Golok and the Home Stretch
The following dispatch was received in a phone conversation with Peter Volz
and Derek Kolleeny of the Shambhala Office of International Affairs and Kusung
Dapön Mark Thorpe calling from Da-ü, the capital of Golok, Tibet,
where the mountain Magyal Pomra may be seen, at approximately 10:14 a.m. eastern
standard time or approximately 10:14 p.m. in Tibet. Mr. Volz, who described
the party as the "battle-hardened pilgrims," was holding the antenna
out the window of his hotel room, the fifth different room in the fifth different
town in as many nights. The satellite connection kept breaking off. They had
to re-call six times.
Since the delegation is now making its way back to Beijing and will arrive
in the United States on Monday, July 16, this will be the last dispatch from
the Tibet delegation. We will of course report on the safe return of the party.
When we last spoke, we were in the parking lot in Ganzi on this morning. Today,
we embarked for Pema, which is due north. We had thought that we might camp
out on the way, since this would be such a long journey. This turned out to
be the second hardest travel day of the trip, traveling for eighteen and a half
hours on some roads that were mind-bendingly difficult to navigate. Nevertheless,
we decided to push on, in spite of about six breakdowns with the vehicles-flat
tires, snapped breakline, front headlights going out at midnight and never coming
back, distributor problems, all kinds of car problems. The roads were not clearly
marked. The Kusung Dapön had to navigate a couple of different incomplete
maps, and he became the hero of the day because he figured the x$%#@#% maps
out and kept us going in the right direction, although frankly we didn't actually
know what town we were arriving into when we emerged from the wilderness. We
knew that we would end up in a town we eventually wanted to be at if we just
kept going north. It was a clear night so we were actually using the stars at
one point to make sure we were going north.
At dusk, about 9 p.m., we came upon a town that as far as we could tell had
never seen a Westerner before. The entire town of about 50 people came out.
It's called Nyelung and there is probably not 1 in 1000 people even in this
province that know this little town.
We then went over a pass in the pitch black, and coming down off the other
side of the pass were just sheer drops. The drivers were doing these exercises
they do to keep awake where they move their arms a lot, which is usually a bad
sign, so we were forcing ourselves to stay awake to keep them awake. One of
those. A really intense experience.
Having left at daybreak, we arrived just outside our destination of Pema at
about 1:30 in the morning and suddenly we were on paved road about a mile outside
of town. We then encountered major construction actually going on in the middle
of the night, blocking our progress so that we could not go any further.(There's
construction happening everywhere over here.) The drivers got out and started
running around trying to figure out what to do, finally discovering a way to
get around the obstruction. Then we came upon two people standing in the middle
of the street waving their arms, which we took to be hitchhikers or vagabonds
wandering the streets. It turns out we were wrong. It was the mayor. He was
there to greet us and offer us hotel rooms and a meal. Wow.
We left today for the delegation's main Golok arrival in Dharlag, a small town
on the Yellow River. Thankfully, this was an easy day of driving. A huge reception-cars,
horses, motorcycles. People were throwing these little different-colored square
paper windhorse confetti that they throw here. An encampment kind of set-up
greeted us, a red carpet leading into a tent. As we pulled in, we had seen about
30 horses. As we got into the camp, it turned out that the receiving party included
many people dressed in full costume representing Gesar and his 30 pati warriors
and dralas. These were very good costumes, extremely realistic. The "performers"
were wearing make-up, beards, helmets, banners coming off the helmets. These
were good riders with big horses. It was all very detailed and realistic, like
a professional movie set, yet real.
After Rinpoche came in, they all came in with their horses. Then following
the reception, they wanted Rinpoche to get on a horse, so he did and rode off
with them into the field. Then he returned at the front of the group along with
Gesar. This of course was one of the primo photo ops of the whole trip. Then
they all sat down in warrior posture and made ritual offerings of chang and
other substances, which was followed by offerings of dance and music. It was
a folk ritual but it was in no way a copy of anything else. It was completely
During the reception there were quite a number of speeches. In fact, speeches
are very popular in Golok, so we've been listening to quite a few while we've
been here. Right at the end of the end of the last speech, there was thunder,
lightning and very heavy rain, which made everyone overjoyed. Family members
of Lama Chönam were there. Tulkü Karzang Dorje, who now lives in Vancouver
and is a cousin of Lama Chönam, happened to be there. He has been with
us ever since.
After that they escorted the Sakyong and party up to the monastery of this
area, called Weyen, which has just started to be rebuilt after waiting a long
time for permission. It sits up on a hill that affords a beautiful view of the
area's two valleys, one called "enriching" and one called "abundance,"
a very special site. A huge rainbow materialized behind the Sakyong and went
back down into the campground where we had been. It was a little hard to believe.
The Sakyong gave them the Shambhala flag and they wanted to raise it. So, it
was tied to a pole and raised up and tied to the roof of the monastery, whereupon
we sung the Shambhala Anthem. It was a very beautiful time, late in the day,
overlooking lush valleys.
