Labrang Monastery

Labrang Monastery in Xiahe, Gansu Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, is one of the best places to experience Tibetan culture without traveling to Tibet itself. To this day, this region remains steeped in traditional Tibetan culture. For Tibetan Buddhists, this is one of the most important monasteries today and sits in a strategic location between the two cultures of Mongolians and Tibetans. In the early years of the 20th century, it was the most influential and largest monastery in the Amdo region. It not only housed several thousand monks, but also was home to the largest Buddhist monastic university at the time, and it is also the largest monument ever built outside the borders of Tibet.

Nestled in the middle of the mountains, Labrang Monastery is an ideal place to immerse yourself in Tibetan culture and religion. It combines multiple architectural features including traditional Indian Vihara and Tibetan styles, to create a beautiful and unique compound, and the architectural layout is presented in a typical Tibetan style. Covering an area of 866 hectares, the Monastery contains thousands of rooms painted in red, yellow, and white depending on their use, which you may need more than a day to see all it has to offer.

The Hall of the Great Sutra

It is the central building and the dominant place for the religious activities of the Labrang Monastery and the worship of the devotees. On the interior walls, many portraits and large bookcases decorate the whole.

The Halls of Buddha

They are located in the northwest part of the Great Sutra Hall. They are distributed in the shape of a crescent moon, all richly decorated. Buddha statues in temples are all realistic with kind and benign expressions. The walls of the temple are decorated with colorful and elaborate paintings. By contemplating them, one can feel a certain inner peace.

The Hall of Grand Golden Tile

Located northwest of the Grand Sutra Hall, the Grand Golden Tile Hall is the tallest building in Labrang Monastery and is heavily influenced by Nepalese culture. It consists of six stories and a roof constructed of beautifully gilded bronze bricks. Inside the hall, a large bronze statue of Buddha was created by Nepali craftsmen.

In addition to the chapels, residences, golden-roofed temple halls, and living quarters for the monks, Labrang is also home to six tratsang (monastic colleges or institutes), exploring esoteric Buddhism, theology, medicine, astrology, and law.

The statues of the Buddha: In the Monastery of Labrang, there are several kinds of statues of the Buddha divided according to the material used: gold, silver, ivory, coral, agate, jade, etc. The tallest Buddha is 18 meters tall. According to the story, craftsmen from India, Bengal, Nepal, and Iran, as well as Tibet, Qinghai, Inner Mongolia, and Beijing participated in the making.

Labrang Monastery, the cradle of Tibetan culture

The monastery was founded in 1709 by Ngagong Tsunde (E’angzongzhe in Chinese), the first-generation Jamyang (a line of reincarnated Rinpoches or living Buddhas ranking third in importance after the Dalai and Panchen lamas), from nearby Ganjia. Through the centuries it has been near the center of many gruesome conflicts and changes in the political landscape. Many of these conflicts, which have continued well into the 1950s and beyond, have left their mark on the monastery’s legacy. Between 1917 and 1949, several riots and attacks took place against Labrang Monastery from the Chinese Muslim Ma clique, who even occupied the monastery at one point. The Assembly hall of the monastery was burned to the ground in early 1985, along with many of its religious and cultural artifacts. It was eventually replaced five years later with a new building.

The Labrang Monastery is one of the six main monasteries of the Gelugpa order (Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism). The others are Ganden, Sera, and Drepung monasteries near Lhasa; Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse; and Kumbum Monastery outside Xining in Qinghai.

Here, you will see hundreds of red-robed Buddhist monks and Tibetan lay people in traditional clothing walking the three-kilometer path around the monastery, praying, chanting, and spinning prayer wheels.

It is also reputed to be the largest monastery still in operation outside of Tibet. At its peak, Labrang housed nearly 4000 monks, but their ranks greatly declined during the Cultural Revolution. Modern Labrang is again such a popular destination for young disciples that numbers are currently capped at 1800 monks, with about 1600 currently in residence, drawn from Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Inner Mongolia.

How to get there?

Labrang Monastery is located in Xiahe District, and the most convenient way is to chart a private vehicle from Lanzhou or Xining cities. The trip takes about 3-4 hours. It is possible to combine with the visit to the Binglinsi Buddhist Caves.

For long distances, the plane remains an option. The Xiahe Airport is 65 km south of the city. From Xiahe, flights serve Xi’an, Chengdu, Lhasa, Yinchuan, Lanzhou, and Tianjin.

As of now, there is no railway station in Xiahe because there is no railway passing by. But when the Xining/Lanzhou-Chengdu railway is completed, it will be possible to take the high-speed train to Xiahe.

Useful Information

Chinese Name: 拉卜楞寺
Location: 1 km from Xiahe District, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture
Location: Lanzhou, 230km; Linxia, 105km; Xining, 240km; Hezuo 63km, Langmusi, 185km;
Altitude: 3200 m
Opening hours: 8h00 to 18h00 in summer, 9h15 to 16h30 in winter
Ticket: 40 RMB
Recommended length of visit: 1-3 hours

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