Marieke ten Wolde's blog

Documentary photography, and other things interesting enough to bother you with

Posts Tagged ‘Gandze

Mixed Messages and Photos of the Dalai Lama

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Two weeks ago there was all of a sudden the happy news that Tibetans could own and show photos of the Dalai Lama (see here), that Tibetans would be allowed to display these publicly and revere the Dalai Lama.
Although this was not confirmed from official sites it was a hopeful sign. But only 2 weeks later Tibetans celebrating the birthday of the Dalai Lama in Tawu (Sichuan) were shot at.
Then 3 days later the news came out that China might be loosening grip on Tibet and maybe even reopen conversations with the Dalai Lama, a change in policy which was welcomed in many publications but then immediately denied by authorities in China.

I am confused by this, and I am even more confused by all the interpretations of these news events in the press. For a few days it felt like the Kremlin watchers from the cold war had turned their interest towards Tibet. Still I am happy with every sliver of good news and any indication of a change.

With regards to photos of the Dalai Lama there seems to be a big divide between the official policy and what has been happening. Even Kumbum monastery, frequented by thousands of tourists each year and generally considered quite tightly monitored, had a photo of the Dalai Lama openly on display. The photo was of a very young Dalai Lama and therefore hardly recognizable for me (I am ashamed to admit I had to ask the monk in charge), but still many people came to show their respect despite the many CCTV cameras pointed at the photo.

I took the above picture in Gandze in 2010. There is not just one picture of the Dalai Lama, and not just a very young Dalai Lama, but the whole temple was covered with them. I also visited this temple in 2001, at that time it was empty without any visitors and the monks told disillusioned stories about the Cultural Revolution when the temple was used as a granary. But in 2010 the temple was very busy with a constant stream of people filling the butter lamps and leaving donations.

Not all had improved the monks had become a lot less talkative, when I tried to ask them about the photos, my questions just made them very nervous, like my camera did. But, although they did not want to admit it, I am sure that the newfound popularity of this temple had one very obvious reason. The cynic in me thought it was a rather risky marketing strategy, the optimist in me saw some change for the better.

Thinking about it a bit more I also start to understand why the authorities in China are so cautious around any statements with regards to allowing these photos. The eagerness of the Tibetans to resume public devotion of the Dalai Lama and other high lama’s, even after all those years since they left, could easily surprise them.

Written by Marieke ten Wolde

July 19, 2013 at 11:00

As long as there is Internet I can meditate anywhere

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In Ganze province (Tibet) I met a local young Tibetan monk who had traveled all around Asia; Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Malaysia and even Australia, to teach to Chinese followers. When I met him he was sitting in the porch of a derelict old monastery in the middle of nowhere. Beautiful but cold, dirty and very rough: a nice place to visit, not a place to stay.

When I said to the monk the surroundings were beautiful with the green fields below and the rugged snowy peaks behind, he shrugged his shoulders. When I said it was nice and quiet, there was not even a road to this place, he looked at me like I was crazy. So it seemed I could ask him what he was doing out there.

Well, he was going to show me. Behind the old temple just below the ridge in new concrete buildings, bare but functional, were his pupils studying. In another building the monks dwellings were located, nicely furnished, cosy, warm, lots of books, sweets and in his personal room quite some electronic gadgets.
Then he pulled out his laptop. He showed me pictures of all his teachers, interesting websites, e-books, recorded chanting etc. And he said with a smile: ‘As long as there is Internet I can meditate anywhere’.

(note: the monk in the pictures is a different monk)


Photos of the Dalai Lama

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Road side prayer wheel in small temple in Gandze Prefecture (Sichuan)


Farmers house in Gandze prefecture (Sichuan)

Imagine thousands of people gathering in the streets of a remote Tibetan town, the woman beautifully dressed  in their chuba’s (long coats), the old people spinning their prayer wheels and the young man fierce in their leather jackets and sunglasses, on their adorned motor cycles carrying large pictures of the Dalai Lama.

Does it sound like a dream? It is not!

A couple of days ago I found this very nice story on the internet (check it out here) about the installation of a new Tulku (lama) in a monastery near Batang (Gandze prefecture, Sichuan). Thousands of Tibetans took part in the ceremony and many displayed large photos of the Dalai Lama.

In that area photos of the Dalai Lama can be found everywhere in houses, temples and monasteries, but I never saw them openly displayed in the streets. Maybe that is forbidden, I do not know, but I am sure that in Sichuan it is not forbidden to own pictures of the Dalai Lama, like it is in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

It is important to realise that Tibet is more than just the Tibet Autonomous Region (with Lhasa as the capital), the Tibetan area is spread over 5 Chinese provinces: the TAR, a large part of Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu and in the north-western part of Yunnan. The TAR is the most strictly monitored, such large crowds gathered to celebrate their Buddhist belief would never be allowed and photos of the Dalai Lama are strictly forbidden.

In the other Tibetan areas though, the situation is slightly more relaxed and it is quite easy to buy photos of the Dalai Lama. But seeing them shown so openly in such a large display of devotion, is very rare and it must have been a magnificent sight.

I wish I could have been there.

Tent near Yushu (Qinghai)

Written by Marieke ten Wolde

September 14, 2012 at 08:30

Does meditation steady the hand?

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I am still scanning pictures from the last trip to Tibet, and sometimes, all of a sudden I appear. Oops.

And what is more, this image is pin-sharp, while the images I took of the nun who lives in these quarters are just OK-ish. Does meditation steady the hand? Or was I suffering from a lack of breakfast (as food in this location was not very appealing). Luckily this nun was very kind and she fed me, so the rest of the pictures might be better!

nun's quarters at Yarchen (Tibet 2011)

Nun’s quarters at Yarchen (Tibet 2011)

Written by Marieke ten Wolde

September 22, 2011 at 15:17