Side Trip to Labrang Monastery


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Asia » China » Gansu » Xiahe
March 28th 2013
Published: March 29th 2013
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26 March 2012 Tuesday. As breakfast wasn’t served until 7 am we decided to take the 8:30 bus to Xiahe (the other departure times are 7:30 am, 2 and 3 pm; cost: 76.5 RMB). Even then due to the time it took to check out and deposit some bags with the hotel for our return, and then the taxi ride to the South Bus Station, we didn't get there until 8:30. We easily found the place that sold tickets and upon loading our luggage and climbing aboard they immediately departed…another close call as the next direct bus wasn’t until 2 pm. The bus was very nice, and for entertainment we were treated to the Chinese version of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles;” but in this case there were a few additional forms of transportation…hay wagons, boats, etc. That is one thing about comedy…you can understand it in any language.

As we approached the outskirts of Xiahe at noon, the police boarded the bus and immediately spotted us as the persons of interest. The boss spoke English and asked “Where are you staying?” I replied “The Overseas Tibetan Hotel.” He told us to stay inside the hotel. I asked “Can we visit the monastery?” He then told me that we couldn’t stay at that hotel and wished us luck finding another one. We were a bit concerned, but decided to go to the hotel anyway and ask what was going on. We took a taxi along the one street in town, and soon saw many riot police and riot control vehicles with water cannons. Upon arrival at the hotel, it looked like it was closed due to major renovations. We walked in hesitantly, and called out. Soon Losang, the owner, arrived and explained in very good English (he got his MBA in the States) that this was a very holy day for Buddhists, and the police were out in force to stop any demonstrations such as had occurred frequently in the past. He apologized for the conditions of the hotel due to to ongoing total renovation, and confirmed that there were a few rooms completed and available…which was a relief! He showed us to our beautiful room decorated in colorful Tibetan style. The room still lacked high speed internet and TV, but did have the promised hot water! We were its first occupants…and soon learned what that meant.

After checking in we took a taxi (by now we had learned that taxis are shared, and only cost 1 Yuan per person) to a bank with an ATM that took international cards. After withdrawing some cash, we looked for a restaurant. We ended up in a four table hole in the wall, and ordered what the people at the next table were eating. We then returned to the Tibetan end of town where our hotel was located and began out walk around the east end of the monastery. By 4 pm, Will wasn't feeling very good, so decided to take a siesta back at the hotel. I decided to check out the Tara Restaurant for a possible option for supper. It was very Tibetan...the entire clientelle was Tibetan...monks and pilgrims. I talked to the manager, Tsiring, and looked at the menu...he gave me a copy in English. I told him why we were in town, and that we would be back for supper.

I asked about a barber shop, and was told it was just around the corner. After the barber was done cutting my hair, I thought my beard could use a trim. Well, after lathering my face, in a matter of seconds he shaved off
Pilgrim resting after her perambulationsPilgrim resting after her perambulationsPilgrim resting after her perambulations

Note the dirt on her head from touching it to the ground.
half of my mustache. That meant the other half had to go. And without a mustache, the beard had to go. Consequently, I am now without the mustache I’ve had for 40 years, and the beard I’ve had for 18. The barber was very apologetic, but once I laughed, everyone in the barber shop also laughed. Walking back to the hotel, everyone on the street who had seen me earlier also laughed. Will said I look 10 years younger.

The Tara Restaurant had high speed internet so I took my laptop with me to dinner. I had yak fried rice. One thing led to another and I showed Tsering the pictures my Dad had taken of the Labrang Monastery 65 years ago. Soon we were surrounded by the other Tibetan customers of the restaurant who also wanted to see the pictures these Americans had brought. One monk sat down in front of the laptop and went through each picture, studying each carefully. Tsering told me that many of the pictures were mirror images…the one with three monks was backwards because they wrap their overcoats so that they can use their right arms to reach inside. I copied pictures to Tsering’s computer…I can imaging he will have many showings for his customers, with wild stories about this American and his son whose parents got married in Labrang 64 years ago. We had a great time; eventually returning to our room by 8 pm.

