Remembering My Friend Paul

I was sixteen when I met Paul, and sixty-two when I saw him for the last time in his hospital room in Paris, after he had suffered a bad fall. He seemed recovered and upbeat, had sold his apartment and secured a nice room with a terrace in an assisted living facility. Then he passed away before I could see him again.

Meeting Paul at sixteen, my life took a different turn. It was convoluted circumstance that brought us together, eventually leading me on the path I took. It all started with math; I was poor in the subject and my mother always on the lookout for a tutor. One day, the guidance counselor at the American School of Paris where I was in 11th grade, informed me that a young American would be teaching me math three times a week after school. Scott was just out of college, and I found him very American. Although he had lived in France as a child, nothing much of that seemed to remain and he no longer spoke French. Unlike the Americans I was used to, who had been expats in France for years, he was ‘fresh from America’ something which I found simultaneously exciting and very unfamiliar. We held the lessons at my home in St Cloud. He lived the life of the poor American student in Paris, lodged in a tiny unheated ‘chambre de bonne’ or maids room under the roof of a seven-story building on the rue d’Argenteuil in the 1er arrondissement, a quiet street near the Louvre and Palais Royal. I figured that food would please him, and before beginning the lesson, I took him to the kitchen, opened the fridge and let him fill his plate with whatever there was, which he deemed both delicious and plentiful. He taught me how to brew tea properly and we would sit at the kitchen table, me sipping from my large cup while he bit into a last night’s left overs. Forty years later, he reminded me of those moments which I had almost forgotten.

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Paul and his then seventeen year old cat, Mimine,1973

Scott took teaching very seriously and it is not surprising that it later became his profession. He taught me math, but when we had finished the lesson, we would talk about the world, the universe, spirituality. He had something to say about everything and didn’t mind, from the height of his 22 years, tell me his thoughts. He had come to Paris to connect with the students of Saint-Bonnet, a French mystic, spiritual teacher, and remarkable healer from the Rosicrucian tradition. Saint-Bonnet had passed away over a decade before, but there were a great many of his students in Paris, and Scott was studying with them, including the only English speaker, Paul Vervisch, the owner of the maid’s room where Scott lived. Paul lived in an apartment on the 5th floor, with his partner of over twenty years.

I was already interested in spirituality, and my conversations with Scott took a fascinating turn, like unravelling an unknown depth in everyday reality. Suddenly, what seemed drab and boring no longer was, and the world began to feel very exciting. My father had always admired Buddhism for the way it holds the individual responsible for his or her actions, and connecting to this idea, I felt a deep sensation of freedom; not the freedom of action, but to discover, to open my mind, change my perception.

Scott told me about Saint-Bonnet. Paul, who was an actor, had met Saint-Bonnet through his theater connections in the 50’s, where he attracted a following among prominent actors. He employed meditation-type-exercises, which Paul taught Scott and were, I surmise, a point of interest for him.

 

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With Paul and Scott in the Jardin des Tuileries, Paris, 1972 

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Scott had great respect for Paul. He described him as ‘old’ in body at least for us, (forty-two years old) but very young in spirit. Since 1961, Paul acted the character of Mr. Martin in a daily performance of the Bald Soprano by the Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco in a tiny theatre called la Huchette near the Place St Michel. His English was excellent, having lived several years in New York in the early 50’s. Besides acting, he wrote and translated. Then Scott explained that he lived with another man, George, and paused, gauging my reaction. I may have been sixteen, but I knew what that meant, and thought nothing of it.

Math began to take on another dimension. I never grew to like it, but it became tolerable and I made a genuine effort to get through the material. What came attached with it, though, made me look forward to every lesson and our discussions widened into all types of metaphysical subjects. The mind could possibly do anything, Scott wondered; bend spoons, materialize objects, cause us to levitate. I thought to myself how convenient it would be to materialize a bottle of wine. Months later, I scoffed at myself; if my mind were capable of the extraordinary feat of materializing a bottle, why would I ever want to dull it with its contents?

Soon, we shifted some of our lessons to his tiny room, sometimes crowded with American friends, and Scott introduced me to Paul, ‘downstairs’. He was as Scott had described him ‘young’ One has to remember that this was 1972, a time still hovering around the height of the generation gap. I didn’t feel it in Paul, and though he did have his own strong ideas, they were free of prejudice and the bounds of what was considered ‘normal’. I could ask all the questions I wished. Paul’s appearance was that of a man approaching middle age, one whom no one would notice on the street. He had learned to be what he wanted without attracting attention and in that, he was like my father. I liked that; one didn’t need to waste time explaining oneself to others, just do as one pleased by staying discreet. Paul and I related to each other immediately, and he showed an interest in what I thought though he was never shy to give his opinion. Soon I had joined his yoga class, given by Henri Legay and Patrick Planquette. Yoga in France was quite a novelty at the time, and their regular classes took place in a small apartment in the 14 eme with students of all ages, though all older than me.

