(from our journal, dated 8/23/07)
Today was day 5 of our trek from Lamayuru to Padum, which became a sort-of half day off. We hiked down into the village of Lingshed this morning, and ate breakfast in the baking sun at the campground while chatting with an independent European backpacker. The campground was quite nasty - full of garbage and horse poo and animal smell (apparently it was quite full last night), and I was very happy that we decided to dry camp near the pass instead of making our way to town and joining the circus last night. We got a beautiful sunset all to ourselves, and the tour groups got a dirty, dusty animal stall.
After breakfast, we sauntered over to the gompa (monastery) to check it out, and were greeted by Sunim, a 65 year old monk, who was washing a handful of small red berries in a stream. He smiled at us cheerfully, insisted that we share his berries, and led us into the gompa. He and a half dozen elderly monks unlocked both the old and new prayer halls, and gave us personal tours, answering all of our questions as best they could in halting English. The first room was my favorite, bright with new-ish looking thankas (paintings) decorating the walls, with a two-story imposing gold Buddha sitting at the head of the room. The thankas all tell stories; some depict the first Buddha's life and quest for enlightenment, some describe how monks and Buddhists should live and interact with others, and some predict future Buddhas and events (or at least that's what I think I understood from the monks' descriptions).
After seeing the prayer room, we were invited to sit on the floor in a medium size hallway-ish room, which was also decorated by thankas and lined with windows looking down on the village of Lingshed and the mountains beyond. Other monks began appearing, greeting us happily, and sitting down with cups and bowls. After answering many questions (and doing lots of smiling and nodding when we couldn't understand each other), it was insisted that we stay for lunch with them. Steve left to grab utensils, and while he was gone, two bowls and cups were placed in front of me, and a monk carrying a huge bucket of tsampa and a giant ladle filled everyone's bowl with lunch, followed by a monk with yak butter tea. I scooted to the edge of the room as the monks began their puja (prayer/chanting) and when finished, dug into their meals. The tsampa (barley flour) was actually pretty edible, saturated with butter and sugar and formed into little pellets. The yak butter tea was terrible. The monks were going crazy, though, sucking down their lunch and filling the room with a chorus of slurps and gulps. Steve and I tried our best to eat and drink as much as we could, to show our appreciation, but we were no match for the monks. Each monk finished their meal by taking their last handful of tsampa, and rolling it into a mini-snake in their hands, moisturizing their hands, arms, and face with the grease. Quite crafty, those monks.
When everyone was finished (except Team Gringo, who just didn't have the stomach to finish the last swallows of butter tea), more puja ensued. All the monks seemed very animated and interested, both in us and in their religion, which was very different than the normal semi-apathetic monks we've been seeing at other gompas. During puja, whien I would make eye contact with any of them, they would burst into a huge smile, and during our conversations with them, they kept insisting that we stay in Lingshed for the entire day, attend evening puja with them, and then continue our trek the next morning. It was interesting because I'd say 30 hikers pass thru Lingshed every day during the trekking season, and I'm sure that most visit the monastery and go to puja, so we weren't anomalies or token white foreigners to them. I'm not sure why they were so excited to see us, but they definitely were. It was a great feeling!
After lunch, we packed our bags and prepared to go, but Sunim insisted that we go to his "house" and drink sweet tea. We consented, and were led up the stairs, around a dark corner, up a ladder, and to his tiny room. Only a small mattress, a tiny coffee table, and a rug fit in the room. Monks don't own much, but don't need much either, I guess. We drank two pots of tea while chatting with him, asking questions about the monastery, Buddhism, and his life. After being thoroughly chai-ed, we said our good-byes, and trotted down the trail, full of Buddhist love and hospitality. Definitely my favorite monastery visit so far (although I have to admit, it wasn't an easy climb up the next pass with a belly fully of greasy tsampa and butter tea)!