Thursday, September 29, 2005

Mongolia | Khovd Aimag | Bayanzurkh-Bulgan

After tea, fried bread, and yoghurt made from yaks’s milk with our hosts we set out to visit the Bayanzurkh Deer Stone and grave complex about half a mile away. The deer stones date from the late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age. Their exact significance is a matter of some dispute.
Deer Stones
According to a professor of history at Khovd College who I had spoken to on my previous visit to Khovd, the circle at the top of most deer stones may represent the sun, and the line of small circles the planets moving throught the sky. This is just one of several interpretations, however.
Detail of Deer Stone
In addition to the deer stones there are also a dozen or more graves, most probably dating from the Turk Era in the sixth and seventh centuries. The grave mounds are surrounded by either a circle of stones or a rectangle of stones with larger stones at each of the four corners.
Grave Mound
Baga Ulaan Davaa (Little Red Pass), which we had crossed the night before, is the main pass through the Mongol-Altai Range in Khovd Aimag. From Bayanzurkh there are two ways south to the town of Bulgan, near which we are supposed to met our camel men. One is straight south down the valley of the Bodonch River, which begins near Bayanzurkh and flows by the settlement. The other road veers to the west at Bayanzurkh and then crosses Ikh Ulaan Davaa (Big Red Pass) before turning south. Tseveenjav explains that most commercial traffic goes the Bodonch River route, but that the Ikh Ulaan Davaa route is most scenic. Also, he suspects that it will also soon be closed by snow. So he suggests he go to Bulgan via the latter road and come back via the Bodonch River.
Ikh Ulaan Davaa
Ikh Ulaan Davaa, at 9715 feet, is 6.5 mile west of Bayanzurkh. From here can be seen a sweeping view of the crest of the Mongol-Altai Range, the highest point of which is 14,311-foot Monkh Khairkhan Uul, the second highest mountain in Mongolia, after 14,350 Khuiten Uul in Bayan-Olgii Aimag, both of which I visited on previous trips to western Mongolia. (Oddly enough, I encountered famous European mountaineer Reinhold Messner at the base Monkh Khairkhan. He was apparently looking for almas, the Mongolian version of Big Foot.)

Crest of the Mongol-Altai Range

Khuiten Uul in Bayan-Olgii Aimag

Monkh Khairkhan Uul
From cold and windy Ikh Ulaan Davaa the road drops down to the headwaters of the Uyench River, which starts near the crest of the Mongol-Altai Range and eventually disappears into the gravel of the Zungarian Gobi near the area where we are headed by camel. From the headwaters the river descends into a gorge which eventually narrows out into a narrow valley. In contrast to the desiccated hills and mountains on either side the valley is one long oasis of grassy meadows and groves of cottonwood trees and thickets of willow and alders. At a spring called Ulaan Eregiin Rashaan we stop and built a fire for tea and lunch. Tseveenjav relates that the surrounding hills are full of ibexes, and that he often brings foreign hunters to camps here. He comments on how morose the hunters get when they are unable to bag an ibex and how elated they become if and when they finally shoot one, often hugging their Mongolian hunting guides. Why grown men should hug each other after killing an animal is unclear to me, but Tseveenjav allows that hard-core hunters are a strange breed. He also said that he personally has seen snow leopards in this area and that they are not as rare as a lot of people seem to think.

The valley of the Uyench River
Ulaan Eregiin Rashaan
Near the sum center of Uyench the mountains drop away and the valley opens into a wide expanse of desert steppe. A hydroelectric program under the direction of the Chinese is in progress, using the water from the Uyench River. When complete the plant will provide electricity for Uyench, Bulgan, and Altai sums. In the town of Uyench we have to stop at the Khovd Aimag Border Police Headquarters and get our border permits, which I had acquired from the headquarters in Ulaan Baatar, checked and signed by the local commander. We are informed that we will also have to sign in with each the border stations we pass along the way on our camel trip. This takes two hours. Finally we proceed on Bulgan.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Mongolia | Khovd Aimag | Khovd-Bayanzurkh

Having already made three trips to the central Gobi Desert—two camel trips in Bayankhongor Province (one on the Route of the 13th Dalai Lama) and a jeep trip through western Omnigov Province—I decided to do a camel trip in the so-called Zungarian Gobi in the western province of Khovd. I contacted Dr Terbish, a professor of biology at the National University of Mongolia who in addition to being an contributor to the Mongolian Red Book (a compendium of rare and endangered species), the author of several of his own books, and a panjandrum with Great Genghis Expeditions, is arguably the world’s leading authority on the zamba guvel, a rare lizard found only at select locations in the Gobi Desert, and he agreed to organize the trip through local contacts he had made while doing research in the Zungarian Gobi.