My parents gave me love, moral and material support, though I didn’t expect them to understand my curiosity for metaphysics and need for mind development. I didn’t tell them about Paul, I just couldn’t see myself explaining him to them, and sometimes pretended I was going out with school friends, behavior they thought normal for my age. I continued to see my friends at school, but took more time on the weekends to attend yoga or spend time with Paul and Scott. I tried to interest my then boyfriend, Richard, in my new discoveries, and though he tried, he couldn’t relate.

Scott and Paul were the first pillars of support in my search for what I wanted, which turned out to be Tibetan Buddhism. We spent a few happy months together in the Spring of 1972, gathering in Paul’s apartment, going on strolls in the Tuileries gardens nearby. I had unlimited access to bring friends to see Paul act in the Bald Soprano and saw the play multiple times. We all went to see a Tibetan lama, Kalu Rinpoche give public teachings, my first introduction to Tibetan Buddhism.  I became a regular at Yoga, and convinced my mother to pay for the classes. My mother was pleased; my grades had improved and she found me much more agreeable and easy going. She liked Scott and would always offer that he join us for lunch before or after a lesson. Then June came and Scott left. We parted at a metro station, going different directions, me watching him get into the train on the opposite track. He promised to write, and said we would meet again soon, maybe in the US, when I went to college.

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Scott at our house in Normandy, 1972

After Scott left, I continued to see Paul regularly. I went to his apartment where we had lunch or just talked over tea. I showed him my photography, told him what I did, how I felt, about life, about what Scott was doing, as he didn’t write much; he was in Switzerland, then back in the US, then traveling in Guatemala. Paul and I sometimes met at Yoga. In between, we wrote to each other, to point out this or that. One day Paul wrote urging me to quickly go and take pictures of the demolition of the Halles district; ‘they are knocking down all the houses, and one could see inside, like in a doll’s house, wall paper, bathroom fixtures, everything’. I went, to witness the last phase, a round metal ball crashing into six or seven story buildings, reducing them gradually to rubble.  I also met his friend George, an Englishman, who worked for a travel agency and was often absent.

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Paul and I took pictures of each other with my Rolleiflex. Here, in his armchair, in my self embroidered jeans 

I learned more about Paul’s life; he was born in 1929, his father was from Belgium and his mother from Pau, in Southwestern France. His father was an authoritarian figure who had served in Congo, and on his return had settled in Biarritz where, with his natural aptitude at making connections and his knowledge of 3 languages, became a chauffeur at the Hotel du Palais, where he became the favorite of the celebrities and aristocrats who frequented it, among them the Prince of Whales and Gloria Swanson. Unfortunately, the 1929 crash considerably reduced the hotel’s clientele and the family’s financial situation and they moved back to Belgium in 1933. They remained throughout the war, suffering from the bombs and acute lack of food. In 1943, Paul, a skinny 14-year-old, was evacuated and sent to a smith’s family where he cleaned, cooked and did farm work for the elderly couple. Belgium was cut off and he had no news of his family. When Paris, and finally the Montauban region were liberated, the couple who harbored Paul were arrested as German collaborators and interned. The war over, Paul’s father decided to become a gentlemen farmer, ‘so they could eat well’. He bought a 14-hectare farm, karakul sheep and Sussex hens. The land was too poor for cultivation and the Karakul sheep constantly ran away, only the hens brought some success. Paul grew prunes while his sister minded the chickens.

Paul finally went to Paris in 1951 against the wishes of his father, with a little money saved up from the sale of his prunes. Two years later, he inherited some money from his godfather and bought the apartment at rue d’Argenteuil. In 1954, he met George, saying it ‘was love at first sight’ George was married, though separated from his wife. He left for New York and Paul followed him there and worked as a delivery boy in an upscale wine store. Through George, he met many celebrities in the arts and had a memorable time.

In 1958, Paul and George decided to return to Paris where they moved into the apartment on rue d’Argenteuil. George continued to work for the travel company Percival, representing them in Paris for Europe. Paul began his acting career in 1961. I knew that Paul wrote for a magazine, as he mentioned it often in his letter, but neither Scott nor I remember which.

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In early 1973, through my yoga teacher, Patrick, I was introduced to his Tibetan teacher, Ngor Phende Rinpoche, a Sakyapa Teacher, and I began receiving teachings from him. Paul was interested in all esoteric practices and encouraged me in my endeavor. My father also did.

In the fall of 1973, I left for the US to attend Vassar College. After Paul passed away, I took out all the letters he wrote to me in those years, responding to what must have been very long and detailed writings of my life; they were full of encouragement and advice, probably responding to questions I had. There were many mentions of what Scott was or wasn’t doing, of whether he had or had not heard from him. I learned he met Krishnamurti in Switzerland and had an affair with an older, married woman. We all got together a few times in Paris in the later 70’s; by then Scott was a student of Krishnamurti and was living in England, I had met Kalsang, whom I would marry in 1979, and was a Tibetan Buddhist.

