Gandze is a mountainous area, characterized by steep
and narrow river valleys. The architecture of Kham is directly related
to that of central Tibet, given the similarities in culture and climate.
The average height of settlements is above 3000 meters, with high mountain
peaks above 5000 meters. Compared with the central parts of the Tibet
Autonomous Region, the Gandze Autonomous Prefecture is much more forested,
and the greater availability of wood is reflected in the architecture.
Gandze differs in dialect from Lhasa, but the written language is standard
Tibetan. Under the Western Development Program launched in recent years
by the Chinese government, transportation and communication links between
the different parts of Sichuan province are currently subject to major
improvement works. As a result, These have already greatly reduced the
time it takes to reach Gandze from the provincial capital, Chengdu.
The architecture of Kham is directly related to that of Tibet, given the
similarities in culture and climtae.
Economy and Culture
Farming, animal husbandry and trading are the traditional occupations,
and the area is also renown for its painting and silver work traditions.
Tibetan Buddhism is the predominant religion, with all four major denominations
(Gelukpa, Sakyapa, Karma Kagyu and Nyingmapa) represented by monasteries.
According to official statistics, there is only one monastery of the indigenous
pre-Buddhist shamanist Bön religion in Gandze county.
Beri Monastery is located west of Gandze town, along the road leading
to Dege town.
It was founded in the 17th century, in the wider vicinity of a number
of much older temples, Sakya-pa and Karma Kagyu sites that were established
during the Yuan dynasty. A disciple of the Fifth Dalai Lama by the name
of Ngawang Puntsok established 13 monasteries in the region to promote
the Gelukpa order. Beri was built on the site of an older hermitage known
as Gela Daden. The monastery was enlarged in the 18th century by a local
doctor called Ngawang Yeshe. The Sixth Panchen Lama Lobsang Panden Yeshe
(1738-1780) consecrated the extended chapel, and the Qianlong emperor
sent a wooden board with his own calligraphy. Ngawang Yeshe became the
first Geta (dge stag) Lama, an incarnation line that still continues today.
The Fifth Geta Lama assisted the Red Army when they passed through Gandze
while on the famous "Long March. As a result, Beri monastery
was spared destruction during the Cultural Revolution. It did suffer from
complete lack maintenance for two decades. Today the monastery has the
official status of protected monument at provincial level. Current head
of the monastery is the Sixth Geta Lama.
THF was invited to visit Beri in 2000 to look at the condition of the
main building, especially at the rooms containing historic wallpaintings.
A site inspection revealed that the building suffered from extensive settlement
of the timber frame, wall cracks and water infiltration, caused by leaking
roofs and lack of drainage. Wallpaintings belonging to different restoration
periods (18th-20th century) showed extensive cracks, and in some parts
they were flaking off the walls. Subsequently the local authorities, the
monastic community and THF agreed on a cooperation project in order to
restore the building. In partnership with the Cultural Relics Tourism
Department and the Department for Religious Affairs the project began
in late 2001.
The project aims were defined as:
- Restoring the 17th century Beri monastery to protect its important wall
paintings and architectural details
- Revival of traditional building skills
- Skill training to enhance economic competitiveness of local villagers
- Strengthening of womens roles by especially training women and
having women run and organize important project aspects
Description of the work
In late 2003, the main work was completed. The upper two floor sections
were particularly damaged and had to be partly re-constructed. The rammed
earth walls and the ground floor timber structure and wallpaintings have
been successfully retained. Due to the lack of locally available traditional
building skills, THF trained 90 villagers who did the actual rehabilitation
work. They were supervised by experts from the Lhasa old city project,
both masters and graduates of the previous vocational training project,
which now has gone into next generation.
The project received financial contributions from MISEREOR, Cultural Heritage
without Borders and Trace Foundation.
A detailed technical report will be made available on this site later
in 2004. Watch this space.