Tag Archives: Labrang Monastery

Xiehe – Labrang Monastery

3/5 – We bundled up – very cold here, and the altitude is over 9000 feet, so we both have mild altitude sickness – and walked over to the monastery.  A huge area, it was made up of a series of temples, stupas, monk colleges (like the college of astrology) and monk habitations.IMG_7870


Lots of people, chanting, turning prayer wheels, and touching their heads to images of the Buddha.  

 I walked behind a Tibetan woman with a baby in a papoose, and she made sure to touch the baby’s head to the images also. Because Tibetans are a minority, they are exempt from the One Child rule, and we saw many families with two children.IMG_7862 

Several women were prostrating themselves, circling the temples on their hands and knees.  

Lots of monks in red and pink, both male and female.  We were the only westerners.IMG_7887

A bit of culture shock here – both men and women squat in the street whenever nature calls.  Just right in front of you.  You must watch where you step!
We found the main square, where preparations were underway for the presentation of this year’s yak butter sculptures.

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The sculptures would not be presented until several hours after dark, and I was just freezing cold with an aching arm, so we left before the sculptures were brought out.  Here are some examples from previous years.


There are also yak oil lamps and candles here.

3/6 – We returned to the monastery so that Jim could circumambulate – walk the perimeter, touching every prayer wheel.  This is a really big place, several kilometers!  Even though the festival is now over, the monastery was still crowded with people.


Walking around the back of the temples, we saw several memorials set into the mountainside.
The view of the monastery from the top of the hill.

Monastic cells on the hillside.
We saw  quite a number of animals roaming the premises, including a wild boar pushing her piglets through a hole in the wall.

We walked through the town, taking in the sights and watching the people.  I feel transported to another time, until the ring of a monk’s mobile phone reminds me that these people are living comfortably in the 21st century.

At supper, we spoke with Clarie about being a westerner here. The government cuts off the electricity and the Internet intermittently whenever there is a festival, to discourage native uprisings – we experienced this several times. Clarie returned to Amsterdam for the birth of her daughter, as Tibetans are not eligible for passports. Her pretty 9 year old daughter goes to Tibetan school from 7am until 6pm daily, in a class of 57, sitting at attention on a backless stool, where speaking or asking questions is never allowed. Children who cannot do the lessons are hit, and many drop out in primary school. In the equivalent of 4th grade, she is fluent in four languages, and is doing geometry and differential equations. Hmmmm…

Lanzhou to Xiehe, China

3/5 -Got up early for the 10km taxi ride across Lanzhou back to the South Bus Station.  We arrived at about 8:25, prepared to buy tickets for the 9:30 bus to Xiehe.  Surprise – there was an 8:30 bus that hadn’t left yet!  A little man took charge of us and hustled us through security and onto the bus.  There was nothing on the ticket that was not in Chinese, and no bus number, so we hoped we were getting on the right bus!  We took two random empty seats, and the little man came on and moved us forward so that all the front seats were filled.  Very orderly.

It soon became apparent that there were no Chinese on the bus – all the folks were speaking a different language that Jim said was Tibetan, and they looked more like Native Americans than Chinese with long braids and brown, leathery skin.
We soon left the city, passing terraced farmland.IMG_7844-13


And then we were up into the mountains – Himalayas?  Without Google, I have no way of checking.  Anyway, we were heading toward the part of China formerly known as Tibet, to visit the Labrang Tibetan Monastery.
We arrived in Xiehe by noon, and hailed a taxi to take us to the Nirvana Hotel.  Jim had copied the name and address out in Chinese characters, but, you guessed it, the taxi driver couldn’t read Chinese!  Tibetan is what’s spoken here.  There was another guy in the cab, and he showed us a pic on his phone of red robed monks – is that where we are going?  Yes!  we said, right near the monastery.  He asked if we had a phone number, but we did not.  So the taxi driver picked up a young woman who looked Chinese, and asked her to read the script.  That got us onto the right street, but he couldn’t find the hotel.  Twice around the block, and I spied the name on the building in English. Stop!  Here it is!

We walked into the downstairs restaurant, to the sound of The Band on the sound system, and a western woman greeted us in perfect English – are you the McClenons? We’ve been waiting for you!  To say I was overcome would be an understatement – I burst into tears at the realization that I’d be able to speak English here!  Jim thought I’d lost my mind.
We dropped our stuff off in our lovely, if chilly, room, and went back down to have lunch.  Now Bob Dylan was playing, followed by the Eagles, the Beatles, and Meatloaf!  I was in oldies heaven. We had lovely yak and vegetable soup with rice on the side, and the first cappuccinos we’ve had since Italy. Don’t wake me up, I’m loving this dream!image
Our host Clarie, originally from Amsterdam, used to be a tour guide until she met her husband here and decided to stay and open a business.  While we were eating lunch, we met an English-speaking photographer and his wife from Shanghai, and Madelyn, an American from Oregon!  The next table over had a group of German tourists drinking beer – the first foreign tourists we’ve seen.
Madelyn had lots of info about the monastery.  Seems we arrived just in time for their New Years celebration, and tonight there will be a parade and the monks will be displaying sculptures made of yak butter!  Are we lucky or what?