Thus on September 28, with a translator named Mash-Erdene (“Very Glorious”) in tow I boarded a AeroMongolia Fokker 50 for the 708 mile flight to Khovd City, capital of Khovd Aimag. This was the first time I had flown with AeroMongolia, a relatively new-comer in the airline business, and I found the new 50 seat prop plane a welcome change from the old chicken-crates-on-wings Russian planes previously used by MIAT Mongolian Airlines. Also, the weather was perfect; not so much as a bump in the entire two and a half hour flight. On the plane were ten or twelve people from other countries most of whom seemed to be on their way to Bayan-Olgii province further out west, where they were planning on visiting an exhibition of hunting eagles held by the local Kazakh people. As one man from Spain explained to me, all available flights to Olgii, the capital of Bayan-Olgii, were packed full, so he and his friends were flying to Khovd and hoped to continue on to Olgii by chartered jeep.

We were met at the airport by our jeep driver, a extremely well preserved 73 year-old man named Tseveenjav.

We barreled into Khovd City in his sixteen year old Russian jeep and made a quick stop at the big city market for some last minute shopping.

Main Street of Khovd
Khovd is famous for its vegetables and melons, and we were able to get carrots, cabbage, and potatoes for the ridiculously low price of 100 togrogs (about 8 cents) a kilo. At the market we met a woman in her forties who worked as a cook at a hunting camp in the Mongol-Altai Mountains and she asked if she could hitch a ride with us to Bayanzurkh, a small settlement in the mountains on the way to the town of Bulgan, our final destination. We had originally planned to camp out somewhere near Bayanzurkh so we agreed to take her along.

Another view of Khovd
We drove west from Khovd, then south, eventually crossing the crest of the Mongol-Altai Range at 9416 foot Baga Ulaan Davaa (Small Red Pass).

Ovoo at Baga Ulaan Davaa
Here our driver stopped and we circumambulated the ovoo at the pass while Tseveenjav made an offering of artz, incense made from the leaves of a kind of juniper plant common to Mongolia.

View of the Mongol-Altai Range from Baga Ulaan Davaa
By the time we arrived at Bayanzurkh, a tiny settlement of two or three buildings and half a dozen or so gers it was pitch dark; it was almost a new moon and even the sliver of moon was not to rise until after midnight. The woman we had given a ride to wanted to be left off at a ger here. Stepping out of the jeep we were confronted by gelid temperatures of 15 degrees F. and a relentless twenty-mile an hour wind. The thought of sending up tents and attempting to cook a meal under such conditions was daunting at best. We ducked into the ger for tea and the woman soon arranged with her friends for us to stay in their ger for the night and she herself agreed to cook us a meal on their stove. So we threw out our sleeping bags on the floor of the warm ger and settled in for the night.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

China | Beijing | Anige's White Pagoda

Back in the Big Dumpling I headed for the Maio Ying Temple and White Pagoda located in the western part of the city. The White Pagoda was built during the Yuan Dynasty, construction beginning in 1271 and ending in 1279. It was designed by the Nepalese artist Anige, who is thought to have had an influence on the artwork of Zanabazar, First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia. A huge monastery, one of the big projects Khubilai Khan initiated to mark his creation of the Yuan Dynasty, formally named in 1272, was built in front of the pagoda. This monastery was destroyed by fire near the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1368). In the first year of the Ming Dynasty the monastery was rebuilt and given the name Miao Ying Temple.

The Maio Ying Temple with the White Pagoda behind

The pagoda itself is 167 feet high. There are some indications that the stupa also commemorates a Kalachakra Initiation given to Khubilai and members of his court, but I am still trying to track down the details of this.

