Archive for July 18th, 2010

Hi All,

  I feel as if I’m spending more time writing these emails about our trip than we actually spent in Tibet.  I might be learning more about Tibet too as I research so I can explain the photos to you.



Tibet # 13 Lhasa to Shigatse Pelkor Monastery – part 2


It was like walking the walls of a castle.


David, hands in his pockets, without his trusty video-camera.

I had my camera with me and was taking photos when I noticed that David didn’t have his camera. You had to check them or pay to take photos outside too. I hadn’t known that and my camera was small enough to be in my backpack so with no one around to monitor things, I definitely was faced with a moral dilemma. Luckily David decided he wanted to take photos as we walked along the walls, too, so went back to get his camera and Randal gave him money to pay for me to take photos too. At the time we all resented having to pay for photos. But now that I have been reading about the lack of government support and the political restrictions placed on the monasteries and nunneries, I wish I had given them more money. Especially the nunnery in Lhasa.


David with video-camera.

Ronnie and David divided the tasks; Ronnie mostly used his really good still camera with the huge zoom and David took the videos though I think he said that his camera could also take single photos.


Gyantse Dzong (my photo)

“Gyantse Fort or Gyantse Dzong (Jiangzi Dzong) built on the rugged hills surrounding the Gyantze town (once the third largest town in Tibet) has an arresting presence behind the town. The fortress is dated to 1268 and a castle was also built in side by local Prince Phakpa Pelzangpo (1318–1370) who was influential with the Sakyapa overlords. Buddhist guru Butan Rinchen Drub of Zhalu resided here at the invitation of the prince and made it his religious seat. Later, in the 14th century, the palace was moved from the fort to the Gyantse town where Kunga Phakpa had built a larger complex of buildings and monasteries. During this period, he also built a temple on the hill top called the Sampel Rinchenling. However, this is seen only in ruins now except for some murals made in genuine Newari and Gyantse Tibetan styles”   Wikipedia had just about the same exact photo on its website.


Randal only took out his camera when we got to Everest.

You can see a room built into the side of the mountain just behind the top of Randal’s hat and the fort walls behind.


If we had the day to spend here I would have walked up to explore: but we only had about an hour or so because we had to get to Shigatse to get our Everest permits. You need permits for everything: to go to China, then to go to Tibet, then to drive through Tibet, then to go visit Everest……


Some of the buildings that must have been used for residence or classrooms since this was not only a monastery but also a college.

“Other Information - Background: Richardson mentions this site in High Peaks, Pure Earth , London: Serindia Publications, 1998, p. 325, " … the thriving town of Gyantse (Rgyal-rtse) (1936-50), well-placed for trade with both Shigatse (Gzhis-ka-rtse) and Lhasa and on the route to India. It is rich in art and architecture of the fifteenth century created by the Gtsang prince,Rab-brtan kun-bzang ‘phags-pa. He enlarged and embellished the temple founded by his father near the rdzong which crowns the summit of the great rock overhanging the town. But his greatest achievements were the enlargement or virtual reconstruction of the Dpal-’khor Chos-sde temple and the building of the magnificent Sku-’bum mchod-rten (1936-50). The former is the heart of a community of monastic college residences spread over an extensive hillside enclosed by a fortified wall. Although the Sa-skya-pa scholl originally predominated, all other religious schools were represented here."

After the fact, I am trying to read more about what we saw so that I don’t just show you photos with no explanation of what you are seeing. I have stumbled across some interesting web sites. The Tibet Album is one of those sites with amazing photos showing 30 years of Tibet’s history.

The Tibet Album presents more than 6000 photographs spanning 30 years of Tibet’s history. These extraordinary photographs are a unique record of people long gone and places changed beyond all recognition. They also document the ways that British visitors encountered Tibet and Tibetans.

Featuring photographs taken by Charles Bell, Arthur Hopkinson, Evan Nepean, Hugh Richardson, Frederick Spencer Chapman, Harry Staunton and the previously unidentified photographs of Rabden Lepcha.

Our specially designed functions (maps, zoom, album…) enable you to browse this site in many different ways. Photographs appear in a variety of formats and can be linked to the visual narratives they were originally used for.

This site provides access to the photograph collections of two important British museums - the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford) and the British Museum (London).

The Tibet Album is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


I loved the way it wasn’t just round but had zigzag corners.


I don’t know what this tiny door led to, but you can see that someone as tall as Randal would have had to bend over to walk in.


These women in local Tibetan dress were walking up the hill behind the temple while I stood under my green umbrella and watched.


Not an easy hike and no high-tech hiking clothing.


Ronnie and David in front of the octagonal stupa.

I wish we’d had time to climb to the fort. I wish I’d paid more attention to the design of the entire complex. And I wish we’d spent more time in Gyantse because I have read that it is much more “traditional Tibet” than either Lhasa or Shigatse.

Our last stop before we arrived in Shigatse was a barley mill where roasted barley kernels were ground into flour. Barley flour is a main staple. This mill fascinated Randal much more than the monastery had.


I was wearing a navy blue wool sweater so the fact that when we left the small mill only one elbow of my sweater was dusted with flour was pretty good.


The finished product. We paid for photos here too.


It was a very small, narrow building.


This was the water wheel that wasn’t being used. The other one was too fast and too blurry to photograph.


The stream provided the power.

Eating barley tsampa….. shows the process of mixing the tea and flour to make the traditional staple called Tsampa which Ani the nun in Last Seen In Lhasa always carried with her.

