After arriving in Lanzhou Airport, I took the airport bus (30 yuan) for about 1 hour and then a short taxi ride to Lanzhou South station to take a 3.5 hours bus ride at 3pm (buses are at 7.30 and 830, 9.30am and 2 and 3pm ) to Xiahe (80 yuan), where Labrang monastery is.
Labrang Monastery is the largest monastery with the most number of monks out of Tibet. This is what made my whole day travelling back and forth worth it as it is gorgeous.
After I arrived, I realised there is also an airport in Xiahe that has flights to and from Xian, so you may not have to do this arduous bus journey. It doesn’t fly everyday so do plan it properly. Alternatively if there are a few of you, get a car from Lanzhou as it’ll work out more cost efficient. (About 800 yuan one way)
I stayed at the Tibetan Family lodge which is quite new, just beside the monastery and the entire family is so nice and fetched me to and from the bus station. They also prepared very delicious meals, the room was spacious and clean and most importantly, warm with very hot water for showers. It was 0-6 degrees when I went and thus is super important. I booked it via booking.com and you can get a discount if you click here.
The next morning, I was told there is a morning prayer at 1130am and also, the English tour of the monastery starts at 1015pm and 3.15pm and you can buy tickets t the entrance for 40 yuan. When I went, because it’s low season, I had to join the chinese tour group which I thank my chinese teacher I still remembered most of my language as I get to practise it more over the last 10 days here.
The tour was conducted by a Tibetan monk and he brings you around the important bits of the monastery and tells you about more about the life of the monks and he eventually drops you off at the main prayer hall where you can then stay to watch all the monks come in as the horn is blown and they sit and chant and drink milk. I guess that was their meal time too.
The other notable monastery is the butter milk museum where you can see sculptures made of ghee and I asked if the melt in summer and the monk said no, the temperatures stay constantly cool because of the very thick walls. There was also a museum where there was a dinosaur bone! When I asked the monk if it was found here, he said he don’t know. Hmmmmm.
After about 3 hours, I went to the nearby nomads restaurant to have dumplings and noodles. It wasn’t too bad and there were a lot of locals eating there but I think the food at Tibetan family was tastier.
After my lunch I decided to take a walk to the town to see how it was like and there were many shops selling similar everyday items like shoes and cloths and of course religious items and even the robes and boots of monks. I took the chance to buy my 830am bus ticket back to Xiahe too as I had to catch my 3pm flight back to Xiahe.
After an hours walk, I decided I wanted to do the hike up the mountains to see the birds eye view of the whole monastery and town. As I walked back from the town to the start of the hike, turning prayer wheels with the rest of the locals, I passed by a pagoda which I recommend you go into as you can go up to the top to get a close too view of Labrang Monastery. It’s the only one with the tall golden pagoda so you won’t miss it.
I struggled to find the entrance for the hike but eventually I did. The start of the hike is on the left side of the white stupa on the left of the entire monastery. In Tibetan culture, you always have to walk clockwise so start from the left to right up the mountains. You will have to turn left into the lane of shops before the white stupa when everyone else turns right to continue their rounds of the monastery. The people that I have walked with all turned right and I had to turn left before the white stupa. Walk along for some time past many shops and once you walk past about 2 other Monasteries, turn right to go up the hill and you’ll find the way. I asked a man on the street and a young monk and they both told me to turn at different places but the man was right, so then a little bit after the second monastery.
The hike was not and easy one as it was very steep. But it’s worth it. The views of the entire snowy mountain range, the village, the fields and eventually the whole monastery makes the 1 hour hike worth it. At the summit, I saw an old couple tying prayer flags to the fence, I guess to prevent people from falling down the very steep mountains. In Tibetan culture, the 5 coloured flags stand for blue skies, white clouds, green river water, red fire and yello earth. As Tibetan chants and prayers and inscribed on the flags, when the wind blows and they move, it’s like they’re chanting for the person that tied it there. The same concept as to why you turn prayer wheels. They have prayers inscribed inside or on the wheels too!
If you hiked up a bit later, you would see the gorgeous sunset over the fields and river. I hiked town before the sunset as it was getting very windy and cold and in March, the skies are cloudy in the evenings so the sunset is hidden.
A full day is sufficient for Xiahe as it’s a small town and this also marks the end of part of my Silk Road trip in China.
Next, I’ll be headed to Fukuoka for the wonderful hot springs!
Never stop wandering
Stella goes west