I didn’t see Scott for many years after that, but we kept in contact through Paul. I gave birth to all my children but one in Paris, and Paul came to the hospital with flowers each time and once brought me an antique embroidered Chinese robe as a present, which he suggested I cut up to use for my Tibetan Losel doll project. Much of it was frayed, but there were some beautiful parts which I used. My father bought those dolls, which are now in boxes in my daughter Dechen’s closet in Amdo.

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Our yoga teachers, Patrick Planquette and Henri Legay, 1973
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Scott visiting Paris, 1975
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Paul in a play other than the Bald Soprano,1973
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The demolition of the Halles district in Paris, 1973
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In Paul’s apartment, 1976. Most of the paintings in the background were by his maternal uncle

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Years went by. Sometime in the 90’s Paul had a bus accident in Algeria and had to give up acting Mr. Martin, which he said had become second nature to him after more than 30 years. I continued to visit him sometimes with my children.He already knew Kalsang from the time of our marriage.

In the last few years, I made it a point to visit him each time I was in Paris. Last year, I found him very frail, and he spoke of settling his affairs and selling his apartment, in a way that would allow him live in it as long as he could. It didn’t last very long. Later that year, he had a bad fall in the bathroom and had to wait almost 24 hours before a child heard him calling for help from the outside staircase.

I started seeing Scott again in Portland in 2012. In an American setting, he seemed very cosmopolitan. After all, he had spent twenty-five years in England and travelled the world. He also spoke perfect French.  Circumstance is so random. Scott told me that he first heard of Saint-Bonnet around 1970 in Hong Kong, where he met one of his disciples by chance. He had a very powerful dream and this man gave him Paul’s name so that he could connect with Saint-Bonnet’s teachings, saying he spoke good English. Scott traveled to Paris after college to meet Paul and my bad math led me to Scott, who needed the tutoring money to survive in Paris.  Scott led me to Paul, who led me to Patrick who introduced me to my first Tibetan teacher.

Extraordinarily, a 16-year-old girl and a 42-year-old man from opposite worlds, found a profound friendship that lasted for almost 50 years. It was a friendship which altered my life completely, and I will forever be grateful to Paul.

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Visiting Paul with Kalsang and our four children, 2005 
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Selfie in 2015
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My last visit to Paul in his apartment, in 2017. He poses in the same armchair (re-upholstered since the 70’s) in his Norlha shawls. 
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Scott and Suba (and Phoebe), with whom he shares his life, in Portland, 2015

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Gyantse

I couldn’t have my fleeting trip to Central Tibet not include a visit to Gyantse, the main attraction being of course its celebrated  Stupa, Gyantse Palgor choten, with its ancient murals and statues that had survived practically untouched the wear, tear and destruction of the last five centuries. A relatively fragile building made of stone, clay and wood, for the supporting pillars. Constructed around a central core, its religious intention is the same as the stupa in Borobudur; it is meant to elevate the instructed worshiper who circumambulating the stupa, from the bottom to the top, reaches higher levels of spiritual realization through the viewing of the iconographic journey depicted in the form of hundreds of murals and statues distributed throughout the many chapels.

Palkhor Choten was built in the early 15th Century by the Prince of Gyantse during a period of peace and prosperity achieved through skillful diplomacy balancing the influence of Mongol rulers and Chinese Ming Emperors, which enabled the Prince to embark on this ambitious project which comprised several buildings including the famous stupa, whose construction began in 1427. Eventually, it became a large compound of 15 monasteries belonging to three schools of Buddhism, Buton, under Shalu monastery, Sakya and Geluk.

 

 

 

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The Stupa with the Main Assembly Hall on the right. The enclosing wall was still in the process of being rebuilt 
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The Stupa in the 1940’s (Heinrich Harrer Photo) 

After driving along the Yumtso and going over a high pass, we reached a wide valley with farming villages and fields. It was not until evening that I realized, through shortness of breath, that we were almost 1000 meters above Lhasa. Upon reaching Gyantse we went straight for the stupa, and bought tickets from a monk engrossed in a conversation with another monk. There was no one about save for a few pilgrims and artisans working on copper pieces destined to large statues and temple rooftop decorations. Photos were not a problem here; no need to sneak around, I just paid the 100 Yuan fee.