The room was freezing cold, and there was nothing we could do to turn up the non-existent heat. Neither of us slept well that night although the duvets kept us warm. The shower was hot as promised, but the water didn’t drain. I guess we were beta testing the new room as we were the first to use it. Anyway, Losang told us that the steam heating system was centrally controlled by the city, and during the transition from winter to spring they reduced the steam. I suggested space heaters as the solution. As for draining, this would also be taken care of as work progressed. Once renovations are complete in May, I believe the hotel will be the nicest in Xiahe.

27 March 2013 Wednesday. Will was feeling much worse with gastrointestinal issues, and our roles reversed with me becoming the caregiver. We decided to return to Lanzhou on the 2 pm bus (the other departure times being 6:30, 7:30,
Stupa at Labrang MonasteryStupa at Labrang MonasteryStupa at Labrang Monastery

Same on as in the pictures my Dad took 65 years ago.
and 8:30 am) so that he could rest up 24 hours before our overnight soft sleeper train to Dunhuang on Thursday evening. The hotel receptionist went to the bus station to buy our tickets. Fortunately, among the many medications Linda had loaded me up with for the trip, I had Immodium and Pepto Bismol which he could take.

He got up and went to the Tara for breakfast, but he couldn’t eat anything, so returned to our room to sleep until 2 pm. I ate the egg soup he ordered. I then went on line to reserve a room for that night. While doing this I got a Skype call from home. Both daughters noticed the missing mustache and beard with surprise! They agreed that I looked 10 years younger. Linda, however, gave me notice not to come home without my facial hair…so the growing process begins.

Soon it was time to take a taxi to the monastery for their 10 am tour. I never found the monastery (there are many) with the tour, so struck out on my own. The Labrang Monastery was founded in 1709; one of the six largest monasteries of the Yellow Hat Order. The Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama are the only others that outrank the resident Gunthang Lama. Prior to the Cultural Revolution some 4000 monks lived here, but the present numbers are closer to 2000.

I soon found the location where the picture of my parents walking along the river with the monastery in the background was taken. I then walked the length of the south side of the monastery all the way back to town, about 2 kilometers…my leg is doing much better, but that was perhaps overdoing it. I took lots of pictures, and only took pictures of people when they asked me (many liked to see pictures of themselves) or was given permission. I didn’t want to disturb those who were spinning the prayer wheels. As for prayer wheel spinning, all was done by gloved right hands (perhaps this is why they walk the perimeter in clockwise direction), and most only touched the prayer wheel. However, there was one old man who really got them spinning. He must have really needed prayer. I also tried to give the spinners wide berth, and soon discovered where people go to the bathroom…about 30 feet away from the spinning prayer wheels. I avoided looking at the squatters. In addition to the spinners, there were many pilgrims who were circumnavigating the monastery by kneeling down, then laying face down, stretching the arms out, standing up, raising their arms, stepping forward to where their palms had been, and then repeating the process…for miles!

I was thirsty so stopped at the Tara for a cola, said my farewells to Tsering and his wife, and returned to the room to see if Will needed any help. He needed drink and plastic bags in case he had to throw up. I went out to buy these items, and made usre they put them in plastic bags. Shortly before 2 pm we checked out and took a taxi to the bus station. This bus was about half the size of our first bus. There isn’t anything positive to say about this bus ride, so I will leave everything about the four hour trip back to Lanzhou unsaid. Oh, there is one positive thing...Will didn't have to throw up during the drive.

We got back to the hotel where we had stayed a day earlier, checked in, had all our bags (including those which had been kept for us) delivered to the room. The room was stiffling hot. I called the front desk to see if they could adddress the issue. They said that with the transition form winter to spring they were still doing the maintenance on the air conditioning system. I told them to just turn the heat off! So the excuse of seasonal trnsitions was used by one hotel for freezing temperatures, and another hotel for blzing temperatures. They did bring us a fan. We went to supper. Will had cream of corn soup, which was about all he could take. Upon returning to our rooms we attempted to hook up with the internet, but discovered that the Chinese authorities were slowly disabling every site we were using…AOL, Travelblog (I’m writing this using MS Word hoping that I can post the blog later), etc. So with nothing better to do we turned in.

