Wednesday Xiahe and the Labrang Temple

We woke early and decided to walk the Kora, the three kilometre walk round the perimeter of the Labrang Temple. It was 6.30 and had started to rain by the time we left the hotel but already the bread sellers were setting up their stalls.

We weren’t sure of our route, but need not have worried as it is obviously a ritual for the local people and pilgrims so we just followed the crowd as they spun the prayer wheels which encircle the temple complex. I guess it is the ‘regulars’ who we notice wear a glove on their spinning hand! It was a slow stroll as the air is noticeably thinner and to walk at any sort of ‘pace’ you become conscious of your breathing.

There were a few tourists but the majority of those we walked with were there to carry out their Buddhist rites. The prayer wheels spun and the pray-ers chanted and it gradually stopped raining and got lighter. There is evidence of improvements going on around the temple. As it is, rain soon turns the pathways not paved (the majority) into a mud bath. Even so you can’t help wondering what impact the modernisation that is moving up the valley is going to have on life in the monastery and it’s surroundings.

We were really pleased we had made the effort to get up and be part of the early morning activity. In addition to the temple buildings we came across two big white ‘stupas’ topped with gold and saw on the hillside some small black and white single cell like structures. It turns out that these are exactly what we guessed they were – solitary confinement for the young monks who misbehave. A real ‘naughty boys’ section!

We completed the circle and bought some walnut bread and yoghurt for breakfast and met up with a few other members of our party who had also been early risers. By now the number of bread stalls had multiplied and there were many shops open and a range of hats and scarves for sale.

We hired the English speaking monk for a tour of the monastery but had been warned that he could be grumpy. I don’t think he has quite got the positive karma thing. He was certainly in a bit of a mean mood and our tour was definitely a little bit grudging, but we did get to see inside the temples which we would not have been able to do without him. It is obviously a very special place although we had not anticipated anger management issues from a Buddhist monk. It does not exactly seem to be ‘living the brand’!

The monastery interiors, that could not be photographed, were lit with yak butter lamps. The largest of the temples – the Hall of Philosophy – is divided up by pillars draped in coloured cloth. It reminded me a bit of the big mosque in Cordoba. Here, twice a day, 1,000 monks gather to pray.

Leaving the hall and circling back to the front of the temple (our guide abandoned us at this point) we were mesmerised by the sight of the monks gathering on the steps of the Hall of Philosophy ready for one of the prayer sessions. This time instead of the flat saffron hats of yesterday they looked very smart in their sort of coxcomb headgear, this time in a lighter shade of saffron. As we watched, more and more gathered on the steps staring back at us watching them and chanting. Gradually we became conscious of the sound of a conch shell horn and then at a signal they all got up, kicked off their felt boots and fled into the temple…. An amazing sight! Only the abandoned footwear was left to indicate where they had been. What an experience.

Our afternoon outing, post yet another heavy shower with thunder reverberating around the mountains, was taken in bright sunshine, retracing our morning’s perambulation. It would seem that the prayer wheels turn all day and the people’s devotions do not flag. We saw one man who looked as if he was carrying out the prostrating process (prostrating themselves full length, then drawing their bodies forward to their outstretched hands, rising and then falling to the ground again) all the way around the 3 kilometre circle. Incredible.

We adjourned to the Nomad restaurant again for supper and within minutes our dinner a deux became dinner for 8, as fellow Odyssey travellers joined us. We were still back in the hotel by 9.00. It is really quite chilly…..

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