Published: May 28th 2010May 21st 2010
So my last day in Tibet was spent on a tour of Drak Yerpa Monastery, a very cool and seemingly out of the way place. It was a good hour or so drive from Lhasa city limits. (I was going to go to the biggest/holiest lake, but my hotel -Mr. Yak which I do not recommend to anyone- quoted me 1,600 RMB for the trip, plus meals and entrance fees to be paid by me. I found another tour agency near Barkhor Street based out of the Snowland Hotel that offered me to Drak Yerpa for 500 RMB.)
I had a private van/driver, who was a Tibetan speaking no English. Fortunately I was able to get by fine with my Chinese. It's a long drive up a mountainous pass to the base of the monastery, and a hike up paths and stairs more demanding than Potala Palace (and I believe at a higher altitude). But, as I frequently found in Tibet, the good stuff will take your breathe away (literally).
My driver, who I expected to be just that, turned out to be my guide as well. He was doing the prayers and everything, not really just being a guide, but
in following him, I got to experience the temples and holy places there in a very new and wonderful way. I was the only westerner there, and I only saw maybe 5 Chinese tourists. Everyone else there that day were Tibetan families, many of which had brought picnics for after their prayers/pilgrimage.
At the bottom of the pass two Tibetan women with a child approached the van while my driver (Siji) was talking to the security looking guys at the road entrance. I quickly assumed, and wrongly so, that they were coming to beg for money. I realized through pantomime they were asking for a ride to the temple. Being in a van alone (cheaper than the Jeeps), there was plenty of extra room, so I gestured for them to hop on in. I offered them the Hao Chi Dian crackers I had brought for breakfast, which they eyeballed questionably and then fed to the baby. They were greatly appreciative at the top, and after realizing how long and steep the walk would have been, I was especially happy to have been able to give them a lift.
Once we started hiking up the path at the monastery, Siji
quickly took my oversized panda purse. It was embarrassing (as is being passed by locals two and three times your age on the steps as you gasp for air) yet rather endearing. He was an attractive man of a slight frame and with a face that reminded me of teen angst. And he walked gracefully ahead of me, frequently stopping to see if I needed a rest, carrying my oversized panda purse as though it were the manliest of accessory. It made me smile as I was gulping air on the walk/hike up.
Entrance at Drak Yerpa was only 20RMB, and I think there several structures I wasn't supposed to go in, including the caves for the monks to go in for solitary meditation that a dotted in the mountainside. I found having a 'guide' very helpful, if not completely necessary here. The layout makes it easy to get off track and miss things or end up where you should not be. As beautiful as I found it, I was amused later, as a fellow traveler was checking out my pictures and commented on my black and white photography. It wasn't- the Tibetan landscapes are just very... not colorful
in some areas. I didn't even notice how lacking in color my shots were until he mentioned this. But still a beautiful place to go and see. I would consider this place a must in the area around Lhasa. After going through all the temples and buildings, we walked down ad then up to a holy hill (I presume). Where many places to burn incense and herbs as well as to release the small prayer papers, existed. Siji bought me some as well. We hiked up the hill and said our prayers, then released the hundreds of 1.5X2" pieces of paper resembling tiny prayer flags into the wind and they blew across and down the hill after swirling in the air. OK... his swirled in the air. Apparently there is a fine art to this release which I was unable to master in so few tosses...
Anyways, we ate lunch at the entrance which consisted of noodle soup, Tibetan sweat tea (masala?). Mine with Yak meat, his without (vegetarian). There were two more older women with an older child looking for a ride down the hill as we were leaving, Siji looked at me with the, "What do you
want to do?" and I nodded to them to jump in. We made a few brief stops down the hill for pictures, and the women laughed when I photographed the drying Yak poop and piles of it that they use as an energy source (for fires if I understood correctly). They also smiled as I giggled at the goats that covered the road at some points.
We dropped them at the bottom and waved goodbye. Little things like sharing a ride with locals makes me happy. I feel I helped them a little with their day and that hopefully I made a good impression on them on the part of all foreigners and travelers.
From there Siji asked if I wanted to go to his house or back to Lhasa. Now this sounds odd, but the guy at the tour agency told me that it could be arranged to see a locals home and town if I wanted after the tour. I just didn't realize it would be my driver's home. It was on the other side of a large lake, as he pointed to it from afar, and it ook us another 30 minutes to get there,
driving around the lake. I asked about his family, and he said he had a 10 year old daughter. No answer on the wife part. I was only just beginning to understand the Tibetan family dynamic, so I didn't pry. He lives with his mother, father, and daughter. The home was small, with a courtyard with chickens shared by 2 other families (probably related) and a shared, open air toilet, in the corner of the courtyard. I was surprised by the electronics. Tall speakers, a 32 inch TV, and a DVD player. lined the wall beside a small refrigerator and freezer. Siji's mom made us butter tea (a must try- but it tastes as bad as it sounds) and some rather stale bread for snacks, which they showed me to dip in the tea to let soften.
We walked around the house after snacks and tea and then headed for Lhasa. When I tipped him 50 RMB (about $8 USD) he was reluctant to accept, but did when I insisted.
It really was a great day, and I was glad I made the choice to go through them for my last day.
There are more photos below