Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Itinerary. Shigatse and Sakya, Tibet, China.

Shigatse.
Continuing on a southwest path from Lhasa to Kathmandu, our next stopover after Gyantse is

to the town of Shigatse. Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet and the seat of the Panchen Lama, traditionally based in Tashilhunpo Monastery.

The Panchen Lama,is the second-highest-ranking lama after the Dalai Lama in the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

Exactly who the current (11th) Panchen Lama is is mired in political controversy between the Chinese Government and the Government of Tibet in Exile. As the story is written in an entry in wikipedia:
"Following the unexpected death of the 10th Panchen Lama in 1989, the search for his reincarnation quickly became mired in political controversy. Chadrel Rinpoche, the head of the search committee, was able to secretly communicate with the Dalai Lama. However, after the Dalai Lama announced Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the new Panchen Lama, Chinese authorities arrested Chadrel Rinpoche, who was replaced with Sengchen Lobsang Gyaltsen. Sengchen had been a political opponent of the previous Panchen Lama, as had the Dalai Lama himself. The new search committee decided to ignore the Dalai Lama's announcement and choose the Panchen Lama from a list of finalists, which did not include Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, by drawing lots from the Golden Urn. Qoigyijabu (born February 13, 1990) was announced as the search committee's choice on November 11, 1995.

The whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima are unknown. The Government of Tibet in Exile claims that he and his family continue to be political prisoners, and has termed him the youngest political prisoner in the world". The Chinese government claims that he is attending school and leading a normal life somewhere in China, and that his whereabouts are kept undisclosed to protect him."
According to the Lonely Planet guide, there are quite a few chapels, temples, and tombs to visit in Tashilhunpo Monastery.....and apparently, the monks exact steep fees to take pictures inside the buildings so I will have to be careful to pick which one I want to snap away at. The guide also recommends joining the kora (the path that that the Buddhist pilgrims follow when they circumambulate the monastery) to enjoy some photogenic views of the monastery. Located a short walk from the monastery is the Summer Palace of the Panchen Lamas which, as far as I can tell, does offer much to see. As with Gyantse, there is a Dzong where one can climb up to for views of the town of Shigatse below.
It looks like there's not much else to see in Shigatse other than the Tashilhunpo Monastery. The good news is there are a couple of internet cafes in town so I can at least send out some emails to friends and family.....and maybe post an entry or two to this travelogue!

Sakya.
Continuing south from Shigatse and ascending to 4280m in elevation, we will reach the town of Sakya. From the pictures that I've seen of the terrain in this part of Tibet, we will be in the heart of rugged high mountain plateau - rocky ground and very little, if any vegetation.
The main attraction in Sakya is the Sakya Monastery, one of the largest monasteries in Tibet and the seat of the Sakya or Sakyapa school of Tibetan Buddhism. What sets the Sakya Monastery aside from all the monasteries that we will have seen up to this point is characterized by its architecture which is medieval Mongolian in style and the color of the buildings which are ash grey with red and white vertical stripes unlike the whitewashed monasteries in Lhasa, Gyantse and Shigatse. To me the exterior of the Sakya Monastery doesn't look like it's much to write home about but apparently the Monastery houses some spectacular artwork in all of Tibet and there is a huge library of as many as 84,000 scrolls which I don't believe is open to the public. By the time I finish touring Sakya, I will probably be "monasteried out". Fortunately, I think the simple views of the rugged landscape offered by Mother Nature will more than satisfy my senses!