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19.10.2005, 11:01

News 38: Buddhist China - photos

Yes, we arrived in a different China: the China of Buddhism and Tibetan culture even without being in Tibet. We are/were in the south of Qinghai province and the north of Gansu province.


From our last stop in Dunhuang we took a sleeper bus to Xining. The ride was okay. There are always 2 beds vertical and 3 horizontal with 2 aisles inbetween. It was an older bus and the first 3 beds on the outsides were kinda interleaved and you had less space. Unfortunately, that's what we had. It got very cold, the driver didn't turn on the heat. But it almost seems like there is no heat in the buses... It was even snowing at night... I'm missing the Brazilian buses....
The worst thing in China is not the spitting, not not being able to speak Chinese, not the toilets as you might think - no, it's smoking. Almost all male Chinese smoke like chimneys. It doesn't matter if it's in the normal bus, in the sleeper bus, in the train, in the internet cafe, or in the restaurant - they smoke everywhere and this really stinks and sucks!!!

But now about our adventures: We have been to 3 huge Tibetan monasteries and 2 small ones. We went to the Ta Er Si Monastery near Xining, to 3 monasteries in Tongren and to the Labrang Monastery in Xiahe. All of them were destroyed during the cultural revolution but have been partly rebuilt. They all are still very important monasteries and that's why you meet a lot of mainly Tibetan pilgrims.
The Ta Er Si is very crowded with Chinese tourists because it's near a big city. But we stayed in the monastery's hotel together with the pilgrims which was very nice. We took an English tour to get to know more about buddhism and the monastery.
Tongren was very relaxed. There are almost no tourists but a lot of pilgrims. It still seems very authentic. We went to 2 smaller monasteries 10km from the town and we had a great time. The monks even invited us for yak butter tea - the typical Tibetan drink. We also saw the living quarters of the monks. No tourists, very original. A Chinese buddhist in a village even invited us into his home and we had to take a picture of his 2 sons in front of their private shrine.
We are in Xiahe now where the Labrang monastery is situated. It's quite a big monastery with 800 monks (used to be 5000) and 16 temples (used to be 80). I got up at 5:45 this morning to watch the monks during their morning prayer in the main temple. It was very impressive. We went on a guided tour this morning and again it was very interesting. But the whole monastery is kinda widespread and actually we liked the other ones better even though this one here is always recommended. I guess that's why you have sooo many foreign tourists here. We haven't met so many foreigners in China before.
It is very interesting to see the Tibetan pilgrims with their traditional costumes. Look at our pictures to see the beautifully braited hair of the women. It is a pity that we cannot speak with each other. They usually look at us very surprised but we always start to smile and so do they.
Last night we tasted some Tibetan food: yak meat, yak yoghurt and champa (a mixture of yak butter with barley flour and some herbs). It was quite good. But for the first time I also had Muslim tea with dried fruits and rock candy. That tea was so delicious. It's very strange because all we have travelled through China were Muslim regions but I have never seen this tea before.
The towns here are usually divided into Tibetan, (Hui Chinese) Muslim and (Han) Chinese quarters. A mosque can be just some hundred meters away from a buddhist temple. And really funny is that usually the Tibetan souvenir shops are owned by Muslims... The 2 religions live right next to each other without problems.
It is getting very cold... and the heating still doesn't work...

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