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Survey of Visitors to Gandantegchenling Monastery Alliance of Religions and Conservation / World Bank “Sacred Urban Landscape Protection Initiative”, 2006 Background and Objectives This survey of visitors to Gandantegchenling Monastery was conducted within the context of the World Bank “Sacred Urban Landscape Protection Initiative – Environmental Education and Conservation Management for Monasteries in Ulaanbaatar”, in the framework of assistance to Gandantegchenling Monastery in developing an environmentally-sound management plan for the Monastery and its surrounding residential area. The main objectives of this survey were to gather information about the frequency and patterns of visits to Gandantegchenling Monastery, and to obtain non-directed opinions and suggestions from visitors concerning the monastery’s future development. Methodology The survey was administered by monks at Gandanteghenling Monastery using a printed response sheet, which provided four simple questions: Question 1: “Approximately how many times a year do you visit Gandantegchenling Monastery?” Question 2: “For what purpose(s) do you visit the monastery?” Question 3: “What do you believe should be done to improve the quality of services for visitors to Gandantegchenling Monastery?” Question 4: “What do you believe should be done with regard to the management of the Gandan Hill area?” Three of these questions had an open-ended format; the second question listed six options from which any number could be selected by respondents. A total of 107 visitors participated in the survey. As the survey was administered during a period of relatively normal activity in March 2006, the surveyed population was somewhat biased in favour of more regular visitors, i.e., excluding those who visit Gandantegchenling Monastery only on a seasonal basis – such as for obtaining blessings at the New Year, or accompanying tourists in the summer. Yet the population of regular visitors was considered to be the most significant constituent of the Buddhist stakeholder community, as the most likely to support and benefit from overall improvements to the monastery and its services. Survey Responses Question 1: “Approximately how many times a year do you visit Gandantegchenling Monastery?” This question was presented in an open-ended format so as to permit an accurate representation of the distribution of visit frequencies. To reflect the relatively broad range provided by some respondents (e.g., 10-20 times per year), all individual responses were converted into minimum and maximum values, with an identical value used for both cases where a single figure was given. Responses such as “once per season” or “once per month” were converted into an appropriate yearly average, with the response “this is my first visit” recorded as 0-1. The number of annual visits reported by visitors varied considerably, from one or fewer visits to more than 100 visits per year, representing a standard deviation of 12.2. The average number of visits ranged from 9.1 to 11.9 per year, with a median range of 6-10. Table I. Number of visits to Gandantegchenling Monastery per year reported by survey respondents Minimum Maximum Lowest response given 0 1 Highest response given 52 104 Mean 9.1 11.9 Median 6.0 10.0 Standard deviation 10.1 14.3 Question 2: “For what purpose(s) do you visit the monastery?” This question was presented in a multiple-choice format, with respondents invited to select more than one option. The options given were: (a) having sutras read, (b) praying, (c) attending ritual ceremonies, (c) meeting with a spiritual teacher, (d) purchasing religious goods, and (e) other. Chart I. Purposes of Visits to Gandantegchenling Monastery, by Number of Responses 120 100 80 60 40 20 0 having sutras praying in attending meeting purchasing read temples rituals lamas religious goods A majority of respondents indicated that they visited the monastery for several different purposes – most commonly having sutras read on their behalf by lamas (89%), praying in temples (80%), and attending religious rituals (58%). In effect there is some degree of inevitable overlap in these activities, especially as visitors who wish to have sutras read on their behalf must present a receipt directly to the head of prayer ceremonies in one of the temples, and often take advantage of the opportunity to circumambulate the interior of the temple upon doing so. Yet the survey responses did not present a significant correlation (>0.4) between any of the purposes for visiting the monastery indicated by the survey respondents, demonstrating a significant variability in visiting patterns. No correlation was observed between the reported number and purposes of visits. Table II. Correlation of purposes for visiting the monastery indicated by survey respondents having praying purchasing sutras in attending meeting religious read temples rituals lamas goods having sutras read 1.00 praying in temples 0.09 1.00 attending rituals 0.19 0.38 1.00 meeting lamas 0.14 0.01 0.16 1.00 purchasing religious goods 0.21 0.26 0.30 0.33 1.00 The sixth, open-ended option on the survey form (“other”) was selected by several respondents, but as no further details were given by any visitors this option was discarded for the purposes of the present statistical analysis. