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Labrang Monastery: Epics of Tibetan Buddhism

By Daisy Li
Labrang Monastery is located in Xiahe County of Gannan District. As one of the six major temples of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, its grandiose designs deem it a must-see for tourists to Gannan.

It’s been eight or nine years since I last spent Chinese New Year in China. As a welcome back, my cousin and his wife decided to sweep me away from the ancient city of Xi’an, where the entire extended clan resided. We headed west towards the Tibetan Peninsula, where the culture and customs of Tibetan Buddhism resides.

beautiful-roads-to-labuleng-temple-in-chinaThe monastery encompasses a number of magnificent temple buildings. It is a spectacular experience to walk between the architecture or take a panoramic view from a distance. The monastery consists of countless giant Buddha statues and a variety of exquisite sculptures, murals, and musical instruments.

Getting to Labrang Monastery

There is a direct bus from Lanzhou to Xiahe County. The five-hour ride costs CNY 75 and departs from South Coach Station at 07:30, 08:30, 09:30, 14:00, and 15:00.  This time-consuming journey warrants an early start and is completed with a taxi ride to the Monastery after arrival at Xiahe.

From the city of  Xining, a six-hour bus can be taken Xining Passenger Transport Center. It departs around 07:00 and costs CNY 80.

We opt for a road trip from Xi’an, which took just over 10 hours. There were barely any cars on the highway, a stark contrast to the city traffic I was accustomed to.

Xiahe County is beautiful. The paved roads and spacious streets on the outskirts of the village were simple – white walls and gilded rooftops lined the sidewalk.

The town center is noticeably more colorful. Each architectural design is unique. Every detail is mesmerizing.

Be it the whiskers of a dragon or the curves in a cloud, these handcrafted pieces seem to transcribe stories from another time.

Women wore long wrap dresses while men are clothed in similarly designed robes. There was no extravagance to their dress, but each piece of traditional clothing, to my tourist’s eyes, was captivating.

There are hotels and Tibetan restaurants on the main street next to Labrang Monastery. You can taste the Tibetan food at a family eatery or try out the mouth-watering yogurt in any store. The entire region is known for its delicious pudding-like yogurt.

Tibetan Buddhism: Corridor of Prayer Wheels

Labrang Monastery’s long corridor of prayer wheels is also a rarity. As a pilgrimage ceremony of Tibetan Buddhists, circling the temple clockwise along the prayer wheels can be used to accumulate merits. The length of the layout of the wheels is approximately 4 kilometers. 3-4 hours should be allocated to the Monastery, including temple visitations.

When to Visit the Labrang Monastery

As one of the largest Tibetan schools in the world, the Monastery is home to over 3,000 monks who study here. The collective chanting in the temple at 18:00 o’clock contributes to a peaceful ambiance unlike any other. Through the form of question and answer, the debaters gain a more accurate understanding of the Buddhist scriptures.

In the morning, many local Tibetans will pay respect to the temple. To experience the Monastery through the eyes of a local, you may wish to get up early.

For those who’d like to explore the grounds with a guide, head towards the Visitor’s Center. There are small group tours after 14:00 with a rate of CNY 40.

It was easy to get lost in the wanderous setting. Everything seemed like it emerged from a movie set. Since it was off-season, there were barely any tourists. I truly felt integrated within a society that’s so similar, yet so different from my own.
Monks and devotees walked the roads quitely. Some people sat by the view of the mountain ranges while others squeezed into the doors of various temples.

Tips and Advice

1. Respect the beliefs and customs of Tibetan Buddhism and ethnic minorities in the area. Before entering the temple hall, remove your hat. Don’t swear inside the temple or point your finger directly at the Buddha statues. In addition, please don’t take photos inside the temples.

2. Do spend some time catching the starry night in the temple area at night. It is unlike any other.

3. The best panoramic viewpoint is to watch the sunrise and sunset on the hillside opposite the Gongtang Pagoda.

4. Spend a few hours wandering around the beautiful Sangke Grassland.

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Jas March 18, 2019 - 4:26 pm

Love your shot of Corridor of Prayer Wheels. Did you stick 2-3 photos together? Looks amazing! Good point about no photos inside too. I never know when it’s allowed and when it isn’t, but I always see tourists taking photos. Great tips!

Daisy Li March 19, 2019 - 6:18 pm

Thank you! It’s a pano photo with my Iphone 🙂

shreyasaha1987 March 18, 2019 - 3:31 am

What an amazing monastery to visit when in Tibet. I am definitely going to keep Labrang Monastery in my bucket list of Tibet. The monastery looks beautiful and undoubtedly listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your pictures are stunning and I am already dreaming to catching the glimpses of starry sky from the temple area at night.

Daisy Li March 19, 2019 - 6:19 pm

I wish I stayed longer than a day! Hopefully you get to go sometime soon 🙂

Blair villanueva March 17, 2019 - 10:42 am

It was amazing that Tibetan people are still kept its old tradition and quite slow in modernization. No wonder this is one of the most treasure by UNESCO. You deliver it very well and wugh enthusiasm.

Aisha Sylvester March 15, 2019 - 8:50 pm

The Labrang Monastery looks absolutely beautiful, definitely an experience that should be on a Tibet itinerary. I seems like you had a wonderful time touring this site and developing a genuine understanding and appreciation for this aspect of Tibetan culture. Thank you so much for sharing your insights and gorgeous photos with us.

Anda March 15, 2019 - 11:19 am

Visiting Tibet is one of my dreams. It is such an amazing place, with such a unique culture. Xiahe County seems like such a pristine and peaceful area. I enjoyed touring the Labrang Monastery through your beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing this post.

Soumya Gayatri March 15, 2019 - 4:36 am

Labrang monastery looks so beautiful and calm. In a way, pretty much from outside this world. Your wonderful images have got me itching to go over and check it out for myself. I have never been to this part of China. The westernmost we did was Chengdu. I would love to explore Gannan as well. And the Labrang Monastery of course!

Leslie Price March 15, 2019 - 12:51 am

I was just talking about planning another trip to Asia because there are so many good flight deals from the US right now. This is going on my list! I fell in love with monasteries and Buddhist monks when I was in Myanmar and I ended up wishing I had added a lot more monasteries to my itinerary. Thanks for the detailed information on visiting this one!

Pooja Samtani March 14, 2019 - 12:18 pm

I am completely in awe with Tibetan monasteries. I have visited quite a few of them but still want to see them all. Labrang Monastery looks so ethereal. The post was so informative that I’ll be planning my next visit there.

Daisy Li March 14, 2019 - 11:28 pm

It’s my first and I can’t wait to see some more as well! Such a beautiful experience!

Cathy Salvador Mendoza March 14, 2019 - 6:09 am

Agh so beautiful! Love the photos of Tibet! Tibet is seriously one of my dream countries and I see that only a few people have come to visit here! Lucky you, girl! Ya, would love to spend time and watch the starry night! Sounds heaven! Tibet! Really wanna go !


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