I admit that I had expected a much more imposing, forbidding structure. It was anything but that. The Choten stood there, where it had for the last five centuries, in the afternoon sun, exuding delicacy and subtlety, all whites, blues and light orange and the glint of gilded copper. It was inviting, and so was the ambiance around it. We began the climb, which was done in stages, circumambulating the structure at each level and entering the many chapels each with its own wall paintings and statues. I was surprised how well everything had survived the cataclysm of the Cultural Revolution and was told that the Chinese military officer who had lodged there had stuffed the chapels with grain to prevent their destruction. Before that, it had probably survived wars, fires and earthquakes. The main temple, administered by Tashi Lhunpo, had also survived in part but the hill that flanked the north of the complex was still covered in ruins, some rebuilt.  The painting and statue style was similar to that of Tabo, in Spiti, near the border with Western Tibet, though it was newer by a few hundred years and more evolved in style. I supposed that the walls had suffered less from the smoke of butter lamps, a situation that made necessary the repainting of most murals every two century of so.  The statues were all clay, the preferred medium at the time, and the man accompanying us told us that he had been a clay sculptor in his youth. I always had a particular love for clay sculpting and had worked for years with the monk who sculpted the doll heads for the project I ran with Drepung Loseling. Clay sculptors are hard to come by, and I asked him why he hadn’t continued. He said it was excruciating work as in Tibet a clay sculptor, especially a junior one, has do everything from collecting to treating the clay, a long and arduous process. There had been quite an effort at restoration, and save a few excesses of shiny paint, it was discreet, done in the traditional way, so that one could hardly notice.

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Details of molding on the Stupa doors. One enters, climbs a steep ladder and arrives at the next level 

KYTB241117469KYTB241117439KYTB241117416The assembly hall, next to the stupa houses large and beautiful clay statue of past and future Buddhas and Arhats. Its protector chapel, sets the tone with a dark interior, murals and a display of ancient weapons.

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Working on a copper hammered statue 
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Copper ornaments destined for the roof of a temple 
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Statues awaiting gilding 
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Buddha Sakyamuni in the main assembly hall 
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Clay renderings of the Sixteen Arhats 

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Bodhisattvas, in the Main Assembly Hall 

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Metal armor and yak head in the Protector’s Chapel 

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People leave various possessions for blessings 
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View of Gyantse in the 1940’s 

We climbed to the top of the stupa, where some chapels were closed, and admired the view. We could see the old town of Gyantse with its traditional houses and fluttering prayer flags, and the rebuilt fort that dominated the ridge, the site of a battle with Younghusband’s British troops. Beyond that were fields, filling the valley. I remembered how one of my friends, from Gyantse, had told me how he played hide and seek in the abandoned chapels in the 80’s and thought how far things had gone since then.

The Lhasa Barkhor

The Barkhor is the heart of Lhasa, or rather it is the area that surrounds the heart of hearts, the Lhasa Tsuklhakhang. This  7th century structure was commissioned by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gompo, and built in Newari style by artisans brought over from Nepal. Its main temple, the Jokhang (house of the Jowo) houses the statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha brought from China by Songtsen Gompo’s Chinese wife. The temple itself was originally built for the statue brought from Nepal by his Nepalese wife, but at some point in history, the statues were switched and the Nepalese Jowo is now situated in the Ramoche temple nearby.

Pilgrims come from all over Tibet to pay their respects to the holy statues in the Tsuklhakhang, spread out in a multitude of chapels. They circumambulate the temple on the Barkhor’s main street which draws a wide circles around it and other temples and noble’s houses. Tibetans being very practical people, the Barkhor is today as it was in the past also a place to trade, and a bustling market.

I came to Lhasa in late November and found the place teeming with pilgrims. Dechen, Yidam and I dedicated an afternoon to shopping and thoroughly enjoyed the bustle of shoppers, sellers, professional prostrators, men and women with their prayer wheels, people on cell phones, men from Kham huddling in groups selling fake dzis, as well as dogs of all sizes going about their business in a very assertive way. I was amazed by the extraordinary array of Tibetan goods; here in one place was everything Tibetans use and eat; dried meat, butter, strung up cheese, dried cheese, spices and roots of all kinds. There were Tibetan hats, ready-made chubas, traditional materials to make chubas, somba shoes, blenders to make buttered tea, incense burners, ladles and Tibetan style thermoses. There were of course religious paraphernalia and many other things, including a meat market run by Huis from Gansu and cheap clothing especially appreciated by the far dwelling winter visitors. We all stocked on dried cheese, locally made thermoses and a beautiful wooden bowl from a store that sold only wooden bowls.

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View of a Barkhor street from a rooftop
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Man selling a sheepskin
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Selling somba shoes in the old Barkhor 1940’s. (Heinrich Harrer photo)
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Selling scriptures in the old Barkhor, 1940’s (Heinrich Harrer photo)
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Mani wheels in a religious paraphernalia store
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Food stall in the 40’s (Heinrich Harrer photo)
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Selling rolls of tie dyed woolen cloth, 1940’s (Heinrich Harrer photo)
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Selling ‘Tsering Kyilkhor’ hats, popular in Central Tibet
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Bread stall

We sat in a rooftop restaurant enjoying the sun, looking down at the passers by, the older ones carrying a cane and prayer wheel or both, and clad in a wide array of regional styles from all over Tibet. We were told that they come in winter when farm or herding work slows down and enjoy the warm Lhasa sun. Lhasa people tend to find the winters too cold and often spend the winter months in Chengdu. The Barkhor has retained its character though most of its two-story houses were replaced by three storied ones built of whitewashed stone. Here and there, an older house has survived, a larger complex around a courtyard, looking a little dilapidated. From the roof, where we could see the pagodas of the Tsuklhakhang and the Potala in the distance, friends pointed to several old houses. One, Surkhang House only seemed to retain a wall, probably knocked down in stages. Pongda Tsang House, across the street, was still in one piece.

