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.
The 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.
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.