Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Pelkor Chode Monastery in Gyantse, Tibet

I didn’t notice him at first. But as my eyes adjusted to the darkness inside the Assembly Hall at Pelkor Chode Monastery, I caught a movement. A maroon-robed monk stood at the base of the massive bronze statue of Shakyamuni. He moved serenely, refilling flickering oil lamps set between delicate yak butter sculptures. It wasn’t surprising that I hadn’t noticed him. The monk was Lilliputian compared to the 26-foot high bronze of the Historical Buddha.

Built during the early 15th century, Pelkor Chode is an ancient walled monastic complex in Gyantse, Tibet. Buddhist monasteries are almost always affiliated with one specific sect of Buddhism, however Pelkor Chode Monastery is unique in this respect. From the very beginning it was home to universities representing three different sects: Gelugpas, Sakya, and Gedang. Read More

Shop in Old Lhasa offers an eclectic mix of merchandise

Never one to follow the crowds, I wandered away from busy Barkhor Square in Lhasa, Tibet. I had completed an obligatory Kora (clockwise circuit) of the Jokhang Temple, dodging prostrating pilgrims and crowds of tourists, but now the back streets beckoned. Just a block from the temple the teeming crowds dissipated and I was the only foreigner in sight. Tibetan women in traditional striped aprons sat on stoops, twirling prayer wheels and muttering mantras. Toddlers with sagging diapers waddled after stray cats. Workers towed bulging hemp sacks down the gray flagstone pavement on wooden dollies.

The lanes grew narrower as I penetrated deeper into the traditional neighborhood. A pyramid of yellow plastic containers dominated one shop in Old Lhasa. The sweet, slightly rancid scent gave them away as tubs of yak butter for altar lamps. A postage-stamp sized cafe advertised Read More

Yamdrok Lake, one of the most sacred lakes in Tibet

Tibetans believe that lakes are the abodes of protective deities and therefore invested with special spiritual powers. Yamdrok Lake, located approximately between the capital of Lhasa and the town of Gyantse, is considered one of the most sacred bodies of water in Tibet.

Local folklore relates that a fairy maiden was concerned that nine small lakes were in danger of drying up. Worried that creatures in the lakes would die, she threw 350 grams of gold into the air, recited a mantra, and merged all the small lakes into the one large one we see today.

However the sacred nature of Yamdrok Lake has to do with its role in discovering the newly reincarnated Dalai Lama after the present one passes into parinirvana (dies). Following the death of a of Dalai Lama, Read More

In Tibetan Buddhism the noses of children are marked with soot to protect them from evil spirits

All across Tibet, I spied kids with black marks on their noses, like this young boy at Sera Monastery in Lhasa. Our guide explained that in Tibetan Buddhism folk tradition, placing a smudge of soot on the nose of a child is believed to ensure good sleep and provide protection. Parents routinely bring their children to the monastery where monks apply the mark, using soot that has deposited on the walls from the long-term burning of butter lamps. I was curious about the “protection” part of the belief, so I did a little research.

The practice apparently derives from an ancient legend about two villages located on the opposite sides of a river. The village on one side of the river was filled with evil spirits who constantly sowed strife among the inhabitants. The village on the opposite side of the river, free of evil spirits, was a place of harmony. One day, two evil spirits crossed to the other side with a plan to sow dissent in the harmonious village. The first spirit would Read More

The Potala Palace in Lhasa, capital of the autonomous region of Tibet in China

I’d seen it in pictures, of course. The magnificent Potala Palace, rising vertically from its perch atop Red Mountain in the Tibetan capital city of Lhasa. This number one destination on my travel wish list had long eluded me. Until now. After years of waiting, I had finally made it to the exotic kingdom that some believe to by the mythical Shangri-La. I stood on a viewing platform across the street from the iconic edifice and drank in its 13 stories, the inward-sloping walls that measure up to 16 feet thick, and its more than 1,000 rooms. As a devoted Buddhist, I knew the palace was home to the Dalai Lama until 1959, when he fled in the face of the invading Chinese army. I knew that it contains more than 200,000 statues and nearly 700 invaluable murals that depict some of the most important historic events in Buddhist history. I even knew that the Red Palace in the center of the immense structure was used for religious purposes, while the white portion was used mostly for administration and government purposes. But what I hadn’t contemplated was actually climbing to the top of the Potala Palace. Read More

I celebrated Nepali New Year in Nepal, this past April. My second home of Pokhara sponsored three solid days of performances in the park, including band performances, traditional dancing, and singing. But for me the most interesting part was just roaming the streets and watching the families that had traveled from afar, shopping, meeting with their friends, having picnics in the park, and maybe even taking a boat ride on the lake.

People flock to Fewa Lake in Pokhara to celebrate New Year in Nepal

People flock to Fewa Lake in Pokhara to celebrate New Year in Nepal

There are more than 60 ethnic groups in Nepal, each with their own traditions, customs, and in some cases, separate languages. So it is hardly surprising to learn that as many as nine different New Year holidays are celebrated around the country. However, Naya Barsha is considered to be the National New Year celebration of Nepal. It falls between the 11th and the 15th of April each year, according to the lunar calendar. If you want to experience an authentic slice of Nepali life and customs, celebrating New Year in Nepal is one of the best things you can do. Read More

If you want to experience an authentic slice of Nepali life and customs, celebrating New Year in Nepal is one of the best things you can do.