August 2010: What the traveler saw...

Annual Shoton or Yogurt Pilgrimage

The Shoton or Yogurt Festival takes it name from the special yogurt that Tibetans give to monks on this the first day of breaking the summer fast period.  Traditionally, monks retreated into the monastery to meditate during the spring, so as to not accidentally step upon the hordes of newly hatched insects that abound.  Killing any creature is against the monk's vow to refrain from killing.  Locals made a special yogurt to offer to the monks to ease them back into their regular diet.

During Shoton, usually in August, tens of thousands of Tibetans scramble up the hillside of Drepung Monastery to a giant cloth Thangka of the Buddha spread out against a side of one of its highest peak.

To the drone of Tibetan brass trumpets - zangs dung - each person tosses a bundled, silk white scarf, a kata imbued with good wishes as high as possible onto the face of the Thangka.

We got there just at the crack of dawn and already, a river of people preceded us. When we left several hours later, the river of pilgrims was now two currents streaming pass each other. At times, the bottlenecks were quite scary, but security did a remarkable job of moving us all along without injury or incident and especially, without panic.

Such a delicious tension of the profane and the profound - an elixir of life: a rare moment when I completely shifted into free-flowing numinousity.  Yet, the ordinary part of me was also aware of how fragile was the truth of safety, with thousands swarming over unmarked and often unstable ground.

Once I helped an elder lady who fell down and couldn't get up.  I held her by the elbow until we got to the giant Thangka.  To my surprise, no had locals offered her their hand but simply stepped past her.  So I stepped up.  

The day ended in a Tibetan breakfast of noodles with yak meat and buns. Finally, a mad scramble for a rare, free taxi home on a day when thousands had walked too much got me home to a much needed and deep nap.

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   Let's do a "walk-about" & really see...


an investigation into how we know what we know;

of distinguishing truth & fact

from deep seated beliefs and reflexive opinion.

What the traveler saw...