Things have been a bit hectic lately. Between class, helping people leave and friends being in town, it's been a long couple of weeks.
First, the Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu sect, recently had a birthday. Some friends and I went to his monastic seat, where he currently isn't sitting because he lives in India. The monastery, Tshurpu, was built in the 12th century and is quite lovely, nestled among verdant green mountains. It's about a two and a half hour bus ride from Lhasa. My friends and I were packed onto a bus of Tibetans, who were thrilled that we were students and going to visit the Karmapa's monastery on his birthday.
When we arrived, we first drank some tea and ate breakfast, since we had left Lhasa at 6:30 in the morning. Then, we began our tour of the monastery. At the entrance to the main temple, we had to argue with the man selling tickets. As students here, we try to pay tourist fees as infrequently as possible. Finally, at the urging of a monk from Tshurpu, the old man let us pass, and since we usually make offerings to the various deities in the temples, fees are a moot point anyway.
Inside the temple, the monks were chanting. We began our circumambulation by making change from one of the many offering plates. Then, the others offered butter. While three of us were waiting, a fourth was speaking with one of the monks. She then came over to us and gestured for us to come back. When we did, we received blessings from the most important statue in temple. The monk lifted it, and as we bowed our heads, and made a prayer, he touched it to the tops of our heads, while reciting a prayer, himself. He told us that the prayer or aspiration we had made would come true.
We continued our pilgrimage, making our way upstairs to the various temples there, and finally into the apartment of the Karmapa, himself. There, we received katas from the monk stationed in the room. Others have seen the Karmapa's legos and comic books, but I confess I was not looking for them, and didn't see them.
After we had seen all the temples at Tshurpu, we went down to the river for a picnic, which seems to be only a verb in Tibetan, linka dang (linka, by itself, means "park"). Others from our bus were already at the river, sitting on blankets, drinking tea and eating. We tried to find a nice place by the river, but it was a little difficult because much of the river bank was swampy...as I found out. I was standing by some rocks, turned to follow my friends, and found myself calf deep in mud. Luckily, I did not lose a shoe or get sucked under, but the mud stank of cow and/or yak poo, as both were present by the river. It did provide a wonderful opportunity for me to wade in the river, which was cool and relatively clean. We sat by the river until the bus was ready to leave. This is a very common Tibetan custom. Tibetans love to picnic and to take their time about it. They will sit and drink and eat for hours, napping in between meals.
While we were sitting by the river, we were facing a green mountain, which seemed to be home to quite a number of vultures. They would fly by five or six at a time. We counted more than twenty vultures while we were resting.
On the return trip to Lhasa, we stopped by a creek, believed to have been blessed by the third Karmapa. Everyone got off the bus so they could wash their faces and drink from the stream. The emptied out thermoses and water bottles so they could fill them with this blessed water. Even the dogs got a sip and a dip.
Then, we visited Nenung Monastery, a very small monastery way up on the side of a mountain. When I say it was on the side, I mean it. The drive up scared me. I was the only person on the bus who feared for her life. The Tibetans thought it was hysterical that I was afraid, but imagine being on a bus, the road is no wider than the vehicle, the turns are sharp, and the incline is steep. At one corner, the bus actually stalled and started to roll backwards. Unjustified fear? I think not.
This monastery is the seat of one of the heart sons of the Karmapa. There are four special students belonging to the Karmapa, called his heart sons. This one is now fourteen years old. We had the opportunity to meet him briefly. He had spent the morning debating, and by 4pm was undoubtedly exhausted. Each of us from the bus filed in with a kata and sometimes a money offering. The Tibetans performed prostrations before offering the katas and money. Then, each of us received a blessed string to wear around our necks. I looked at his face, and poor kid looked exhausted. I can't imagine having to spend the day studying or practicing rituals, then debating, then having to meet all these people. It must be really tough.
Finally, we made it back to Lhasa, uneventfully. I was happy to be able to remove my stinking, damp shoes and my half chuba, which was also speckled with mud, and just relax.