“I once met a foreign girl in Amdo who hadn’t eaten tsampa before. While the mother of the household was preparing her a bowl I could feel the anticipation rising. Soon I would again see a miniature carneval that would end in half of the tsampa being on the floor, with the rest stuck to her fingers like somekind of glue. The Tibetans, clearly more sensitive to her nutritional needs than me and the dog, offered to roll it up for her; to my delight she declined the offer. Several twists and turns later the whole spectacle came to an end. Nearly clean fingers, nothing for the dog. "How did you do that?", I asked. "I used to do pottery", came the answer.

Making tsampa is in many ways like working with clay. On the one hand it is a matter of getting the right proportion of ingredients, of balancing the fine line between mud tsampa and sand storm tsampa. On the other hand, it takes a skilled hand to shape it into an edible piece of art without spilling it left and right.”

If you go to the website you can read more and see photos of the process.

Next email Shigatse to Everest!

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Hi All

   Usually when we are traveling I take good notes and know ahead of time what we will see: but not this trip. It was Randal’s idea to go to Tibet and I just sort of went along with it so I really didn’t read up ahead of time and we didn’t take a travel guide. Actually the only thing I read about was altitude sickness and robbers in Nepal, both a bit off putting. And visitors must be part of a tour to visit Tibet, so we would be on a “group” tour with a fairly set itinerary. As we traveled through Tibet I would just download my photos with a broad heading like, Lhasa to Shigatse, because I haven’t figured out Windows 7 picture program and it didn’t allow me to select photos for separate folders. I usually do that in XP so I can label folders with the exact name of the place where I took the photos The point of all that is this: I was pretty sure I remembered visiting a monastery after the glacier and before we arrived in Shigatse and that’s what my photos showed. But our tour print out said that we didn’t. Our entry ticket wasn’t stamped with a date I could read. Randal said that he didn’t remember. Luckily Ronnie and David were there too so I checked their website and read what they had to say.

“We finished the sight-seeing of the day by going to the Pelkor monastery. David coughed up some money in order to be able to film and take photos inside the monastery. He got so caught up in his filming that he didn’t notice when a monk locked him in, in one of the rooms – the monk didn’t notice him sitting there and filming the inert statues for 3.5 minutes clip_image001

It was really fun reading what Ronnie and David had written about the Tibet tour and their gallery of photos is wonderful. If you select PHOTOS on their website and then click on Galleries, you can find their Tibet photos. Randal and I are even in a few of them!

Pelkhor Chode Monastery


“Founded in the 15th century, the Pelkhor Chode Monastery is the most famous site in Gyantse, 162 miles southwest of Lhasa. The marvelous octagonal Kumbum (Palace of a Thousand Images) stupa rises up within the walls, with nine tiers, 75 chapels, and 108 gates. Containing a lengthy pilgrim circuit past the magnificent murals, the stupa was completed in 1427. Gyantse’s hilltop fort, the Dzong, dates back to 1268, and has superb views. “ p.306 National Geographic Traveler China It sounds pretty interesting so I wish I’d paid more attention.


Ronnie taking photos of the nine tiered stupa with some of the fort walls showing on the left.


If these weren’t monks I’d say they were all participating in some sort of gambling activity.

There were very few tourists here unlike the monastery we would visit the next morning in Shigatse.


I think the containers hold recycled candle butter.

The women are wearing the lovely aprons indicating they are married.


Lobsang explaining about the mural.

Part of the problem with taking photos is that you concentrate on the photos and not listening to the information about the object you’re photographing. I did look at the mural and saw that it was covered with smoke soot and was fading. Small denominations of Chinese money are donations from visitors. I think Lobsang said it also had some astrological symbolism or the history of the monastery, or….


Carvings on the wall looked like polished wood, but Lobsang said they were mud!


This is a giant covering made of yak skin. It covers a piece of artwork used for special occasions. In the Tibet Museum I saw a boat made of yak skin that looked almost like this though it was stretched tight to make a boat. It felt like leather which made sense.


The Chinese government allows photos of high lamas or abbots though not photos of the current Dalai Lama.

Lots of yak butter in this photo. There are yak butter candles burning in the metal bowls. The tall white decorative pieces in front of the statue are also mounted on stupa shaped sculptures made of barley flour and butter!


I had paid to take photos in this room and while there took many photos of this monk molding the small stupa shaped objects. Randal and Lobsang had gone on ahead so one of the other guides explained to me about the flour and butter and asked the monk if I could take photos. I asked if I could touch it and he said no but broke off a small piece of unused dough so I could feel what it was like. Most monks and nuns do some type of creative work whether it be painting or sculpting or tending flowers.


I was fascinated watching this monk mold the small stupa shaped object.

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Front Back


I don’t know what the monk is doing; but he was up and down pretty quick and I don’t know who the statue is supposed to be. I think probably some form of the Buddha.

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There were large Buddha statues around the room and all held their hands to indicate different things. Visitors have put donations into one of the hands.

I finally left this room and went off to find Randal, Lobsang and the guys. After getting a bit lost I found them and they asked me where was David? I had noticed a monk locking the door of the room behind me but I hadn’t noticed that David was still inside taking his video of the Buddha. He was locked in. He managed to get the attention of the monks and they let him out and he finally found us.

Next email, walking around the outside walls of the monastery.

Ru DoraMac

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Ruth and Randal

Boston Red Sox hat travels the world.