Chanting emanated from loudspeakers. In hills to the east of the monastery stood clusters of red three-story wooden homes, a traditional design around religious centers in Kham.
Even if the scene around the monastery evoked ancient customs, the town did not. Modern five-story buildings lined the valley walls along the river. Yellow construction cranes loomed above the skyline, a sight typical of cities big and small across China. At night, neon signs glowed.
Katia Buffetrille, a scholar of Tibet at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, said the sprawl of the town had surprised her when she visited last year. She had last come here three decades earlier.
The monastery was in bad shape in 1985, she said. But the printing press was functioning back then, years after the end of the destructive Cultural Revolution.
“The operations of the printing press are today similar to what they were in 1985,” Ms. Buffetrille said. “It’s amazing how many pages they print every day.”
“That can explain the bad quality of the printing sometimes,” she added.
But the traditions endure. On the afternoon I visited, in a monastic building uphill from the printing press, monks held a dharma ceremony, which they do every few weeks. One monk walked around a crowded courtyard sprinkling drops of water on worshipers. Others sat on a dais at the front, reading aloud from scriptures that had been printed by hand next door.
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