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dried roots
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doing our shopping
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butter store, next to the dentist
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The back (and only remaining wall) of Sukhang House, so we were told. Now a spot for pilgrims
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someone’s laundry
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Pilgrims near the entrance of the Tsuklhakang
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Waiting in line and prostrating
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Three generations visiting Lhasa
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Lhasa from a rooftop
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Tea seller in the 40’s, (Heinrich Harrer)

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copper goods, the factory is near Sera Monastery
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Butter churns and religious paraphanalia
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Woman from the Kokonor Area in Amdo
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The dentist
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stalls selling butter for offering lamps inside the Tsuklhakang
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Old woman in a pink chuba
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Cat in a tailor’s workshop

Revisiting Charlottesville

This year, I returned to Charlottesville after 40 years. Kalsang and I lived there two years which turned out to be turning points in our lives. It was from Charlottesville that we decided to go live in India, but it was also where I was most closely introduced to Buddhism, through the studies I made there and the two lamas we both became close to.

In the 70’s Charlottesville, home of Jefferson, UVA and Monticello became the stronghold of Tibetan and Buddhist studies in the South of the USA. Kalsang and I enrolled in the PHD program in Buddhist studies at UVA where Jeffrey Hopkins, who initiated it, invited Tibetan lamas and scholars yearly. We lived there in 1977 and 78, with Kalsang and Lati Rinpoche, from Ganden Shartse then Locho Rinpoche from Drepung Loseling being the only Tibetans in the area. We were often visited by Tibetan friends from New York and my family members, sisters, nanny and my parents, my father meeting Kalsang there for the first time. There were numerous visits to Monticello, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the University grounds.

Genam and I took the train from DC on a cold and snowy February morning. The main campus looked the same, though the shops had a different, more contemporary look and the area beyond the immediate campus was changed beyond recognition. I took Genam to visit Monticello and took him to the main campus, that dates back to Jefferson’s time. We met with the group of Tibetan student entrepreneurs from Tibet, enrolled in a six week program in which Dorje Rinchen, Norlha’s Sales Manager, was a participant. We saw a few professors and attended a Losar party where I met the local Tibetans who numbered over two hundred. My old classmates had all moved on to other Universities, but it was heartening to see that so much had grown and branched out in forty years.

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With Lati Rinpoche, on the Quad,1977
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Kalsang on the Quad, 1978
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With Locho Rinpoche and visiting Tibetan friends Yeshi Khedup and Thupten Golok 
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Locho Rinpoche at Monticello, 1978
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With Locho Rinpoche in the Blue Ridge Mountains 
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Monticello
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Kalsang and my father at Monticello
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My mother at UVA 
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My parents with Kalsang 
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With Locho Rinpoche in our apartment on Colonnade Drive, just before we left 
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Kalsang with the movers, packing for India 
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Genam on the Quad, 2018
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Monticello, 2018
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With the Tibetan students, Dorje on the right 
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Meeting new friends at the Losar party 

Celebrating Dogs in the Year of the Dog

The Year of the Dog

When I saw all my friends posting photos of theirs or of dogs I thought the Year of the Dog was the time to remember the creatures that have populated my life and given our family so much joy. We have had dogs big and small, very big and very small, smart and not so smart, beautiful and not so. I realized that dogs are much like people; smart, kind, loyal, dull, sneaky, indifferent or mean and you never know what you are getting.

As children, and until our parents moved into an apartment in Paris, we usually had a dog. There were two and they both lived long lives. First Youpi and Croco, two Airedales, one reasonable, the other boisterous. When I came along in 1956, our mother and Germaine gave our father an ultimatum saying it was Croco or me, that one had to go, and of course, it wasn’t going to be me.

 

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Dharamsala in 1980, with Yangki, Norzom and Boubou
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Christine in 1954 with Youpi and Croco
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With Tilou, in 1967
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Germaine with Tilou in 1971 
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In Paris with Tilou in 1978
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Dharamsala with Yangki and Boubou, 1979
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Kalsang with Boubou, 1979

Youpi passed in 1965, at the ripe age of thirteen and the next year I was given Tilou, a cairn Terrier who was intelligent and loving. He lived until 1982, long after I had left home. In India, I decided one dog was not enough and since there was no one to stop me, Kalsang and I had dozens of dogs, some inside the house, others outside, some given, some picked up, some left by departing cooks or guests, some born to our dogs, others who just wandered in. We had dogs before we had children and they were children to us. We slept with them, and my parents brought them toys when they visited. In the evenings, we watched them play, and their chases and scuffles replaced TV. There was Yangki picked off the street, Norzon the mongrelized Apso who visited the lama next door and stole his socks, Boubou who, as a puppy was small enough to fit in my hand, and Tashi, who belonged to the Gadong oracle up the road but decided to move in with us.

