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Labrang Monastery

The Labrang Monastery is located at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain northwest of Xiahe County in Gannan Tibetan Nationality Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province. A propitious place in the hearts of the Tibetan, it stands by the Daxia River and faces the Dragon Mountain.

As for the Dragon and Phoenix Mountains, there is a beautiful legend. A long time ago, this place was a boundless sea. After countless changes, mountains and lands appeared. One day, a golden-wing phoenix flew here and rested on one of the mountains in the south. It was so thirsty that it drank all the water; thus the sea dried up. A dragon in the sea was greatly shocked, so it cavorted out of the water, which led to the emergence of a spring at the site where the phoenix drank. As the spring water effused more and more, the Daxia River was formed. So the dragon became the Dragon Mountain and the phoenix became the Phoenix Mountain. And the Daxia River flowed from west to east through the two mountains, eroding the hollow into a basin. The Labrang Monastery was built on the Zhaxiqi (means auspiciousness) shoal which is in the north of the basin.

Labrang was opened to tourism after 1970, and the signs of tourism, such as guesthouses and souvenir shops are clear, but not overly intrusive. Xiahe is clearly marked on Chinese tourists’ guidebooks. However, because the city is still relatively hard to get to, the streets are not overrun with junky knickknack shops and all the other usual Chinese tourist destination suspects. Perhaps Xiahe’s untouched charm is today diminished, but that certainly takes nothing away from how special Labrang is.

A grid of alleyways cuts through Labrangs square buildings, with large temples and courtyards in the central areas. If you start early in the day, you can circle the entire monastery and still have time to get lost in all of its nooks and crannies. One of the best things about Labrang is walking through a random open door and discovering a group of locals circling a stupa or chanting in a dark corner.Monks will gather around temples prior to prayer time. In the center of Labrang there are stairs where all the monks sit while waiting to be called into the temple.

Eventually, two monks will appear on the roof and blow a massive horn. All the monks on the steps will then tear off their shoes and shuffle into the temple. Tourists can also enter the temple after buying a ticket. Inside you’ll find a dark cavernous temple with rows and rows of monks curled in prayer. The chanting is deep, loud, and repetitive. If you walk around outside during these prayer times, you’ll see shoes strew across the outsides of all the temples.

Buddha statues in the temples are all lifelike with kind-looking faces. Also can be seen are various butter sculptures. Walls of those temples are decorated with colorful and elaborate paintings. Walking within it, one will feel inner peace.To get a fascinating vista of the monastery, you need to pay extra CNY 20 for Gongtang Pagoda, which is situated at the southwest corner. Visitors can go to the top of the pagoda and admire the grandness of Labrang Monastery. Or, go across the wood bridge over Xiahe River and climb to the hill facing the monastery. It is the best place to have a panoramic view.

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