The White Pagoda

As mentioned Anige was from Nepal. He and twenty-four of his fellow Nepalese-Newari artists had been invited to the court of Khubilai by the Tibetan lama Phagspa, who had been appointed the “Imperial Preceptor,” or head of Buddhism, under Khubilai. Here Anige and his followers introduced to the Mongols a new Nepalese-inspired style of Tibetan Buddhist art. “The earliest Tibetan pantheon known to the Mongols, notes one art historian, ”was that of the Newari school, expressed in the artistic idiom of the Newari, or Belri style, as it was called in Tibet,” Anige eventually turned in his monk’s robes and became head of the Directorate-General of Artisans for the Mongol court. He himself made a statue of Mahakala for Khubilai and a golden Mahakala for Phagspa. Although quite famous in their time, both these works subsequently disappeared.

Indeed, few of the works of Anige and his school survived until Zanabazar’s time, and there is no direct evidence Zanabazar saw any of them, but art historians have noted the apparent influence of Anige’s aesthetic in the delicate detailing of the necklaces, armbands, bracelets, and other ornaments on Zanabazar’s Own Statues. In any case, the influence of Anige and his school continued on in Tibet up until at least the seventeenth century, when Zanabazar himself visited Lhasa, and the Newari artists he met there and perhaps brought back to Mongolia with him in his entourage would have been familiar with the style of art originally developed by the Newari artist.

The White Pagoda

The Zanabazar-style of stupa, which he may have developed on the model of Anige’s stupas, like the White Stupa in Beijing, are still being made today in Mongolia; for example the One Recently Built in Arkhangai on the site of the so-called Taliyn Khuree or Steppe Monastery

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

China | Gansu Province | Lanzhou #2

Left Xiahe at 7:30 in the morning for the long six-hour bus ride back to Lanzhou. I no sooner took my seat than the young Chinese woman who had sat next to me on the way here, who ended up in the room next to me at the Tara Guesthouse, and who I had seen several times doing the Khora, came on the bus and took the seat right behind me. She again flashed her 220-watt smile and again we could not communicate. She just sat in her seat quietly fingering her prayer beads. Perhaps she is part of a growing phenomenon: Chinese followers of Tibetan Buddhism.

Back in Lanzhou I quickly checked into a hotel and then headed back to Baita Park for another look at the stupa there. Today is brilliantly sunny, unlike the other day when I was there, when it was very overcast.

The Yellow River at Lanzhou

Foot bridge across the Yellow River. According to some sources this foot bridge is near the old Silk Road ford across the Yellow River used as long as 2000 years ago.

Crossing the Yellow River. The White Stupa is just visible in Baita Park on the horizon.

The 56 foot-high White Stupa supposedly built in memory of Sakya Pandita, and which may or may not be his tomb.

The next day I continued my peregrinations around Lanzhou. First I stopped by the statues of Xuanzang and the other characters from the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West located on the banks of the Yellow River. Xuanzang was of course a real person, one of the great travelers of all time, who went on a pilgrimage from Xian in China to India in the seventh century. It is believed that he crossed the Yellow River here at Lanzhou. Later he was immortalized as one of the main characters in the fictionalized Journey to the West. Although I have never consciously attempted to follow Xuanzang’s route I have crossed paths with him many times: at Bodhgaya and Nalanda in India, and at Turpan in Xinjiang.

Sandy and Xuanzang on their way to India

The immortal Pigsy, who gave up a live of dissipation to aid Xuanzang on his journey

Then I continued crosstown to Wuquan Park, passing on the way one of Lanzhou’s numerous mosques serving the large Moslem Hui population here.


Temples at Wuquan Park

Sixteen-foot high Buddha dating from the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1272-1368) in the Jingang Temple

Laughing Buddha in one of the courtyards at Wuquan Park

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

China | Gansu Province | Labrang Photos

Some more photos of Labrang:

The huge 140 pillar main assembly hall

Walkway around the courtyard in front of the main assembly hall

Door of the main assembly hall

The Grand Gold Tile Hall

Another Temple

Labrang, like Kumbum Monastery, is famous for its butter statues. This statue and decorations are made entirely of molded butter dyed different colors.

Another butter statue

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

China | Gansu Province | Labrang Monastery #2

That evening I did the Khora yet again. Just around dusk the only others were hardcore pilgrims and monks. Except for the young Chinese woman who had sat next to me on the bus and was now in the room next to me. She was also doing the Khora. She flashed me her 220-watt smile, but I had already determined that she did not speak a word of English so I did not try to pursue a conversation.

