Tuesday, 22 April 2014

... Crouch With Tigers, Hide With Dragons: Who Let The Dogs Out?

About 56 miles (90km) northwest of Gyantse is Shigatse. The name means 'the fertile land' which makes sense when you learn it sits in the plain at the confluence of the Yarlong Tsangpo and Nyangchu Rivers, where Tibet's most fertile land is to be found. It is Tibet's second-largest town and the seat of the Panchen Lama who ranks second in importance to the Dalai Lama.

There is a great controversy about the current legitimate Panchen Lama. After the death of the 10th Panchen Lama, a dispute between the Chinese leadership and the exiled 14th Dalai Lama resulted in two competing candidates. The traditional search committee process involving monks in Tibet was disrupted when the Dalai Lama unilaterally announced his selection of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. The leadership in China took Nyima away to prevent him from being taken to India by the Dalai Lama's supporters. They then reverted to the Qing Dynasty's Golden Urn process to select Gyaincain Norbu, who currently fulfills the duties of the Panchen Lama in China.

The huge complex of Tashilhunpo is located on the southern slope of the Nyiseri Mountain to the west of Shigatse City. It is largest monastery of the Gelug Sect in Rear Tibet, and the main stage where generations of Panchen Lamas carried out religious and political activities. It is visited daily by hundreds of devotees. As ever, they're usually armed with yak butter to feed the lamps and you can watch them prostrate themselves around the stupas or walk up to the chapel that houses the 26 m-high, gold-plated statue of the future Buddha.

Perhaps not exactly the place where you'd expect to see one Monk kick another one up the arse! Guess when you're still kids, even being a Monk doesn't take that out of you. Cue half-impressed/half-horrified gasps from bystanders.

Shigatse bazaar also buzzes with life. Especially when one face plants in front of everyone whilst waving to some little girls and not looking where I was putting my feet. A Tibetan lady screamed on my behalf, which might suggest I was carted off in an ambulance horribly injured.  Nope, nothing injured bar my pride! Stalls sell everything from slabs of yak butter to yak wool, prayer wheels and rosaries and Tibetans vie with each other to win a sale.

"Lookie lookie!"

I haven't yet mentioned all the dogs that seem to roam the streets. Well, actually most of them laze in the sun. Then at night it's a question of "who let the dogs out". You can't but help hear them barking, growling, yelping in the middle of the night. I am convinced they take over the town at night. I wondered if there was a human curfew, a kind of a "Batten down the hatches!"/dog-zombie apocalypse. Of course, the next morning you see a few quite staggering home. The dog walk of shame?

There's surely B Grade horror movie in the making somewhere in all of this.

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