When the first wave of dogs had died off or disappeared, which was sadly the case for Boubou, we started with the second batch around 1991. First came Dikyi, the daughter of the Norbulingka matriarch who ‘owned’ the land, was privileged to welcome all important visitors, among them Madame Mitterrand and was respected by all the other dogs. Then the monks who lived in our house making dolls (that is another story) picked up a very large, yellow dog, impressed by his size. I nicknamed him the Godfather, as he was involved in shady operations that included killing the sheep of the local farmers on the hill behind our house, and teaching his skills to Dikyi. He also attacked monkeys, a rare occurrence as the two species generally learn to measure each other, and had his tendon bitten, acquiring a permanent limp. Around 1996, the renegade couple was joined by Chophel, found on the roadside. The children loved Chophel, who grew up to be the Godfather’s right hand until they had a huge fight. The Godfather came out of it with a scarred face and Chophel lost a piece of his ear.

Inside the house, where things were a little calmer, we had the spitz/apso/Pomeranian combination twins, Yanga and Tashi, given to our daughters by a friend. The children loved them and treated them like dolls. Then another friend, to whom we had told some years before that a Pekinese would please us, suddenly sent one over in a box. Dolma, who was a more country style Pekinese with less of a flat face and a silky auburn coat, became one of our favorites. Around 1994, they all started to multiply, beginning with Dikyi with the Godfather, then Dolma, with the twins. At one time we had over 17 dogs and the children, who wanted to keep them all, would leave little notes everywhere saying “Please let us keep all the puppies”

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Tashi, our white Apso, who moved in with us from the Gadong Oracles’s house 
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The twins Yanga and Tashi 

Sad things happen too. Whiles some puppies we given to loving families, a large number of Dolma’s offspring stayed with us and vanished in stages, caught by civets and leopards in the garden after dark. In 2003, Dolma herself disappeared while I was away. I was told me she had died of a heart attack, which seemed plausible due to her obesity, when in fact, as I discovered years later, she also had been caught by a nocturnal carnivore. The twins died of old age, though Yanga narrowly escaped being eaten, saved only by the howling of the other dogs that brought on our timely intervention. We figured the civet that had preyed on him was old and missed Yanga’s main artery, leaving a tooth in his neck instead. Yanga was so shaken he spend weeks hiding under the coffee table in the living room, trembling like a leaf. Tashi lost all his coat in old age and Sochoe massaged him daily. He loved her caring touch, and would totter over to the living room for his massage every day at the appointed time.

For a while after that, we had a rather disjointed pack, collected here and there, mostly by guests, cooks and Sochoe on a summer visit from college. That pack, which numbered about six mostly died of a mysterious disease at the same time, except for Traga, a black dog collected as a puppy near the house. We suspect he was a victim of torture by children, and was blind and had no use of his back legs when we found him yelping in a ditch at the back of our garden. He recovered both sight and use of his legs in time, but never allowed human beings to touch him. He is still with us today. Other dogs just left, as did Buns, found as a tiny puppy standing in the middle of the road and saved from a truck by Noryang. He had a singular attraction to monkeys who returned the favor, and his presence in the garden would attract dozens of them who took turns playing and grooming him, several dutifully picking his lice while he basked in the sun.

At one point, when we were totally out of small dogs, Kalsang said he wanted something tiny to keep on his lap, and Sochoe obliged with a Chiwawa, our very much loved Chichi. Then we began to feel unsafe with no dangerous dogs to greet visitors and I talked about something big that could scare people but not bite them. Sochoe obliged again, with a Saint Bernard. I wasn’t happy about that, but after five years, grew used to it. Sangpo is charming, but SO big. He is afraid of thunder and one day, as the lights went out during a dinner, he pushed himself into the living room and unto the lap of our guests. I couldn’t help laughing but was told afterwards that no one else had found it funny.

Then of course, there was Daisy, Sochoe’s exceptionally charming and intelligent dog, who had her own story (in a previous blog) and joined our household in 2011. Chichi and her, in spite of their size difference, were best friends. Chichi became everything he had hoped to Kalsang, living on his lap, sharing his life of shunning any form of exercise. She is overweight with oversized nails which she won’t let us cut. She is also very defensive of her master, jumping out at any hand that nears him.

Daisy left us in July leaving a big hole, and Tenor gave Sochoe Luna, a Shiatzu, who is now friends with Chichi, who is starting to have white hairs.