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that a significant number of surveyed visitors referred in their open-ended responses to the importance of Gandantegchenling Monastery as a tourist centre, or in some cases to the fact that they routinely bring other visitors or tourists to see the Monastery. Question 3: “What do you believe should be done to improve the quality of services for visitors to Gandantegchenling Monastery?” Overall 62 respondents (58% of those surveyed) answered this open- ended question, providing a total of approximately 90 responses. The suggestions given were classified into the following categories: 1. The speed of service to those having sutras read on their behalf by lamas should be improved. Several respondents indicated that line- ups at the cashiers are too long, and that the staff is inadequate to handle the number of visitors at peak periods. 2. The area of the monastery should be increased. 3. Existing temples should be renovated or expanded, and/or new temples should be constructed within the monastery compound. 4. The monastery should implement longer hours of operation. Respondents complained in particular that Gandantegchenling Monastery is closed in the evenings; some visitors suggested that hours could be extended during peak periods such as Tsagaan Sar (the lunar New Year). 5. The behaviour and professional qualities of lamas should be improved, so as to provide a more welcoming environment for visitors. 6. The management and organization of visitor services or facilities should be improved. 7. Public toilet facilities should be installed. 8. The physical environment of the monastery compound should be developed through improved landscaping and installations. Respondents recommended the installation of improved lighting, and the planting of trees, grass and flowers. 9. Interpretation of the significance of sutras and rituals should be provided to visitors. 10. The cleanliness of the monastery compound should be improved. 11. Entrance fees should not be charged for visitors to the monastery. Currently foreign visitors are required to purchase a ticket at the main gate and at the entrance to the Megjid Janraiseg temple. 12. Lower fees should be charged for the performance of religious services for visitors (reading of sutras by lamas), or such fees should be implemented on a “suggested donation” basis. 13. A more flexible form of religious services should be provided to visitors. 14. The activities of astrologers and grain peddlers should be better coordinated, or such individuals should be removed from the monastery. 15. Information about lamas and the scheduling and content of specific rituals should be posted for visitors. Overall, visitors expressed the greatest concerns about the appearance and cleanliness of the monastery compound, and about the slow, inflexible quality of service for visitors having sutras read on their behalf. Further concerns were raised about the lack of visitor information, pertaining to the scheduling and content of rituals and other events, the location of facilities within the monastery compound, and the identities of lamas. Table III. Visitor Recommendations Concerning the Improvement of Services at Gandantegchenling Monastery Recommendation N % of Respondents Provide better maintenance and cleaning 17 16 Increase the speed of service 15 14 Provide interpretation 9 8 Improve lamas’ professionalism 7 6 Improve landscaping and installations 7 6 Provide longer hours of operation 5 5 Improve management and organization 4 4 Increase the area of the monastery 3 3 Renovate or construct temples 3 3 Charge lower fees for religious services 3 3 Allow greater flexibility of service 3 3 Relocate peddlers and astrologers 3 3 Post practical information 3 3 Install toilet facilities 2 2 Charge no entrance fees 2 2 Question 4: “What do you believe should be done with regard to the management of the Gandan Hill area?” 71 respondents (66% of those surveyed) provided answers to this open- ended question, resulting in a total of 107 suggestions. The various recommendations were categorized as follows: 1. The residential area surrounding Gandantegchenling Monastery should be cleaned. A large number of respondents indicated that the area is littered with unsightly garbage, that the area is dirty and undeveloped, that local residents discard their waste openly, or that it is shameful that an area regularly visited by foreign tourists should be in such a condition. 2. More religious facilities or residences for lamas should be constructed in this area. 3. A religious museum or exhibition / visitor centre should be established. 4. The landscaping and physical appearance of this area should be improved. Responses in this category included suggestions that trees and grass be planted surrounding the monastery, that the area be converted into a park, and that proper roadways be installed. 