Only a 30 minute drive from Xining, Kumbum Monastery was built in 1577 and marks the birth place of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Although a very important site from a historical perspective, today this monastery is more of a museum with the flood of Chinese tourists often out weighing the pilgrims. I visited toward the end of the spring festival and was greeted by some lively traditional Tibetan dances that drew large crowds all day.
It was a cold cloudy day but this didn’t take away from the atmosphere of the place. Despite the crowds of tourists there were still a number of pilgrims completing their practice with great devotion. Along the Kora up above the monastery the crowds dissipated and only pilgrims remained completing their circumambulation of Kumbum while performing full prostrations the whole way.
A couple of hours travel from Xining by public bus and then taxi is the only way to reach Rgolung Monastery. Being a little more difficult to reach this place doesn’t seem to see the huge crowds that Kumbum attracts and you are free to explore with the pilgrims. Rgolung Monastery is set in the side of a mountain and many of the buildings perch precariously from the cliff face. Founded by the 4th Dalai Lama this Gelugpa monastery was home to 7000 monks at its height but today only around 200 remain. The monks and locals of this area are mainly from the Tu ethnic group who are decedents from Mongolia.
I arrived here just in time for the unrolling of the huge Thangka which was very exciting and was then followed by a ceremony and dances. As this was just a day excursion my time here was limited but I managed to scale the mountain side and visit all of the halls. At one of the halls I met a lovely old Monk who I chatted with and gave him some Australian money to add to his collection of notes from around the world.
Takster Village – Birthplace of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
From Rgolung I arranged with the taxi driver to take me to Takster village which was about an hour away. My driver was great and we stopped off in Ping An for some snacks and then headed through a deep valley and then ascended high into the mountains.
Takster was a tiny village sitting on top of a ridge and consisted of only half a dozen buildings, all of traditional Tibetan style. One building stood out from the rest with its high walls and the golden roof of the temple peaking above. Unfortunately there was no one around and I wasn’t able to go inside, we stayed for about half an hour hoping that someone may rock up but that wasn’t the case. I just explored the quiet village and was happy to have just visited.
The next place I visited in the Amdo region was Repkong.