Everest to Shenzhen
An overland journey from one side of China to the other
Part V: Shigatse
The Torture Chair
The masseuse’s elbows and arms dug into my shoulders and back with an impatient furury that brought tears to my eyes. ‘did I do something to offend her?’ I wondered.
We lay face-down on reclining message chairs in the spa behind our hotel in Shigatse. Three straight days of driving coupled with an uncomfortable night on a hard bed at Everest Base Camp made my back, shoulders, and neck stiff and sore.
Now, as the masseuse took out out some kind of personal vendetta on my muscles, I wondered how much of my back would be bruised in the morning. She moved so quickly from area to area that I could barely get in a gasp of pain before she moved on. And so the torture continued.
When we finally stood up from the chairs, my shoulders ached with every movement.
The work of 200 Craftsmen
Gesar Hotel is one of the most beautiful hotels – possibly in China. Though plain on the outside, the hotel’s interior is ornate and colorful. The walls and ceilings of the lobby, hallways, and even the rooms are beautifully hand carved and painted.
Gesar Hotel opened in 2012 as one of Shigatse’s newest hotels. Most tourists spend two nights here – one on their way to Everest Base Camp, and one on the way back to Lhasa.
The only drawback to the lavish accommodation is its location. Situated on a quiet street in the city’s southeastern suburbs – There is little to see or do nearby. After our rough massage, my friend and I walked a couple of blocks down the street looking for dinner. We found only one restaurant – a touristy Chinese affair targeting the Chinese Tourists. Accustomed to real Chinese food, we decided to forgo the Tibetan imitation and returned to the hotel restaurant for Yak Burgers.
Tashi Lhunpo Monastery
The low buildings climbed the hillside to the gold-roofed chapels that hold the monastery’s most valuable treasures. We climbed the cobbled steps slowly and made our way to a place where the road opened into a courtyard around three large, white stupas.
A couple of dozen worshippers circled the three stupas – prostrating themselves every few steps. Most worshipers will do the kora – a circular meditative trail around the entire monastery. Those who are too old or sick for the demanding trail complete several circuits around these three stupas instead.
The Tasha Lhunpo Monastery is one of the most important religious institutions of the Gelugpa Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama and survived the cultural revolution largely because the of the 10th Panchen Lama’s relationship with Beijing and presence in Chinese controlled Territory during the most devastating years of the cultural revolution.
We continued up the stone pathway to the top of the monastery complex. Here we found the hall of the Golden Buddha statue.
“26 meters high with a head of gold and body of copper,” our guide told us as we took in the scale of the art work.
The gentle song-like hum of chanting monks emerged from the dark corners of the room and mingled with the thick smell of the yak butter candles in my mind. It is difficult for me to imagine the kind of will, not to mention the kind of wealth that brings a creation like this into existence.
“It was made by 9th Panchen Lama in 1914 for the living things losing life in World War I.”
We walked the stone streets of the monastery in a light rain while our guide told us stories the 10th Panchen Lama -championed of the Tibetan people.
“He brought education and establish the first Tibetan college,” our guide explained. “He also rebuilt the cultural treasures that were destroyed.”
Beneath our feet the pavement glistened with rain water. The white walls of the monastery buildings stretched upwards into the grey sky. The narrow appear deserted. Both tourists and worshippers fled into the monastery’s halls and out of the rain.
…On the road again
We took a few moments to explore the market outside of the monastery walls. A long row of tables filled with prayer wheels and beads lined the tiny street. After a bit of shopping, we climbed back into the van for the 5 hour drive along the new highway to Lhasa.
A few informative sources…
Facts and details has details about the position held by the Panchen Lama, as well as the legacy of the 10th and the controversies surrounding the 11th.
Everest to Shenzhen – An overland journey from one side of China to the other
Everest to Shenzhen Part 5: A night in Shigatse (Tibet) – You are here