5. Information panels should be installed outside the monastery to assist visitors. 6. The families in the ger-district should be relocated, or the Gandan Hill area should be returned to its former state. 7. The Gandan Hill area should be placed under state protection, or should be developed according to a plan coordinated by the national government. 8. The area should be modernized. Responses included suggestions that modern buildings replace the existing gers and houses, and that central heating be installed so as to reduce the amount of smoke generated by individual coal-burning heating units. 9. The activities of astrologers and merchants outside the gates of the Monastery should be regulated. The most commonly expressed concerns related to the appearance of the area surrounding Gandantegchenling Monastery, with 45% of respondents suggesting that the area needs to be cleaned and/or that greater attention needs to be paid to its landscaping. Approximately one third of repondents indicated that the families surrounding the monastery should be relocated, and/or that the Gandan Hill area should be converted into a religious complex or park. Table IV. Visitor Recommendations Concerning the Management of the Gandan Hill Area Recommendation N % of Respondents Clean garbage 31 28 Improve landscaping 26 24 Move families 20 18 Construct religious facilities 14 13 Modernize the area 7 6 Construct a museum 3 3 Install information panels 2 2 Implement state protection 2 2 Regulate astrologers and merchants 2 2 Other respondents suggested that more should be done to reduce crime in the area, that the monastery compound should be expanded, that funds should be raised from the public to assist the capital development of this area, and that the “national character” of the area surrounding Gandantegchenling Monastery should be preserved. Conclusions and Follow-Up This survey of visitors to Gandantegchenling Monastery demonstrates that there is a significant variability in the frequency and patterns of public visits to the Monastery, and that a wide variety of problems are perceived by visitors as needing to be addressed. Owing to the open-ended nature of this survey and to the relatively small nature of the survey population, it is impossible to state with great precision the degree to which visitors might support any specific development recommendation; but we stress that the overall objective of this study has been to generate a list of problems and issues that should be taken into consideration in planning the development of Gandantegchenling Monastery, rather than to rank such issues or their solutions based on their degree of public support or their objective merit. Overall, it is possible to group the suggestions provided by visitors for the development of the Monastery and its surrounding region into the following broad categories: Appearance of the site (landscaping, cleanliness, organization) Services offered to the Buddhist community (speed, cost, flexibility, hours of operation, facilities) Information needs (site interpretation, spiritual guidance, information about the monastery and events) Monks (professionalism, relations with visitors). Site Appearance From any objective point of view, Gandantegchenling Monastery and its surrounding residential district are uncleanly and, to a certain extent, poorly organized. The lack of greenery, proper roadways, lighting and overall urban planning in this area is regrettable in the eyes of visitors, in addition to presenting a somewhat poor image to foreign tourists. Respondents to this survey suggested that Gandantegchenling Monastery could be developed according to the example of historical and cultural monuments abroad, such as Gumben Monastery in China or the Kremlin in Russia, as an attractive complex laid out in a manner to accommodate visitors in the most comfortable manner possible. Landscaping and site development issues have already been addressed by the medium-term Development Plan for Gandantegchenling Monastery, but the sources of funding for this plan have yet to be resolved. In this regard, the Monastery might be advised to explore the possibility of undertaking specific fundraising campaigns to fund capital improvements – similar to the campaign implemented to fund the restoration of the Janraiseg temple in the early 1990s – rather than rely on general revenues from tourist groups and from religious services provided to local visitors. Indeed, such a reorientation of the Monastery’s revenue- generation strategy would have the effect of encouraging larger donations from the corporate community and more affluent visitors, while keeping the cost of regular religious services at a level affordable to all members of the Buddhist community. The posting in a highly-visible location of the names and logos of major private and corporate donors could provide a reasonable incentive for contributions to capital improvement campaigns, particularly if the results of such donations are to be seen nearby in a