Suitcase and World: Labrang Monastery. Part 1.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Labrang Monastery. Part 1.

By 9:30a, we were all out the door of the Nirvana Hotel, following Eric to Labrang Monastery. He bought our entry tickets and we walked in, joining the pilgrims on the kora. Yim and Sal spun the prayer wheels as they walked along. I opted to just take photos from afar.

This is another long posting because of all the photos.  I took a lot of photos starting with the prayer wheels that line part of the kora. You've been warned!

The kora was quite a long walk.  Apparently, it is the longest corridor of prayer wheels over the world, with over 1,700 scripture wheels. The hexagonal wood cylinders are carved with different scriptures and patterns on each side. The whole monastery is encircled by the corridor, stretching as long as 3.5 kilometers (2.7 miles). 

Across the walkway that ran alongside the long line of prayer wheels, devotees were prostrating.  If I remember my Tibetan Buddhism practices correctly, each devotee has to prostrate 108 times to show their sign of devotion.

End to end, it takes more than an hour to walk the length of the corridor.  We only did a small section and even with that, I managed to take a lot of photos along the way :-)

Although we were walking outside the complex, we could get glimpses of what was inside and the building facades and rooftops.  I am having flashbacks of Tibet!

Some of the intricately carved woodwork was beautiful.

From the kora route, we veered off on to a side alley to enter the main complex.  I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of these two women selling something I had never seen before.  In all honesty, I have no idea what it is and neither did Eric.  When he asked the women, they replied that it was a candy of sorts.  Maybe I'll find some for sale in a store downtown.

Whatever it is, it was as hard as a rock and yes, I bought a small piece out of curiosity.  I don't think it will rot so I hope that one day, someone will be able to tell me what it is.

We entered a large square.  Welcome to the heart of Labrang Monastery!

Up on the hillside, behind the complex were a couple dozen small little hut type structures.  I think these are huts where devotees go to meditate and pray.

We took so much time taking photos that we ran late for our tour. I had completely forgotten that there is an English one that starts at 10:15a and it's run by one of the monks.  It didn't seem like Eric knew exactly where the starting point for the tour was so for a few minutes, he was frantically asking for directions as we were running dangerously close on missing out on the tour all together.

Thankfully, we arrived with a few minutes to spare.  I could see the relief on Eric's face.  In addition to us, there was a European tour group along for our walk.  We followed the monk to visit a few of the places that are open to the public.

We started at the so called Labrang Monastery Relic Musuem where the monastery's collection of yak butter sculptures are on display.   This was the only place we were allowed to take photos inside.

One step inside and the memory of the distinctive odor of yak butter tickled my nostrils.  It's not a pleasant smell as far as I am concerned.  On the other hand, the art pieces were pretty cool - very elaborately sculpted and painted.  I wouldn't have known they were made of yak butter if the monk had not told us ahead of time.

There are numerous temples and chapels in the monastery but people are only allowed inside two of them – Shou’an Temple and Shou’xi Temple. Shou'an is home to the monastery's tallest (12 meter, 39 feet Buddha image.

Also known as the Matreya temple, Shou Xi Temple is a fine example of the Labrang Buddhist temples, with five storeys and a palace-like structure. The temple has a plaque with the inscription of emperor Jia Qing “Shou Xi Si” ( Longevity Temple ).

Shao Xi Temple in the far distance.

The roof of the temple has gilded tiles decorated with various gilded bronze sculptures.

Our short tour was over after Shao Xi and we went to explore the place on our own. 

The Tibetan owner of the Nirvana Hotel told us that the monks gather in a courtyard, around 11:15a to debate.  Well, we were nearing that time so as soon as Yim mentioned this to Eric, we headed out in search of the monks.   Labrang is a big complex - there are courtyards everywhere.   The question was which one was the monks debating in.  Eric asked anyone he thought could help point us in the right direction and with every answer we got, we went this way and that way.

I think it was by sheer luck that we spotted a small group of monks sitting on some steps.  There was an older monk blocking our entrance but we found another entrance that was open and so we snuck in.  It was cool to see them dressed in robes with their yellow hats on.

We found some spots to sit on and we quietly watch the monks stream into the courtyard.   The number of monks grew quickly and soon two showed up on the rooftop.  You have to zoom into the photo to see that they are each carrying conch shells.

At the sound of the conch shells, the monks took off their boots and scurried inside the prayer hall which I just found out, courtesy of Google, is the Assembly Hall.  While we were in search of monks debating, we actually stumbled upon monks being called in for lunch!  Maybe this is what our hotel owner meant to tell us all along.....words got lost in translation.

In just a matter of seconds, all that was left on the steps were dozens of boots :-)  These are some hungry monks!

A few monks got creative about tying their boots together so as to not lose one.   I guess that happens.

Most of the boots looked identical to me.  I don't know how a monk can tell which pair belongs to him.

While the monks were inside eating, there was a lone devotee prostrating in the now empty courtyard.

As we were making our way out a side entrance, where the monk initially blocked our entrance, I notice devotees picking up small scraps of paper from a couple of large bins.  Curious about what they were doing, I stood and watched them.  The scraps were actually long ribbons of paper with Tibetan lettering on them.  The devotees would take a small yuan bill, place it on top of the ribbon and then roll up the ribbon.  They then walked to the entrance of the temple and toss the rolled up ribbon across the floor, towards a few monks who were unfurling the rolled up ribbons and collecting the cash.  This was the way the devotees were making their donations.  I explained what I saw to the gals and watched as they each did the same thing.

I decided to take one of the ribbons as a souvenir.  Later, I asked our Tibet hotel owner what the words said and he replied that they were the titles of chapters in a prayer book.  I have no idea if he is correct or not and even if I am posting the photo that I took of the ribbon right side up or upside down :-)

From here, it was on to exploring more of Labrang Monastery.