The Tibetan Monastery of Labrang


Click on the pictures, some will enlarge

Labrang, the Tibetan monastery in the village of Xiahe — Summer River had been open to tourists since 1985. For a morning Barbara and I erred around Lanzhou in the vain hope of buying a bus ticket, with no success. Eventually the director at CITS told us that because of the uprising in Lhasa Labrang was once again closed for individual travelers. But we could join a guided group, if we acted fast and they agreed. We ran to their hotel and found the same three meek teachers from Germany we had met in Tianshui and a very agreeable German-speaking local guide. The ladies were not enthused but the guide invited us to rent a second taxi he had accidentally ordered. We only had to make up our mind quickly, they would leave in an hour.... 500 km both ways by taxi? But I had dragged Barbara to forbidding Lanzhou expressly in the hope of seeing this fabled Tibetan place from where Alexandra David-Neel had set out on her crazy winter-hike to Lhasa. We simply had to take this opportunity, and I asked the German guide to order the taxi. The very correct, young driver asked us to allow his wife to join us. She turned out to be a serious but charming young woman, and so we became the quiet spies on their relationship. Neither spoke English but they had a relaxed and happily animated conversation lasting the entire 6-hour-drive into the late afternoon....

 Slowly we wound our way from the Yellow-River valley into the terraced Löss Mountains behind which lies a fertile plateau dotted with several large Muslim farming villages.  

 Winnowing the grain, here mostly wheat, by hand. In this area they employ an ingenious method of threshing. They put the wheat sheaves on the road where the passing cars do the job! Afterwards they brush the broken straw and grain to the side of the road and winnow it as you see here. The losses of grain are, of course, enormous. 

 We had a late afternoon break on the roof of a tea house in Linxia, the largest village along our route. Under a waxing moon the cupolas of the next-door mosque, the stack of a hot-water stove, and a Parisian street light compete for Moslem Heaven...!  

 At night-fall we had reached an altitude of over 3000 meters and the first Tibetan settlements. Because a bridge across the Xia He had collapsed, we spent another hour on a detour in the wane moonlight and arrived only late at night.  

 When we finally found the place we were received by our remarkable leader: every thing was arranged, a dinner served by a very quiet Tibetan woman in beautiful dining room, our room was ready, and we were led to this fantastic guesthouse — the completely modernized former summer palace of the abbot of Labrang.  


 I turned on the tap, there was plenty of hot water, and....

 I sank into foggy Nirvana....


That night I dreamt I was reborn as the Emperor of China — beardless, because the Chinese have no beards and need to use codpieces when they play Westerners... — So much for an organized tour experience!

 Labrang early next morning. It still is a large complex. The monks live in the little white houses in the middle ground, there are many more off to the right. The main prayer halls and the abbot's residence are up the hill in the back. I sent Barbara on the guided tour with the teachers and roamed at will.  

 A monk and a Tibetan on the main street down the complex.


 Barbara in her warm, blue pants and their tour surrounded by the curious in front of the medical college(?).

 Round and round went the pilgrims turning the prayer wheels (the vertical drums). Mumbling O Mane Padme Hum I joined them on their next turn and was simply accepted.  

 Another college of religious sciences(?).


 Frightening emanations scaring the ghosts fluttering in the morning breeze.


 Barbara took this picture of a Tibetan woman and her child inspecting the fierce monsters of the annual festival procession.  

She also took this picture of a young Tibetan boy which now hangs next to me above my desk.

 A lonely monk sweeping the entrance to a prayer hall.


 A lonely monk on his way to the main Dukhang.


 The gilded roofs and the flapping awnings of the main Dukhang.


 A group of Tibetan pilgrims circumambulating the Dukhang....


 ... and a monk distributing blessed water to the faithful....


Labrang gave me much more than half-Chinese Taersi in Qinghai. Until we would reach Tibet twelve years later, these images had to substitute for my dreams of Tibet.