I woke up feeling pretty rested. Even though it was freezing and I never really figured out how the heaters worked, the beds were really comfortable and I slept well.
I took a shower, which felt great since it was freezing here. Showering in China is interesting, the biggest challenge is to not get everything in the bathroom wet. There is no shower stall and the drain is the floor of the bathroom, and usually there isn't even a curtain.
When I left for Shanghai, I wasn't really counting on going to the North and the Silk Road and therefore I didn't really prepare and back for ice cold weather, so when I came on this trip, I packed just about every warm item of clothing I had, which wasn't a lot. Thankfully a few friends of mine lent me some warm jackets, literally saved my life.
I bundled up and headed out for breakfast. You won't ever really enjoy a cup of instant coffee as much as you do in a freezing small town in China. I was so happy when I realized we had coffee and they served us homemade bread and yogurt, along with jam and sugar.
Xiahe (夏河）is a little town West of Xi'an, which starts the Silk Road in China. It's biggest scenic spot here is the Labrang Tibetan Buddhist Monastery (拉卜楞寺), one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries outside of Tibet. The town is populated mostly by Tibetans but also Hui and Han Chinese, two major ethnic groups of this region.
Labrang Monastery is one of six great monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism. It contains 18 halls, six learning temples, a golden stupa, a sutra debate area, and is home to almost 60,000 sutras, or students of Tibetan Buddhism.
We began our tour at the outside of the monastery at a temple where habitats of Xiahe go every morning to pray and meditate. We walked along them, spinning huge revolving scripts around a huge building. Apparently believers go around this temple about three times each morning. We only made it halfway around the temple. Along the way we stopped at a store, known for its beautiful TangKha Art. These beautiful works of art take anywhere from one month to almost a year to finish, but it is clear when you see the intricate patterns painted on them. Each Buddhist family at least has one TangKha painting hanging in their house, usually in a place where they meditate.
We kept walking and of course, the tourists we are, we had to take pictures everywhere. At one point we were taking pictures in front of a beautifully carved gate, when two little boys, dressed identically would run up to be in the picture. I was taking a picture and when I looked at my camera I saw one of the boys was standing beside me, I hadn't even noticed him when they were taking the picture. They were cute and so happy we all wanted them to be in our picture, they were having a blast.We wanted to get a better view of the city and hiked up one of the surrounding mountains and the view of the temples and monasteries, as well as the town was great!
Finally we entered the Labrang Monastery. Out Buddhist monk tour guide took us from temple to temple, and it was fascinating learning about it all. They had a temple for learning the reading and ancient texts. A temple for learning the languages, one for learning writing and reading, one for theology, and philosophy and so on. Apparently philosophy was the highest learning institution and every monks goal was to graduate from that temple or stage.
We walked into one of the halls and about 80 monks were in there meditating and it was really fascinating seeing them all chant, and as we walked further into the temple, to where we saw the sutra, monks were eating and meditating. It was hard to really understand our guide because he was translating for our Buddhist guide so I didn't really understand it all. It was great to be able to see it all though.
We had lunch at another local restaurant, family style of course and it was delicious. After lunch we made our way to the Old Town. The bus ride was long and at times scary. We had to drive through mountains and the streets were not very good and usually had huge holes. We finally made it though and greeted our host families. For the rest of the afternoon we explored the little old town, interacted with the families, played games, helped make dinner, and climbed a mountain. The town was surrounded by a huge was and only had two entrances. We climbed on of the mountains outside the wall and the view was amazing. Mountains went on and on, in the distance we could see snow covered tops, and we were able to get a great view of the town.
It is amazing how these people built this little town in the middle of nowhere, hours by bus away from any other life form. Their town is set in a valley, surrounded by huge mountains that stretch on forever. The town is populated by only about 600 people, and they have no source of income. They own herds of sheep which they use for milk and meat as well as making their own clothing and they also have five cows they use for milk and meat.
What I found was interesting was they sent their children into the cities to work, who then send back money. The parents take care of the grandchildren and this form of living has worked for almost a hundred years now.
We spent the night there, me and three other friends stayed in one of the houses which contained a brick bed, also used as a seating area, a stove and a closet. It wasn't the most comfortable but the experience was what it was all about. I was still sick, so sleeping right next to the oven helped a lot.