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The Stupa of Taktser

Leaving Labrang was difficult, especially at 5:30am, but even more so because of how extraordinary my stay was.  Saying goodbye to the monks was heart wrenching and hilarious all at the same time (seems to be a trend).  They dressed me up in traditional nomad clothing, gave me katas (prayer scarves) and we had a wrestling match in the middle of the restaurant–all the girls ganged up on one guy, and the laughter had us bent over our knees. Saying goodbye to Jamyang, the monk I specifically came to visit, was most heartbreaking. He left me with two very fitting, very endearing text messages:  “i know you are happy” and “i hope you can see the future.”

Now, I don’t smoke. I don’t drink that much, nor do I take drugs.  But this does not mean I don’t have a streak of the mischievous and daring in me.  Quite the contrary.  When it comes to going to forbidden places, sign me up (but don’t tell!).

Tinley and I set off from Xiahe together on a wild adventure to reach Taktser, the birthplace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  Foreigners are technically not allowed in Taktser, neither are photographs, but Tinley and I showed them who’s boss and accomplished all of the above.

We started the adventure by jumping off a bus on the side of a highway, and with my heavy backpack, picked our way down a rugged slope until we reached another road.  Then we flagged down another bus to Ping’an.  Tinley was nervous, and made me stay in one spot while he found a taxi.  Repeatedly he said, “they all know where we want to go!”

Setting off on adventure

And then we were off, crammed into the back seat of a taxi, bumping up and up and up into the remote hills of Amdo.  Soon there was no sign of the city.  Hui men with white caps on their heads (they are Muslim) stood around in circles smoking and talking,  peering into our car. I peered back with a smile expressing my lust for adventure.  We wound through red earth, an Arizona desert placed somewhere in Alaska, dusted with recent snow.  The sky could not have been more blue.

And then there was the stupa, the white pillar, symbolic of the Buddha’s enlightenment, that Tenzin Gyatso must have looked on hundreds of times during his early childhood.  And we had arrived.

The ominous metal doors to the house were locked shut, kata’s tied to the handles, blowing in the icy wind.  We walked around and entered through a back door, passed a squealing pig and a ferocious Tibetan mastiff pulling taught his rope.  The woman who met us did not want to show us in at first, but she relented and we zipped through the complex, following her two long braids.  The house used to be a school, then a home, and now it was the only place in China I had seen that allowed images of the Dalai Lama to be on public display for worship, although it should be noted that few people actually visit Taktser.  Tinley and I skipped through like excited children, snapping pictures left and right, up and down.  We prostrated ourselves; we said prayers for the enlightenment of all sentient beings.

The Amdo landscape near Ping'an

It was quite moving for both of us and we talked a lot about how we wanted to sob and laugh all at the same time.  I contemplated my journey, I realized I believed in karma because it must have been written somewhere that Tibet would be a large part of my life.  Coming to Taktser was a right of passage, a stamp in my passport of destiny.  Tinley made the excursion more meaningful for me, for he has much more connection, obviously, to HH than I do, and to be in the company of a Tibetan, instead of just another tourist, made the excursion all the more legitimate.  Not only was it moving to be there, but it was even more moving to see how Tinley was moved by it. His already wonderful Tibetan smile grew tenfold that day.


The birthplace of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama

February 2019
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