the Dahli Lama and the other section was devoted to more governmental affairs.  I make no attempt to understand Buddhism or the significance of the Dahli Lama, but this was an impressive building. The painted wood, the tapestries , the statuary, and the tombs of the various Dahli Lamas were beautiful.  We could not take pictures inside; so you will just have to take my word for it.

This afternoon, we went to the Sera Monastery where 550 monks live.  There used to  be 5000 monks at this place.  Our guide gave me an evasive answer when I asked him about the reason for the decline.  I think I know but that opinion is probably best expressed when we get to India.  We visited their printing shop and chanting hall.  Lastly we went to an open air area where the monks were suppposed to "debate".  We had to leave before they started but I wll post some pictures anyway.

I noticed that there were numerous uniformed police and military types at both of these places.  There is absolutely no public safety justification for their presence at these places.  Again, I think I know the reason.

Both of these places were crawling with natives who were there to worship.  They bowed and prayed at various statues.   They brought yak butter and put it in cauldrons which had burning wicks.   They left money at certain statues.  From time to time, we would come across people who were picking up the money.  They certainly did not look offical to me but I am no judge of such around here.

At the monastery, there were places too sacred to take pictures.  But if you made a payment in a prescribed amount, the area became less sacred and you could take pictures.

After my visits to the temple yesterday and to the two places today, I can say with confidence that I have seen enough images of Buddha to last me a lifetime.

Later this afternoon, we went to a nunnery.  It was much smaller and I took a picture of the nuns chanting. Deb thought the nuns were much friendlier than the monks as they smiled and made eye contact.

It was in a Muslim section of the city that had a large outdoor market.  I am going to post a photo that shows a cart of colorful dried fruit.

This whole trip and especially this Tibet section is just like opening a National Geographic Magazine and turning the pages.  But here we are live doing it.  You almost want to pinch yourself now and then.  We consider ourselves fortunate to have these experiences.

Temperature was in the low 40s here today.  We brought enough clothes thankfully.

We head for warmer climates tomorrow.  It will be a travel day.  We take a commercial flight back to Chendu and then our charter flight to Agra, India will take five and one half hours.

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