Xiahe or Songqu (བསང་ཆུ་ Sangqu; 夏河 Xiàhé) is an ethnically-Tibetan county and town (Labrang Town, the county-seat) in Gansu Province, China.

. . . Xiahe . . .

The town lies along one main street parallel to the Daxia River. The Chinese section (commercial) lies to the eastern end of the road and the Tibetan section lies at the western end. In between lies the monastery.

Xiahe has developed along with the influx of visitors. Some old timers may bemoan that it has lost its off-the-beaten-path charm, but Xiahe is still far from being overrun with hawkers, karaoke or foot massage joints as have many other attractions in China.

Can you go? Restrictions for foreign visitors

Due the importance of the Monastery to Tibetans the town is occasionally off limits for foreigners if the authorities feel trouble is brewing. Last time Xiahe was closed for 2 days was in 2013. (Last edited December 2018)

Xiahe Bus Station is about 1.5km away from the entrance to the monastery and the main concentration of guesthouses. Turn right when you walk out bus stations front door.

  • From Lanzhou Three morning buses and two afternoon buses(7:30AM, 8.30 AM, 9.30 AM and 2:00PM, 3:00 PM) leave from Lanzhou Nanzhan (Lanzhou South Bus Terminal). Trip takes 3 and a half hours (¥70.5). Half hourly buses go to Linxia in 2 hours. From there you can catch one of the frequent buses onward to Xiahe (¥20).
  • From Linxia One every 30mins leave during daylight hours, arriving in Xiahe about 2 hours later.(¥18)
  • From Langmusi Two buses a day leaving at 6 AM and 2PM, takes 4,5 hours (¥44).
  • Tongren One bus per day leaving at 8AM (¥25). Takes 3 very scenic hours.

Gannan Xiahe Airport (甘南夏河机场)is about 70 km from Xiahe and receives flights from Chengdu, Lhasa, Xi’an and Yinchuan. There is no airport bus from the airport into Xiahe town.

The town is compact and most guesthouses cluster near the monastery, about 10mins walk from the bus station.

A wide spectrum of wheeled vehicles purporting to be Taxis run up and down the main street. The price should be ¥2-4 per person, depending on the luxuriance of your conveyance, no matter the distance. If you take up more than one seat with your bags then pay for however many seats you use.

For most travellers, Labrang Monastery will keep them occupied for couple of days or more. There is graceful landscape and colourful people. The surrounding region harbors a few worthwhile day-trip destinations.

Labrang Monastery
Prayer wheels

Literally the centre of town, the monastery is the main focus for visitors and residents alike with all social and commercial activity deriving from it. The Monastery was established in 1709 and expanded greatly in following centuries to become one of the six great monasteries of the Gelukpa sect (Yellow Hat) of Tibetan Buddhism. The resident monks wear saffron robes, black UGG-style boots and shaggy yellow Mohawk shaped hats, sometimes pitched to impressive heights.

Despite its venerable history, many of the buildings and religious artefacts were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. What you see now was built during the late 1980s or even more recently. The buildings construction differs from others in the region, being built with stone blocks rather than rammed earth, but the whitewashed multiple-level square designs follow the typical style of Tibetan monastic buildings.

It’d be easy to spend days meandering about the alleys between monks quarters and prayer halls, or follow pilgrims spinning prayer wheels on a loop around the Kora. Despite the tickets and tours, it’s still an active Monastery and you may chance upon the monks engaged in their religious activities.

There are few English signs (except for the ubiquitous No Photo, Ticket needed), making it somewhat beguiling to understand what you are looking at. An English tour leaves from the ticket office at 10:15 AM and 3:15 PM. Though the guide provides decent explanations as they take you though the halls, some may feel the experience is a bit rushed. As you would expect, no photos are allowed inside buildings and the monks outside are camera shy when conducting a ceremony.

You need to buy a ticket to enter the monastery (¥40) and some of the smaller chapels require additional charge(¥10) whether you join the tour or not. Even with a ticket in hand the halls may be closed or off limits while a ceremony is being conducted. If you prefer to try before you buy, it’s not difficult to blunder in for a look without anyone asking for a ticket.

Some places worth seeking out include;

  • Gongtang Chorten (Near the river). A newly built golden topped Chorten that you can climb. ¥10. 
  • Man Jus’ri Temple (The rear of the courtyard behind the ticket office). Definitely the most impressive hall with several enormous, elaborately decorated, Buddha statues along the rear wall and a pair of small rooms behind. Pilgrims make a clockwise circuit, stopping to make monetary offerings to brightly coloured yak-butter sculptures and pray to silver Chortens containing living Buddhas. At times the hall may reverberate with chanting monks. ¥60. 
  • Prayer Wheels. Lining about half of the minor Kora are brightly painted wooden drums, spun by an endless procession of mainly elderly pilgrims hopping their efforts will be rewarded in the next life. On each corner is a small room housing huge lumbering wheels that ring a bell with each rotation. 
  • Thangka sunning Terrace (Over the river on the hillside). A flat stone slope on the hillside where a giant Thangka is rolled out during the Tibetan New year. The rest of the time its a nice place to sit and get an overview of the Monastery. Free. 

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. . . Xiahe . . .