Our first stop in Gansu was Xiahe, which boasts the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery outside Tibet. My first impression of Xiahe, a small city with a population of 130,000, was that there was a tangible spirituality about the place. The streets are quiet and the air smells clean. The mountain peaks surrounding the town are a reminder of the high elevation and the need to move slowly. The majority of the pedestrians are Tibetan Buddhist monks, wearing majestic burgundy robes with gold trim. An unsheared sheep roams the sidewalk near a street musician chanting an entrancing melody. We get a taste for the spirit of the monastery as pilgrims circumambulate around a small temple and turn a long line of prayer wheels as they chant their sutras and do prostrations.
In the morning, we enter the monastery where we are led by a guide through a series of buildings. One of the buildings houses intricate yak butter sculptures. For hundreds of years, Tibetan monks have used butter made from yak milk to create large and intricate sculptures of the stories of Buddha. For months, dozens of monks work on a single sculpture.
Labrang boasts the world's longest stretch of prayer wheels. While walking and spinning the wheels, the only sound is the rhythm of hundreds of wooden wheels turning on their spindles. All are welcome to spin the wheels and to pray along with the pilgrims and monks. The commitment to prayer is tangible. In most places in China, westerners are stared at, talked about and conversed with. Here at the monastery, the residents are devout. They may give a slight smile as they watch us spin the wheels, but they quickly regain focus on the task at hand. Although we are clearly out of place, there is no feeling of judgement. In fact, when asked, the monks are happy to teach us how to pray properly.
At 11:00 am, all of the residents of the monastery are called to prayer. They begin arriving about 15 minutes before the call, sitting on the steps of the temple and chanting together. At precisely 11, the monks run up the steps and into the temple. In a matter of minutes, the once filled steps are empty but for the shoes they leave behind.
I have had hundreds of moments of clarity during my lifetime of travels, each one bringing me a new understanding of the people I meet and the new perspectives they give me.
My visit to Labrang was a Top Ten Moment. You can have this experience on a Chow Fun Tour. Summer 2018 Teen Trip includes Labrang Monastery.