28 March 2013 Thursday. Will woke up feeling much better…only a head ache which three baby aspirins took care of. Amazingly, although we could not get internet access to anything else, we got a Skype call from home and we talked for awhile; letting them know we might not have this service again for another week or more. We took a break to have the delicious breakfast buffet…Will taught the chef who was preparing fried eggs how to make scrambled eggs. I was tempted to teach the chef how to amke French Toast...all the ingredients were there. We then returned to the room to Skype some more.

We relaxed the rest of the morning and checked out by noon. Leaving the bags in storage, we took a taxi to a mall to check out the scene. While trying to find the entrance, we saw a KFC and decided to have lunch. The mall was all designer fashion stores, so an hour did it for us. There was a park outside the mall so we people watched for awhile...and talked about life. We thought that the kids with spilt pants peeing and pooping in the park were gross, and remembered that we would have to watch where we walked.

As the mall was only 800 meters from our hotel, we took a leisurely walk back. We had something to drink and then waited until it was time to catch the taxi to the trainstation. We shared a compartment with a man and a woman, both traveling on their own. The woman, Li Yi, spoke excellent English. She was a hotel manager in Dunhuang. Her husband is an artist, and they have a 10 year old daughter. We then shared pictures and philosophised about raising kids. I then read a book until lights out. The ride was very rough so I didn't get much sleep.


Additional photos below
Photos: 30, Displayed: 30


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View of Labrang Monastery from across the riverView of Labrang Monastery from across the river
View of Labrang Monastery from across the river

This was the same point as the picture of my parents.


29th March 2013

Glad to hear that your leg is getting better after the greater discomfort and limitations you experienced in your previous blogs (minus at the airport, hehe). Your trip is getting more and more interesting as you run into obstacles with police warnings, hotels, heating, and lost mustaches! I really love the history that runs through your blogs, not only in observing new places, but in sharing stories of your parents, yourself and your son. Great blog and can't wait to read more!
30th March 2013

Sharing adventures!
Thanks for following along. I'm about to start my next blog about the Lanzhou - Dunhuang segment fo the Silk Road starting with Will ending up in the hospital in Dunhuang...such great adventures!
29th March 2013

haircut
It is good that you have a great sense of humor! I can picture the whole thing! Now you have gotten payback for cutting six inches off one side of my hair in Tanah Rata. Is it ok to use what mom gave me in Colorado....you had said the end of March.
30th March 2013

Haircut
I don't remember cutting your hair in Tanah Rata! Can you wait until 3 April to use what Mom gave you?
30th March 2013

Hairless and sick!
Hi Bob, Keep slogging! Somewhat envious of your supreme knowledge through family history and your present adventure amongst Tibetan culture. Keep taking the colosrum! We managed five whole weeks in India without Delhi-belly thanks to colosrum! David David
7th April 2013

Very cool to retrace your parents path!
Sorry to hear about the beard and mustache incident but they will grow back. Love the photos...an amazing part of the world.
8th April 2013

Labrang...the next best thing to actually visiting Tibet...
as for the trains, soft sleepers are the comfortable way of putting many miles behind you during the night. If there is anything specific you want to know, just ask...perhaps in a private message
28th April 2013
These jolly young pilgrims insisted that I take their picture

DEJA VU?
Hope your trip to Labrang satisfied your hopes & desires in visiting the place of your parent's wedding that took place so long ago. Trust you had feelings of excitement and fulfillment in completing this part of your quest. What a privilege to have done so.
28th April 2013

Deja Vu...
I have wanted to visit Labrang for many years, and wasn't allowed to do so when we visited China in 2009...so this was a dream come true. Although I enjoyed walking in the footsteps of my parents, the best part was interacting with the Tibetan monks and pilgrims...showing them the pictures my Dad had taken 65 years ago; and having them stare in wonder, amazed that there were even foreigners here that long ago. When I took a portrait of the woman pilgrim I was thinking of your portraits...I probably should have gotten even closer.

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