 

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Dechen and Genam with the ‘Godfather’ 1995
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Sochoe and Dechen with Dikyi’s puppies, 1992
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4 children and twin dogs in 1991
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Dolma with her puppies, 1994

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Noryang asleep on the couch, Tibetan homework in hand; with Shindro, one of Dolma’s puppies 

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Washing puppies

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1999, after I broke my wrist, with Dolma and Yanga 

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With Shekshi around 1997
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The old couple’ Dolma and Tashi 
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Sochoe massaging Tashi, around 2003
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With Chichi the Chiwawa, 2009
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Lap dog on lap 

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Norzin with Chichi, 2009

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Daisy loved to prance 
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Baby D and Daisy, 2013
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Norzin with Sangpo, 2012

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Noryang with Daisy and baby Yulha 
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Kalsang teaching Noryang, lap dog on lap 2015
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Sometimes, they get sick; Sochoe with Chichi at Animal rescue, 2017
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Genam and Noryang with Dolma and Shekshi 1996
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Daisy after a bath, 2014
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In Ritoma, 2009, Dechen with Norzin and Thopdan, born the same year 
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Norbu the poodle came into Dechen’s life in 2016

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With Thopdan, 2016 

And of course, there are Dechen’s family dogs in Tibet, whom I meet quite often; Thopdan the mastiff, now the same age as Norzin, and Norbu the chocolate poodle, who follows Dechen everywhere she goes. And life goes on….

The Norbulingka in Lhasa

Norbulingka, meaning Jewel Park, was the Dalai Lama’s summer Palace, begun by the 7th Dalai Lama Kalsang Gyatso in 1755. Unlike the massive and fortress like Potala, Norbulingka was set on a wide expanse of green 2km West of the Potala. Composed of small structures built by successive Dalai lamas and surrounded with trees and gardens, it was a place that inspired contemplation and closeness to nature.

Kalsang, my husband remembered Norbulingka from the Tibetan opera performances the people of Lhasa would occasionally be invited to watch in the gardens. Whole families would bring food and drink, settle on the lawns and watch performances that lasted several consecutive days. People chatted and offered each other snacks, girls and boys flirted and children played.

I learned more about Norbulingka trough Namsa Chenmo, or Master of Robes Gyeten Namgyal, who served as the head of the Tailor’s guild for over twenty years and who verbally guided me through the grounds, Palace by Palace, telling me of the moments he spent there, serving two consecutive Dalai Lamas. The Great 13th, ,who was a patron of the arts, surrounded himself with various workshops which he visited often. He liked to walk among the artisans, who were told to ignore his presence, and observe them working. The Great 13th wore brocade robes which he changed daily, choosing them to match his mood of the day and everyone knew that red was not a good sign. In the 30’s he had a new palace built, the Chensel Podrang (the Clear Eye Palace) and Gyeten Namgyal was in charge of the decorations and soft furnishings. He told me of the many quarrels he had over the choice and placement of these with a man called Kumbela, who was one of the Dalai Lama’s close aids.

 

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Entering the Norbulingka, circa 1956 
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The pavilions built by the 7th Dalai Lama, stood in islands within a pond, that now stands dry
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Yidam on the bridge between the pavilions 
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Dechen 
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Pilgrim from the Changthang area of Northern Tibet 

I visited the Norbulingka for the first time on a brilliant November day last year. The poplars had turned gold, contrasting against the intense blue of the late autumn sky. We walked through a path edged in bamboo, their pointy leaves reflected on the yellow mud walls. Except for a few pilgrims, it was rather deserted, and we wandered from Palace to Palace. I was surprised by the small scale and simplicity of a place so infused with history. We wandered into the Chensel Podrang, the main hall of which was used for public audiences. It was now filled with the various vehicles that had belonged to the Great 13th, horse carriages of various European make and palanquins. There was also, squeezed between two carriages, a tricycle that the 14th rode as a young child. Upstairs was a smaller reception room reserved for foreign dignitaries, furnished in art deco chairs.

The 14th Dalai Lama’s Palace, built in the 50’s was meant to be more modern, a sprawling bungalow in Tibetan style designed by Jigme Taring, an aristocrat who had travelled to India. The front afforded plenty of light, and there was a bathroom. The bedroom was simple, furnished with a Western 50’s style bed. The audience room had elaborate carvings and Tibetan decoration, and I noticed a beautiful appliqued Thangka that must have been the work of Gyeten Namgyal, who often described various pieces he had designed and commissioned to his team.

In a pond near on of a buildings was the emerging golden body of a Naga, offering a jewel. Our Thangka painting Master Tencho la always talked of this Naga and wanted to make a similar one at Norbuligka Institute.

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The gardens are a favorite site for photo shoots 
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The Chensel Podrang sometime in the  30’s 
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The Chensel Podrang shortly after its completion 
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The 7th Dalai Lama’s pavilion in the 50’s when the water was still in the moat 
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One of the entrances, sometime in the 30’s 
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The Chensel Podrang today 

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The Naga in the pond 
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The 13th Dalai Lama’s audience hall, where his carriages are now stored 
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Garden on the front of the Chensel Podrang 

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The 14th Dalai Lama’s residence, completed in 1956 

There was a quiet, sleeping beauty feel about the Norbulingka grounds; it reflected timeless charm, a mix of cultural richness and a closeness to nature.

