Marieke ten Wolde's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Monastery

Let me take your picture!

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Tibetan families albums, you would expect they exist, but I have met many families and stayed in many houses and still I saw very few pictures that were over 5 years old.

Of course there is the occasional picture that the foreign tourist has sent and the many pictures of lama’s, monks, religious objects and monasteries. These are often pinned to a wooden pillar in the house or taped to the wall. I never saw a family album, wedding pictures or anything like that. It seems that photography for the normal Tibetan only started in the digital era, or that they simply do not care much for pictures. Now, very similar to what we see in our part of the world, there are tons of mobile phone pictures and bad snapshots of people in front of something supposedly interesting. And it seems that almost 90% of the time people feel the urge to make the victory sign as soon as the camera is pointed at them.

However I also noticed that the pilgrims visiting Lhasa had their picture taken. In Lhasa there are some photo studios with fancy backdrops of mountains, monasteries, the Potala (the Dalai Lama’s palace), a waterfall or something with a similar attractiveness. Sometimes these studios would even provide a set of traditional clothing. But the most interesting I found the photographers in front of the Yokhang (the main Buddhist temple in the center of Lhasa).

Up till a few years ago many Tibetan pilgrims had their picture taken there, and for a long time this was all analogue. I really liked the creativity of the photographers and I asked them to take a picture of my friend. We first had to choose the frame for the picture, she insisted on the heart shape. It was indeed ‘fast taring a picture – fast developing a piece of film‘ because only 2 hours later we could pickup the result: she received the picture, I the negative neatly folded in a little envelope made of old newspaper.

This experience would suggest there must exist more photos than I have seen. So I remain curious about the family albums Tibetan families might have of their daily life, their celebrations (in Tibet) etc. So if there is anybody that could help me with this, or could point me to some more results (like the one below), please let me know!


Creative wiring

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I should have posted this photo of the perfect yellow room as an example of creative wiring in my last blog.

Written by Marieke ten Wolde

February 22, 2013 at 20:45

Merry Christmas!

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merry xmas 2
Reting monastery (TAR, April 2012)

Written by Marieke ten Wolde

December 25, 2012 at 11:04

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)


Tibet Travel log 10: The Home of the Hermit

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In the Dzochen valley in Tibet, past the village, the monasteries and the retreat centers, all the way up at the end of the valley, where the paths stop and you have to find your way by trial and error, you can find the meditation caves where the hermits stay. Pilgrims visit the lower caves, the caves higher up are left alone. The place and the nature are pristine.

It is truly  ‘the Home of the Hermit’, as the nature, the prayer flags and the orange footsteps of his predecessors are all in perfect tune with his breathing.

In this tranquil, timeless place away from the world important Tibetan Buddhist books have been written and lama’s meditated for years on end.

All pictures: Dzochen, Sichuan Tibet, May 2011.




Written by Marieke ten Wolde

September 21, 2012 at 08:51

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

Tibet Travel log 6, Those bloody dogs

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Monastery dogs, I seem to have an issue with them. Which is strange, I like dogs and dogs like me, at least in Europe they do. In Tibet it is different, in Tibet the dogs are different.

Single dogs are OK: they seem to mind their own business and can be chased away by throwing a few stones, I always have a few stones in my pocket, if that does not work because they just wait with attacking until you have thrown your stones, then you can fight them of with a stick. In my case a tripod does miracles.

The problem is packs of dogs. In some villages and monasteries in Tibet packs of dogs take over the streets, and not only at night.  Even Tibetans themselves are careful, but the dogs seem to pick out the strangers. Typically one dog starts howling, others join, they follow you, start growling, one attacks the others join in and before you know it you are hunted down by a pack of dogs. I have been warned so often by Tibetans not to go in some direction because of dogs, they have offered me rides to avoid ‘dog area’s’, they have chased dogs away for me. And I had been on edge, but fine, so far.

It turned out the other problem is sudden attacks. Dogs that do not bark mean business, they just growl look straight at you and bite. Or bite before you even saw them.

I was at one of the Buddhist teaching colleges in Tagong on the main road. No dog in sight. There was an interesting statue being erected on a mountain and there was a rather big concrete building I had not seen in previous years. I was trying to find the right angle to make an interesting picture. As I raised the camera something hit my leg, at least it felt like that. I looked down: a dog, attached to my leg, very angry. My black coat, black daypack and tripod probably triggered him. Luckily only one smallish dog and he let go when I wacked him and I managed to pull back, or depending on the point of view, the dog chased me away.

The Tibetans say that the dogs hanging around at the monasteries are the reincarnations of monks that violated their vows. So Tibetans often joke I must have done something to a monk or a dog in my previous life and am now paying for that.

Written by Marieke ten Wolde

July 13, 2012 at 08:42

Tibet travel log 5, Respect the books

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Do not put books on the floor, do not sit on books, do not step over books, do not place anything on top of books, keep food and drinks away from books. Respect the books.

I once took my travel guide book from the dashboard in the car where it was cooking in the sun into the shade on the floor, actually to protect it. My driver was very upset: do not put books on the floor. ‘OK, but it is just a guide book and the sun …’, ‘do not put books on the floor’. Later that night, I realised my guide book even had a preface with drawing from the Dalai Lama, luckily my driver did not know. Otherwise, I fear, the book would not even have been allowed to be stuffed in my camera bag. I have no idea where I then should have kept it, in that hot and dusty car.

There are many reasons why I like Tibetans and their great respect for books is definitely one of them. Monks and nuns stuff their often tiny quarters with all sorts of books including Buddhist teachings, explanations and philosophy.
I found that also lay people often own and read books, even when they have their mobiles with the messaging systems, their TV’s and Internet. I have been in the winter homes of Tibetan nomads in Kham where a complete wall was covered with religious books.
The great complaint I always heard is that there are not enough books published in Tibetan, so they are precious possessions and are passed along and read over and over again.

Praying sitting under the book shelfs, making sure to always stay lower then the books.

Bed time story, nine hills

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Once upon a time, long, long ago, Guru Rinpoche, the Lotus born master, miraculously travelled to the dark valley of the demons. At that time there was a lake in the valley where nine demon brothers lived. When Guru Rinpoche arrived he tried to chase them away but they fled into the water of the lake. Guru Rinpoche then opened up the bottom of the lake and let the water flow away. When the demons couldn’t hide in the water anymore, they tried to escape again and ran to the entrance of the valley. To stop them, Guru Rinpoche brought down a rain of big boulders and trapped them underneath.

That is why there are still nine small hills of large boulders at the entrance of the valley. Now nine stupas are built on top of the nine hills to ensure the trapped demons can never escape.

Sleep tight…

Written by Marieke ten Wolde

October 6, 2011 at 22:22

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