The Silk Road: Day 1 Kumbum Monastery

We are so very fortunate that we are COVID trapped in a country that we haven’t yet explored much, that has so much culture to see and which has the virus largely under control. This has meant that during the summer break we have been able to take advantage of a trip along The Silk Road.

Some Concordia teachers who are China-bound have got together to do a private tour and we jumped at the opportunity. I apologize in advance to all those of you reading this who are stuck somewhere and unable to travel. The picture above is the seven of us.

Our trip begins in Xining in the province of Qinghai in Central China and we boarded an early morning flight from Shanghai. The airport was surprisingly busy and the plane was full. We had to have a green health code and wear masks (although I’m not sure this woman fully understood the reason!!!)

I had read that flights would resume but without catering so I was delighted to be served a sandwich and a yoghurt.

Xining is approx 2200 meters above sea level which meant that oxygen levels were lower and I could really tell every time I climbed a slope or set of stairs. As our guide remarked it was ‘hard breathing’. The area also has its own local cuisine which is noodle based because they grow wheat here not rice. It is also very meat heavy as the high altitudes mean that they need the protein.

Here you can see a girl wearing local traditional costume

On landing we went straight by van to our first destination, Kumbum a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery.

The weather was 14 degrees and raining which was actually a relief after the extreme humidity of Shanghai.

The monastery has been there since 1577 and contains Lamas, which is the Tibetan word for monk. In essence is is a Buddhist cult and whilst it adheres to the main tenants of Buddhist faith there are many differences. For instance monks can marry, acquire wealth and even have chauffeurs!

This monastery is famous for its 8 stupas.

Inside was the most beautiful teaching hall where the novice monks learn from 6-8am

The hangings are beautiful colored cloth which wasn’t glitzy and gaudy. There wasn’t gold around every corner but instead prayer wheels and I felt a sense of spiritual peacefulness. It wasn’t so much a tourist attraction as a house of religious instruction. In fact, if the boys from aged 10 and upwards fall asleep during the teaching senior monks wake them up with a clip round the ear from behind!

The buildings and courtyards were painted bright colors and we saw laypeople praying what is a grueling devotion which involves standing, kneeling, prostrating on the ground then kneeling and standing back up again. They are supposed to do this 100,000 times during their lives.

It made me exhausted just watching them but I was SO impressed with their core strength. Apparently you have to finish this devotion off when you retire so some of these people were not spring chickens.

The most unusual part of the complex was the Butter Statues exhibition.

Yes these displays really are constructed from butter. It is Yak butter which they also use to make smokeless candles, but here they mix it with wheat flour and minerals to make a paste that they can then model with. I was impressed.

We were conspicuous as the only non-Chinese people in the place. In fact someone in our group was approached by a local who joyously said ‘are they letting you in again?’ We had to disappoint him and say that we had come from Shanghai. He thought the borders were open to tourists again…

It was a long day and as our guide said, it was winding and clouding so we all got a little damp but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

3 thoughts on “The Silk Road: Day 1 Kumbum Monastery

  1. Thankyou for your latest blog Lisa x no I may be envious of your travel,but, I certainly do not begrudge you them. You have been through a lot of trauma lately and a severe lockdown so enjoy your travels. As always your blog is full of interesting facts and brilliant photographs. The temples are certainly different to the ones we saw in Thailand. I rather like the simplicity of these and I am sure Buddha would approve of the simpler style and devotion. The butter statues sounded fascinating and begs the question who first found out you could model yak butter! Keep up your informative and well written blogs. You are my favourite travel writer x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. i suppose like in other countries you find uses for the things that are in plentiful supply. Unlike the west where everything can be made of the dreaded plastic.

    Liked by 1 person

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