After the comfortable 29 hour train ride I mentioned in Chinese Trains I arrived into Baotou at about 9pm. I headed for a couple of guesthouses noted in the Lonely Planet but they were no longer there. No one in this town spoke English and the first two places I found were full. The third had a vacancy and I took it despite the price being 3 times what I had paid at any other time on my trip, to be fair, it was still quite cheap compared to home. Baotou isn’t really a tourist destination; it is an industrial city in Inner Mongolian so it doesn’t really cater for foreign tourists. After checking in I walked back to the train station to buy my next onward ticket and once again, only hard seats were available – better than no seat though.
The reason for my visit here was to travel out to Wudang Zhou Lamasery located about an hour out of town in the surrounding grasslands. The journey out to the monastery was through some rural, poor, dilapidated looking Mongolian villages. Many of the homes were made of mud brick with iron roofs fixed in place with stones and bricks. You wouldn’t think by looking at them that people even lived in some of the homes but there would be smoke coming from the chimney.
When I arrived at the monastery I enquired about staying at the guesthouse for the night but either because it was winter (off season) or perhaps because of the Spring Festival, the guesthouse was closed so I was only able to stay for a couple of hours as the last bus back to town was at 1.30pm…
The monastery belongs to the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the same tradition as HH Dali Lama. It was an important site along the pilgrimage route between Tibet and Mongolia and at its height was home to more than 1200 monks until much of it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. It has since been rebuilt but is now more of a tourist attraction than a place of study and prayer; it is now home only to about 40 monks.
The architecture of the Gompa’s and residences were all of Tibetan style. Inside, the Gompa’s were beautifully decorated with tradition Tibetan Buddhist artwork, murals and thangkas. The complex was set in the mountains and snow littered the ground. It would look stunning in summer when the vast grasslands would be green but today under the shadow of clouds it simply looked dry and brown. I managed to check out most of the complex but would have loved more time, I boarded the bus as snow started to fall to head back to Baotou and from their I travelled to Lanzhou and Xining.