Kumbum Monastery near Xining, Qinghai:
On the day following our arrival in Xining, we took the bus to nearby Kumbum Monastery. This complex of ancient and modern temples constitutes one of the most important monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism. Its construction started in 1577 at the birthplace of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the so-called Gelugpa (“Yellow Hat”) School – best known by its most prominent representative, the Dalai Lama. Due to its location and history, the monastery rose to be among the religion’s leading institutions, once inhabited by several thousand monks. Today, there are still a few hundred monks living here and many pilgrims come for prayer, however, most visitors are tourists. Although new temple halls were under construction during our visit, the whole atmosphere was unfortunately less of a place of active worship than of a museum. Photographing inside the buildings was not allowed and luckily almost all visitors followed this rule.
After a walk through the numerous temples, we left the walls of the monastery and hiked up the hillside. Here, we followed a pilgrim’s path through a forest of colourful prayer flags, occasionally offering splendid views of the valley.
Although the visit to Kumbum Monastery was quite touristy, it gave us the first glimpse of the world we were about to enter in the following weeks: Tibet. Today, the so-called “Tibet Autonomous Region” constitutes only a part of the original “Greater Tibet” inhabited by Tibetan people. The latter encompassed three regions: Ü-Tsang, Amdo, and Kham. Nowadays, large parts of these areas belong to the Qinghai and Sichuan provinces. While travelling to the “Tibet Autonomous Region” is subject to strict restrictions, the Tibetan areas of Qinghai and Sichuan can be accessed more easily and offer also a wonderful glimpse into the world on the Tibetan Plateau. If you like, you can follow our journey into these regions full of Tibetan culture and dramatic landscapes in the coming posts. On the next day, we visited Qinghai Lake already well within the Tibetan highlands.