Labrang Monastery’s ‘Unveiling the Buddha’ Ceremony, Xiahe, Gansu Province (4 days)
Visit Xiahe during the annual festival to witness a giant Buddha tapestry being unveiled on the hillside above Labrang Monastery and to join the crowds watching the lively performances in the town square. Trip includes hikes and walks in nearby grassland and mountain areas.
|Day One main activities||Meet up in Lanzhou, drive to Xiahe, visit De’erlong Temple, quick visit to a Tibetan temple in a valley.|
|Day Two main activities||See the unveiling of the Buddha in the morning; hike in the grasslands near Xiahe in the afternoon.|
|Day Three main activities||Visit the Ganjia Grasslands, Baishiya Monastery, and Bajiao City Ruins.|
|Day Four main activities||Drive back to Lanzhou; hike Lanzhou Danxia Landform and/or visit Taoist Temple.|
Unveiling the Buddha at Labrang Monastery, Xiahe
Founded in 1709, Labrang Monastery is considered to be Tibetan Buddhism’s most important monastery outside of Tibet, and is currently home to around 1,500 monks and novices. At its peak in 1957, the monastery housed around 4,000 monks.
Each year, just after Chinese New Year, Labrang Monastery hosts ceremonies and celebrations that draw pilgrims from all around.
The ceremonies and celebrations last for a few days and include Tibetan folk performances. You'll see the colourful costumes and masks associated with the Cham dances, and be sure to keep an eye out for the different routines of the Skeleton Dance, the Deer Dance, and the Black Hat Dance.
As part of one of the main ceremonies a large team of monks will carry a giant tapestry up on to a hill and unveil it, revealing an embroidered image of Buddha.
At Labrang Monastery this happens just one time a year, and the Buddha is on display for just an hour or so.
A monastery will often have several of these tapestries, and will display a different one each year. In 2016 we saw the Manjushri (Buddha of Wisdom) thangka displayed.
A thangka is a Tibetan Buddhist style of artwork that comes in several different types and sizes. Most commonly they show a scene with a particular Buddhist deity as the centrepiece. Sometimes a thangka is used as the focus of a ritual or ceremony, where the deity is used as a starting point for a discussion of a particular story or scripture.
Hikes and walks during the trip
During our time in Xiahe we'll make morning visits to temples and monasteries to see the celebrations. In the afternoons we'll head out into the surrounding countryside to explore the other sights of the area.
The terrain near Xiahe is quite mild – something like what we would call a Level 2 hike in Beijing – but we'll be at elevations of about 3,000m, which will make it feel a bit tougher.
At the Ganjia grasslands we'll first stop for a look around the ruins of the Bajiao Fort, which we'll explore before heading off for a short hike in the hills nearby. We'll then drive on to the Baishiya 'White Stone Cliff' Monastery. We're expecting to see some performances and ceremonies in the area, and if the monastery is is open we'll definitely take a look around to see if we can find the sacred cave.
On the last day of the trip we plan a hike in the mountains near Lanzhou. The colours in the hills here are similar to the famous Zhangye Danxia Landform, but it’s a secret spot – well, given that it was supposed to be developed into a park, maybe not secret, but forgotten. If there’s time, we’ll add on some more sightseeing in the area.