We arrived by train to Lanzhou and took a bus for eight hours to Xiahe. Along the way we passed a marker showing the former border with old Tibet. Today within China, there is a Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which includes Lhasa and the Himalyan mountains and western Tibet. But the old Tibet was much larger. Today the Tibetan Plains lie within Sichuan and Gansu provinces.
At 2,900 meters above sea level, the air here is thin. The Tibetan women grab two of our packs at a time and run up the stairs while we huff and puff all the way. We are at altitude and many of us suffer from headache, fatigue, breathlessness and dizziness. We drink a minimum of three liters of water per day.
We visit the Labrang Monastery first built in 1709. At its height 4,000 monks lived here. Labrang is one of six Gelukpa (Yellow Hat) Sect monasteries and the largest and most important outside of Lhasa. Today there are 2,000 monks and the head monk ranks third in importance behind the Dali Lama and Panchen Lama. He is the Jiemuyang.
In addition to visiting the various temples and meditation halls and admiring the many Buddhas including the mammoth statue of Sakimonia, I sat in the monastery square by myself on a stone in the shade of some upright wooden timbers. Local peple came and sat beside me and said hello. Groups of monks with shaved heads and maroon and yellow robes stared at me as they walked by.
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