“Welcome to Tibet״ a monk wearing a dark rouge colored robe greeted us, at an alley outside Lābǔléng Sì in the city of Xiàhé. It was early afternoon, hundreds of monks just finished their prayer and lunch ritual, so most of the monastery’s streets were deserted. The low earth buildings that make up the monastery’s labyrinth gave shelter to the monks in the midday heat.
We followed many sweeping recommendations from fellow travellers to visit Xiàhé and not more than a minute from when we got off the bus was needed to comprehend- why. The enchanting feel must have something to do with the hundreds of Tibetan pilgrims who arrive in Xiàhé every day.
The Tibetan residents and pilgrims still wear their traditional clothes: men in heavy cloaks (even during the hot summer days) with long sleeves reaching beyond the knees, while women dress in more colorful robes with excessive jewelry and hair decorations, most of them tying 2 long black braids down their backs. These Pilgrims of all ages circuit the monastery on a daily basis, via a special path, called a “kora”, passing through hundreds of prayer wheels and two large stupas on their way.
The Lābǔléng monastery is one of six big Tibetan monasteries of the Galupa lineage – distinct by their mustard colored hats. It is located in an area locally known as “Amdo” region. Amdo was once one of larger Tibet’s three kingdoms. In a very uncommon manner we decided to take a guided English tour inside the monastery. We hoped to learn about the lives of the monks, their beliefs and the history behind the religious monuments inside the premises.
We entered the central building where dozens of monks were sitting on low bunks and praying softly. The place held a mystic force generated by the low lighting and the whispering prayers which sounded similar to didgeridoo playing. When the educational tour ended we decided to hang out for a while more… and a few minutes later we met two German visitors. They both were checking out the monastery as part of their 11 year research which is planned to become a book about the 4,000 places you must visit before you die. The two writers claimed that anyone could do it within 11 years, and even take one month vacation each year. We were standing and chatting when suddenly a great many monks ran into the open courtyard where we were standing and as if in a play of some sort, sat along the flight of steps beneath the main prayer hall. The stairs were covered with hundreds of ownerless shoes. The monks’ yellowish hats shown in the sunlight, they hummed a short prayer and 2 minutes later all ran back together into the prayer hall. It was a surprisingly fascinating sight. Our camera worked hard for those 2 minutes and the Germans cried one to the other “Oh Tio, what a sight.”
Leaving Xiàhé to visit the city of Hézuò, where a 9 story temple – a very rare sight in the local landscape, had an intensifying effect. Compared to Xiàhé, the beautiful site is not at all touristic and so we managed to be almost the only visitors to the major prayer temple that was unlocked by one of the monks. We climbed barefoot all the way to the top of the inimitable structure and looked out beyond the flapping colorful prayer flags into the horizon.
About the Authors– Oran and Lihi: We are an enthusiastic Israeli couple bitten by the travel bug. After previous individual travels to many countries, we set out together last spring to a yearlong adventure in Asia. Please visit our travel blog for many more stories, pictures and helpful info for visiting China, Mongolia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Thank you!