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China Daily (Canada) - - TIBET -

Dark clouds were gath­er­ing in the sky as the sun be­gan to set over the west­ern moun­tains, and a sprin­kling of rain­drops cut through the last dy­ing rays of light.

Losal Tanky­ong put down his scrip­ture and climbed up onto the roof of Drathang Monastery as the rain be­came more in­tense and mixed with a strong wind.

Two other mem­bers of staff at the 935-year-old monastery’s ad­min­is­tra­tion com­mit­tee crawled up there with the 37-year-old, to care­fully check for any cracks or leaks in the build­ing’s earthen roof.

They found none, so pro­ceeded to check the walls and in­te­ri­ors — all were weather tight.

It was au­tumn, the leaves in the trees along­side the Yar­long Tsangpo River had al­ready turned yel­low and the har­vest was com­plete in the bar­ley fields nearby.

This year had been par­tic­u­larly wet, but Losal Tanky­ong said the monastery’s roof — made us­ing a com­pact earth floor­ing tech­nique known as arka — had with­stood the test.

“The arka on the roof was ren­o­vated last year, the roof gra­di­ent was slightly ad­justed, and the bro­ken arka in­side was also ren­o­vated,” he said.

“The govern­ment has in­vested more than 7 mil­lion yuan ($1 mil­lion) in the monastery’s ren­o­va­tion and the qual­ity of the arka floors will be eval­u­ated by check­ing whether they leak this year.”

The Drathang Monastery is lo­cated in the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion’s Zhanang county. Con­struc­tion on it be­gan in 1081.

Among the many valu­able relics stored in­side are a se­ries of fres­coes — some dat­ing to the time when it was built, while oth­ers date from later pe­ri­ods.

In 1996, the monastery was given na­tional-level pro­tec­tion as a cul­tural relic, largely be­cause of its col­lec­tion of fres­coes.

Be­sides the Bud­dha Bod­hisattvas, the paint­ings also fea­ture high-rank­ing of­fi­cials, no­bil­ity and or­di­nary prac­ti­tion­ers of Bud­dhism.

There are Hui, Mon­go­lian and Arab faces present, painted in a style that merges Han, Ti­betan and In­dian tech­niques.

“Their cos­tume, dec­o­ra­tions and roles have much value in ref­er­ence to the so­ci­ety and his­tory of the time,” Losal Tanky­ong said.

The fig­ure of the Bud­dha Sakya­muni was painted with an In­dian face, Ti­betan shoes and a Han dharma robe, while two lions un­der the lo­tus throne of the Bud­dha have blue fur, a green mane and red paws.

“This is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the lion of white body, green mane, and hold­ing up the throne that is seen in most tra­di­tional Ti­betan paint­ings,” Losal Tanky­ong said.

Only Shalu Monastery in Ti­bet’s Xigaze city can boast a fresco painted us­ing sim­i­lar styles.

To bet­ter pre­serve the rare fres­coes, the monastery has in­vited ex­perts from Ti­bet’s cul­tural relic bu­reaus as well as pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers from Bei­jing to doc­u­ment the art­works.

A mu­seum has also been es­tab­lished to dis­play pic­tures of the fres­cos to pil­grims and tourists.

“The preser­va­tion of the fres­coes in the Drathang Monastery is a key part of our work, and the pro­tec­tion plans were drawn up and sup­ported by the Chi­nese Academy of Cul­tural Her­itage,” said Champa Tser­ing, the deputy head of the Shan­nan Cul­ture and Relics Bu­reau.

“The Chi­nese Academy of Cul­tural Her­itage has sent its pro­fes­sional staff to Ti­bet to help with the preser­va­tion work.”

Their cos­tume, dec­o­ra­tions and roles have much value in ref­er­ence to the so­ci­ety and his­tory of the time.”

More than 300 mil­lion yuan ($43.92 mil­lion) has been ap­plied for to help with the preser­va­tion work, to be spent in ar­eas such as ar­chi­tec­tural main­te­nance, fresco restora­tion and rais­ing fire and safety stan­dards.

Gao Feng, a re­searcher with the Chi­nese Academy of Cul­tural Her­itage who has worked in Ti­bet for three years on projects at the Po­tala Palace, Jokhang Tem­ple and Nor­bu­l­ingka Park in Lhasa, is in charge of the preser­va­tion work at the monastery.

“In 2010, a plan for fresco pro­tec­tion at the Drathang Monastery was ap­proved by the State Cul­tural Relics Bu­reau, but the project could not be im­ple­mented be­cause of fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties,” Gao said.

“Then in 2014, an­other pro­tec­tion plan for­mu­lated by our academy was ap­proved by the State Cul­tural Relics Bu­reau, and more than 12 mil­lion yuan was spent on pro­tect­ing the fres­coes in 2015.”

Gao said the pro­tec­tion work at the Drathang Monastery would also in­clude pre­serv­ing dig­i­tal data, set­ting up an in­for­ma­tion sys­tem to cat­a­log the fres­coes and pro­tect­ing and re­pair­ing the struc­ture of the build­ings, among other things.

It is planned to start next year and be com­plete by the end of 2018, ac­cord­ing to the monastery.

Losal Tanky­ong hopes a drainage sys­tem will also be part of the ren­o­va­tions.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate that the State is in­vest­ing heav­ily in the pro­tec­tion of the fres­coes and the res­i­dents around the monastery are also pleased with this sup­port,” he said.

“But feel­ing grate­ful is not enough — I will try my best to help as it would be best if we do not waste any of the coun­try’s money.”

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