Shankar Gompa, Spitok, Tibetan Village

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July 13th 2012
Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 34.1803, 77.5801

at one point in the early morning to hear the distant call to prayers … and all
the dogs in town barking. Wonder what they were barking at … the barking seemed
to move direction, like it was following an animal as it meandered through the
streets. Back to sleep, then woke again as it was getting light at 5am. The
generator came on half-hour later or so. I did some work-work until brekkies
around 7am. During the meal, the manager asked us to complete yet more forms
for the police … using actual carbon paper for copies, I might add. This led to
a conversation about corruption and how challenging it is to eradicate.

9:30am, our guide and driver came for us. Once in the van, we traveled a short
way up the road – encountering a traffic jam of trucks, buses, vans, and cars
going up the narrow roads – to the Shankar Gompa Monastery, the home of the Kushok
Bakula, the current incarnation of which (the 22nd</sup>😉 is a boy of five
or six years old. The previous Kushok Bakula was politically very active and
helped ensure that education was widely available for all children in Ladakh;
consequently, Ladakh has a much higher literacy rate than most of the rest of

arrived while the monks were engaged in prayer but allowed to enter and sit on
the floor to listen to the chanting. I had a very good view of the Kushok
Bakula, who at first seemed very serious, but as the prayers progressed, he
began to get more playful. He put his hands on his cheeks and smiled sideways
at one of the older monks in the temple. He touched the wall near him, punched
his pillow a few times, then began to chew on his robe. The prayers included
drums and those strange clarinet instruments, and I became fascinated by
watching the attendant monks light candles and deal with visitors. At one
point, the power went out, and the attendant went around turning on small
bulbs, which we wonder if they were lit by solar power.

some time, it was time for tea and cakes … butter tea and barley cakes, that
is. The butter tea was much less pungent than the butter used in Tibet, so we
actually enjoyed it. The monks prepared a cylinder of barley cakes by squeezing
some of the paste together with their fingers; the cakes were dry and fairly
flavorless but went well with the tea. In addition, we were offered some of the
vegetables, which were very spicy and tasty. During the meal, our lots of money
exchanged hands, between the attendant monks, the two young monks sitting near
me, and the lay attendants. The two young monks had an accounts book and made
notes about payments … the most entertaining thing about the accounts book was
that it included some sketches in the margins which looked very much like the
sorts of things Keegan would draw.

we had finished eating, prayers resumed. Our guide gave each monk a monetary
offering, then we went to see the back room, which was not particularly
interesting…maybe because the monastery is relatively new (about 80 years old).
Upon emerging from the back room, we passed near the Kushok Bakula, and he gave
us each a red cord, which we tied around our neck as a blessing.

saw the upstairs room, which had a few small murals about the life of the monk,
then returned to the van for our next stop.

Shankar Gompa, we drove past the airport to Spitok monastery, which sits high
on a cliff overlooking the military base. The guide told us that the base has
grown a lot in the last 20 years. Until the war with Pakistan in the 1990s,
they did not keep a permanent base in the Ladakh … but it is almost impossible
to get soldiers and supplies to Leh most of the year, so it made sense to have
a large standing army here. Most of the soldiers come from the flatlands, and
they have far more causalities from natural disaster and altitude sickness than
they ever do from battle.

temple sits on several different levels, and the highest part of the temple
dates back to the 10th century. We had a nice talk with our guide
about Buddhism … and about the Ladakhi language. Ladakh used to be part of
Tibet but the regions slowly drifted apart because of the difficulties of
communication. Language reforms under the 5th Dalai Lama separated
the languages even more, and so the Ladakhi language is much closer to the
ancient language than is Tibetan. The Ladakhis are unwilling to change their
language as they want to remain closer to the original spiritual texts.

the highest level, we had a good view of the Indus River and the Himalaya
beyond. A group of Westerners arrived to visit one of the monks, bringing him
gifts of prayer flags and shawls. The room where he sat was full of oil in
plastic bottles, and the lamps were burned in an attached room. From the
assembly hall, we passed through a dark corridor, which had a pile of prayer
shawls in the corner. In the back sanctuary, which was a small dark room in the
rear, all of faces of the statues were covered with cloths; on one or two days
a year, the temple will uncover the faces. The murals date back to the original
construction but are so covered with smoke from the oil lamps that they are
almost impossible to see. They have never been restored, according to our
guide, so what paint you can see is original jewel-based paint.

final stop for the day was the Tibetan refugee children's center, which was
started by the current Dalai Lama. Children from refugee camps near the Tibetan
border are brought as young as the age of three to live together and attend
school at the center. This is one of many centers in India and houses about
2500 children from age 3-16 years. The center is run entirely through gifts,
mostly from Europe and the US. We visited the pre-school center, where we
watched the children playing, then the library and the computer center.
Children are taught in Tibetan and English; most of the reports we saw on the
walls were in English.

The morning touring over, we returned around 1:30pm to the hotel for lunch (a
combination of Indian and Ladakhi cuisine). After lunch, we played a game of
Phase 10 (Keegan won) then rested. Wifi and power were both not on this
afternoon until about 6pm. I managed to get a bit of email done before I fell
asleep. Turns out everyone was napping, and I finally woke up Paul and the kids
at 7:20pm. We had a tasty Western-style dinner, then went back to our room to
chill. Managed to stay up until 9:30pm or so.

Additional photos below
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