Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Nubra Valley. DIskit Monastery.


After arriving in the Nubra Valley and having a quick lunch, Dorje took us to Diskit Monastery.  Founded in the 14th century by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism, it is the oldest and largest monastery in the Nubra Valley.  It also happens to be where His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be coming to in the next few days.  He will be arriving into Ladakh tomorrow for a one month stay.

On our way to and from Leh and Lamayuru, we drove past Shiwatsel palace, the official residence of the Dalai Lama.  The building was set back quite a distance from the main and well shielded by a grove of trees so we really couldn't see much of the place.

In any case, the plan is for him to come to Diskit and do some teaching.  Apparently, every year he comes, he chooses a different monastery to be at.  This year, it's Diskit and we just so happen to be here as well!

Update:  July 12, 2017.   A brief article on the Dalai Lama's visit to Diskit Monastery

Like so many Tibetan monasteries, Diskit monastery is perched high up on hill.  There must be some Buddhist tradition for doing this as it would be infinitely easier to build the monastery on flat ground!

The narrow round wound its way up the mountain to the monastery.





At one point, we passed through a small area that looked to be a commercial area of some sort.  It wasn't a village, maybe just a few shops and eateries.  There were quite a lot of people milling around - far more than we had encountered at any of the other monasteries except for maybe Likir.  I took it as a sign that people were getting ready for the Dalai Lama's visit.  There was even some construction work going and from the look of it, I was wondering if they would actually finish in time - they have a little less than 2 weeks before he arrives at Diskit.


Like Likir, Diskit also has a large Maitreya Buddha statue.  He overlooks the valley, apparently in the direction of Pakistan.  Wonder if there is a subliminal message in his positioning?


By now, we knew the ritual.  Dorje parks the car and waves off in the general direction that we need to go in.  We figure out the rest.  So off we went.  Chantale spun the wheel for good luck. She well knows by now that she has to spin the large prayer wheel in the clockwise direction!


There was a nice map to guide us.  Too bad we couldn't take it with us 😁.  It wasn't hard though to figure out that there's only one way in and one way out.  You can't get lost and you can't stray.


So, we continued in the direction of the path.  Every now and again, there were painted signs to point the way.












In one of the courtyards, we happened on a group of men hard at working painting the facade of the building as well as the wooden windows.


I was surprised that they weren't really trying to be careful to not splatter paint everywhere including on themselves and even us.  Chantale was the first to notice the little dots of white paint on her pants.  All three of us got *blessed* with the white paint.  Okay, guys.  I know you have a lot of work to do in a very short amount of time but please be mindful of us tourists wandering about aimlessly.  Thank you.


In the same courtyard, I spotted a monk peering over the edge of the retaining wall.  I was curious to see what he was looking at so I wandered over towards the wall.

I loved his felt shoes.  He's a properly shod monk. The young ones wear sneakers.


In a nearby courtyard, a group of people dressed in the colors of the Tibetan Buddhist flag, were practicing some sort of a routine.  Presumably, it was rehearsal of a performance for the Dalai Lama. 


I tried to shoot a video of the rehearsal but it was so darn windy that I had difficulty holding the camera in position never mind my concern that I could be blown over the low retaining wall.  Here's what I shot.


We would later find out that the courtyard that they were performing in fronts the school (?) that the Dalai Lama would be teaching at during his visit to Diskit.


From the courtyard, there was also a really nice view of the Buddha, the Nubra Valley, and the mountains.  Too bad it's such a dreary day today because that would have been a spectacular view on a bright, sunny day.  If I remember correctly, that building at the foot of the hill that Buddha sits atop is the residence that the Dalai Lama will be staying at while he is at Diskit.  I'm sure it comes with a nice view as well!


Performance over, I turned my attention back to the monastery.



We found the doors to one temple were open so we took off our shoes and headed inside.







At the opposite end of the room from the door was a large display case.  That is a Maitreya Buddha.  Two of the photos are of the Dalai Lama.  Second from the left is a photo of a young boy.  That is a photo of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the last Tibetan born Panchen Lama.  The photo was taken sometime before May 1995 because that was when he was abducted by Chinese military forces from his home in Tibet.  He was six at the time and he has not been seen or heard from since.  The photo was a sign to me that Tibetan Buddhists are still devoted to him this day.  I don't know who the photo, on the far right, is of.



After visiting the main part of the monastery complex, we met back up with Dorje.  He then drove us the short distance to the Maitreya Buddha.



There wasn't a whole lot to see there.  So one quick walk around and I was ready to get back in the car.


Our visit to Diskit was short but plenty enough for me.  I've seen so many Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in my lifetime that I no longer really need to linger at one unless there is something truly interesting to experience....like monks chanting.  Diskit was abuzz with people preparing for the arrival of Dalai Lama, there really wasn't time to pay any attention to tourists.  By the way, the entire time we were here, we were the ONLY tourists.  I don't think we've really gone off the tourist beaten path but perhaps this is not a popular attraction for non-Buddhist tourists??


In any case, it was time to move on.  As we drove along the valley, I was still finding it hard to believe that in the middle of a range of snow capped mountains sits a desert but here it is.  This is the Nubra Valley.


It was time to check into our hotel in the small village of Hundur.  Situated in an oasis, nestled in and among groves of trees were the tourist hotels and there are quite a few of them here.  Ours is the Hotel Snow Leopard, a small guesthouse owned and operated by a Tibetan Ladakhi family.  It's a nice compound....reminded us very much of the Hotel Kidar in Leh.




Like the Hotel Kidar, the Snow Leopard has also divided its front garden into space for its guests and a garden.  I suspect most of the hotels have this sort of usage plan for their garden - it makes the most sense and what they grow, they can serve to their family and hotel guests.


Of course, our resident gardener aka Ayşe wanted nothing more than to get her hands into the dirt.  There was a woman....I think she's a member of the family, working the plot.  Ayşe tried to offer her help but the words never got translated so she gave up. 


Dorje also stayed at the hotel but in separate quarters.  We watched as he, carrying a sleeping bag, made his way over to a building next to wear the family lives.  He was walking alongside several other men.  I'm guessing they were all the drivers for the guests staying here.  Dorje will also have his dinner here, provided by the hotel though it will very likely be a simple meal of just rice and dal.

When I planned the trip with Ju-Leh Adventures, I asked that we be assigned a triple room so we would all share the same room.  At Hotel Kidar, it was no problem accommodating.  Here, they put a mattress on the floor.  I was a bit surprised to see the mattress, pillow and blanket on the floor and was about to speak with the management about it but Ayşe was fine with the situation so I let it be.  She's a very easy going traveler which is why I enjoy having her as a travel partner.  Given the way I like to travel, I can never predict how anything will go so I only want travel partners who can go with the flow.

In hindsight though, I don't think management would have been able to accommodate a request for a second room because surprisingly, there were quite a lot of guests staying here.  I think the place was full.  There were a few Indian guests and then what looked like a Chinese tour group.  We met the Indians while we were enjoying a cup of tea in the garden and the Chinese group took up a big table at dinner.



Dinner was a simple buffet meal in the dining room.  After dinner, it was just back to the room and relaxing the rest of the night away.  Tomorrow, we'll be exploring more of the Nubra Valley, spending one more night here before returning to Leh.  So far, we've all been enjoying our trip.  For me, it feels like a return to Tibet.  For the gals, this is all new for them though by now, I think they've had their fair share of monasteries. 


Time for a shower before the electricity is cut off and there's no more hot water!

Goodnight from Hundur!