Once across the hall, we discover an interior square gallery bordered by prayer wheels which it would be ill-advise not to follow.
Abstract = We leave Tsetang and follow the southern bank of the Brahmaputra westward. A barge enables us to reach the northern bank from where we gain access to Samye G. After the visit we cross the river and a bit further we go up a side valley up to Mindroling gompa. Then later we reach Dranang gompa.
We leave Tsetang around 9h00 after having taken breakfast in our room. The road is so good that we miss Chasa lhakhang. When I realize my error we have overshot it by 15 km. At 4/5 kms of Tsetang, Chasa was included in the last houses in the West suburbs the city. We continue by road up the Brahmaputra and after having left a crest which advances to the river we arrive at the level of the bank where stands a flat-bottomed boat which takes us to the other bank in order to visit Samye in the opposite valley.
This bank is 200m below the main road and one cannot miss it.
There is a car park for vehicles. And an enclosure surrounds some houses which supply drinks and meals to the drivers awaiting the return of the pilgrims. The barge is almost full and ready to leave when we arrive. It needs 1h45 to reach the other bank. The river is divided at this place into eight to ten swallow arms and we progress while making wide loops to avoid shoals.
On the other side samples of vehicles await us. We travel by a minibus which passes the village of Zukhar then we pass under a series of chortens cut in the rock. Between the road and the Brahmaputra river are large sand hills. At the entry of the valley of Samye we leave a sand hill on our right and drive towards the monastery of Samye whose gold roofs are visible from a far. The village is inside the valley and an enclosure surrounds the monastery.
We enter by the northern door and we stop in front of a series of buildings including a restaurant and a guesthouse. We decide to have lunch before beginning our visit. Our guide finds in the restaurant one of his former school comrades whom he had lost contact with. His friend had had a serious accident and was handicapped. We ordered Momos and have to wait more than one hour to be served, so that we have time to observe all the tables, but we remain upset.
The monastery was built following the model of an Indian monastery in the 8th century and is thus exceptional.
In addition to the large principal rooms, this temple presents on four levels of many chapels and hundreds of meters of entirely painted galleries with quality religious scenes. How we regret our lack of culture then!
According to our guide who was formerly a monk, there is for each of the thousand people of these frescos a whole mythical history so full of symbols that their understanding is very complex.
The principal temple is surrounded by 4 large chortens of almost 30 or 40 meters in height, of different colors, located at all cardinal corners.
We also visit some temples which were rebuilt in the South of the principal temple. Taking into account empty spaces which separate them, one can imagine the extent of the destruction carried out by the red guards. There is a hill of almost 300m high in the E of the monastery. On top of the hill, a chapel had been rebuilt.
As it should be climbed on foot I give up this exercise for fear of delaying us. We return to sit down close to the restaurant while waiting for the minibus to take us back to the barge.
The sight of the temple whose frontage is so majestic and whose covered multiple roofs of gold sheets reflecting the rays of the sun is a really splendid spectacle. Construction dates 740/750 and has resisted time and difficult weather conditions in spite of the materials used. It was fascinating and time just stopped!
Later we returned to the barge, and crossed the Brahmaputra which was such as long on the way back. We found our driver and take the road to Lhasa up the southern bank of the Brahmaputra. We continue to the first valley which we meet and to go up it to the monastery of Mindroling. The village is nearly 300m on the left of the road and the monastery is 100m on the right.
We leave the car and go up a path surrounded by low walls. At its end, on the right, there is a small temple containing a large prayer wheel in front of a very large 20m height white chorten surrounded by seven separate stupas at each corner. This chorten is a remarkable sight in the valley and can be seen from a long distance.
Crossing the large gate at the bottom of the chorten, we discover a large statue of Cakyamouni.
When leaving we go up a little pass before arriving at the monastery. It is necessary to circumvent an enclosing wall because the gate to enter faces the S. It was constructed in 1670 at the place of a chapel of the ancient Nyingmapa branch.
In the wide yard are five temples where only two are opened to pilgrims.
In the Tsulhakhang, monks recite sutras.
We visit upstairs the higher chapels which contain relics. Tibetans pilgrims are numerous. Their valley of origin is unknown us and they are entirely dressed in old fashioned dresses with craggy faces like the Changtang nomads arriving from far distant valleys. These peasants seem different from those which we have previously met, they did not look at us, they were happy to deposit offerings, to revive the lamps' flames with large spoonfuls of butter. We follow the crowd, one behind the other. At one point, as I had exhausted all my money and I hopelessly sought another coin or banknote to deposit in the following altar, the old Tibetan woman, dressed with so worn clothes, who followed me, saw my distress and instantly handed me half of her bundle of banknotes while insisting that I deposit them. I will not forget her glance which in spite of her age, was so luminous and insistent. I could not react and keep the money. Like a flash I imagine all the sufferings which she had endured and the difficulties which she had overcome and she gives alms to me! A reverse world. What a lesson!
These people have no other aim in life but to improve their soul by accepting life as it is, they never complain, sharing what they own with others and to visit monasteries to take as model the saints who preceded them. Not only do they appear to us as representatives of an another world with their clothing but seeing them exercise their faith makes us feel humble. We then resolve to try to cease living as we do, to see the world differently, and we make all kinds of resolutions. But will we be able to change our ways of life?
We make an inventory of the villages of the valley.
We return on the same road, go down the valley to Drachi up to the Brahmaputra valley. There is no village at the cross road, at the bottom of the valley. The next southward valley leads to Dranang. We first cross the Chinese city then the Tibetan one. At its southern end, a street on the right carries on to the monastery of Dranang.
Unlike the other monasteries, this one has no courtyard, as in our own churches. The temple opening is in the street. During the visit, when I say to the monks that I am French and friend of Mrs. Karme who, ten years ago, spent each summer here to renovate the temple with the money collected by her association "Shalu", I get no any reaction. Here no reference or letter of introduction receives the least echo. Indeed Tibetans have become extremely carefull since the arrival of the Chineses and start to take confidence only after a certain time after having become acquaintances. We insist on sleeping in the enclosure of the monastery. The monks are living in one of the houses of the street facing the entry of the monastery.
After a long discussion, we are authorized to stay for the night on the condition we do not leave our bedroom. One of them proposes a room located on the first floor, close to several chapels of meditation. Inside, there are two lines of low coffers used as tables at lunch time or as beds when covered with Tibetan carpets. Behind the curtain of the window we have the sight of the street which leads to the monastery. We take our diner, stretch on our future beds, as the Romans did in antiquity around some food brought by our guide which we lay out on the tables arranged in front of us. I then take some time to put some order to my notes.