On day 4 we finally got out of the city and into some more interesting parts of Tibet. This was one of the best days of the trip and definitely the most interesting culturally.
Our first stop of the day was Ganden Monastery, about two hours outside Lhasa. This is a large monastery even today, but prior to massive destruction of the site during the cultural revolution it was twice as big. It’s also a major tourist attraction due to its proximity to Lhasa and is being restored to its former glory. The large yellow tower crane hovering above the temples was decidedly out of place. We skipped all the temples and opted only to do the kora (clockwise walk) around the site. The view from the backside of the mountain behind the monastery was absolutely stunning. The braided path of the Kyichu River below and the distant peaks surrounding us was everything I imagined Tibet would be. The prayer flags along the path only enhanced the ambiance. However, for the first time, but not the last, on our trip I had serious misgivings about the displays of reverence. Besides the decaying prayer flags old clothing and bits of prayer papers littered the mountain side. While understanding that these things were given as offerings, it was hard not to see them as trash strewn across the hillside.
Next stop was Drigung Til. When we arrived at this monastery we were not allowed to drive up the road due to a special event. It was finally clarified that the event was a rehearsal of the Mask Dance or Cham. The real event was set to take place over the following two days at which time only local believers would be allowed at the monastery (no tourists). Our options were to hike in the 2 kilometers to the monastery and watch the rehearsal or skip the whole thing. We decided to hike in and were very glad that we had. Though the monks were not dressed in costumes as they would be for the real dance the displays of live and authentic music and dancing were very special to see.
We rounded out the day by driving up a beautiful valley to Tidrum Nunnery and its adjacent hot springs. The drive past meadows where Tibetan nomads were camped with their distinctive black tents finally ends at the nunnery surrounded by snow capped peaks decorated with waving prayer flags and accented by the gentle flow of a stream. This is definitely a place that is “nice from far, but far from nice.” Despite the gorgeous natural surroundings the guesthouse at the nunnery was possibly the worst place we have ever stayed. It was shockingly bad, even to my husband and I who have traveled widely. I was very thankful the tour company had recommended that we bring our own clean bed liners because this place was scary. The light switch taped to the wall and the burn marks on the ceiling where the exposed wires from the non-functioning outlet met the bare bulb did not inspire confidence. I’ll spare you the graphic details but the women’s toilet was terrifying.
The hot springs were a perfect temperature but the green slime covering the bottom of the pool made the experience less relaxing. The separate men’s and women’s areas prevented the kids from having fun together and although the structure prevented accidental viewing of the opposite sex, anybody with a mild curiosity could find a way to watch people change and soak. The idea of a sacred hot springs nestled in the mountains turned out to be much more compelling than the real thing.
We fell asleep hoping for no electrical fires or bed bugs and woke up on day 5 vowing never to spend another night there.