Monday, June 26, 2017

On The Road to Lamayuru. Phyang Monastery.

It was an early wake up call this morning.  When I was reviewing the itinerary, I knew we would be seeing Lamayuru Monastery today but for some reason, I never checked to see its distance from Leh so I didn't realize that it was not in easy driving distance of Leh.  We would actually spend the night in Lamayuru village.

In any case, last night we all scrambled to pack clothes and toiletries for our overnight trip.  This morning, the alarm went off bright and early at 6:30a.  I threw open the curtains and window to see this view - a section of the hotel's vegetable garden, the building that is the hotel's dining room and in the very far distance, snow dusted mountain peaks.  It's a very peaceful and quiet place here.  No wonder I slept so well last night.

Breakfast wasn't served until 7:30a and we were ready before then so we just took a short stroll around the garden. 

Our room is on the second floor.  It's the full set of windows on the right.

Even at 7:30a, breakfast wasn't quite ready but I think our presence inside the dining room got the staff hurrying.  Breakfast was nothing to write home about - pretty forgettable actually but enough to fill our bellies and get us going for the day.  I was excited about whatever it was that lay ahead of us today.

Breakfast over, we headed back to the room for a few minutes before making it back downstairs by 8:30a.  In the hotel's very small parking lot, I noticed a man, dressed head to toe in navy blue, wiping down the outside of an SUV.  I thought that might be our driver so I approached and asked, "Dorje?".  The man looked up at me and nodded.  Immediately, I was captivated by the color of his eyes which were like a shade of hazel green.  He smiled at me but it was a shy smile.  He was so soft spoken than when he asked me a question, I could barely hear him despite the fact that I was standing close to him.  I hope that as we get to know Dorje, his shyness will dissolve away.  I think there's a nice guy underneath that navy blue sweater.

We left Hotel Kidar pretty much promptly at 8:30a and Dorje had to navigate our SUV through the narrow and already crowded streets of old Leh.  New Leh is not much of a city to be admired - there's no beauty to the buildings or streets many of which are still unpaved.  It's a functional town.

The same cannot be said of the surrounding landscape.  It is gorgeous here!  

Our view was pretty much was mountains and valleys and streams for the hour long drive though we did pass through a couple of small villages along the way.  Our first sighting of Phyang Monastery was from the road.  I joked with Ayşe about seeing more Buddhas and more monasteries - had she not had enough after the countless Buddhas and monasteries in Myanmar that she needed to come to Ladakh and see more?  What was she thinking?  Of course, I had to take the opportunity to give her a brief lesson on Tibetan Buddhism versus the Theravada teachings that Burmese monks ascribe to.  I am truly a font of a lot of useless trivia 😁

Dorje dropped us off at the parking lot which is situated at the base of the monastery.  With a few words in broken English and the wave of a hand, he sent us off to explore on our own.  In hindsight, for the girls, it would have been good to have had a guide explain Tibetan Buddhism and monasteries to least once so they would could put what they were about to see, in context.  I know a bit but really not enough to fully educate them.

From the parking lot, we walked up towards the entrance which is often marked by the classic Buddhist symbol of a pair of deer flanking a dharma wheel.

In Buddhism, the deer symbolizes harmony, happiness, peace and longevity. When a male and a female deer are represented together (often beside the Dharma wheel) it is a direct allusion to the first teachings of Buddha near Varanasi. In one of this former lives, Buddha was a golden deer that spoke to men.

The dharma wheel, traditionally represented with eight spokes, has a variety of meanings. It initially only referred to royalty but it began to be used in a Buddhist context on the Pillars of Ashoka during the 3rd century BC. The dharma wheel is generally seen as referring to the historical process of teaching the Buddha Dharma, the eight spokes referring to the Noble Eight-fold Path. The dharma wheel is usually represented as being placed atop a lotus flower.  The lotus also has several meanings, often referring to the quality of compassion and subsequently to the related notion of the inherently pure potential of the mind.

Walk towards the deer and the wheel!

Phyang Monastery is situated atop a hill.  The monks get to enjoy some magnificent views of the surrounding valley and hills every day!

