The Last Mountain

©Stephen McDonnell 2002

draft April 27. 2002

10. Songzanlin Monastary

Songzanlin Monastery

From tourist brochure:
The Gedan Songzanlin Lamasery four kilometres north of the county has a long history.
The architecture is magnificent, it faces north and is built along the mountains. At first sight,it appears to be just like the Potala Palace. The Gedan Songzanlin Lamasery was first built in
1681(the Year of the Iron Cock in the Tibetan calendar). It is said that the Fifth Dalai Lama
chose it as the site of the lamasery through divination and named it "Gedan Songzanlin". In
the 2nd year of Emperor Yongzheng's rule(1724) in the Qing dynasty,Deqing was brought under the jurisdiction of Yunnan Province, and the lamasery was renamed the " Guihua Lamasery". Occupying an area of over 500 mu, it has strong walls and five gates. The two main lamaseries Zhacang, and Jikang command the highest point in the compound. They are both Tibetan style watchtowers and are surrounded by eight sub-lamaseries and the dormitories of the lamas. In the distance, one can see the gilded copper stupa at the top of the main lamasery. The gilded copper tiles shine eternally in the plateau sunlight. The auspicious animal decorations and flying buttresses show all have elements of the Han people's temple styles. The main scripture hall lying in the center of the compound is supported by 108 giant pillars.Brightened with numerous butter oil lamps, the hall can hold 1,600 lamas sitting in meditation or chanting the Buddhist scriptures. The 16 colourful pictures hanging high in the lamasery are said to have been painted by renowned lamas with the golden liquid given them by the Fifth Dalai Lama. The lamasery has many
treasures. The most famous are the eight gold-covered sculptures of Sakyamuni, fashioned between the time of the Fifth and Seventh Dalai Lamas. In the early Qing Dynasty, the rulers of Lijiang, the Mu Family, presented the lamasery with dozens of bronze sculptures, and the "Ganzur" scriptures hand-written in liquid gold, scriptures written on pattra leaves, gold lamps, and many exquisite gilded silver incense burners.

Every morning, noon and eve, the solemn toll of the bells and the sound of the drums from the bell and drum towers can be heard several kilometres away. During its prime time,the Songzanlin Lamasery was home to 1,000 lamas.In1985, theTenth Panchen Lama paid a special visit to the Lamasery.

The biggest religious festival held in the Songzanlin Lamasery is the "Gedong Festival"on
the 29th day of the 11th month of the lunar calendar ."Gedong" means cooking nine kinds of food for a grand banquet. On the day of the festival,Tibetans from surrounding areas bringcarefully prepared food to the Lamasery and watch the lamas perform a mysterious masked dance,called the "Baqiang".The dance serves to drive away monsters, to celebrate the harvest and pray for happiness during the coming year. The lamas put on their masks to imitate the various gods. They dance slowly and heavily,as decreed in the ancient books on dance,to the accompaniment of drums, cymbals, long trumpets and the suona horn.

Lilly drove to the monastery, not saying a word. It reminded me of what Ian Fleming wrote about James Bond's wife to be, "she drove like a man." Lilly knew her way around a gearshift, as we weaved up and down switchbacks worse than the road to Stinson Beach. I felt as if I was alone, she was someplace else, in another world, where I could not reach her, even if I put out my hand and touched her, she was not there. She said snow leopards are like that, they can be a foot behind you and you do not know they are there, even if you turn around and stare at them, they disappear into the landscape and their camouflaged hide and absolute stillness made them one with the mountain.

A few monks were around, they even seem to expect her and bowed to her as if she was the mountain goddess. Politeness I supposed. One old man ran out to her and embraced her, almost passionately; I felt jealousy for the first time in months. She melted in his arms, and they laughed and ignored me as if I was a white ghost. A true Gulung. Finally she turned around and introduced me to the head lama. He surprised me by speaking fluent English.

"Welcome to Songzanlin Monastery, Lilly will show you around, but I hope you will come to tea later. I look forward to hearing about your book. He bowed and then sauntered away, another dusty looking monk, amongst other monks."

She led me through a labyrinth of halls and courtyards; some of them were over grown with weed, and looked abandoned. At last we came out onto a balcony, over looking the valley and the mountain, our mountain. She looked at me in a new way, explaining, "This is my favorite place, I used to come here when I was young while my father was talking to the lama. I had my first kiss here." With the last word, she threw herself on me.

Lilly was unbridled, passionate, kissing and hugging me, as if she would die tomorrow.

"I have missed you, my stone, my life." She kept whispering to me, as she pushed me against the old walls of the Lamasa. We were e alone, but for how long.

