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Songzanlin Lamasery and the Old Town of Shangri-la

Community Highlights Asia Songzanlin Lamasery and the Old Town of Shangri-la

Today we went to see the Songzanlin Lamasery, located on a hillside on the outskirts of Shangri-la. Monks (maybe a couple hundred?) live here, studying the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. Jackson tired hard to give us the Coles Notes version, but I’m afraid we didn't get it all. The buildings, temples, people and views were amazing though!

Songzanlin was built in 1679 during the time of the 5th Dalai Lama. It is built in the style of the Potola Palace in Lhasa. There are three large temples at the top of the complex and a long stairway from the main gate up to the courtyard in front of the temples. The stairs were challenging for us, especially the girls, given the elevation and our recent illnesses. So we took it slow. Here are a some views from the bottom of the whole complex. Many of the buildings in the foreground are where the monks live.

I believe it is one of the largest lamaseries outside of Tibet. And I believe the main difference between a lamasery and a monastery is that lamaseries are more of a teaching facility with teachers, called lamas. I probably have that wrong...sorry Jackson. There definitely were lamas here. Jackson pointed out that they could be identified by the yellow shirts they wore underneath the standard dark red robes.
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An interesting thing we noted when we got to the top, was the way monks and the public (both worshippers and tourists) intermingled. The monks went about their business, sometime greeting visitors. Tourists took photos respectively, but only outside the temples. No photos were allowed to be taken inside. Monks can join either as adults or children. One we saw looked to be no more than 4 or 5 years old. Children who are offered by their families to be monks are allowed to return to normal life after they become adults. Adults who chose to be a monk and then change their minds apparently have a tougher time (ostracized by the community?).

The lamasery had been almost totally destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and has been rebuilt (completed only recently) to its former glory. It is a very beautiful place. The statues, paintings and architecture are amazing to see. Sorry I can’t share any photos of them. You’ll just have to go and see for yourself.

Here is a website that explains a bit more about this place:

After our hike up and down the lamasery stairs, the girls were pooped. We decided to pass on the Tibetan family visit (which is something I regret). We went to the hotel to check on Deb. She was still bedridden and now Jin wasn’t feeling so hot, so Lili and I went for lunch and a walk around the old town with Jackson. While here I had to try some yak meat, so lunch included a dish of ground yak with barley. It was good, like ground beef I guess. It may have not been the most representative version. Maybe the dried meat from the roadside vendors yesterday would have been a more authentic yak experience. I liked the restaurant version :). Lunch also included a curried chicken and potato dish, some greens, an omelette and, much to Lili’s delight, a small barrel of rice. She loves her rice! Here is a view from our table out the front of this ice restaurant. P1270501.jpgP1270507.jpgP1270509.jpg

You may have heard of the huge fire this past January that destroyed most of the old part of Shangri-la. The fire appears to have started by a space heater. Jackson explained that other factors contributed to making this fire so devastating. Soon after it started, gas canisters (propane?) caught up in the fire exploded and spread it even quicker. There was a strong wind that night which was a blessing and a curse. It fanned the flames and moved them in one direction, but kept the fire from other parts of the town. Perhaps the most devastating factor though was that the water pipes were frozen so fire fighters were virtually helpless. The best they could do was create fire breaks, presumably by knocking down unburnt buildings. The fire gutted the traditional shopping district of the old town. Most of the businesses were destroyed, but apparently there was no loss of life. Remarkable! A very small number of shops remain, as does the part of the old town that contains numerous guesthouses and restaurants. So Jackson led on on a walk through the ruins to see the few shops and then to a temple, on a small hill at the edge of the old town, that was spared by the fire. A stupa with small prayer wheels had miraculously survived at the edge of the burned area. We watched as an old Tibetan woman circled the stupa, spinning each the prayer wheels as she passed.

People were starting to rebuild. It looked like underground services were currently being installed. No buildings yet, just piles of rubble. Apparently the government has committed some money, but only a portion of what is needed to rebuild. Needless to say, the locals aren’t happy. Interestingly as we arrived in town yesterday, we noticed a number of very large buildings, most built in a Tibetan-influenced style. We asked Jackson what these were. New government buildings? Hotels? Office buildings? He said they were mostly empty. Tragic, all this money spent on buildings no one is using and no money for buildings (homes and shops) that they need. Maybe things will work out. The central government seems to be keen on keeping minority groups in the frontier provinces happy. We’ll see. Here are a few shots of the old town from a hill overlooking it. On shot of the remaining part with guesthouses and then the part that burned down.

This temple above the old town is at the top of some stairs (more stairs!) but is adorned with prayer flags. really quite beautiful. The highlight though is the gigantic golden prayer wheel (apparently the largest in the world!) that was built by the government around the time of the Shangri-la name-change. So although it might seem somewhat less real (a cynic might call it a marketing ploy), it was still fun trying to turn it. Had to get at least half a dozen of us to get it to move! And then we had to make it go around 3 times....the required number of revolutions for maximum prayer success. Lili took photos :). I think my prayer involved wishing the wheel was smaller and lighter...or that I was stronger.

On the other side of the temple and prayer wheel is a square where locals sell traditional handicraft. There is a large temple(?) on one side and a museum on the other. There are also people with large Tibetan dogs (mastiffs?) and a white yak that you can pay to take your photo with.

I returned to this square on my own the next morning to pick up a few souvenirs of Shangri-la. Took a taxi from the hotel: cost 30 yuan ($6) on the meter one way and 7 yuan ($1.50) off-meter for the return trip (go figure!). Poor Deb had been sick for our whole stay here, so hadn't had a chance to get out and shop. I picked up a few items including a bracelet of Dzi beads. Originals are very expensive, but these replicas looked very cool, so I bought one for Deb from a nice Yi woman (large black hat). I also picked up a couple of other bracelets for the girls from a Naxi woman (pink hat) and a few other items (scarves, pillow cover, etc.).

So tomorrow we head out of town to explore nature and then fly to on to our next stop, Chengdu. Sure hope Deb is feeling better….


This featured blog entry was written by dandgs from the blog Our Expedition to China 2014.
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By dandgs

Posted Sun, Aug 10, 2014 | China | Comments