Preparing for Tibet: Labrang monastery

The journey is so long and tiring that we do not even notice that the temperature has dropped by around 30˚C compared to our previous stop. Nine hours on an overnight train, a taxi-ride that never seemed to end and a four-hour, bumpy bus ride have taken us from searing hot Xian to Xiahe in the west of China. We have been stared at by everyone on the train station, seen an incredible dirty sky in Lanzhou and passed through a mysterious town with mosques and thousands of bees.

Despite the altitude and the change in climate, we still walk around in T-Shirts on the first day. Every one of the few western tourist we see arriving in the town in the next days makes the same mistake. Xiahe is at an elevation of around 2900 m, a good start to get ready for our flight to Tibet.

But it is more than that. It is also the first time since we left Hong Kong that we see a blue sky. Despite the cold that we catch immediately, my throat hurts less than during our time in Eastern China because the air is so much cleaner.

We try our first Tibetan food – an adventure and rarely also a pleasure. We enjoy it for a couple of days until, like so often on this journey, we develop a profound longing for more variety. Yak butter tea is an acquired taste yet it is comforting and warming while we watch the pilgrims walk around the monastery. At this place, it even has a sort of milk foam on the top, like a cappuccino, and we will never find a yak butter tea again that we like as much. Tsampa remotely reminds us of Snickers. There is strange a dish of rice with sugar and yak butter and berries unknown to us that we will later blame for Mr. Colors illness. There are momos which always disappoint us and Yak kebab with chilli which is quite right for me but too strong for Mr. Colors.

And then there is the beautiful Labrang monastery with golden-roofed temples and endless prayer wheels. The guided tour is informative but walking around the monastery complex in the evening is almost better. There is the light and the smell of yak butter that no picture can convey. It is a spiritual place but at the same time, it is also a place where the boys who enter the monastery at a young age grow up. In the evening, they play in the streets or walk into town to buy cotton candy while the older ones hang out drinking yak butter tea and playing with their smartphones. And then the deep chanting in the monastery starts again and it is all back to a spiritual atmosphere.

Time of visit: August 2013

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