Some of the 1172 prayer wheels around the 1.9 mile-long Khora

I stopped again at the Gongtang Stupa for another look at the monastery from its top floor. The original version of this stupa was built in 1805 by the third Gongtangcang, a famous reincarnation and scholar who lived at Labrang at this time. The originally was totally destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Construction of this current version, funded by the government, Tibetan pilgrims, and overseas Chinese Buddhists, began in 1991 and was completed in 1993. The stupa has four floors and is 101 feet high.

View of the stupa from across the Daxia River

Entrance to the Stupa

The top of the Stupa

View of Labrang from the top of the stupa

The Khora around the northern, or backside of the monastery complex

The surprising lush landscape here at 9600 feet on the rim of the Tibetan plateau, at least compared with the desert-like conditions prevailing at Lanzhou, some 4600 feet lower.

View across Labrang from the Khora along the northern side

View across Labrang from the Khora along the northern side

Monday, September 05, 2005

China | Gansu Province | Labrang Monastery

Someone told me the best place to stay in Xiahe, the tiny village around the monastery, was the Tara Guesthouse, but they did not tell me how to find this place. No matter, the moment I got off the bus a young Tibetan guy came up to me and said, "Taxi to Tara Guesthouse?" The guesthouse turned out to be a half mile or so west and only a hundred feet from the southeast corner of the monastery. When I went in and asked for a room, a young, thin, Tibetan guy asked me what country I was from and when I said the USA he said, "Do you know Tara?" I thought he meant did I know about the goddess Tara who of course I have written about many times on this blog (see Zanabazar Museum post below). I said yes, I knew about Tara, to which he replied, "Well, she called from New York City this morning and told me I was to expect an American guest arriving this afternoon." For a moment I was confused. Was Tara now communicating with people via the international phone lines? Finally I asked, "What exactly is Tara doing in New York?" The guy replied, "She is there on business, but she will be back here in two or three weeks." It turns out the Tara is the name of the Tibetan woman who runs and apparently owns this guesthouse. I was not, as far as I know, the American she was expecting to arrive today.

Anyhow, the guesthouse has a dozen or so rooms arranged around an open courtyard. I got one of the deluxe rooms for 60 yuan, or about eight dollars, a night. This had a sleeping platform in it with two mattresses and a low table inbetween. Very comfortable. The bathroom was on the opposite side of courtyard, and there was hot water every morning from seven to nine for washing up.

I immediately headed for the Khora, the circumabulation route around the monastery, an entrance to which was just fifty feet from the front entrance to the questhouse. I have done a lot of these khoras and this turned out to be one of the most impressive I have ever seen. As I finally discovered, it is 1.9 miles long, encircling the entire monastery complex, and is lined on three side with barrel-sized prayer wheels. Every few hundred feet the line is broken by a small pavilion with two similar sized prayer wheels in the entranceway and an eight-foot high one in a back room. In total there are supposedly 1174 prayers wheels, although I did not try to count them myself.

Even now, at four in the afternoon, there are several hundred Tibetans doing the Khora, many in traditional clothes, with the women draped in elaborate silver, torquoise, and coral jewelry. From where I started the khora runs south and then west along the bank of the surging Daxia River, yellow like the Yellow River and about seventy-five feet wide at this point. Across the river rise steep hills covered with sparkling green grass and copses of fir trees, quite a different scene from the badlands around Lanzhou. At one point between the khora and the river are a row of workshops where artisans are turned out clay statues and wood carvings. One statue of Buddha, the lotus base and body up to the navel already completed, will be at least seven feet tall when done. Standing in the back of the workshop are four foot high statues of Green Tara and Amitayus, the clay work of which is done but as of yet not painted or glazed, or however they will be finished. The wood carvings are apparently ornaments for over doorways. The line of prayer wheels is broken here and there with entrances to several temples and each is decorated with quite eloborate wood carvings, all of obviously recent provenance.

