Fascinating Xiahe

Leaving Xia’n to Lanzhou at 7:44 AM. We had bookedv hard seats and the train was quite full so a lot of opportunities for “people watching”. The seats were really quite a bit harder as the ones on the high speeds trains (but still bearable). The ride took a good nine hours and the tracks often followed the Yellow River and the nearer we came to Lanzhou the less densely populated the surroundings were.

Our hotel for one night was a bit shabby (Hazel claims that it even had bed bugs) and so we were happy once we could leave the next day.

A four hour bus ride led us higher and higher into the mountains till we arrived at Xiahe which was at 3000 meters above sea level. We immediately noticed that it was a few degrees colder than in Xi’an and so for the first time since months we had to take out our jumpers.

We spent the first night in a simple dorm. The hostel was run by a funny monk and a little kid was running around as evening entertainment.

The next day we changed accommodation to the Red Rock International Youth Hostel which had a nice buzz and very friendly owner (we won’t mention the rather bad toilets).

Xiahe is in many aspects an interesting place. It’s situated on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and has one of the biggest (and most important) Tibetan monastery outside of Tibet. Therefore it’s an important center for followers of Yellow Hat Buddhism which is the branch associated with the well-known Dalei Lama. The small city sees therefore many visitors from Tibet but also from Inner Mongolia and from other places in China. All this gives the whole place quite a special vibe and we soon realized that things are quite differently here from the rest of China.

Also the food was quite different and so we had some excellent Yoghurt and local bread for breakfast – a welcomed change to the noodles.

After a bit of rain in the early afternoon we decided to have a look or better walk around the monastery. The prayer path around the huge complex is about 3 kilometers long and has more than 1100 prayer wheels. These wooden and metal wheels have prayers written on them and the people passing by are spinning them (kind of a prayer-machine so to speak). We also climbed a small hill from where we had a nice view of the whole monastery.

The next day we joined the morning tour of the monastery lead by a quite funny monk (in general they seem to be quite earthy and easy going). It was very impressive to see the big Buddha statues inside the prayer halls (sorry no photos allowed) which all had a very distinctive smell from the yak butter fueled candles. The same yak butter is also used to make beautiful Buddhist figures as we were shown in another room. A really unique experience.

For the next one and half days we continued to enjoy the town, its food and visited some more smaller temples before heading back to Lanzhou from where we caught an overnight train to Luoyang.

We will remember Xiahe as a very special and absolutely worthwhile destination in China.

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