"Lilly, I miss you too, you are so distant. So busy." She pushed her face into my shoulder, sobbing, her arms were around me, like a vise, stronger than I could remember.
"Now, now, here, where he can see me, I must appease the mountain god." With those words, she thrust her hips into me, grinding her pubic bone into my groin. "Take me, I am your water."

God forgive us, but we did not respect the sacred Tibetan temple, she needed it and so did I. It was over fast, a bit messy, after so many nights without her, and we felt like kids, who had gotten away with a big no no.

Trumpets sounded outside, breaking the silence. Then another sound reverberated, shaking the monastery walls.

"No, worse Zachiaria has started his little war against the mountain. God help us all." She shivered and then stepped away form me, into the courtyard where the monks were milling around in agitation. Like so many orange and red colored Dervishes, they reminded me of the chickens on my grandfather's dirt poor farm.

Lilly called out to the monks, trying to calm them. They were all shouting the same name.
"What are they saying?"
"They say the mountain god is angry and will punish us all, they are afraid. It happened already, when the communists came in 1952. It is foolishness, an earthquake hit then." And she added, "We must get back to the camp, the climb will start soon."

Zacheria had returned with new toys, some hellfire missiles that he had some how modified, and they were being fired at the mountain from his helicopters. It was an aerial fireworks display worthy of a football game, based on calculations of the planning team, the climbers would need to be resupplied, that would take lots of sherpas and back and forth climbing. Zacheria's Americna solution was to shoot the supplies at the mountain, like throwing darts at a board in a pub, the packages were stuck to the mountain at several levels.

"It's not a clean climb," Jason was moaning, almost tearing his hair out in frustration. He took his Tilley off and stomped up and down on it. "Damn excited states of America, always trying to show off. The big stick climbing." He looked at Sig with accusing eyes. Sigfriend just frowned, looked at his watch and turned back to the command tent to join his Teutonic brother. Marie said something that ended in, "Norte Americanos," and she too headed off by herself. Meanwhile Chip was the only one who seemed to be enjoying the spectacle, along with the Chinese soldiers who were amused and bemused. As usual, they either stood smoking or crouched down on their hunches and talked, and hawked. You could tell where they had been by the little poodles of spit.

Zacheria arrived, with his usual retinue plus some of the camp followers we had amassed, TV reporters and news hounds. An odd trekker who had stayed around for the show, and what the climbers called, spotters or vultures ­ men and women who wanted to sleep with the climbers before they ascended. They would stay around waiting for the inevitable, or if they got bored they would go off to the current Grand Prix race. Mostly rich EuroTrash mixed with playboys and lay abouts. Most climbs lacked them, but this one was more accessible. It was obvious the men were getting hit on and taking advantage of it. The women too had their babe watchers, not as shy as the Chinese either.

I watched from the periphery, while the old man gestured Lilly over as if he owned her. We parted, my body felt like a part of me had been torn off, and I watched her turn on an Oriental smile and start translating. A bunch of Chinese officials were present as well, in business suits. Now that he was back, our Texas oilman had taken charge in his brusque outlandish manner, over riding all common sense and decency. He didn't seem to have a scrap of empathy in his body.

Later in the day, he ordered me, through Mike, to come to his tent. A surprise was waiting for me.

"Heh, long time no see, how is my biography going? What did you like the little bit of excitement this afternoon?"

"You could have been more discreet today."

"Hell, boy, that is the whole point, stir up some excitement, the TV boys and girls love it, gets them more viewers, more products sold, the American dream." And of course his name would also be mentioned. More face time on the airways for his ego.

" Am I supposed to be writing a journal of the climb? So far no one has put a hand on the mountain."

"Well, the boys and girls will have their route all laid out, this is going to be the millennium climbing techniques we are developing, this is the modern way of doing it." I had the feeling he was excusing himself to the traditional climbers in the group, the ones who saw it as a sacrilege.

"Garry, these things take time, and I was busy as you can see, with the officials and a little bit of my hobby." He gestured to a bunch of cases that had plastic bags in side. They looked like they contained body parts, with blood splatters on the inside. I looked closer, realization dawning on me.

"Isn't that the rare blue mountain goat and that a snow leopard hide?"

"Good man, you have been doing some research. Maybe I will get my money worth's out of you yet." He looked at me slyly and added, "of course you can't say anything about this, with your contract and all."

"God damn you to hell you stupid Texan!" And I stomped out, feeling I had met one of the directors of ENRON. Hell he wasn't even that smart.

All they wanted was more oil, more trophies ­ human or animal ­ and to feel as if they owned the world and no one stopped them. By the media coverage, they admired him, their new hero. He wasn't even going to climb. Glory by proxy!

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