Ok, so it's 6:30am, and so cold outside! As beautiful as the view is from Drikung's public toilet, all you want to do is be finished! At 7am, we all pile back into Mr. Hong's car and make our way back down the mountain to Terdrom nunnery, about 40 minutes away. At 7:50, we were separating, men and women, to go into the hot springs, for which I would like to say, no one except Mr. Hong was prepared. No flip flops, no towel, no bathing clothes. So, Stephanie, Doris and I walked into the changing area in front of the women's half of the hot spring, wondering what we were going to wear in the spring. We looked around the corner and realized--nothing... The Tibetan women were all naked in the spring.
So, we all took a deep breath, stripped down and got in the water. Aside from the staring, which was surprisingly at a minimum, it was a wonderful experience to be immersed in hot, hot water, with the coldness outside, and the sometimes disappointing nature of the showering in the dorms, (every so often, when the weather is overcast, the hot water disappears because the heating operates mainly by solar energy.) So, we spent twenty to thirty minutes in the water, then had to get out--it was extremely hot.
It was also interesting to be the only foreigners in the spring and to observe the women there. While they did not wear any clothing in the spring, they continued to wear their jewelry, and of course, the nomad women had the stones in their hair. It was quite aesthetic. Furthermore, because the springs are holy, blessed with healing powers by Padmasambhava, many of them prayed the whole time they were in the water.
When we exited the water, we then had to decide which piece of clothing to dry off with, which we then could not wear because it would be soaked. So, with that decision made, we dried, dressed and met Mr. Hong and Michael outside. We went to the small restaurant there and while we were eating, Mr. Hong told us that we would be visiting another highly advanced teacher, a woman, this time, a dakini.
After breakfast, he asked a nun the way to where this woman was staying. She pointed up the mountain, and said she was near a cave. Well, aside from Mr. Hong, none of us had ever visited any caves, but the mountain was quite high, and I was a little discouraged, and honestly, a little ticked at Mr. Hong for not really letting us know what we were getting into by going on a weekend trip with him. But, it is difficult to stay mad at a monk, so I got over it, and we started up the mountain.
Pretty quickly, I fell behind the rest, and Michael agreed to stay back with me, going slowly, and if I decided I could not continue, he said he would stop as well. So, as we made our way slowly up the side of the mountain, we developed a system of determining short goals, consisting of blob rocks (dirt piles with lichen growing on them), yak poo piles, grey flowers, and prickly bushes. We took turns pointing out the next goal (ex. "Let's make it to the pile of three yak poos.") I will say that I am not ashamed it took me three hours to make it to the small gompa. I made it and that is all that matters.
The view from this mountain is spectacular, and if anyone reading this ever goes to Terdrom, I highly suggest climbing at least partway up to get the view. On the neighboring mountain, is a herd of yaks that slowly make their way up, down, and around the mountain. In fact, we encountered a yak in our path on the way up. He was beautiful, and eating his tether rope.
There is a river that runs between the nunnery and the mountain we were climbing. Across the river and up the sides of the mounains are strung thousands of prayer flags, there are birds flying, and on the side we were on, some nomads were camping with their ponies. Further up the side of the opposite mountain, are some of the holy caves in which Padmasambhava meditated, with more flags, and for a reasonable cost of $7000, you can have a hut built above the nunnery so that you too can meditate in this idyllic locale.
As we continued up the mountain, it was clear that the mountains here are young. The blob rocks seem to be the displacement of the earth from the upward movement of the mountain. They occur at fairly regular intervals, all the way across the mountain. Nothing has been smoothed down, and worn flat over time. As we continued, up, the path got steeper and rockier, but the view was just as beautiful. Unfortunately, it is difficult to admire the view when one is out of breath.
Also at regular intervals, there were piles of stones, placed as prayers beside the path. As we approached one particularly large pile of stones, Michael announced that it was the top of the mountain--it wasn't, for which he apologized profusely. Luckily, the actual top of the mountain was not too far away. When we reached it though, and were able to look over the top of the mountain, we saw--nothing. I was feeling pretty unpleasant at this point (aside from being out of breath, and not owning hiking shoes, which is not good for the feet, I was also getting cold, because I was missing my shirt/impromptu towel. I had a thermal silk shirt and a hoodie, but at that altitude, with the wind, it was not quite enough.) So, we continued over the top of the mountain, following the path, and following the path, and following the path. It continued for quite a while, though luckily across the mountain in a fairly level manner.
At one point, I sat down to take a break, and Michael continued on to the top of a small ridge, to see what he could see, and he shouted back that he found it! Well, I got up, made my way to the top of the ridge, and sure enough, in the distance, on the other side of a small valley, across a semi-frozen stream, there was indeed a small gompa. So, we continued, and as we got closer, we saw Mr. Hong run out of the gompa, shouting, "Michael! Michael!" Then, he waited until we were closer, then came over to us, and walked the rest of the way in with us.
When we got into the nunnery, it consisted of perhaps three or four buildings and I'm sure, there were only a few nuns living there with the Khandro-ma. I, for one, was relieved that they did not have the traditional butter tea, but rather delicious plain tea of some sort.
Now, while this elderly woman that we met may indeed have advanced spiritual knowledge, she looked and acted, for all the world, like anyone's grandmother. She did not want us to do any prostrations and sat with us on a mattress on the porch in front of the small main temple, and she freely held hands with whomever was closest to her.
After Michael and I had rested for a bit, she sent us upstairs to visit their assembly room, then had the main temple opened for us. All the while, her tortoise-shell cat wandered around, in and out of the temple, and in and out of people's laps.
Finally, Mr. Hong decided it was time to leave, and on our way out, this lovely woman gave Stephanie the phone number of the gompa so that all of us could keep in touch. To date, however, whenever Stephanie has called, no one has picked up the phone. And Mr. Hong promised we would return.
The trip back down the mountain was, of course, much faster, and unlike previous trips, I did not need any assistance, whatsoever, on my descent. So, we made our way back to the car, during which time, a nun asked me for my glasses, and I lost my hat.
Because we spent so much time on the mountain, we had to skip the visit to Drepung monastery that Mr. Hong had planned. Instead, we came back to Lhasa, only stopping to eat by the side of the road. At that point, however, I was too tired even to eat. I think we were all happy, though to be back in Lhasa. It was one crazy weekend.