Tibet | Lhasa | Drepung Monastery
Excerpt from my Life of Zanabazar:
Drepung Monastery, where Zanabazar probably stayed while in Lhasa is still one of the three big monasteries, along with Sera and Gandan, in the Lhasa area, and continues to be an important pilgrimage site for Tibetans, as well as a standard stop on all tourist excursions in Lhasa. I have visited Drepung several times. Once I was there in the winter when the courtyards and hallways were jammed with hundreds if not thousands of Tibetan pilgrims from the countryside. On this occasion I had the benefit of a guide and translator, a Tibetan woman in her thirties who spoke excellent English. I explained to her that I would like to ask someone at Drepung whether they knew anything about Zanabazar, the famous Mongolian lama who had visited here in the mid-seventeenth century. I had intended that she ask someone in a position of authority about this, but instead she immediately turned to an old toothless monk who happened to be shuffling by and put the question to him. He was hard of hearing and my translator ended up shouting at him while he cupped his hands to his ears in order to hear. He finally understand her question and after ruminating at length, all the while twirling the half-dozen or so white hairs which constituted his beard, said "Oh," you must mean the famous Mongolian lama whose 9th Reincarnation now lives in India."
Amazingly, he was indeed referring to Zanabazar, whose current reincarnation is now headquartered at a monastery in Simla, India. I was startled to hear that he knew about Zanabazar, but even more so that he aware of Zanabazar's present reincarnation. "Ask him how he knows about the reincarnation in India," I told my translator. After another shouting match she replied, "He heard about this lama on BBC."
Come," said the monk, "I'll show you where Zanabazar lived." He led us up some cobbled pathways to the back of the monastery and pointed to a mass of ruined walls and rubble covering the hillside. "Zanabazar lived in one of those buildings, but they were destroyed back during the troubles," he said, referring to the Cultural Revolution. Unfortunately the monk could tell us nothing more about Zanabazar's stay in Lhasa during his first trip to Tibet, but it seems significant that even the humblest of the monastery's current inhabitants remember his presence at Drepung.