Monday, November 27, 2006

Dzongsar, Day 18

Most of the small villages and monasteries near Derge were not connected to Derge by bus, so to get to them you had to hire a car yourself, as I did with Thomas and the Chinese couple when we went to Pelpung. There were also a lot of foreigners trekked from village to village. Hiring a car was too expensive for me to do on my own, and I didn't have a tent so trekking was out. I figured that since there was nothing else I could see on my own I might as well go back to Ganzi and decide what to do next from there. Going on to Tibet didn't appear to be an option since I couldn't get a permit in Derge, and I wasn't up for sneaking through. Ganzi offered the most transoportation choices- I could go north to Qinghai or south to the grasslands of Litang and beyond that, perhaps Yunnan.
However, when I was scoping out the bus station, I found that there was actually another bus- a privately run bus to Dzongsar Monastery, the monastery that a monk at Pelpung told me and Thomas was the local center for thangka painting. I figured that I had come so far, and that Derge was so isolated from anywhere else, that I might as well see as much as possible before moving on.
The day after I went to Zerencanzhu's house- I got up before the sun rose and got on the bus. I was the only non-Tibetan on the bus, and might have even had the best Chinese of everyone. There were a few monks but most of the people seemed to be farmers. At first it was freezing and the ground outside was covered in frost. As the sun rose it warmed up quickly. A lot of the men smoked, and some of the women opened windows. For the first time I prefered the cigarette smoke to fresh air- the air outside was simply too cold, and since I was sitting in the back it blew onto me.
At one point the bus driver stopped and everyone got out off the bus. The driver fiddled around with one of the wheels, so I assumed the bus needed to be repaired. Meanwhile his assistant threw some stuff off the roof of the bus, including a huge stove that someone had probably bought in Derge. I just stood around and looked at the scenery. After a few minutes I thought I heard a distant call of "Hellooo," in the weird voice Chinese and Tibetans always use when they say "hello" to foreigners. I looked around and didn't see anyone. Some of the other passengers were still standing around, so I assumed the driver was still working on the bus. But then I heard the call again, and realized it was the people on the bus- the passengers who hadn't gotten back on were getting off there.
"Who were you waiting for?" one of the Tibetans laughingly asked me as I got back on the bus.
"Sorry," I said, with an embarrased smile, as I got back on.

By this point the bus had already gone past the turnoff to Pelpung, after which we had turned up a parallel valley. At first this valley was heavily forested like Pelpung's valley, but eventually it widened out a bit and was filled with fields of barley which seemed to glow golden-yellow in the sun. Early in the afternoon we arrived at the village below Dzongsar monastery, called Meisho. This village felt like something out of the wild west. The buildings were all made of logs, with some Tibetan touches, and its only road was very dusty. Khampas swaggered down the street and monks would occassionally whiz by on motorcycles. The kids never tired of yelling "hello!" at me. Even after I said "hello" back they would just keep repeating it- "hello hello hello hello"- until I passed them.
Meisho was overrun by wild dogs, which appeared a little intimidating at first but which in fact totally ignored people. The only exception was if you were eating, in which case there was always one or two of them staring at you. The only time one so much as barked at me was on a mountain path, when I came across a small cave inhabited by some pups. The mother was no where to be seen, but one of the pups barked at me visciously. A swift kick would have sent it over the side of the mountain, but I decided it was best to not tangle with them and risk angering their mother, who I figured might be nearby. I took a different path around the pups instead.
Dzongsar monastery was on a hilltop overlooking the village. It wasn't the most impressively placed monastery that I have seen in Tibet, but it was imposing nonetheless. The main road wound around the hill and then up to the back of the monastery, but the most straightforward way there was up one of two narrow, steep paths. The monastery consisted mostly of monk's houses, which clung precariously to the hill's steep sides. At its center were the main halls. The inner assembly hall was closed, but I could go into the outer hall, which had some beautiful wall paintings. Below the main hall was a courtyard where the young monks-in-training played. When the children saw me they all gathered around me. I found them to be a little less friendly than the kids in Ganzi. One of them, who was more outgoing than the others, seemed to positively dislike me. At one time he made as though he wanted to fight me, which I found simulataneously amusing and bewildering. He later listed off my features, which he all found weird- "white hair, big nose, small hands, big feet." He also asked me if i wanted to take a picture of them. I said no and moved on.
Behind the main monastery buildings were the ruins of the old monastery buildings, destroyed by the Chinese during a Tibetan rebellion in 1962. The buildings of the monastery were linked by small paths that snaked along the hill's cliffs. Dzongsar felt even more medieval to me than Pelpung- you could see how the monastery could have ruled over the valley below it from its easily-defended mountaintop.
Before heading back down to the village I ran into a Chinese man. I was a little surprised; this was one of the last places I would have expected to see anyone who wasn't Tibetan. The man was a student from Beijing, and was living at Dzongsar to do research about Tibetan Buddhism. I told him I that I was leaving the next day, as there didn't seem to be anything else to do, but he recommended I stay for another day or two. He particularly recommended going to Duobugou, the place the Chinese couple had wanted to go to and had compared to Jiuzhaigou. Before I headed down he lent me his flashlight so I could see where I was going- it was getting dark and I did not want to try going down those paths without a light.

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