The biggest attraction in Shangri-La was probably the Sumtseling (or Songzanlin) Monastery just outside town. You can pay $25 to view the inside, or wander the grounds for free. I was tempted to try the latter. However, taking the local bus to the monastery, Benny, Olga, and I found wikitravel’s warning proved true:
“For foreign passengers the bus driver will stop at the ticket office and gesture wildly for you to buy a ticket and may not let you continue onwards unless you do.”
The driver let us off at the tourist center, conveniently located far from the monastery. Thus far on my trip, I hadn’t squabbled for the student discount; however, as the monastery was the most expensive tourist attraction I’d encountered in China, I re-matriculated at the community college of life.
The advantage of purchasing a ticket is you get to ride a shuttle bus to the majestic monastery listening to the timeless chanting of Lady Gaga.
Like every other hectare in China, the monastery was under construction. It’s a bit unnerving to see a giant crane and construction vehicles retooling a sacred Buddhist monastery, but the inside was remarkably void of people. In the main structure we only ran into two tourists and a couple of monks.
Owing to the construction, on one level we found ourselves standing on a scaffolding, face to giant face with the Buddha and other idols, their heads as tall as a man. The massive idols were covered by a thin, clear plastic, like divine couches.
We scaled five or six flights of stairs, admiring the details of the artwork and exploring each level with added reverence. And as we rose higher and higher above the earth, we knew, we just knew in our bones, that ascending into the apex of this sacrosanct temple, this last room would contain either the meaning of life, or God.
And this is what we saw:
God is a machine. So disregard what your comparative religion class taught you. Photographic evidence suggests Tibetan Buddhism supports the watchmaker-creator theory.