Tongren

Gompa at Wutong Si
All roads lead to Wutong Si

Tongren (Chinese: 同仁; Tóngrén; Tibetan: Rebkong) is small monastic town in Qinghai Province, China. Tongren has a slightly unkempt but not unfriendly Tibetan character, intermingled with the sizable Hui population.

Understand

Tongren sits on the edge of the Tibetan plateau in a region historically known to its nomadic inhabitants as Amdo. The towns origins stretch back several hundred years when it emerged around the establishment of the Longwu Monastery. For the Chinese, the region was considered a wasteland that marked the outer fringes of the Han and Tang dynasties. By the Ming dynasty garrison troops, positioned to defend against those they considered barbarians in the west, had established an administrative system that blended Buddhism with the Chinese dynastic rule.

Despite the prestige of the Longwu Monastery in Tibetan Buddhism of greater interest to most travellers is the nearby Wutong Monastery and the galleries of Thangka paintings produced by its community of eminently artistic monks. Though the calamities of the Cultural Revolution decimated almost all of the original structures the present renewed monastery is active with enough yak butter scented monks chanting before stupendous glittering Buddhas to give the impression it has always been this way. Unfortunately, the surrounding town has been blighted by modern, bland architecture, leaving its former charm limited to a few crumbling corners.

Get in

Tongren can only be reached by a single road that zig-zags along steep mountain sides, descends into precipitous valley floors, skirts raging rivers and passes though undulating verdant grasslands. The getting there it one of the more beautiful journeys in the region and sure keep you awake and looking out the window.

From Xiahe

One bus per day leaves Xiahe at 7.15AM from the main bus station (¥25). Though Tongren is only a little more than 100km away, the journey takes around 3hrs.

From Xining

Buses from Xining leave for Tongren about every 30mins from the southern bus station on Jianguo Lu, opposite the train station. (¥34.3) The ride takes about 4 hours.

Get around

Tongren is small and flat enough to walk between Longwu Si and the market area. Wutun Si is about a one hour walk away or you can take one of the numerous green taxis plying the route for ¥5 per seat.

See

Intricately carved and painted eaves
The temple grounds are often deserted

Do

Tongren is more of a make your own fun kind of place, if the idle looking locals are any indication.

Buy

The detail in the Thanka reflect the artists skill.
The Thanka artists tools

Shops in Tongren and around Wutong Si mainly catering to the tour group busses sell Thangkas of lower quality and price that might be suitable if you are not a Thanka aficionado and just want a nice souvenir. Superior pieces are best bought direct from the artist. Some artist have pre-made Thangka to select from or you can commission a painting of a particular size or theme, though the best artists may have years a years backlog of reservations. Even without any art expertise you should be able to identify which works are genuine art if you take some time to look around, talk to the artists and let your eye be your guide. Generally artists can be contacted via e-mail or phone and can ship your piece anywhere worldwide when it is completed.

Eat

While the dining options aren't particularly diverse or inspiring, the numerous restaurants offer warmth, large portions and interesting people watching opportunities.

Dried sheep's head is one of the curious delicacies favoured by locals to nibble with a few drinks. It's mostly bone on the outside, necessitating a probe of the cavities for the tasty bits. Numerous roadside vendors sell them for ¥20 and all will assure you it's delicious.

Yak milk yoghurt is freshly made every morning and sold, usually by young Tibetan girls, along the roadside. The flavour is very rich with a tangy or sometimes citrus bite. A spoon of sugar is an option if you prefer it sweeter. A bowl costs about 2¥.

Drink

Sleep

There are numerous cheap hotels (Binguan) in the few blocks to the north of the Monastery but many are selective about accepting foreigners. Generally they charge as little as ¥30-60 per bed with basic bathroom facilities and some may have early curfews. Bigger, potentially English signed and speaking, hotels are found along Zhongshan Lu and Dehelong Nan Lu. They provide more comfort for an accordingly higher price.

Budget

Midrange

Splurge

Cope

ATM - The Construction Bank of China on Zhongshan Lu has the only Visa friendly machines in town. The one at the Bank of China on corner of Zhongshan Lu and Dehelong Zhong Lu looks too ancient to be trusted. Probably better to go inside and deal with a human.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, November 24, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.