Lanzhou & Xiahe – cultures crossing

Sunday 21 – Monday 22 September

We were introduced to Islam in China in Muslim Street in Xi’an. The Chinese-Islamic Golden Bazaar was full of glittery souvenirs and amazing food stalls. We ate dinner in a hole-in-the-wall cafe, cold noodles with pickles and lamb shasliks. We started to see some traditional Islamic dress still in the east of China.

So we were surprised that after a night on the train (approximately 600km) we arrived in Lanzhou to a very Muslim area, and we are still in Central China.

We started the day with a typical breakfast of noodles and beef. I really don’t mind traditional food most of the time, but I do cherish my fruit and yoghurt for breakfast.

Lanzhou is on the Yellow River, the second longest in China after the Yangzi. There we visited the White Pagoda Temple which was “under renovation” in time for the upcoming film festival. Supposedly built during the Yuan dynasty (1206-1308). It was early Sunday morning and the tourists hadn’t arrived but locals were practising Tai Chi, exercising and dancing.

We then saw one of the water wheels, used to irrigate corn fields. In 1952 there were 256 of them along the river in Lanzhou. They are massive, and like any simple engineering feat had me fascinated, picking up a bucketful of water and dumping it into a channel at the top of the wheel.

By the time we reached the statue representing the start of the Yellow River the tourists were out and about, taking it in turns to be photographed beside the mother of the Yellow River with her gender less child.

From Lanzhou we took a long drive to Xiahe in Tibet of 260km.

We made a lunch stop in LieXi once again in an Islamic run restaurant and had an amazing beef sweet and sour with green beans laced with garlic & chilli. The restaurant was made up of separate rooms. Tea was selected by our guide and included green tea, dates, apricots and Chinese herbs and berries. We were given handleless cups on saucers. They had lids, which you placed over the top of the cup to keep the tea leaves out of your mouth.

Our entry into Tibet was through the Tu Men Guan gate which represents the separation of the Han and Tibet people.

We arrived in Xiahe for our overnight stop. From there we drove to the Sangkok Grasslands to visit a Tibetan family in their summer camp. Most of the camp had already moved to the winter grasslands, driving their yaks and sheep about 100km overland. A journey of 5 to 7 days. These people entertain Chinese tourists who come in summer to escape the oppressive heat on the east coast. They can enjoy staying in tents, eating local food and watching Tibetan dancing.

We stayed in a typical Tibetan style hotel which had an internal light well which was richly decorated in colourful Tibetan style. Beds were hard and the shower was a light drizzle to match the weather, but we appreciated a warm bed between two overnight train journeys.

The principal reason for our visit to Xiahe was to visit the Labrang monastery of the yellow sect. This is one of the largest Buddhist sects in Tibet and this is the principal monastery with 6 teaching faculties including philosophy, medicine and art.

We were shown through some of the temples by an English speaking monk, who explained the importance of the religion to the Tibetan people in doing good deeds and respecting the living and dead.

We were also shown a museum containing gifts from other monasteries around the world including elephant tusks, weapons, gold clocks and richly decorated bowls and jugs. Another room contained decorated icons made from coloured yak butter. These can take several monks several days to create and are created each year in time for the Spring festival starting 13 January.

We were lucky to watch the 11:30 prayers where hundreds of monks and many Tibetans prayed. Offerings were made with a special wish which monks grouped together to include in the prayers.

We spent the rest of the day exploring Xiahe in the rain, with its tiny shops and stalls. There is one excellent coffee shop called Cafe Norden where we enjoyed coffee twice as a way of celebrating our 41st wedding anniversary.