In part 3 of a journey through the Kandze region of Kham, Carol Brighton, artist and longtime Tibet traveler, explores the land of Tibet’s legendary King Gesar of Ling.
Tro la Pass – Dramado – Manigango
Snow covers the pointy needle peaks at the Tro la pass 15,500 ft/4700 m. The Tibetan medicine, rhadiola, we bought in town helps relieve altitude symptoms.
Dramado village has a huge chorten – very big and Nepali-style, like the Bhoudha stupa in Kathmandu – charung kasho chorten.
There is a carving of Buddha in a rock wall above us, beside the river. They’ve been working on it for two years, climbing up the scaffolding every morning to chip away at the image. The general shape is now visible – the shoulders can be made out and more or less the shape of the head. Buddha is emerging all over Kham, in reconstruction, new construction and the daily circumambulations of the hundreds of prayer wheels and stupas. The stone carvers figure they’ll be finished in another year or so.
We drove down the mountain several thousand feet to Yo Long (Joro) lake where we hiked in to the shore. One could hire a horse and take the newly established tourist ride – it felt good to be walking. So pretty, soft rolling hills, green with trees and the snowy mountains in the distance. King Gesar’s wife was here some thousand years ago and told of visions.
Prayer flags and mani stones fill the slopes and the shore on this side of the lake. Big boulders are perfect warm seats for watching the rim light on the other side and the bright reflections changing on the glacier.
The lake is deep green glacial water. A steep green wall of stone, trees and bushes rises directly out of the water on the opposite side. Here on the shore a stupa is glowing in the bright light. Faded gauzy prayer flags drape all around.
Arrived at Manigango for lunch. Manigango is a crazy, kind of wild-west looking crossroads town, a place to stock up. There is a butcher on the street – that is the animal, maybe a yak, has been skinned and carved up and is splayed out on a sheet on the street. A rollicking crowd watches a young man — toothy, grinning and red faced — cut off pieces of bloody meat and offer them around.
View a video slideshow of images: Dramado, Manigango, Yo Long (Joro) Lake, Ashu:
At lunch, two Chinese cooks strut around the kitchen with the confidence that cooks have when they know their foods is good. Midday sun lights a big bowl of white rice and is shiny on all the aluminum bowls. Tibetan woman also work in the kitchen – preparing vegetables. They asked me to take their picture.
It’s only been six days – seems like weeks. So much to take in.
After lunch, and another pass at 14,500 ft., we drive through velvety green grasslands with smooth rounded hills.
Now at about 3800 m., we stayed at the monastery’s guest house. It’s in a beautiful setting, surrounded by green hills all covered with prayer flags. Pink and white on green.
Dinner came from the supply pantry box kept in the car: packaged noodles, nuts, protein bars, cocoa. Couldn’t sleep until sometime after 4 am, even though the bed was comfortable.
The monks made unleavened bread in a long cast iron stove for an early breakfast in the monastery kitchen. That and a hard boiled egg and tea were plenty. I gave them dried blueberries, apples and mangoes brought in from my local store at home.
We drove down the hill and visited the school where 500 monks — from elementary school age to adults — are studying the dharma. They were sitting on cushions in the floor – filling the main prayer hall and chanting a padmasambhava mantra — om ah hung - benza guru pema siddhi hung.
The gompa has images of famous lamas painted on the walls. The ones from our time are painted in a photo realist style, looking contemporary and very real next to the traditional painting.
Rousting out the “curator” and the head monk, we found the man with the keys. He was half dressed – but he lumbered out and opened the little King Gesar museum, a small building. The king sits on a big horse all in clay with shiny, colored glazes, surrounded by his ministers, wives and soldiers. A very sweet space, packed full of figures – supporters of the king in all his magical and heroic adventures.
King Gesar’s story is an epic filled with mystical and magical deeds of one of Tibet’s cultural heroes from the kingdom of Ling. It is a very long epic –perhaps the longest known – and continues to be sung and read in poetry and prose some 800 years after it origin. I was happy to come across a version in an English translation in a used bookstore not long before leaving for this trip. It was great reading.
The local monastery, TsaTsa Gompa, is a Karma Kagyu site. There’s a big Buddha Maitreya with gold filigree details and a lovely prayer hall.
We have a couple of hours to rest before dinner. There’s a generator beating away noisily, but nice to sit in the chilly, late afternoon light and rest. There is the usual squat toilet, and the whole room is the shower, with a drain in the floor.
The rooms are so pretty, painted ochre with medallions of blue flowers all around, and panels of blue with flowers as a wainscoting and again at the top of the wall – and medallions again in the middle of the ceiling.
Peanut butter on day-old bread in the room for breakfast. This seemed like enough – I never seem to have much appetite at altitude.
So we left the land of King Gesar heading for Dzogchen.
View more of the Kham: Notes from a Mountain Journal series:
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By Lobsang Wangdu