Tibetan Buddhist nun Lousan Drlma has lived in a cave for twenty years just outside the main gate of the Drepung Monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa, and seems to be very content with her way of life. After walking up the dusty road this week, I entered her modest domain through a wooden gate set in a short stone wall. Outside the tiny wooden door into her cave, we sat on low couches covered with Tibetan rugs, where I was offered tea and a round dry bread.
Buddhist nun Lousan Drlma at entrance to cave where she has lived for 20 years.
Our conversation was limited, as my only Tibetan consists of “hello” and “thank you”, so pretty quickly she gave me a tour of her cave. It was about 20 feet wide and 12 deep, lit by one tiny light bulb, which revealed a ceiling long ago blackened by yak butter candle smoke. The walls were decorated with photographs of prominent monks, prayer shawls hung everywhere and low tables supported small shrines. The cave front was closed off with a cement wall.
The next day I met Tibetan Buddhist monk Sherab Juine, who at age 18 was born after Lousan Drlma began living in her cave. We had traveled north of Lhasa to turquoise blue Namtso Lake, which lies at 14,000 feet in the bleak Tibetan plateau. The small Sangr Gompa Monastery sits above the lake, and it’s tiny temple is built into a tall cave in the rock bluff . The two dozen or so monks are easily accommodated on two long benches under the smoky black rock ceiling.
Buddhist monk Sherab Juine, 18, in his private monastery room.
Sherab Juine was in the temple where he seemed to be giving his friend on solo chanting and drumming duty a little boyish teasing. With a big smile he invited us into his private room, brightly painted with the most amazingly bright yellows and oranges. Once again tea was offered, and we warmed ourselves by his stove as he fed the fire with dried yack dung.
After showing us his prized collection of books stacked in the corner, he wanted to take some photos with one of our cameras. The latest digital SLR was putty in his hands, as he knew how to focus, shoot and review images like a pro. After making his portrait, he insisted on posing with each of us, sitting together on his bunk.
I have looked forward to such unplanned encounters as I travel in Tibet these past weeks, and appreciate the warm interactions that make traveling so special. And a steaming hot yak dung stove is a lovely bonus on a cold day.
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