Since we knew that our bus from Xining would arrive in Yushu in the middle of the night, we had already booked a hotel in advance. Although information on accomodation options were sparse, we were lucky to find a hotel directly in the centre of town: the Qingzang Hotel. After having breakfast with the super-friendly owner Tsoklam who “treated” us to the traditional Tibetan tsampa, we left the hotel to explore the sights. Our first destination was the Princess Wencheng Temple, located in a narrow valley around 20 km outside town. Although much bigger temples and monasteries can be found on the way, it is this little complex which draws pilgrims. It is said to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Qinghai housing a rock carving more than 1200 years old! But while the atmosphere inside is truly mystical, the scenery outside with its mountains covered by thousands of prayer flags made the journey definitely worth the taxi fare.
After our return from the Princess Wencheng Temple, we used the afternoon to stroll through Yushu’s downtown. The city housing around 70,000 inhabitants was almost completely destroyed during a catastrophic earthquake in 2010. And while most of the buildings are new, the architects were able to preserve a Tibetan style and pleasant atmosphere. We really enjoyed our walk and eventually made it up to the Jyekundo Dondrubling Monastery. This complex was first established in 1398, but basically all ancient buildings collapsed in the earthquake. During our visit it was still being re-built and there was little to see or do – except to enjoy the fantastic views of the valley and town.
A few kilometres from the city centre is Yushu’s most astonishing sight, the Seng-ze Gyanak Mani Wall. Huge piles of rocks, each inscribed with Buddhist mantras, have been compiled by generations of pilgrims and today cover an area of several football fields. The complex can be circumambulated together with hundreds of pilgrims endlessly turning prayer wheels. Visiting this place was definitely one of the highlights of our journey!
After our visit to the mani wall, we took a taxi to Sebda Gompa some distance outside of Yushu. Supposedly, this monastery was a good base for hiking and exploring the surrounding countryside. In fact, we did not know what to expect and after some time we noticed that also our young driver did not know the place. After getting directions from people along the road, we entered a narrow valley driving further and further into the mountains. We came to know that there are indeed two Sebda Gompas, one old and one new. Luckily, our driver became curious, too, stopping at both places and even joining us for some hiking.
While Yushu was once a favourite travel destination to explore the Tibetan highlands, the devastating earthquake of 2010 changed this abruptly. The reconstructions are now almost finished and it can be assumed that tourists will come back here soon. Fortunately, we had the region largely to ourselves and saw almost no other foreigners during the two days. We really had a great time in Yushu before continuing on to Ganzi in neighbouring Sichuan province.