In the Tibetan area of Amdo, the Xiahe County, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu, the Labrang Monastery(བླ་བྲང་དགོན་པ།) houses the largest population of monks outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The site is a popular tourist destination and only a four-hour drive from the provincial capital of Lanzhou.
To Tibetan Buddhists this is one of the most important monasteries today and sits at a very strategic location between the two cultures of Mongolians and Tibetans. In the early years of the 20th century, it was the most influential and largest monastery in the Amdo region. It not only housed several thousand monks, but was also home to the largest Buddhist monastic university at the time.
First founded in 1709, through the centuries it has been near the center of many gruesome conflicts and changes in the political landscape. Many of these conflicts, which have continued well into the 1950’s and beyond, have left their mark on the monastery’s legacy. Between 1917 and 1949, several riots and attacks took place against Labrang Monastery from the Chinese Muslim Ma clique, who even occupied the monastery at one point.
The Assembly hall of the monastery was burned to the ground in early 1985, along with many of its religious and cultural artifacts. It was eventually replaced five years later with a new building.
Visiting Labrang Monastery
The monastery combines multiple architectural styles including traditional Indian Vihara and Tibetan styles, to create a beautiful and unique compound. The monastery is so large in fact, that you may need more than a day to see all it has to offer. The compound is made up of six learning institutes, a Sutra debate hall, eighteen separate halls and an abundance of Sutra housed here. Within the halls and Buddhist museum located inside, you can find a massive collection of Buddha statues, murals, and religious artifacts on display.
During certain times of the year you may come across one of the many Buddhist ceremonies held here and due to its significance and size, many Buddhist festivals are celebrated here with debates, praying and huge ceremonies.
There are several notable locations for visitors to see while in Labrang Monastery that have become popular with tourists over the years, including some new locations. The Thangka Sunning Terrace located on a hillside over a river, is a flat slope made of stone where you can get one of the best views of the Monastery and its surrounding landscape. During the Tibetan New Year, this is where the massive Thangka is unrolled for all to see.
Many visitors make sure to stop and view the beautifully colored prayer wheels inside. These are continuously spun by pilgrims hoping for rewards in the next life; many also visit the newly built Gongtang Chorten, with its golden top and beautiful views. The most popular stop however, is the Man Jus’ri Temple located towards the rear of the main courtyard. Many pilgrims stop near the yak butter sculptures to make offering and pray to the living Buddhas contained in the silver Chortens nearby. The Temple also houses many extravagant Buddha statues and artifacts along its walls and often time the monks chanting can be heard echoing through the halls.