After physically ripping Lianna from her warm bed yesterday morning and grabbing a quick breakfast in the Everest cafe of French Toast we ran into Ben, our travel companion on the bus from Xining to Xiahe. Ben’s plans were similar to ours for the first half of the day, so at 9:30am the three of us headed off for a tour of Lobrang Monastery lead by an English speaking monk.
Lobrang Monastery is one of the 6 main monasteries of the yellow hat sect of Buddhism on the Tibetan Plateau, but unfortunately it is only a shadow of its former self after the Cultural Revolution when the area was basically an entire city of monks and pilgrims. Today, some of the main buildings were left intact while others were rebuilt as late as 1986. After talking with our tour leader, many aspects of monastery life seem to have survived and receiving an education in astrology, philosophy, and medicine is still a viable path for the monks.
Lianna enjoyed the tour as this was her first Buddhist monastery and was awestruck by how a religion could incorporate and create such beautiful artwork into their religious studies such as the yak butter sculptures which take over 3 months to prepare just to melt in the sun.
Afterwards, the three of us wandered into a small Chinese restaurant for lunch and found something instantly recognizable on any Canadian Chinese menu, sweet and sour pork which was extremely delicious especially after our unpleasant experience the night before. We had discussed sharing a taxi out to Ganjia Grasslands that morning in order to split costs as the sights were far apart and a driver would be needed. Tibetan Overseas Hotel offered us a driver for 300 yuan (45 USD) but after speaking with another traveler we learned it was much cheaper to hire a taxi driver from the street and work out a price. Some careful haggling was attempted and after a minute or two we had a happy-go lucky driver with no English but great attitude and even shared some of his lunch with us.
Our first stop was to a small cave complex where pilgrims lower themselves into a network of tunnels set amongst some beautiful cliffs alongside a river. After reading about a Dutch traveler who fell to his death entering one of the tunnels and not having a very good torch we decided against venturing in too far.
A short drive up a hill and we arrived at our second destination Trakkar gompa, a small monastery built above a tiny village overlooking the vast Ganjia Grasslands. All homes were built in Tibetan style and purposely built to look out over the hillside. A short climb and we arrived at the monastery which at first glance appeared empty but a few moments later some monks greeted us and we were treated to a show of two young monks with rope splayed along their robe, practicing some unknown religious dance in the courtyard. The dancing only intensified once the cameras started clicking and the boys continued to perform until beat red in the face while the older monks seemed fascinated with the images that were captured. When the dancing finished the monks faces lit up with excitement when they saw the video I had recorded. Unfortunately, the rest of the monks at the monastery were occupying the main section so we could not enter but their resonating chants only added to the atmosphere.
Our final stop was to the unique walled village of Bajiao which was originally a Han-Dynasty village but now was occupied by Tibetans. We climbed the wall which offered superb views of the valley to one side and the rustic village on the other. We strolled through the alleyways carefully avoiding the local dogs (Tibetan Mastiffs which resemble Angry Newfs) and greeting the friendly locals except for two very, very young children jokingly acting out the sign for kiss my ass, strange. Our taxi driver had entered the city to let us know it was time to head out but Ben was nowhere to be found. 20 minutes of driving around the city and we finally found our missing person.
It was clear today had been an exhausting day as the conversation back to Xiahe was replaced by silent starring through the window.
Our next morning began early for me as I had set the alarm to go off so I could catch the sunrise over the mountains while Lianna caught up on some sleep. After climbing half way up a hill a young yak stood its ground and quickly ran towards me.
Yaks being a famously unpredictable animal initally I was quite nervous but this was just a baby and clearly it just wanted a play mate. After giving him a good scratch I continued up the mountainside when I ran into a German guy who had climbed the entire mountain and said the views were amazing. I spent the next few hours huffing and puffing my way up the mountain until I reached the top and he was right the views were amazing. The sun was melthing the frost on the ground producing that eerie mystical look over the mountains making the scene feel surreal.
After heading back and having breakfast with Lianna we rented some rickety old bicycles from the hotel and decided we would bike to Sanke a small village 45 minutes from Xiahe. The weather was perfect for a bike ride but unfortunatly after seeing such dramatic landscapes the day before the small valley and run down village wasn’t impressive like we had hopped. Their were even cheesy tourist yurts placed on the grasslands which spoiled the atmosphere.
The rest of the day was spent lounging around and getting our bus ticket for our next stop Tongren or Repkong in Tibetan before we head back to Xining.