One such entrance leads to the 31 meter high Gongtang Stupa. To enter the temple at the base of the stupa and climb to the top level requires a ten yuan ticket. In the temple a very surly Tibetan monk barked at me, demanding to see my ticket. He seemed surprised when I had one, in fact disapppointed, as if he was looking forward to showing me the door. Anyhow, I circled the very elaborate temple, in the middle of which are stacked in a huge pile reaching up into the second floor some 20,000 volumes of Tibetan Buddhist texts. At the back of the temple was a nice statue of White Tara and beside it an offering bowl where people had deposited a big pile of yuan bills. I got out a 20 togrog Mongolian bill and propped it up on one side of the offering plate. At a another plate further on I left another 20 togrog note. When I came back to this temple the next day the big piles of yuan were still there but both togrog bills are gone. This bills have a depiction of a Mongolian nobleman wearing a traditional Mongolian hat on them and of course Mongolian writing in both Cyrillic and Tradition Mongolian scripts and I knew from previous trips to Tibet that these bills were highly prized for their curiousity value. In fact I exchanged several of them for yuan at twenty or thirty times their actual value. Still, I was a bit surprized someone had filched them from the offering plates. This is no-no in a temple. But perhaps I should be blamed for creating the temptation.

I proceeded up through the second and third floors of the stupa and emerged on the top floor, where in the traditional niche in the stupa is a six foot high statue of Amitabha. Also from this vantage point is a great view of the entire monastery complex stretching out to the north, with the glittering copper roofs of the main temples at the base of the mountains about a half mile away.

Continuing on the khora I crossed the the main road of Xiahe, which cuts right through the middle of the monastery complex and proceed along the khora to the northwest corner of the compound, where the prayer wheels end. From here the khora cuts east between the northern wall of the monastery and the very steep hillside behind. After another twenty minutes or so I was back to where I started. Conveniently, the Gesar Restaurant was just across the way so I popped in for some butter tea and a plate of momos, Tibetan dumplings. I love Tibetan food, but I have to admit I have had a lot better. Also in the restaurant were six young Tibetan monks aged perhaps ten through twelve stuffing their noodle chutes while keeping their eyes glued on the Woody Woodpecker cartoons (dubbed in Chinese) playing on the TV.

I went back to my hotel only to discover that in the room next to me that the young Chinese woman who had sat next to me on the bus here. I had established very early that she did not speak a word of English, and she soon had her headphones of her MPEG player and was lost to the music, but I could not help staring at her several times. She appeared to be a Chinese version of a girl who had been in my class in high school. Actually, I had probably not thought of this person in thirty years, but now her double, or a least a Chinese version of her double, was sitting next to me. The resemblance was uncanny.

I got up just at daybreak the next day and did the whole khora again. Then breakfast of pancakes covered with local honey. This seems to be a big product around here. Curiously the trucks with the hives that we passed were headed to Xiahe and not to lower country as one would expect at this time of the year. Here at 9600 feet summer and the flowering season for plants is pretty much over. In any case, the honey was delicious.

After breakfast I headed over to the main part of the monastery. Labrang was founded in 1709 and quickly developed into one of the leading Gelug, or Yellow Hat monasteries. It had six colleges and in its heyday had over 4000 monks in residence. Of course the communist takeover of China and the subsequent Cultural Revolution took its toll, with many of the temples and stupas destroyed or damaged, but now once again Labrang is, at least according to its boosters, the largest university of Tibetan Buddhism in the world, with six colleges, forty-eight temples, 2000 monks, and over 20,000 volumes of sutras.

You can now walk around the monastery grounds pretty much as you wish, but unlike many Yellow Hat monasteries in Tibet the temples are all locked and are only opened to the public twice a day when a monk or two gives a guided tour lasting about an hour. Whether this situation prevails in the wintertime when Tibetans traditionally go on pilgrimages and flock to temples such as these is unclear. Anyhow, I joined a group of about thirty people, all of whom were in three different groups on extended tours of China, Labrang just being one of their stops. There was one group from France, one from Australia, and one from England. As far as I could tell none of them were Buddhists and for them this was just another tourist attraction on their itinerary. As it turned out, one of the Tibetan guides with one of the tour groups led the tour, and not a monk, as it was said his English was better.

We only got to look at three temples: the Medicine Buddha Temple, connected with the College of Tibetan Medicine, the so-called Grand Gold Tile Hall, and the huge Grand Sutra Hall, the center of the monastery. Curiously, in both the Gold Tile Hall and the Grand Sutra Hall there were prominently displayed photographs of the 14th Dalai Lama, something you will seldom if ever see in Tibet itself. There were of course photographs also of the last Panchen Lama and his young successor, the one chosen by the government and not the Dalai Lama's pick. The guide gave a brief introduction to the idea of reincarnated lamas and how they are chosen, and mentioned the line of reincarnated lamas here at Labrang. All of these seemed to be news to many in the tour groups, despite the plethora of books, TV specials, movies, and whatnot on this subject in recent years. Then in the Grand Sutra Hall there was another photo of the current Panchen Lama, just a boy in his teens, and the guide let slip that this one was chosen by the government. Someone in the tour group, who had obviously paying attention to his little spiel on how reincarnations are chosen, piped up, "But how can the government determine who is a reincarnation?" "Well, you see, now, this is a political decision," and very quickly shooed the group out of the hall." The Grand Sutra Hall, by the way, is immense, with 140 pillars and said to be capable of holding 4000 chanting monks at a time.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

