The official diary of the Gould mission to Lhasa sent by the British government. Read more about the mission diary.
Being Sunday Gould had arranged to have a rest from visitors and arranged a visit to Drepung Gompa, the, biggest Gompa in Tibet or in the world, for that matter. It has a nominal strength of 7,700 lamas, actually about 5,000 'live in' and a certain number more live outside.
It is organized in six colleges each under an abbot or Khenpo. The civil control (administration and discipline) is in the hands of two Shen-ngos who are always preceded when abroad by two 'lictors' or mace bearers carrying great metal staves, and perched on top of the staves the Shen-ngos' yellow hats of ceremony. These stave bearers preceded us and called in stentorian voices at frequent intervals 'Pha Gyuk' (clear the way). This was hardly necessary as during our visit the lamas, were confined to their cells by order.
The gompa is like a great town on a steeply rising hill side 5 miles out of Lhasa and the numerous buildings, halls and temples rise perforce in terraces with steep alleys and steps between. The feeding, sanitation, etc. of such a colony must be a big task. The place was very clean compared with Lhasa city or any village, and apparently there is a sewage system taking all latrine refuse by an under- ground channel to some sort of natural cess pit or settling tank a mile away; for we were told the sewer did not over flow except in heavy rain.
We were met at the entrance by Shen-ngos and stave bearers and conducted up the steep hill to the main assembly hall. The smell in this great dark cloistered hall was indescribable, a mixture of incense and rancid butter and the floor was thick with black grease, which we understood was due to the stabbings of the lamas' tea which they drink there.
We drank tea with the abbots and then proceeded on a tour of all the colleges in each of which we had to drink tea, or hot sweetened milk. Some of the big halls are very strikingly decorated with coloured friezes of Buddha's life, or of Tibetan devils and spirits. There are literally hundreds of enormous gilded and jewelled idols in this Gompa, for each hall has twenty or thirty or more. In one there was a striking model of the late Dalai Lama and also of the founder of Drepung said to have flourished 2,000 years ago.
We visited a kitchen and saw enormous copper cauldrons 6 feet across and 3 or 4 feet deep in which soup and tea are made. We also saw the lamas cubicles in each of which two lamas live.
The roof of the main hall rises in striking steep pitched oriental curves and is gilded. In some cases these roofs are actually overlaid with gold leaf.
After cash presents had been given out to the Gompa as a whole and to certain of the officials we left.
We then proceeded to the "Nachung" or temple of the Great Oracle of Tibet a mile from Drepung Gompa, where we had a pic-nic lunch under a grove of trees at which we entertained our Tibetan guides and our own clerks, who had accompanied us to Drepung, much to their delight.
After lunch we went all round the oracle's temple guided by a very intelligent speaking lama.
Gould is having attention paid to by the Oracle, who is coming to an official call tomorrow, a thing has never done to any other Political Officer before.
We admired the old armour and swords hung round the cloisters, the solid gold butter lamps and the gold leaf pagoda like roof.
The lamas living houses at this temple are very superior and clean looking.
After a most interesting day we rode home in the evening and just got in before a thunderstorm.
Author: Philip Neame [see handwritten annotations in Diary by Hugh Richardson in MS. Or. Richardson 2, Bodleian Libary, Department of Oriental Collections, University of Oxford]
Page Reference: Pt IV p.7