Tuesday, June 27, 2017

With the Monks and Nuns at Lamayuru.

We woke up with the chickens this morning.  Okay, maybe not that early but it was early.  6a to be exact.  Last night, we had agreed to get up early and head back to Lamayuru.   On our visit there yesterday afternoon, we bumped into the yogi who invited us to come back today for meditation services.  Of course, we jumped at the opportunity.  Not to mention that the temples were closed to visitors yesterday as we had arrived too late so it was a good chance to see a few today as well.  That was the plan for this morning.

It was a chilly start to the day.  We all bundled up and made our way to the monastery on exactly the same route that we took yesterday.

The scenery was, to me, more gorgeous looking in the early morning hours than in the late afternoon hours.  The colors of the mountains seemed that much more dramatic.

From the hotel to Lamayuru is probably about a 20-25 minute uphill walk. It's not bad especially when you take breaks to just look at the scenery.  When we arrived at Lamayuru, we had no idea where to go.  Luckily, monks rise early and we asked a few where we had to go to see monks meditating.  They all pointed to a cluster of buildings situated high up on a hillside next to the main complex.  For the life of us though, we could not find a path leading up to the buildings.  So, again, we asked for directions and again, we just got an upward sweep of a hand as a reply.  I guess you just somehow make your own way up.  So, we took any path or anything that remotely looked like a path that led uphill.  At one point, I did stop to look back at the main complex.  Being slightly higher up made for a nice vantage point.

It was a bit of a slippery climb up.  The *path* was not paved and loose stones can be difficult on keeping good footing.

One of the people we had crossed paths with had mentioned the words, "Meditation Center" and so when we reached what looked like the top of the path, we kept our eyes out for signs pointing to a meditation center. 

We wandered around trying to find anything that looked like a meditation center, as if we would recognize one.  Eventually heard human voices.  We followed our ears to a small courtyard. 

There was a flurry of different activities going - monks and nuns moving in every which direction.  At first glance, it looked like they were preparing for some sort of a festival.  Outside a small temple, a monk was hard at work creating yak butter sculptures.

We stood and watched him for a few minutes.

Another monk soon joined him to help out.

In a separate area, more monks were hard at work.  It looked like some nuns and local villagers were also lending a hand.  We had absolutely no clue what they were up to but again, it really looked like they were preparing for a special event of some sort.  There is a daily morning puja here and that is prayer and meditation.  I think that's what the yogi wanted us to come and see but I think we accidentally stumbled onto something else that was taking place....probably at the same time.

It looked like tables of offerings were being set up.

It was here that we spotted the yogi that we had bumped into yesterday afternoon.  After he was busy talking with another monk, we approached him to just say hello.  I think he recognized us but given that his English was not all that great and by the blank look on his face, I don't think he understood a word of what we were saying when we told him we had come back to experience the meditation services.  He just smiled back and said, "Welcome".

We left the yogi alone as it was obvious he was leading the activities that were taking place all around him.

In a far corner, bags of grains were being poured out on to tables.  It's only July so it can't be a harvest festival.  What are the monks doing with the grains?

I watched the monks lay down a bed of grains and then place prayer objects on top.  Nothing unusual until the top half of a human skull showed up.  I didn't want to look too nosy but I had to take a closer look to confirm that it was a human skull.  Yep.  Don't want to know where it came from....I guess I should say, who it came from or how it factors into anything Buddhist.  So, I Googled and found a Wikipedia page that explains what a skullcup or kapala is and how it is used in Tibetan Buddhist tantric meditation rituals.

Away from the skull, I heard the thumping sound of an axe against wood.  Even the yogi himself was busy....splitting wood that presumably will be feeding a fire.

As we were busy watching the monks, nuns, and villagers at work, someone brought breakfast.  For the uninitiated, this is tsampa....the iconic breakfast meal of Tibetans.  It's a very simple concoction of  roasted flour, usually barley flour and sometimes also wheat flour mixed with the salty Tibetan butter tea.  I had it when I was Tibet and to be honest, hmmm.....not something I would even want to eat again.

The monks were hungry.  They immediately helped themselves to the bowls.  Everyone makes their own tsampa to the consistency they like. Some like a soupier tsampa, some prefer it more dough like.  I don't care for it any which way it's made.  Definitely an acquired taste.  The monks offered us bowls but all three of us declined.  I think the girls are still remember the taste of the yak butter tea from yesterday at Phyang monastery.

I didn't want to tell him it was easier to eat using the other end of the spoon 😁

As everyone started gathering to have their breakfast, we all decided it was time for us to leave so we quietly exited the area to head back to the inner courtyard.  There, a monk showed off a butter creation.  Very pretty.  I don't know if he was the artist or not but from the look on his face, you could tell he was very proud of it.

Then, it was back to check on the monk working on the yak butter sculptures. We had been gone for maybe 20 minutes and when we returned, his taupe colored cones of butter had all been nicely decorated up. The guy works fast!

It was time for his tsampa breakfast break.  They most certainly live a very simple life here.

Separately, while there was eating going one, work was still happening.  A pair of nuns and a villager were laying down a runner of carpeting on some steps and then carrying up rolls of carpeting to an upstairs room.  I suspect that's where the monks would be gathering for puja.

By this time, we had all but forgotten about watching monks meditating.  Seeing them prepare for a ritual celebration was in many ways more special.  Puja takes place every morning; this does not.  Sadly, we could not stay because we have to be back in the hotel for breakfast and then to meet up with Dorje.  So, we made our way out of the courtyard and down the hill to the main road.

We definitely did not take the same way down as going up.  In fact, it was only when we were going down, which was on a defined path that ran straight down, that we had taken the more difficult way up.  We had passed this path on our walk to the monastery but never considered that it would be the way up to the other part of the complex.  Yes, things are always better in hindsight.

On this walk, we passed by several collections of mani stones which are are stone plates, rocks or pebbles which are usually inscribed with the six syllabled Buddhist mantra (om mani padme hum, hence the name "Mani stone") that is the form of prayer in Tibetan Buddhism. Mani stones are placed along the roadsides and rivers, clustered atop each other to form mounds or cairns or sometimes long walls, as an offering to spirits.

This mani stone clearly spells out om mani padme hum

When walked up to Lamayuru, the highway was fairly quiet - we could easily walk in the middle of the road.  Not the case on the way back to the hotel.  The very colorfully painted trucks of India are now on the move.  The two photos below were taken seconds apart from each other.

Yesterday, the brick workers had already called it a day.  This morning, they are hard at work at making the building blocks for construction in this part of the world.

See the little girl in the photo below?  She's the same little girl that we crossed paths with on our way up to Lamayuru yesterday.  These are the conditions that she is growing up in.  If you saw a child living like this in any Western country, you would be appalled.  Here, she is one of who knows how many children who grow up at this level of poverty.  It's not an easy life here and you know that from the time you are a very young child.

Back in the hotel, we headed for the dining room for a quick buffet  breakfast and then it was back to to room to gather up our belongings.  It would soon be time to hit the road.....for more destinations unknown!

As I did a final check of the room to make sure we had not left anything behind, I took one last look out the window at Lamayuru monastery.  Our time here had been too short.....we did not make it to see any of the temples despite two visits!  I guess there will need to be a third.  So, see you later Lamayuru!