Sunday, June 14, 2009

A trip to Ta'er

Walking around the great Stupa at the entry to Ta’er Lamasery.

Xining city is growing rapidly, with many changes and it looks prosperous, with the inhabitants appearing comfortable, if I can say so without sounding patronizing. The parks were fill, in the morning, with folk singing, exercising, and playing games. Ta’er (or Kumbum), one of the two largest Tibetan Monasteries outside Tibet, itself, is located some 25 km from Xining City, and we drove out, for a morning visit.

Driving there, the rocks of the surrounding hills are soft and weathered and have been carved into terraces that are heavily planted. The main crop was canola, which I thought it might be used as a fuel. But it is actually used to produce the vegetable oil, which is marketed as a food item into the Middle East. Local power, given the rivers and lakes, and altitude, is hydro-electric. They are already concerned about the quantities of water available, although this past year has seen a bumper harvest. There are many greenhouses, and they have obviously been here a while (the local building material is a clay brick that weathers).

The monastery is being refurbished (by the government) and given its size, this is a significant undertaking. There were many shrines, and where these are covered in yak butter (ghee) then visitors will attach money. They also buy the yak candles for the altars. (Note that contrary to what I had read, these do not smell and help preserve the paintings on the walls, since there is no soot from the flame). There were large numbers of offerings, including a lot of wine and butter, but we also saw rice being donated, and silk scarves.

One of the religious practices involves kneeling, then flattening oneself on the ground (on a pad) as one slides ones hands forward and overhead, sliding them on pads that rest on the wood. The faithful do this genuflection 100,000 times a year, and the wood is replaced every three or four years. Transport around the monastery is by small cabs, wide enough for a driver in front, but which held (in one case) a rather large monk and two others. The monastery currently holds some 700 monks, though at one time it had as many as 3,600. It is a teaching school for the faith. One of the temples is topped with a gold coating weighing in at some 35 kg, and I think the guide said that was the smaller of the two.

A monastery cab

Meeting business people at lunch and later, (I am here as a guest of the Governor of Qinghai Province) they seemed entrepreneurial and looking for opportunities to develop new industries. The community, with skyscrapers still building, is growing and there are many statues in the parks and new construction illustrating their current prosperity.
And in the afternoon we visited the Tibetan Medical Museum and I can now claim to have walked the full length of the great Thangka on the upper floor. It is some 600 m long (I think) and depicts, among other things, the history of the Tibetan people. (Yes it shows the transition from monkeys). It was up-to-date enough that I did spot an electronic calculator at one point.