tangible form. Services to the Buddhist Community Religious services officially offered at Gandantegchenling Monastery currently take the following forms: The reading of sutras on behalf of visitors. This activity is coordinated through an impersonal system whereby each visitor records his or her name and the title of the sutra requested on a standard form, pays a set fee at a cashier’s desk, then supplies the receipt to the head lama at a prayer meeting. Visitors are often unable to obtain information about the significance of the various sutras that are offered. Prayer meetings. These include regular prayer meetings offered on a daily basis, and special rituals performed on specific dates throughout the year. Visitors are generally welcome to attend these meetings and obtain blessings. Unfortunately, the dates and signficance of these rituals are inadequately publicized. Maintenance of temples housing sacred images. Large numbers of visitors circumambulate the various temples at the monastery and make offerings in front of the sacred images they contain. Interpretation of the significance of these temples and their images is lacking. Spiritual guidance. Many visitors consult with a lama of their acquaintance in order to obtain personalized spiritual guidance or services; but as such activities are not offered in a systematic, coordinated manner, a sizeable proportion of the Buddhist community is unable to benefit from access to Buddhist teachings. Sale of Buddhist products. Currently Gandantegchenling Monastery operates a single religious goods shop, situated next to the main entrance gate; most visitors obtain such goods from private vendors located along the streets to the South and East of the monastery compound. Several of the visitors surveyed indicated that the spiritual activities of the Monastery are inadequate, commenting that religious services for visitors are inflexible, that each visitor should have access to a teacher- lama, and that the significance of sutras and rituals is not evident. Generally speaking, the spiritual needs of the lay Buddhist community are inadequately met in terms of the insufficient interpretation of Buddhist practices and teachings and of their significance, and the lack of spiritual guidance. These needs could, however, be satisfied by a variety of means: the installation of public information panels; the systematic publication and distribution by the Monastery of official leaflets, booklets or newsletters, interpreting various aspects of Buddhist practice and announcing upcoming events organized by the Monastery; the operation of a visitor information centre, potentially in combination with an expanded gift shop and religious goods supply centre; and the implementation of a system of public consultations with specialized lamas, coordinated directly by the Monastery. Issues related to both the speed of service and the cleanliness of the monastery could probably be most successfully be addressed by the employment of a larger clerical and maintenance staff. The effective use of increased human resources should reduce visitor pressure during peak periods such as Tsagaan Sar, and allow the monastery to maintain longer hours of operation. Information Needs The lack of visitor interpretation remains a significant problem, but could easily be resolved through the installation of low-cost interpretive panels, directional signage and bulletin boards at key locations throughout the monastery. Such information panels could include: Signs identifying and interpreting the main structures within the monastery, in Mongolian and English languages. The installation of a large map at the entrance to the monastery would be valuable. Directional signs pointing to toilets and other visitor facilities. Currently public toilet facilities exist in the south-east corner of the monastery compound, for example, yet the survey responses suggest that not all visitors are aware of their location. (a) Bulletin boards providing up-to-date information about the scheduling of upcoming prayer rituals, lectures and other events. (b) A directory of consulting lamas and their specializations. (c) Information panels explaining to visitors the significance of religious rituals, images and texts, and how to engage with these. Monks Several visitors indicated in their survey responses that the professionalism of monks at Gandantegchenling Monastery could be improved; in this regard, Gandantegchenling Monastery could implement a stricter code of behaviour for its affiliated lamas. The location of the Monastery in the centre of Ulaanbaatar, the lack of residential facilities for monks, and the large number of visitors have a negative impact on the ability of monks to follow a “pure” monastic lifestyle of quiet study and meditation. The administration of Gandantegchenling Monastery is in the process of exploring the possibility of relocating its colleges (datsan) to a more isolated site near Elsen Tasarkhai in Uvurkhangai aimag, or of constructing on-site residences for lamas.
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