Dege and Tibetan printing house

The city of Dege, located right on the border with the Tibet Province in the historic part of Tibet Kham, has grown like other cities in the region over the course of a few years. In addition to the traditional houses built of timber, for which Dege is known, the city has acquired typical multi-story blocks and spilled over a valley along the river. The traditional buildings form the backbone of the old part of Dege, and in its center proudly stands the largest building in this part, Parkhang Monastery, which is also the oldest printing house of the Tibetan sutras.

The building standing in the square is a vital cultural center of Dege. Here, from the early morning, the inhabitants gather for the daily Kora pilgrimage, when the Tibetans repeatedly circle around religious sites, reciting a mantra, setting prayer wheels in motion or every couple of meters falling on their faces. It is an absolute daily ritual wherever we encounter practicing Tibetans. There is also a greater concentration of commercial and social life. The square where the printing house is located plays the same role as the European markets in the past.

The printing house itself can boast a 300-year history. Since its founding in 1729, it has been the most important publishing center in Tibet and has been involved in the printing of traditional Tibetan sutras, works in the field of literature, history and medicine, as well as thangka- paintings depicting Buddhist deities. The most interesting thing about this place is the way of printing. Everything is done with the use of traditional methods, just like three hundred years ago. Sutras and all other types of printings are done by hand by applying a layer of ink to a hand-engraved wooden block, and then transferring the text to pieces of paper, which workers press evenly against the block with a roller. Printers work in pairs, and thanks to the skill they have achieved, which would surely arouse an admiration of Jan Gutenberg himself, they achieve a pace of up to 2,500 pages per day. Due to its history and uninterrupted publications, the printing house produces great numbers of wooden forms, and is also the place where the greatest number of them (Tibetan forms) is kept.

Dege, unlike many towns of Western Sichuan, is not surrounded by endless pastures and when driving into it, I was even a bit disappointed about it. After all, my favorites are small towns in the middle of nowhere, with nothing within a dozen or so kilometers, and where your sight reaches far to the horizon. Dege is squeezed between mighty mountains, which in my case gives a slightly claustrophobic impression. Fortunately you can climb higher and admire how the ravine is filled with a more modern version of construction. Nevertheless, I must say that the culture in Dege stands strong, and the city itself, especially the older part with the printing house, has a great atmosphere. It is also very picturesque, when the morning rays of the sun touch the peaks of the surrounding hills.