Last year I took a trip to China to see a friend in Beijing and as I had seen most of the main tourist attractions in China on previous trips decided to make my main focus seeing some of the 1,500 year old Buddhist caves which I knew existed in this country. After doing some research, I decided to go to the north western provinces of Gansu and Qinghai. These provinces used to be part of Tibet, but were taken over by China in 1928. I was delighted to be able to see a part of Tibet without having to get an expensive visa and take an expensive tour, but felt sorry for the Tibetans having to live under Chinese rule.
The first monastery I saw was the very large and important Labrang Monastery in the town of Xiahe. It was founded in 1709 and belongs to the Yellow Hat sect which is the sect the Dali Lama heads. In fact I was quite surprised to see pictures of the Dali Lama in at least two of the monasteries I visited.
At present, Labrang Monastery has about 1,500 monks – some of whom speak very good English. I was lucky enough to see them gather for a prayer session. They arrived wearing or carrying their yellow hats, and sat on the steps outside the sanctuary. Before entering the temple, they took off their boots.
A number of Tibetans had waited on the other side or the square until the monks entered the temple and then rushed over to the entrance of the sanctuary. Many of them were carrying vassals full of yak butter. Being present at this event was a wonderful experience!
In the first picture, note the prayer beads the woman is wearing. If you check Tibetan Objects #187 -190, you will see that I have some prayer beads for sale.
– – – More about the Labrang Monastery and other monasteries in my next blog.