September 5, 2019
Distance covered: 185 kms
Unlike most of the hotels during this trip, our hotel in Labrang included breakfast. It was a simple, Chinese-style, buffet breakfast served by an external caterer in the hotel lobby. It was fun eating breakfast like that; it felt more like eating at home with a big family than having a formal breakfast in a hotel. We were not in a hurry, as that day’s schedule included a relatively short drive.
The first site was only a couple of minutes away from the hotel: the Sangke Grasslands, that look more like wetlands. It was good for a few pictures and then we set out to our morning destination. This is as good a place as ever in this blog to post a photo of yaks blocking the road. It happened almost every day during this trip.
Milarepa Buddhist Pavilion
I had seen many Buddhist temples and monasteries before this trip, but this my first pavilion. Although it is called pavilion, this type is much larger than what most Westerners think of when reading the word ‘pavilion. The one in Hezuo is exceptionally large, consisting of nine stories. It is dedicated to Milarepa, a murderer turned accomplished Buddhist and a central figure in Tibetan Buddhism. Some of us, including myself, climbed the entire nine stories. You have to leave your shoes behind downstairs, though. There are numerous statues and tankas on each floor. Even a Buddhist scholar can easily spend an entire day there.
Town = monastery = town
We reached Langmusi in the early afternoon. Readers who know some Chinese may recognize that the name of this town sounds like a monastery. That is correct. In fact, the name of the town is that of the Lhamo Monastery. Later, we noticed that many typical tourist shops were operated by lamas. The hotel manager told us that, if you want to open a restaurant, souvenir shop, or other business catering to tourists, you officially need a business license from the Chamber of Commerce, but unofficially also need consent of the abbot of the monastery.
The Yongxing Hotel (永兴宾馆) looked a bit shabby at first sight, but proved slightly better than that in Labrang, although it also lacked a lift. We had to carry suitcases upstairs once more. However, the rooms were quite spacious, equipped with everything you would expect to find in a hotel.
Recommended by Lonely Planet
Checked in, our group followed the regular routine: most members stayed in their rooms resting, while my wife and I went out for a stroll. One of our silent hope was to find a place to drink coffee. That quest was honoured within ten minutes, when we read a sign, in Chinese and English: ‘Black Tent Café – recommended by Lonely Planet’. We had decent coffee and shared a tiramisu cheesecake.
After the coffee, we walked back to our hotel. We had agreed to visit the monastery together later that afternoon.
One temple in two provinces
There are actually two Monasteries in Langmusi, one in Gansu and one in Sichuan Province. The provincial border runs right through the town. That afternoon, we visited the Gansu one. It is not the most beautiful monastery there is to see in the region, but it includes an academy and we could watch a group of lamas practicing chanting; always impressive.
It started raining later in the afternoon and we venture back to the town without having seen the entire complex. Lamas may not eat meat and dress simply, but most of the seem to own mobile phones, which proves handy when waiting for the rain to stop.
However, I had another reason to go back in time. While walking to the monastery, I saw a sign saying: ‘Muslim Quarter’, indicating that the local authorities regard this as something that may interest visitors. When we had almost reached that sign, we heard a loadspeaker broadcast by the Imam announcing the next prayers. The mosque at Langmusi is a traditional Chinese one, combining Chinese and Central Asian architecture. The inside is like all mosques all over the world.
It seems as if the ‘Muslim Quarter’ mainly consists of the mosque and a Muslim hotel. Still, it was interesting to see such a peaceful coexistence between Buddhism and Islam.
We had a rather mediocre dinner in a local restaurant and then split up again. That evening, one other member of our traveling group joined us for coffee in another place. Two coffee places in such a small town indicates that they must have (had) more foreign travelers at some time.