There were no signs directing us which way to go.  Thankfully, there were passing monks who pointed us in the right way.

The first monk had us going up to a building that looked like it has just been newly constructed - the paint job just looked to pristine.

We took our shoes off as is customary before entering a Buddhist temple.

Definitely a new door.

We entered into a small anteroom that was still under construction - the mural was still being worked on.  It was interesting to see the underlying design.  I did wonder whether or not it was taken from some sort of a template or whether an artist i.e., a monk designed from scratch, so to speak.

We then headed inside to the prayer hall itself.  So new I swear I could still smell the wood that was used in its construction.

The prayer hall looked like it had been barely used.  Last time I was inside a Tibetan Buddhist prayer hall was in 2010 when I was in Sikkim.  When the room is in full use, it's typically cluttered with all sorts of stuff - robes, musical instruments, prayer offerings, etc.  The one thing that has always stood out for me is that I never imagined that a Buddhist place of worship would this filled with design and be this colorful.  You would think the interior design of the space would be pretty bare to encourage contemplation.  I would be too busy looking at everything to focus on praying.

Unlike the Buddhas in Myanmar and even in Thailand, which were often covered in so much gold leaf (applied by devotees on pretty much a daily basis) that you could often not even make out the human form underneath it all, Tibetan Buddhas are not touched.  Only adornment might be a prayer scarf.

The moment I saw the yak butter ornaments, I was grateful, this was a barely used prayer hall.  Otherwise, we would be overwhelmed by what I describe as the stench of burning yak butter.  It is an acquired scent.

A few minutes inside and then we were back outside again.  Where to next?

We walked back towards our SUV and along the way, crossed paths with Dorje.  He waved us to follow him and so we did.  We ended up in a small courtyard.  I could hear the sound of monks chanting. It was prayer time.

That cute little pair of Croc like slippers on the right are a reminder that many monks are just very young boys.

We took off our shoes, gently pushed open the door and found a bench, along the back wall, to sit on.  I refrained from taking any photos but instead, turned my camera on to video mode; I wanted to record a bit of the chanting.

We didn't stay long.  When we exited, Dorje was waiting for us.  He then waved us to enter another room that looked like some sort of a reception hall.  We were instructed to take seats and then a monk came by and served us cups of yak butter tea and cookies.  I have to admit that when I first thought of yak butter tea, appetizing thoughts did not cross my mind. When I looked at the rings of butter fat floating on the surface of the tea, I was sure I would not enjoy it.  Well, I have had it on several occasions and while I would have to also admit it's not my favorite beverage, it most certainly is not as unappetizing as I thought it would be.  I just had to train my brain cells to not think of tea as necessarily being a sweet drink.  Instead, I imagine I am drinking tea based soup.  Yep, that has worked for me all these years.  It was the first sip of yak butter tea for both Chantale and Ayşe.  As expected, there were no thumbs up from either of them.  Maybe they will begin to acquire the taste for the beverage in the days to come as I'm sure we'll have more opportunities to drink yak butter tea!

Along with our small cup of yak butter tea, we got a biscuit to dunk into it.

Funny enough, when Chantale was offered the cookie, she looked up at the monk and pointed to her teeth.  Okay, she wears Invisalign braces which are made of clear plastic so they are not obvious when she opens her mouth and you see her teeth.  I don't think it dawned on her, as she was tapping on her braces, that all the monk saw were her teeth.  He had no clue about the braces and even if he did, he's most likely to be expecting to see a mouth full of metal.  So, he's probably thinking....okay, you have teeth, I am offering you a cookie, what's the deal?  Why do you keep pointing to your teeth?  I told her this afterwards and we both had a good chuckle over it.

Even Dorje took time out to enjoy a cup of the warm tea and munch on a biscuit.  On the table next to him were laid out some yak butter sculptures ready to be painted.

It was really kind of the monks to treat us to tea and cookies.  I discreetly asked Chantale to leave behind a small donation which she did.  After our tea break, it was back to our SUV and on to our next destination.

We are in Ladakh, the land of stupas.....more to come before the day ends!