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.