Tuesday 16 December 2014

Day 176: Dolpo day 7 - The Monastery in a Cliff

A Yak caravan crosses in front of our tents
(with Shey Gompa in the background)
The gompa (Buddhist monastery) at Shey could swallow all of the mani walls and prayer flags we have passed so far and leave room for more.  Although the interior boasts just one small room, its surroundings radiate ribbons of stone and brightly-coloured cloth fluttering on the hillside.

We found a caretaker to let us inside and proudly took a receipt, made out to London Mountaineering Club, for our donation of 1,000 Nepali rupees.  Inside, brightly painted buddhas and photographs of lamas abounded.  Outside, manure dried, ready to fuel December's fires, and a horse looked on.  Spirituality and everyday life brushed together.  Aloofness will be of little use here when the winter snow storms arrive.

The granddaughter of the caretaker watches
us from behind her door
After photographing the gompa, we wandered down to the river where Uttam and Narinda stood beside a grey Tibetan tent.  "It's a shop," Uttam told me.  "They sell Chinese noodles and Chinese wine."  From Shey, it takes traders only two days to travel to Tibet - far quicker than linking up with the rest of Nepal.

Some more Ford Transits arrived while we stood talking, this time carrying bundles of firewood towards Saldang.  But, Nigel, Guy and I turned in the other direction to visit a gompa cut into the cliffs just over an hour away.  As we approached, a white building emerged from the precipice, where the monks slept, while the red room next door served as a place of worship.  It seemed improbable; two buildings set amongst chiselled rock accompanied by the lone thread of a pathway and a cluster of birch trees in a valley far below and silence (the monastery lay empty).  But this, if anything, was what I had expected of Shey.

On the way back, we stopped to look for ammonites.  The supply was so plentiful that even unobservant Susan soon uncovered one.  Their curled and fossilised bodies looked incongruous just below the snow line.  How do ocean creatures come to lie on the slopes of the world's tallest mountain range?  Fortunately we had Guy the geologist with us to explain.  Sections of the Tethys Sea, which once lay between the Indian and Asia tectonic plates, were scraped off and thrust upwards when the two plates collided, forming the Himalayas.  And so the echoes of past seascapes rest in the thin air and cold winds, so distant from the conditions that once formed them. The mountains all around us are mere children, a thing of yesterday.

Massive chortens dot the hillsides around Shey
Water-driven prayer wheels on the approach to Shey
The temporary camp on the valley floor was apparently peopled by traders from Saldang
Shey Gompa
Holy books stored in an alcove in the ceiling of Shey Gompa
Muscular blue-haired buddah 
Temple drums 
The caretaker of the Gompa and his granddaughter
Babu Hari admires the view
Narinda spins prayer wheels at the temple 
Mani stones 
A young Yak blocks the bridge 
Meanwhile it's elder relatives are put to work
Marmots played on the edges of our campsite
Tsa Kang monastery perched on a cliff-edge
The living quarters at Tsa Kang
Tsa Kang
A close up of the religious building at Tsa Kang
A view of Shey from the path to Tsa Kang. Our tents are the ones on the left.

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