Xiahe Travel Guide, Gansu
Xiahe is a tiny, bustling town nestles in a mountain valley at an elevation of 2,900m in Ganan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, southwest Gansu.
The town was divided into two sections, primarily Hui (Muslim) and Han Chinese at its eastern end, changing abruptly to a Tibetan town as you climb westward to the gorgeous gilded roofs of the vast Labrang Monastery. Bent and walnut-visaged Tibetan pilgrims make you welcome on the 3km circuit around the monastery's perimeter.
It is not just the amazing sights of the Labrang Monastery and the Sangke Grassland that will enamour you with Xiahe, but also the vibrant atmosphere. The locals and nomads in the village live a laid-back lifestyle. The population here is made up of 45% Tibetan, 45% Han and 10% Hui, making this a good place to behold monks in bright purple, yellow and red, nomads clad in sheepskins, and the Hui Muslims with skull caps and wispy beards. The town is also a thoroughfare for inbound pilgrims from Qinghai and Tibet.
For backpackers, Xiahe is the traffic hub either northwards to Gansu or southwards to Sichuan.
>> Map of Xiahe
Highlights: Labrang Monastery / Sangke Grassland
Best time to go: Summer
How long: 2~3days
Getting there and away
There is no railway lines anywhere close to Xiahe or the neighboring area. The only viable mode of transport to/from this Tibetan town is by bus.
From Lanzhou: a few direct buses run to Xiahe daily, departing 6:30~7:30 and 14:00. But if there is only a few passengers, the driver may "sell" you at Linxia to the Linxia-Xiahe buses when stopping for lunch.
If you missed the direct bus, you can take a Lanzhou-Linxia bus from either the east or south bus station in Lanzhou. From Linxia, buses to Xiahe departing every 40 minutes between 6:30 and 4:30pm, 3hrs.
For those from Sichuan Zoige, you will need to come via Hezuo. Catch the 6:20am bus from Zoige to Hezuo, via Langmusi. Buses to Xiahe from Hezuo (2.5hrs) depart frequently before 4pm. There is also a direc bus from Langmusi to Xiahe.
Leaving - The daily bus leaving Xiahe for Lanzhou departs in early morning. You can also go to Linxia,there are 2~3 buses per hour to Lanzhou between 6:30am and 4pm, about the same timetable for buses to Hezuo.
Xiahe is also a starting point for travelers heading for Qinghai. One daily bus leaves for Tongren (5hrs). However, due to poor road conditions, do not count too much on the punctuality of the bus, which is sometimes even cancelled. If you plan to go southward to Sichuan province, you can first take the morning bus to Hezuo and then change.
3-wheel motor-cab or bike. Bike renting service available at most tourist restaurants and hotels. The main Monastery Restaurant and the rental shop opposite offer the lowest rate at Y2/hour or Y10/day. For any additional travel-related information, head to the Youyi Hotel, who have travel services.
Labrang Monastery - Built in 1709 by a monk from the nearby village of Ganjia, who became the first Living Buddha of the monastery.
Situated at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain, 1.5km west of the Xiahe bus station, along the main road in town. In terms of size it is second only to the Potala Palace in Lhasa and it is so called by the Tibetan "Labrang", meaning the "place where the Buddhist Palace stands".
The place remained in relative peace until the 1920s when the Muslims and Tibetans had numerous battles in and around this region, turf wars that were both bloody and prolonged. Again in the Cultural Revolution, the region was in chaos. Many of the over 4,000 monks "disappeared", the monastery was temporarily shut down, and was not reopened until 1980.
Nowadays there are around 2,000 monks, mainly from Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Inner Mongolia. The present head monk, 3rd in religious importance behind the Dalai and Panchen Lamas, is the sixth incarnation of the Jiemuyang.
The monastery consists of 18 resplendent halls, 6 prestigious Buddhist institutes and about 500 bedrooms for both the living Buddhas and ordinary monks. In total the monastery holds over 60,000 Tibetan sutras and thousands of rare Buddhist relics, including a statue of the most famous Tibetan king, Songtsen gampo.
The Labrang Monastery holds seven large-scale summon ceremonies a year, among which the Summons Ceremony in the first lunar month and the Buddhist Doctrine Explaining Ritual in the seventh lunar month are the grandest ones.
Admission Fee: Y 41
>> Map of Labrang Monastery
Sangke Grasslands - Lying about 14km west of Xiahe,it enjoys a good reputation in the northwest Tibetan region for its excellent pasture and frequent magnificent Buddhist ceremonies. Belonging to the meadow steppe and bordered by the Daxia River, Sangke Grassland is at an elevation of 3000m with an area of 70sqkm.
The grassland is named for the summer-blooming Sangke flowers that form a natural carpet extending to the far horizons. Reflecting sky and mountains, the Daxia River twists through grass and earth like an undulating silk belt. Countless sheep, yaks and tents are visible over the prairie.
Visitors can travel by bicycle or on horseback. It is possible to stay overnight with a local family or to rent a tent and experience Tibetan food such as yak-butter tea, stuffed steamed buns, mutton, and Zanba (a traditional Tibetan staple food of roasted highland barley flour).
How to get there: the grasslands can be reached by either bus, motor-cab or bicycle.
Within Xiahe there is a large selection of hotels in both the east the west sections of the town. The west section is certainly more convenient for sights, more interesting and cheaper, so unless most of the hostels here are fully booked, we recommend you stay in the west part, around Y15/bed.
- Tara Guesthouse (Zhuoma Lvshe)- on an alley to the left a little down the road, the owner fluent in English can organise trips to the Grasslands, rooms with warmed beds(Kangs)and hot showers.
- Labrang Monastery Guesthouse (Labuleng si zhaodaisuo)- run by monks. No showers, barely equipped rooms, and an 11pm curfew, however it is convenient and maybe a little more in fitting with the town's atmosphere.
- Labrang Hotel (Labuleng Binguan)- cross a bridge over the gurgling Daxia River that seems to mark the western end of the town and carry along the road for around 300-400m. This is a nice place with a good mix of room types. Tibetan style rooms in a courtyard to the right of reception are probably the nicest, although the triples are brighter lit. Prices range from Y15/dorm in low season to Y350 for Tibetan tents in high season.
In the Chinese Quarter, there are some pricey but clean hotels. The Friendship Hotel (Youyi binguan), a little west from the bus station on the left, is the best of the lot, with ordinary doubles for around Y15.