Xiahe is a tiny, bustling town centered in a valley in southwest Gansu. At 3,000 meter above sea level and surrounded by hilly mountains, this rural haven hugs its neighboring Tibet.
The town centers upon the famous Labrang Monastery, which rests in the center of town, about 1.5 kilometer from the town's only bus station. It is not just the amazing sights that will enamour you with Xiahe, but also the vibrant atmosphere. The locals and nomads that you will see in the village live a laid-back lifestyle that will appeal to those who have been traveling for almost any length of time.
The population here is made up of 45% Tibetan, 45% Han and 10% Hui, making this a good place to behold monks in bright purple, yellow and red, nomads clad in sheepskins, and the Hui Muslims with skull caps and wispy beards. The town is also a thoroughfare for incoming pilgrims from the obvious Qinghai and Tibet, to the many backpacking Westerners.
The Monastery is located at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain northwest of Xiahe County. A propitious place in the hearts of the Tibetan, it stands by the Daxia River and faces the Dragon Mountain.
As for the Dragon and Phoenix Mountains, there is a beautiful legend. A long time ago, this place was a boundless sea. After countless changes, mountains and lands appeared. One day, a golden-wing phoenix flew here and rested on one of the mountains in the south. It was so thirsty that it drank all the water; thus the sea dried up. A dragon in the sea was greatly shocked, so it cavorted out of the water, which led to the emergence of a spring at the site where the phoenix drank.
As the spring water effused more and more, the Daxia River was formed. So the dragon became the Dragon Mountain and the phoenix became the Phoenix Mountain. And the Daxia River flowed from west to east through the 2 mountains, eroding the hollow into a basin. The Labrang Monastery was built on the Zhaxiqi (means auspiciousness) shoal which is in the north of the basin.
The architectural layout of the Labrang Monastery belongs to the Tibetan style and the construction patterns are mostly Tibetan, Han's mode and a compound style of both Han's and Tibetan. The symbols of the whole construction are the White Towers both in the northeast and in the northwest. The Grand Sutra and Buddha halls are located in the northwestern part. Other halls spread in a shape similar to a crescent moon.
The Grand Sutra Hall is the dominant place for the religious activities of the Labrang Monastery and for the adherents' worshipping.
The Labrang Monastery boasts tens of thousands of statues of Buddha made of gold, silver, copper, and aluminum. There are statues with ivory, sandalwood, jade, crystal and clay as the basic materials. These Buddha statues are all lifelike with kind-looking faces, which give you a real enjoyment of beauty. In addition, the monastery possesses many Buddha hats and many Buddhist treasures adorned with pearls, jadeite, agate and diamonds.
The Labrang Monastery holds 7 large-scale summon ceremonies a year, among which the Summons Ceremony in the first lunar month and the Buddhist Doctrine Explaining Ritual in the 7th lunar month are the grandest ones.
Sangke Prairie lies about 10 kilometer west of Xiahe. It enjoys a good reputation in the northwest Tibetan district for its excellent pasture and frequent magnificent Buddhist ceremonies.
Belonging to the meadow steppe and bordered by the Daxia River, Sangke prairie is at an elevation of 3,000 m with an area of 70 square kilometer. The prairie is named for the summer-blooming sangke flowers that form a natural carpet extending to the far horizons. Reflecting sky and mountains, the Daxia River twists through grass and earth like an undulating silk belt. Countless sheep, yaks, and tents are visible over the prairie.
Visitors can travel by bicycle or on horseback. It is possible to stay overnight with a local family or to rent a tent and experience Tibetan food such as yak-butter tea, stuffed steamed buns, mutton, and Zanba (a traditional Tibetan staple food of roasted highland barley flour).
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