Then, we went down and had dinner and listened to many speeches and received
gifts. I (Peter Volz) was given a recently deceased fox, which I still have
in my hotel room. I don't quite know what to do with it. Adam Lobel gave a great
speech. We've become kind of toastmasters here in Golok.
Today, we went to Gesar's palace (having been to Gesar's birthplace the previous
week). This is where Gesar was mainly located and now it has been rebuilt into
a very nice monastery up on a hillside. They recently discovered through divination
a Gesar footprint and a hoofprint of his horse in rock, which they brought to
the monastery that day. One of the khenpos there is one of the four main khenpos
of Jigme Phuntsok and he was there specially to receive us. He has raised funds
to build a nice, new large orphanage with 75 children. They were all there and
they came in to be blessed by Rinpoche. Following that, they sang a longevity
chant for him that the khenpo had written and that they had memorized. It was
This monastery is a branch of the larger monastery Traling, which we then visited.
This is a famous place where Longchenpa spent a lot of time. Their main shrine
is a 10-foot-tall gold chöten (stupa) that holds the eyes, heart, and tongue
of Longchenpa fused together. This is a very important monastery, and a few
tulküs from there have been to the West, one of whom, Lingtrul Rinpoche,
will be at the stupa consecration. He now lives in San Francisco.
At Traling, there was a very unusual shrine that was apparently designed according
to the exact instructions of Mipham the Great. It was not very high, but long
and thin. It had the buddhas of the three times in the middle, standing bodhisattvas
in the back, arhats and protectors of the four directions in the front. Very
beautiful gold statues but not at all the usual Tibetan shrine that we've seen.
We then drove to Gande, which was basically just a halfway point to the capital
of Golok. It was an easy, perhaps four-hour drive to get there. We were greeted
very nicely by the mayor there and were served a wonderful meal. This is the
hometown of Lama Chönam's cousin who now lives in Vancouver, Tulkü
Karzang Dorje, whom we mentioned above. He was our host there and we received
This was supposed to be an easy drive of 86 kilometers to get to the Golok
capital, Da-ü. It took us 8 hours. We had major vehicle problems. Stuck
in the mud for an hour. Two of the vehicles broke down. Yet another nearly impassable
road. There was a huge hailstorm that covered a mountain with what looked like
snow, but it was hail. Then, we arrived at Da-ü, and had a pretty low key
reception at first.
That night, we went out to dinner at a restaurant near the guest house, where
our hosts put on a huge blowout with lots of singing and dancing. They made
us all sing or dance or do something creative and/or wild. Derek Kolleeny for
his part did a rendition of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" with group
participation. The only problem was he kept mixing it up with B-I-N-G-O. I don't
think anyone, Tibetan or Westerner, will ever forget it. Mark Thorpe sang a
beautiful folk song, Northwest Passage. He seems to be the only one in the delegation
who can carry a tune. The party continued until 1 in the morning. We had a fabulous
Today, we started out late, about 11:30 or 12:00. We then spent about five
hours in a tent in the middle of the grasslands. It's very cold and wet here
now. If the sun had been out and clear, we would have had a beautiful view of
Magyal Pomra. (We hope to see it tomorrow.) Things started out low key, but
then we started drinking and toasting and the mood became extremely festive.
Adam might be married to one of the women there. Three or four of us were made
honorary Golokpas. Much toasting and people dancing in lovely native costumes.
For this stage of the trip we have been in Mipham country. This is where he
lived; every monastery we've visited has some connection with him somehow. One
of our hosts here is the ex-Governor of Golok, who is the grand-nephew of Mipham
the Great. There are also several other family members here. It is known as
the Ju family. We met one of our hosts here today who is one of the best known
poets in Tibet, Ju-Kalsung. So there is both a spiritual and family lineage
connection happening here in the Golok phase of this journey. Very strong karmic
connection here. At one point in toasting we mentioned "Mukpo Dong"
and one of the hosts got up and raised his hands in the air. They seem to speak
our language, as it were. We've entered another world yet again.
The Sakyong had a two-hour meeting with the ex-Governor, Ju-Kunze, today and
will meet with him again tomorrow. There is also Norde, one of the main Mipham
scholars, a layperson is also one of our hosts. He is a tulkü and has high
government connections and is one of our main hosts. In some ways, this is the
place where we've had the most earthy connection with people.
We should have an easy day tomorrow and then we have one more night here. We're
going to host a banquet for our hosts in Da-ü tomorrow night, and then
we drive back to Xining on July 12, then on to Beijing and homeward on the 16th.
This very wonderful party is coming to a close. As the Kusung Dapon said, "We're
more than a little tired now and the horses are starting to look toward the
barn." This will be our last transmission until we are back home. Tashi
In a phone message from San Francisco International Airport, Terry Tighe Rupon
reported Monday that the Sakyong and his party had arrived safe and sound and
"all looking pretty good". After clearing customs, the party took
a late morning flight to Denver, on their way to RMSC for Vajra Assembly and
the Stupa Consecration. With the Sakyong and his party safely back in North
America, this will be the last dispatch to the sangha in this series. It was
our pleasure to keep you informed of the activities of the Sakyong and the rest
of the Tibet delegation, and we look forward to future correspondence from other
activities and events. Thank you.