16.09.2009 - 25.09.2009 10 °C
After Litang I decided to go north. I had heard of famous Buddhist schools there and I wanted to check it out. I made a short overnight stop in Ganzi and from there headed West, towards the border with Tibet. Here are two pictures I took on the way:
I arrived in Manigango, a small (Tibetan) cowboy-style village. The whole area along the border with Tibet, is populated by Tibetan (or related) people. Lots of monasteries, yaks and monks, and the whole region is at around 4000 m altitude. Best of all there's no riot police on every corner. I haven't seen Tibet, but from what I've heard from other travelers I think staying inside China along the border is a good (and especially cheaper!) alternative. I really liked the atmosphere there with long-haired Tibetans wearing traditional clothes with large knives riding around on motorbikes. Since I didn't have any knives anymore (my Mongolian knife and my Swiss-army knife were both confiscated at the Bangkok airport), I bought one here from a local family. It's quite used, but I think this adds to it's charm. Here are some pictures from Manigango:
The main street and the village seem from a hill.
There are prayer flags and even fields of them all around.
This is the shower. Joy of joys!
I stayed one night in Manigango and heard about a large monastery further West. So the next day I was walking along the road in Western direction when a guy on a motorbike stops and offers me a ride. I had my big backpack on and we had to cross a pass at nearly 5000 m a.s.l, but what the hell. So I rode across the pass on the back of a bike wearing my backpack. In retrospect riding on the back of a bike wearing a 15 kg backpack is not a very pleasant experience. But the views were phenomenal. That must be one of the most beautiful area I have seen. Unfortunately I was too busy hanging on for dear life to take pictures. Still, here are two from me and my driver on top of the pass:
The Dzongchen Monastery is situated in a side valley. There is a small village at the bottom of the mountains in the main valley with some Guest Houses and restaurants for the monks (or the rare tourists that stop here). There are several temples, two large schools (one for children and one for adults) and some kind of meditation retreat. It's a pretty large complex and I even found several monks that spoke English (having spent some time in Nepal or India).
This is a picture of the side valley the monastery is located in with one of the temples in the middle, the adult school on the right and a glacier in the background.
These are the dormitories of the adult school. I cannot think of any reason why they decided to incorporate the rock into the building, but some things will just remain mysteries for us Westerners. I peeked into one of the rooms of a young monk and found pictures of famous lamas on the walls. I wonder what these monks would think of the pictures that usually hang on the walls of boy's dormitories in the West.
I bought the green cap in Bangkok to replace my very worn "Institut Polaire" cap from Antarctica.
Finally I could eat Thukpa and momos again! The woman on the right wears a traditional Tibetan dress and hair decoration.
Walking around with Claudia from Germany, the only other Westerner around. The hut is far up the mountains and I suppose it is meant for solitary retreats. The little shack is a meditation place.
This is the kind of toilet you encounter here. Fortunately the one in my Guest House had a roof and walls around it. I am still not exactly sure how you are supposed to make use of this design.
Once again the trash is an unsolved problem. And this is inside the monastery grounds, mind you.
I stayed in Dzogchen for maybe 5 days. There was a big Buddhist festival that was to be around 10 days later, but I didn't want to wait for it. So I went back to Ganzi.
Since we are on the subject of toilets I want to show you the standard toilet you will (reluctantly) have to use in the rural Chinese regions. Private toilets are an unheard-of luxury and people usually use some kind of public or common toilet that consist of a row of holes in the ground, sometimes separated by a small wall. This is an example found at my Guest House in Ganzi.
I went to visit the monastery in Ganzi, which is quite a large institution. This is one of the temples. The temple area is surrounded by a great amount of small houses where the monks live.
In all of the temples in Western Sichuan the monks were burning this wood. It smells really good, maybe it's sandalwood, but I'm not sure.
The Sakyamuni Buddha and the Future Buddha wearing a really beautiful silk robe.
While I was walking around I found these monks chanting in the very low throaty voices common to Buddhist prayers. It sounded really good and the hats immediately reminded me of Tintin in Tibet.
A view of Ganzi from the monastery terrace.
While I was looking at the Future Buddha a monk came to me and gestured me to follow him. I thought that visiting hours were over and that he would escort me out, but he brought me to a small room with some beautiful tankas and statues where we sat down and discussed the Tibetan-Chinese conflict (in very limited English, but still), while drinking some salty tea with yak milk. As I was standing up to go after a while, he gestured me back and told me to kneel before him. He put some strange tiara on my head, started an incantation, and gave me some kind of white nut to eat with water. In the end he drew a red dot between my eyes using some kind of powder (maybe henna?). Then he gestured me to go. I have no idea what all that was about, but I suppose it was blessing. Yay, blessed by a Buddhist lama/monk, nothing can go wrong today!
After a night in Ganzi I continued East towards Kangding. I arrived there late at night and was asking directions in front of the bus station to find out in which direction to go to find the town center (where the Guest Houses usually are). One of the Chinese guys there who had arrived from Xiangcheng told me to come with him to his friends place and he ended up arranging everything for me. We went together for dinner and lunch the next day and this was the best Chinese food I have ever eaten. The Chinese way to eat out is to order (usually ridiculous amounts of) food that everybody shares on a big round table. Very communal, I like this system. But to eat really good food in China you have to go with someone who knows what to order, it's just not the same when you order things at random.