Well, we’re back in Beijing, so I guess I should probably sum up the rest of our adventures.
So after finishing up in Xining with the visiting of students and the hanging out with our stranded Swiss friends, we parted (at 6 something in the morning no less). Our destination: a small town with a big Tibetan population and what I have been assured is the most important Tibetan monastery outside of the Tibetan autonomous region. The Chinese name of the town is Xiahe, but the Tibetans we were talking to preferred it be called Labrang after the monastery.
So the first day we arrived, we checked into the Overseas Tibetan Hotel to stay in one of their dorm rooms. Extremely reasonable price of 20 yuan, though I guess the showers are hit and miss (luckily I don’t take showers, haha!). The owners and staff were super friendly and spoke English. We ended up chatting with them and our roommates (a Dutch girl and an English man) for probably more than an hour that first night.
Anyways, the first day’s activities were walking the clockwise pilgrim’s path around the monastery, with spinning prayer wheels hundreds of Tibetan pilgrims, and an awesome cool golden building to climb in. We also played jump rope with a Tibetan family for a few minutes. It was pretty cool to just walk the path that so many people have and are walking.
Then, we decided we’d hop on one of the twice daily English tours that was about to go down at 3:15. So we met with some monks at the tour booth and had sort of a trilingual conversation going on with us English speakers and some Chinese people hanging about and some monks that spoke Tibetan and random other bits of English and Chinese. Which was interesting. And then we started our tour. And we were the only two, so basically this young English speaking monk guy just took us around the monastery and showed us around the major temples and colleges. He was really cool and we all got to chatting, he’s 22, from Qinghai, and has been a monk since he was 12. The only thing I’ve been doing since I was twelve is playing the oboe. Anyways, we took some pictures with him, and he gave us his email and phone number (which was only slightly weird… monks have email?)
So that was cool. Then we had dinner at this nice Tibetan and Western restaurant overlooking the pilgrimage route and discovered some delicious Tibetan noms including yak butter tea, and something that tasted deliciously like egg rolls. Yum.
Then, as aforementioned, we hung out with the staff from the hotel in the courtyard. We chatted and also learned some Tibetan folk dancing which I have now completely forgotten. Tibetans are really friendly!
The next day we rented some super rickety looking bikes from the hotel, and went out on a long bike ride through the grasslands near town. We rode out for about an hour on the road until we found the designated grasslands, and then decided to go off-roading into the grasslands, which turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag. We got up close and personal with the grasslands, random Tibetans on motorcycles, and the occasional horseback nomad. I think Amanda has an awesome picture of the nomad on his horse; I’ll have to see if I can steal that from her. Unfortunately we also had to ford over a stream with our bicycles about seven times and got quite wet. Which, considering it was about 20 degrees colder than the day before, was sad. And cold. All in all, we had about a three hour bike ride. My bike was a little to big, and I pretty sure I have bruises still.
When we were riding back, people kept passing us on motorcycles which were slightly faster than our bicycles, and generally getting a good stare in as they went by. Except for the random two guys on a motorcycle who, in passing me got a good stare in, to which I smiled as they were pretty cute and not too creepy. Then it seemed that I was in fact going faster than them in about another minute, so I passed them, and even gave them a “hey.” Then they passed me for another bout of staring. This is my life now. My very existence is a spectacle.
So, that’s all for Xiahe/Labrang. After this we hop on a bus to Lanzhou… and I’ll tell you all about that later!