Xiahe

Xiahe or Songqu (བསང་ཆུ་ Sangqu; 夏河 Xiàhé) is an ethnically-Tibetan county and town (Labrang Town, the county-seat) in Gansu Province, China.

Understand

The town lies along one main street parallel to the Daxia River. The Chinese section (commercial) lies to the eastern end of the road and the Tibetan section lies at the western end. In between lies the monastery.

Xiahe has developed along with the influx of visitors. Some old timers may bemoan that it has lost its off-the-beaten-path charm, but Xiahe is still far from being overrun with hawkers, karaoke or foot massage joints as have many other attractions in China.

Get in

Can you go? Restrictions for foreign visitors

Due the importance of the Monastery to Tibetans the town is occasionally off limits for foreigners if the authorities feel trouble is brewing. At present (February 2016), Xiahe is open.

By bus

Xiahe Bus Station is about 1.5km away from the entrance to the monastery and the main concentration of guesthouses. Turn right when you walk out bus stations front door.

Get around

The town is compact and most guesthouses cluster near the monastery, about 10mins walk from the bus station.

Taxi

A wide spectrum of wheeled vehicles purporting to be Taxis run up and down the main street. The price should be ¥1-4 per person, depending on the luxuriance of your conveyance, no matter the distance. If you take up more than one seat with your bags then pay for however many seats you use.

See

For most travellers, Labrang Monastery will keep them occupied for couple of days or more. Apart from the graceful landscape and colourful people, Xiahe doesn't offer much else of interest. The surrounding region harbors a few worthwhile day-trip destinations.

Labrang Monastery
Prayer wheels

Labrang Monastery

Literally the centre of town, the monastery is the main focus for visitors and residents alike with all social and commercial activity deriving from it. The Monastery was established in 1709 and expanded greatly in following centuries to become one of the six great monasteries of the Gelukpa sect (Yellow Hat) of Tibetan Buddhism. The resident monks wear saffron robes, black UGG-style boots and shaggy yellow Mohawk shaped hats, sometimes pitched to impressive heights.

Despite its venerable history, many of the buildings and religious artefacts were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. What you see now was built during the late 1980s or even more recently. The buildings construction differs from others in the region, being built with stone blocks rather than rammed earth, but the whitewashed multiple-level square designs follow the typical style of Tibetan monastic buildings.

It'd be easy to spend days meandering about the alleys between monks quarters and prayer halls, or follow pilgrims spinning prayer wheels on a loop around the Kora. Despite all the tickets and tours, it's still an active Monastery and you may chance upon the monks engaged in their religious activities.

There are few English signs (except for the ubiquitous No Photo, Ticket needed), making it somewhat beguiling to understand what you are looking at. An English tour leaves from the ticket office at 10AM and 3:15PM. Though the guide provides decent explanations as they take you though the halls, some may feel the experience is a bit rushed. As you would expect, no photos are allowed inside buildings and the monks outside are camera shy when conducting a ceremony.

You can explore most of the grounds freely but a ticket is needed to enter some of the smaller chapels (¥10) or the main halls (¥60), whether you join the tour or not. Even with a ticket in hand the halls may be closed or off limits while a ceremony is being conducted. If you prefer to try before you buy, it's not difficult to blunder in for a look without anyone asking for a ticket.

Some places worth seeking out include;

Day trips outside town

A few other worthwhile sights lay within a 20km radius. Your only transport options are to hire a taxi from Xiahe for about ¥400 per vehicle, per day (5-8 hours round trip) or bicycle. Adventurous travellers can take the early morning bus to Tongren/Repcon (同仁) and get off at Ganjia Town (Ganjia Xiang – 甘加乡). From there it would be at least a 10-12 kilometre round trip hike to Bajiao Cheng. You would need to get back to Ganjia town by lunch time to get the bus coming from Xining or Tongren, or catch a motorcycle, taxi, or tractor back to Xiahe.

Do

Buy

There are dozens of shops along Renmin XiLu selling locally made crafts including colourful textiles, silver jewellery, Tibetan hats and fake antiques. Bargaining is a must.

One product you should not buy are the many furs for sale. Some clothing with fur trim might may be fake but the hides of entire animals are the real thing. Many of the skins are poached and may be of endangered species. Asia's wildlife is quickly disappearing as China's appetite for illegal animal products increases. Please don't contribute to this crisis.

Eat

Momo are steamed dumplings filled with meat or vegetable.

Most of the eating options are clustered within a 100m radius of where Renmin XiJie enters the Monastery. Most of their menus are indistinguishable from the one next door, serving tolerable Chinese dishes and the ubiquitous Tibetan Momo. A wider search will win adventurous taste buds more authentic local dishes such as Tsampa (barley flour and Yak butter ball) or JueNia Fan (rice with a deliciously sweet local root). More circumspect travellers can stick to western food the well-trodden backpacker places.

Drink

Many of the backpacker oriented restaurants have fresh coffee and hot chocolate.

Good drinks at the Nirvana bar. Coffee, tea, shakes, freshly squeezed juices, COLD beer and many different kinds of alcohols and cocktails. It is located at Ya Ge Tang 247. Next to the river in the Nirvana hotel. Nice music to complement the drink. www.nirvana-hotel.net

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Cope

Outside the main tourist season there might be no running water and electricity during the day. The power is switched on at night, but nobody can predict when that is going to happen. Don't be surprised if you have to wait until 10.30 pm. Currently, electricity, running water, and transportation are available without problems or limitations.

Go next


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 03, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.