Xiahe, Labrang Monastery, Zhagana Tibetan area, Gansu Province (5 days)
See the Labrang Monastery, Tibetan Buddhist temples, and super high-mountain scenery on this trip to the largely Tibetan remote area of Gansu Province. A similar feel to Tibet, without the hassle of getting the official permit.
Fly to Lanzhou, drive to Xiahe, visit Labrang Monastery.
Day Two main activities
Drive to Langmusi, stopping for a hike on the way; tour Langmusi and Langmu Temple. (Altitudes between 3,000-3,800m)
Day Three main activities
Hiking in the Zhagana area, peaking at approx. 3,650m.
Day Four main activities
Second hike in the Zhagana area; drive to Hezuo, stopping for a hike on the way.
Day Five main activities
Drive to Lanzhou, stopping for a hike on the way. Fly back to Beijing.
Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture
On this five-day adventure we’ll make a 900 km road trip through the mountains of the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu Province, visiting Buddhist monasteries and temples, and hiking up into the hills and mountains that surround small villages.
Of a population of roughly 690,000, around 51% are Tibetan. Our trip will take us through four of the counties of Gannan, including Hezuo, the regional capital, and the lightly populated and mountainous Luqu County.
As well as a being the site of a long history of Tibetan culture, Gannan also featured in more recent history, with the Lazikou Pass and the Zoige Marsh the last two major obstacles faced by the First Red Army on their Long March to Shaanxi.
The major sights on the trip are the Buddhist monasteries and temples at Xiahe and Langmusi, inhabited by practicing monks of the Gelupa (Yellow Hat) sect and visited by pilgrims from rural areas of Gannan.
Labrang Monastery, Xiahe
‘Labrang’ roughly translates as ‘home of a great lama’. Founded in 1709, Labrang Monastery is considered to be Tibetan Buddhism’s most important monastery outside of Tibet, and currently is home to around 1,500 monks and novices. At its peak in 1957, the monastery housed around 4,000 monks.
Since the early 20th century the town has seen a lot of troubles, with some very gruesome sackings at the hands of the Hui warlords who controlled the area from 1910–1949, and then complete closure of the monastery in 1958 during the Cultural Revolution.
The monastery was reopened for tourism in the 1970s and became a functioning monastery again in the 1980s. The main assembly hall burned down in 1985, and repairs were not finished until 1990.
This active monastery is well worth a visit, with a great chance of spotting monks engaging in prayer or rowdy debate on interpretation of Buddhist scripture.
Monasteries in Langmusi, Luqu County
Langmusi is a small town that sits right on the border of Gansu and Sichuan. The temple on the Gansu side is called Setri Gompa, with the Kirti Gompa temple on the Sichuan side.
As with Labrang Monastery, these two temples are active, and in the streets of the town we’ll spot monks and novices, as well as pilgrims from the surrounding countryside.
Hiking in mountains and around villages
On the trip we’ll have time for quite a bit of hiking, and in such a picturesque and mountainous area we’re going to take the opportunity to do as much hiking as we can!
On the second day of the trip we’ll hike for a few hours in the mountains near Xiahe. In Beijing we’d rate it as somewhere around Level 3, but at around 2,600m above sea level it may feel a little tougher.
The third day of the trip is a big hiking day, with a five-hour walk up a canyon to a broad plateau sited somewhere around 3,000m above sea level. The hike offers amazing views of mountains and steep crags and cliffs, with the chance of bumping into locals taking their yaks up to graze. This hike is a solid Level 4 on our scale of difficulty.
We add more walking about on the fourth and fifth days, exploring villages and hills on the long road back to Lanzhou.
Photos and trip reports: Xiahe, Labrang Monastery, Zhagana Tibetan area, Gansu Province (5 days)