 

 

Drepung Monastery, Lhasa

My connection to Drepung comes through my husband Kalsang, who was a monk there until he left in 1959. In the late 70’s I also became acquainted with many monks, lamas  and former monks from Drepung, who were part of our circle of friends. From Locho Rinpoche, who passed away three years ago, I heard the story behind the construction of the new Loseling Hall. In the 1920’s the Loseling College bursars decided that a new hall was needed and the celebrated Gen Locho, Locho Rinpoche’s former incarnation, a Geshe from Drepung with an imposing countenance and a prodigious memory was appointed to the task of raising the funds. Gen Locho travelled to Mongolia and though he had few connections there, in time became famous for his ability to recite the Kangyur by heart and received offerings of gold rubles that filled a trunk towards the building of the new Hall. The communist army was closing in on Mongolia and he had to make a run back to Tibet, where he delivered the funds. The new hall was build and was a source of great pride.

Kalsang was a Chunsel in Nyare Khamtsen, a rank sponsored by the monk’s family, that gave him status equal to that of a lama. He had his own rooms, an attendant who made sure he was properly attired and focused on his studies. Kalsang loved to debate, and I heard detailed descriptions of the chora, the tree shaded debating ground situated across the alley from the main Nyare Khamtsen area. Each monk I knew had his own vividly told story of life at Drepung, and I pictured them walking up and down the narrow alleys, their long cotton wrapped books bouncing over their shoulders.

In the 80’s many of the monks and lamas returned and visited Drepung. Their reaction was that it was ‘so small’, so much so than the size the monastery took up in their memory, when it was filled with monks and bustling with activity. One lama told me that it was actually much bigger but that the lack of merit had shrunk it. I doubted that, but remained politely silent.

Last year, in November, I went to Drepung for the first time. We began our visit with the celebrated Ganden Podrang, the seat of Spiritual and Temporal Power and the residence of the 5th Dalai Lama before he moved to the Potala, then in construction. The place was crammed with pilgrims, most carrying bottles and thermoses full of margul or melted butter to offer to the many, enormous butter lamps in the different chapels. When passing through the 5th Dalai Lama’s chambers, I remembered a story Gyeten Namgyal, who had served under the 13th Dalai Lama and later become Master of Robes or Namsa Chenmo, had told me. Sometime in the 30’s, he had been called to the Ganden Podrang to renovate the quarters of the Great 5th. It was a simple monk’s room, and his possessions were stored in trunks, which were all opened and inspected. Namsa Chenmo was surprised to see that all his garments were made of shenma, or Tibetan woolen cloth, without a hint of brocade. I then asked to be shown to Nyare Khamtsen. Our daughters Sochoe and Dechen had visited in 2002 and brought back pictures of the main courtyard and Kalsang had identified one of the doors as being that of his room. It was easy to find, but the main hall was locked, with a note and telephone number pinned to the door. We tried to call, but the number didn’t go through. No one seemed to have the key.  The chora, which was right behind, was also locked, but we could peer over the wall at the deserted debating grounds, shaded by trees.

We then moved on to the Loseling Great Hall, which was empty of pilgrims. It was well kept, with the running mats ready to receive monks. The murals were darkened as if by soot and though they couldn’t have been older than 90 years, the age of the building, they bore the brunt of the constant burning of butter lamps that left a layer of dark grease over the walls and ceiling. I noticed that older temples had murals in styles no older than the 18th century and concluded that repainting them when the walls went black was standard procedure, with major renovations or just patch ups by area every 200 years or so. Only in Gyantse, in the tiny chapels of the celebrated stupa did I see original 15th century murals, which were of a very different style.

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Drepung Monastery, Lhasa

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My daughters Sochoe and Dechen in front of the Loseling College Assenbly Hall in 2002

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The entrance to the Ganden Podrang, former residence of the Fifth Dalai Lama KYLH201117045

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Pilgrims carrying their offerings of butter for the lamps 
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Climbing up the hill towards the main areas 
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The hills above the monastery used to be a place where monks meditated in caves 

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Loseling main Assembly Hall today 

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Drepung Monastery’s kitchen 

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Inside Loseling’s Assembly hall
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Detail of a door 
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The entrance to Nyare Khamtsen 
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In Nyare Khamtsen’s courtyard 
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The debating ground 
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Typical stair case. Ropes are provided to avoid slipping 

The Loseling main hall did strike me as ‘small’, though it was probably much bigger and grander than the one it replaced some 9 decades ago. I began to understand what the lama meant about ‘shrinking’; it wasn’t a physical reduction that had occurred, but the heart of the place, which pulsed for over 500 years with the philosophical and religious discussions and debates that animated the courtyards of every House, prayers, ritual and religious music that filled the halls, kitchens bursting with activity, that had come to a near standstill. Drepung’s grandeur lay in its power as a receptacle of knowledge and the fame of its scholars, who came there to study from every corner of Tibet, and not in its architectural merits. Drepung was a center of activity, and building was done over the centuries as need arose, whitewashed specks visible from a distance, spreading over the south facing hill it was built on, soon resembling a ‘mound of rice’ -the meaning of its name in Tibetan.