China | Gansu Province | Xiahe

From Lanzhou I took the morning bus to Xiahe, the town connected with Labrang Monastery. From Lanzhou from Linxia there is a new four-lane highway complete with impressive bridges arching over deep valleys and one tunnel 2.4 miles long. Linxia itself seems to be inhabited almost entirely by Huis, Chinese Moslems. Almost every man in the city is wearing the distinctive white cap of the Hui Moslems, and most of the adult women are in black veils that frame but so not cover the face. There must be a dozen or more mosques in the city. Although the surrounding hills are dessicated and desert-like the broad river bottom seems incredibly fertile with impressive fields of corn, potatoes, sunflowers, and wheat. The wheat has been cut and is drying in shocks exactly like the ones made on American farms when I was a child. The streets of the city are lined with vegetable vendors, and whenever the bus stops people run up to the windows selling apples, huge plums, pears, grapes, and melons.

Past Linxia the four lane died and we entered a long period of road construction. Bizarrely, we got behind a huge tractor trailer truck loaded with bee hives. The truck itself was surrounded by millions of bees and we had to keep all our windows closed. We no sooner got by this truck than we got stuck behind yet another loaded with hives. After bumping along for several hours we emerged on a brand new two lane highway and sailed the last twenty miles into Xiahe.

Xiahe itself, located at 9600 feet altitude, is just one street and cannot, apart from monks, have a population of more than a thousand or two. Labrang Monastery, with several thousand monks in residence, is the big attraction here. Labrang is one of the six main monasteries of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism - four in Tibet and two in China. Now I have been to them all.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

China | Gansu Province | Lanzhou

From Beijing I winged west 800 miles to Lanzhou, in Gansu Province, the old Silk Road city at the eastern end of the Hexi Corridor, the narrow passageway between the inhospitable deserts to the north and the impassable mountains to the south. Lanzhou is now a city of over three million, stretched out in a narrow ribbion for at least twenty miles in the narrow valley of the Yellow River.

The airport is forty-five miles from town, apparently since there is no flat space nearer. The country from the airport to town is barren, dessicated hills, looking in some places like the Badlands of South Dakota.

As soon as I got to town I headed for Baita Park, on the other side of the Yellow River, which actually is yellow. According to published sources, each square meter of water contains seventy pounds of silt. A half hour climb up the steep hills rising almost from the river bank brought me to the so-called White Stupa. The reason for this trip was to if possible discover if this stupa is the tomb of Sakya Pandita, the thirteenth century Tibetan lama who was instrumental in first introducing Buddhism to Mongolians. My guidebooks says the stupa "may" have been erected on the orders of Chingis Khan to honor a Tibetan lama who had impressed him for one reason or another. This is highly unlikely, since it was Chingis's grandson Kodan who first invited Tibetan lamas to Lanzhou and was apparently converted to Buddhism by them.

Sakya Pandita did die in Lanzhou and was buried in a stupa here, but it is still unclear if it is the White Stupa now found on the top of one of the hills in Baita Park. Some sources say this stupa in fact dates from the Ming Dynasty. In fact, the bottom half of the stupa is built in the traditional Tibetan style, while the top half of the seventeen meter high structure is in the form of a Chinese pagoda. This suggests that the Tibetan stupa existed first, built during the Mongol period, and the that the Chinese pagoda top was added later, perhaps during the Ming Dynasty. There seems to be no tourist literature about this in English, and I cannot find any scholarly references either. So it remains uncertain if in fact Sakya Pandita is buried here.

I spent two more days tramping around Lanzhou looking at all remaining historical sites and did not see another identifiable foreigner the whole time. Even Western franchizes are in short suppy here: all I saw was a half dozen or so Colonel Sander's Fried Chicken outlets and a supposedly authorized Apple dealer selling iPods.