Samye Monastery

Samye Monastery. The thought brings a chill to my bones that I had never felt before. The early morning crossing in what the Tibetans call "boats", in the incredibly chilly air, on the even more incredibly chilly water, which, by the way, was entering the boat through many leaky areas (we took turns standing on the holes). An hour and a half, two hours, I can't remember. It was cold, and sunny, and bright. And probably, the most memorable part of the trip. I didn't thaw out until mid afternoon.

The Samye Monastery was completely untouched during the Chinese "deliverance" in the late fifties, most probably because of its remote location. The Chinese were probably too smart to get into those damn boats. It was built in the second century AD (in the year 200 or so, our time. Using AD is probably not appropriate considering the religious connotation). It is the oldest monastery in Tibet, and for the most part, is almost entirely of the original construction. A long boat ride, followed by a bumpy truck ride, and we were there. In the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by mountains. A tiny village, and one hell of a monastery. The history, of which I can't remember any, just pervaded the area. 1998 or 735, it didn't make any difference. You just couldn't imagine anything changing.

The boats are definitely wild. Wondering who's standing on the little holes in the floor? The boats are used to transport just about anything that they had to transport. Bridges and elaborate highways just don't exist throughout the country in large numbers. Actually, you won't find elaborate highways, but I did see two bridges. I think the Chinese constructed them around Lhasa.

As part of their religious culture, all Tibetans must make the journey to the Samye monastery once in their lives, to pray. Here is the typical Tibetan male, most probably in his late thirties. The clothing, the sunburned skin, the aged look, all typical. Considering the fact that the Tibetan diet is very high in fat (yak butter plays a significant role), atherosclerosis, with its associated heart disease, congestive heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, hypertension and stroke, is pandemic. A cardiac surgeon would make an absolute killing in this country.

If he didn't mind getting paid in yak butter blocks...

Some commentary on the photos in the gallery:

The whole family comes on these journeys. Remember, Tibet, though not a very large country if traveling by car, on super highways, is a huge country, if traveling on foot. Which is what these people do. The bring what they need on their backs, and they walk.

But being a lazy American, we rode. Cattle style. Note the typical "road". The trucks were used for tourists, bringing us from the river to the monastery. You can see in this photo how arid the land is. And, how bright it is there. The Tibetans also rode after making the journey across the river in those damn boats. For some reason, the Tibetans didn't bother putting their feet on top of those little holes in the floor....

As for foreigners, I was basically it, with three Britons. Interesting people, they were heading onward to the base camp of Mt. Everest after this part of their trip. June and October are the best months to go see Everest, if you can tolerate the pass at 21000 feet altitude on the way to the base camp (which, is at a more lovely and benign 18000 feet....) Traveling there before June will get you into trouble with the usual mudslides on the roads, getting there after June is easier, but the views are more difficult because of the increased haze. October offers the best views because of minimal to no haze, but it gets damn cold in the mountains, and you risk snow problems. Travel after October just doesn't occur because of the snow. It takes seven to nine days, to travel from Lhasa to Katmandu, Nepal, with a two day stop at the Everest base camp. With good luck, a one way trip to Everest from Lhasa takes about three to four days, provided the roads are good, and the vehicles are reliable. Toyota Land Cruisers are used predominantly, though with the Chinese "liberation", other four wheel drive vehicles can be seen, such as Nissans and Isuzu's. But the Land Cruiser is the vehicle of choice to go to Everest, and they usually go in multiple vehicles. Inevitably, someone gets ill on the way up, and has to be brought down. Also, vehicles tend to get stuck, so going in just one is asking for trouble.

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