we took the public transport to the Drepung Monastery, west of lhasa, today. i was curious about monasteries and what goes on there, but not really that interested in paying money to see them. that said, im so glad i went. the Drepung, founded in the 1400s, was once the largest monastery on the planet, housing 10,000 monks. since the chinese takeover in 1951, the number has dwindled to 600.
we spent four to five hours exploring the place once we payed our small entry fee. it wasnt what i thought monasteries to be. i guess i always viewed them as "off limits" to visitors. this is not the case at all, at least this one (and many others in tibet). we were greeted with smiles from the monks and the pilgrims who were there to worship. many people often pointed us in the right direction so that we wouldnt get lost in the maze of alleys. it seemed that they wanted us to be exposed to what they believe and their practices. one nun even led us to an out-of-the-way area near a stream where there was some sort of holy shrine. we watched as she bowed to it, praying, and then we continued following her up the path. we couldnt communicate, but i think she wanted us to see that. the temples were other-worldly, almost eerie. they are considered holy places, so modest dress, removal of hats and limited picture taking (fee required) are all necessary. they are very colorful and ornate, but dark. there were different layouts, but mainly they consist of a large room, and a smaller room. the large room had a roped-off area with pads on the floor. i assume they were for praying or worshipping. the smaller rooms were the main destinations of the pilgrims and had many statues, shrines and idols of prominent buddhist figures or gods. there were large candles also, with many wicks, that the pilgrims would add wax to or pour liquid (water?) into. they also gave money to the statues. many statues had large mounds of bills at their feet. the pilgrims and monks can be heard uttering prayers or mantras when paying visits to the shrines.
who would have thought that people actually do this? i would never have taken their reverence in these temples seriously had i not seen it. of course, i wouldnt ridicule it. i just mean to say that it never even crossed my mind. one thing that i thought interesting was that they, tibetan pilgrims, were as fascinated by us as we were with them. thats saying alot, because they are fascinating. their appearance and customs, their ability to live in such an unaccomodating environent, and other things - i just cant get over it. to think that i am as unique as they are just doesnt make sense. the children just stare while the adults seem to be greatful for the opportunity for their kids to see a westerner. no matter how young or old, male or female, not one smile went unreturned. smiles are a universal language and transcend all spoken words. they are so effective at communicating friendliness. also, they really like my beard. well, i think they like it - they find it interesting, anyway. beards are not grown, maybe even cant be grown, among them. (the same goes for the chinese. once had a chinese cab driver tell me my beard was beautiful - not sure how i feel about another man saying something like that) the children cant seem to figure it out, but smile and shout out a "hello!" anyway, if they can. i offered one little boy the change to touch my face, but he only hid behind his dad who was encouraging him to go for it. its the people who have made this my favorite spot so far.