A four hour bus ride south east from Xining is the Tibetan town of Repkong (Tongren in Chinese). The monastery town is renowned for its exquisite Tibetan Thangka’s and is inhabited by a mix of Tibetan, Tu, Hui and Han Chinese. The town is set within a valley with the surrounding mountains offering some great day hikes. Budget accommodation is hard to come by unless you speak Chinese or Tibetan, I didn’t come across a single English speaking local during my visit.
Rongwo Gonchen Gompa is the largest monastery complex in the area and is situated at the end of the Tibetan district. It consists of a large number of halls, gompa’s and monk residences. I was lucky enough to catch a ceremony outside the main gompa in which a number of people where dressed up in a different masks while other monks ceremoniously bashed drums, symbols and played rag-duns (massive horns).
A 2 Yuan minivan ride will get you 6km down the road to Shengeshong Village where there are two monasteries to visit. There were a couple of pilgrims circumbulating the stupa’s and spinning the prayer wheels and a few monks going about their business, but apart from that I was the only one around. None of the halls seemed to be open so I just explored the maze of laneways and looked around. From here it is a short walk across to the other side of the valley to Gomar Gompa.
Gomar Gompa is a walled monastery with all the halls and residences situated within one tight complex. Just outside the wall is a huge stupa that has stairs all the way to the top. There was a monk sitting up there keeping an eye on everything and when he spotted me he called me up. We spent the next hour trying to communicate through my limited Chinese and even more limited Tibetan. He fed me from the offerings and even gave me a couple of loaves of bread to take with me. He was interested to look through my photos and then after that invited me back to his house within the walled monastery for tea. It was here I had my first Tsampa although at first I had no idea what to do with it.
Tsampa Tea/Dough is made from a huge chunk of Yak butter, barley flour, sugar and tea. It is all poured into a small bowl which you then proceed to mix it into a dough with your hands and then eat it in little balls. I kind of just looked at this huge mess and just tried to drink it. The monk tried to indicate what to do but I didn’t understand so he ended up doing it for me. It was a bit dry to begin with but the taste grew on me and I now rather like it. After tea it was time to head back to town and the monk organised a cab and insisted on paying.
In the afternoon I decided to go for a bit of a hike into the mountains. I wasn’t sure at first whether to head up the northern or southern side of the valley. Even when I was half way up the northern side I still wasn’t sure whether or not it would have been better to be climbing the other side. As I got further up I had some great views across the valley below and down onto Rongwo Gonchen Gompa. As I got higher still I managed to get some stunning views across terraced fields, Tibetan villages and snow covered mountains. I had to go over a few barbed wire fences and tread carefully on the icy snow that persisted in the shadows but it was a fairly easy hike and peak offered an awesome 360 degree view of the surrounding area. The following day I travelled onto Xiahe.