Sunday, September 23, 2007

Labulengsi and Yaks Galore

[[note: blogger is having pictures issues - the rest from this entry will be up soon]]

9:30 am Get off the train
12:30 pm Arrive in Linxia for Lunch
4:00 pm Tour Labrang Monastary
8:00 pm Buddhist Talk

Got off the train and onto the bus. Our tour guide IS Candy (in a few years) - it's absolutely uncanny.

We had lunch in the Hui Muslim capital of Linxia, at a restaurant called the Red Garden. We had a spectacular peppered onion and carrot dish. I also ate lilly root for the first time - not bad.

We finally pulled into Xiahe around 4. Something I should have mentioned earlier is that everything here - from Linxia to Xiahe is gloriously green and mountainous. The mountains themselves are covered with rice paddies and goats. For this reason alone, Xiahe is my favorite spot so far. It really is just absolute beauty as far as the eye can see.

We toured the Labrang Monastary for the afternoon (Yellow hat sect). We weren't allowed to take pictures indoors, so I'll have to see if I'm able to find some postcards because it really was quite incredible. Everything was amazing. Every inch of the interior of every building was absolutely covered in teh most colorful artwork imaginable. We first ent into a chanting hall. It had rows of carpets for the monks to sit and chant on. It also had statues of several Buddhas, including the living Buddha who founded the monastary, Siddhartha, the Buddha of Wisdom, etc. There were even a few statues made out of yak butter, to represent transience. They were incredibly detailed. And made of butter. Just think about it. I'll post pictures down below - by the new years statue paragraph. Connected to the chanting hall was a stupa room. It contained the remains of all the living BUddhas of the monastary, as well as some of the favored teachers.

Next we went into a hall that was filled with monks chanting. I think our guide said it was part of the medicinal college. Labrang monastary has served as a university (with several colleges) for thousands of years. The chanting monks were all wearing ornate headresses. In the back was a room containing a huge Buddha statue (the medicine buddha), some pictures of living buddhas associated with he field, and some medicinal mandalas (as well as the typical artwork and silks everywhere).

Next we went into a building containing another giant buddha, although no chanting hall. From the outside you would never expect that these buildings contained such beautiful, colorful and intricate art. This buddha was the buddha fo knowledge, and we were informed that students seek inspiration from him when they're having difficulty studying.

Next stop - a room filled with yak butter statues from each new year. They were in various stages of melting. Apparently a new one is made for each new year celebration. These statues are so intricate, you would never believe that they were made of butter! This picture is of BUTTER. It blows my mind. Luckily, we were allowed to take pictures there, so I can share this phenomenon with you.

We made a quick jaunt through a small museum and then went to watch the students have a "debate." This involved a group of students asking one or two others questions about sutras etc. If they got it right they would clap in their faces, wrong and then would smack them on the head. I have pictures and video.

Our last stop at Labulengsi was the home of a monk, where a former monk who used to live there and speaks English spoke to us about monk daily life. He also spoke about how he left the monastary for what he thought was love and then had his heart broken and now he eternally regrets leaving since he can never go back. It was really sad.

At 6:30 we headed off to a Tibetan home for dinner. The layout was much the same as the monks. They have a stupa in the courtyard where they burn wood each morning because they believe that the resulting smoke with protect inhabiting spirits.

If I wasn't aquainted with yak before this visit, I am now. On the dinner menu: Fresh bread and yak butter, yak milk tea, yak buttermilk tea (totally different), beef noodle soup (what?), yak meat dumplings, yak yoghurt, and this amazing stuff called somba. Somba is about 2 tbs. yak milk tea, a dollop of yak butter, 2 tbs barley flour, 1 tbs crunchy stuff [[I thought it was millet, but was informed later that it was yak cheese]], and a tsp. of sugar. You then knead this mixture with your fingers in a small bowl and eat the dough it produces. I really liked this dish, although the majority of our group did not.

After dinner we checked into our hotel which is amazing. It's like a glorified garage, and it's just so colorful! There's even art on the ceilings! I'll post some pictures but they will not do it justice. When we first checked in they draped white silk over our shoulders in the traditional form of Tibetan greeting (very similar to being leid in Hawaii, but with textiles and Tibetans). This happened to me several times in Xiahe.

From 8-9:15 we had a research expert give us a talk on Tibetan Buddhism. It was really quite facinating. Among the interesting things I learned: 1. Population growth can be explained by the fluctuation of the distribution of spirits throughout the different realms (spirit, half spirit, human, animal, demon, hell). Population is up because there have been good things, so spirits are being reincarnated as peple. 2. Mahayana looks down on Hinayana because they are individual and not group focused, and Hinayana doesn't accept Mahaana because they added more scriptures to what the Buddha originall offered.

I'm going to wake up at 7 tomorrow for my first hot shower in about 5 days, and a promised "western breakfast." I'll let you know if there's spam.

I love beautiful Xiahe!

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