Tibetan Buddhist in Xiàhé
Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
195Trip End Feb 28, 2013
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LANZHOU TO XIAHE - 225KM BY BUS - 3.5 HOURS
We decided to go to Xiàhé because it is home to the famed Labrang Tibetan Buddhist monastery and the town is populated largely by ethnic Tibetans. The area is highly rural and geographically mountainous.
We took a taxi from our hotel across from the Lanzhou train station to the south bus station. It took about 20 minutes and the meter of the taxi was at 15RM when we arrived. We bought tickets for Xiahe (72.5 RMB each) and at 2PM sharp, the bus departed. Most the way was on new highway through scenic rural villages, mostly Hui people. 3.5 hours later, we arrived in Xiahe, a town with extensive Tibetan architecture.
Since it was getting to the busy season, we had called ahead and reserved a hotel. We checked into Overseas Tibet Hotel (OTH). Our 2nd floor room was small but appeared clean and everything worked. We had and early dinner in the Everest Restaurant downstairs.
POTALA HOTEL IS A GOOD ONE
We took a quick orientation walk and popped into the newer Potala Hotel down a dirt side road. They offered us a very nice room for $16. The only drawback was lack of internet. But several restaurants around town have wifi so we thought that was good enough. We told the guy at the Potala we would be back to check-in the next day.
HEAVY HANDED CHINESE AUTHORITIES
We ran into a Chinese woman who was traveling with her Dutch husband and toddler. They had checked into the Tara Guesthouse but were told they would have to move on October 1st. The Chinese officials had told the manager at Tara, they would not be allowed to have foreigners in their hotel during the holiday week. They gave no reason. The police explained that three hotels in town would be allowed to take foreigners, including the OTH where we were. The police just issued the edict and the hotel planned to comply. We worried about what this meant for our planned stay at the Potala. We returned to OTH and turned in early.
DOOFUS DESK CLERK AT THE POTALA
We prefer western style breakfast rather than Chinese. Many Chinese, we find, eat gruel for breakfast or the same food they might eat any other time of day. The Everest Restaurant below the OTH has a decent set breakfast with yogurt, eggs, toast, and coffee. After breakfast there, we packed up and took our things to Potala Hotel.
A different desk clerk was at the Potala and he wanted $22 for the room. We tried to explain that we had reserved a room at $16 but he wouldn't budge. Dave used his cell to call the first guy we'd talked with the day before. His limited English was fruitless on the phone. Then Dave went in search of someone who could translate while Michelle stayed with the backpacks. He went to a restaurant that caters to Westerners.
WE HUFFED AND PUFFED
Xiahe is at 2920m (9600ft). By the time we hiked the stairs to the 3rd floor, our legs were burning. We'd got to the fourth floor knackered. There is no elevator at the hotel and we decided the exercise would do us good. We huffed and puffed on the stairs but we were fine walking around in the thin air of the high town.
FAB TIBETAN VILLAGE
We found Xiahe to be a fab Tibetan village and the Labrang Monastery amazing. We just vedged out here for bit. It is cold here at 9600 feet (2920m) and it rained most days. But still it was totally worth the experience. Streets are full of Tibetans in traditional cloaks and woman with their meter long braided hair. Many shops specialize in Buddhist relics; robes for monks, prayer flags, wheels, butter lamps, etc. You don't need to go to Tibet to get the total feel of Tibetan culture. Tibet has become so expensive and restrictive.
KORA, KORA, KORA
A Kora is a sacred circumambulation around a holy place. Xaihe was busy with many Tibetans making the 3 kilometer long pilgrimage around Labrang Monastery. Most walked the Kora but there were a number prostrating as they went. Labrang Monastery is one of the six great monasteries of the Geluk (Yellow Hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism and is home to the largest number of monks outside of Tibet. We learned that many of the Tibetans in town were from Tibetan areas outside of Tibet. Many others came into town from Tibet in tour buses for the October holiday.
While Dave surfed on the computer, Michelle walked the pilgrim path (3km) clockwise around the Monastery to be close and observe the devotion of the many pilgrims. Some were prostrating all the way or even from hundreds of miles away. They spun the prayer wheels lining the path, so cool. It was overcast and she went at the same speed as a particularly interesting group of pilgrims. Then she slowed to walk with another few devotees busily turning their prayer wheels, reciting mantras and turning their prayer beads in their hands. People were prostrating, some wearing leather aprons and gloves or wooden blocks to protect their hands, all wearing very sturdy shoes, passing Gangtang Chorten and Dewatsang Chapel. Midway of the kora, Michelle left the circuit and climbed the hillside to get better a view of the scale of the monastery complex. She returned and finished the circuit, just as the camera battery ran empty and found Dave on the way. We went to Nomad Restaurant that has a great third floor view overlooking the Monastery.
Together, we repeated the kora on a sunny day and emptied another camera battery. This time we got to mug with monks on the hill and goof off with other visitors.