We are staying at the lovely Yinlong Hotel, the most expensive hotel on our trip so far, including Beijing – 1678 RMB per night for a suite. Most hotels on our travels west of Xi’an have been in the range of 400 RMB to 700 RMB, so this is quite a splurge! I view it as paying it forwards for the minimal accommodations surely to come, as we go further west, into Xinjiang Province. Today, we are planning on visiting Ta’er Monastery, the Taoist North Monastery and possibly the Dongguan Giant Mosque, if we have enough time.
The weather remains quite cold and overcast, not sunny, and I’m also cold, despite wearing in layers my entire repertoire of clothing – 2 shirts, a sweater, jacket and windbreaker, tights and pants, and two pairs of socks!
We met Jason at 11am at the hotel, and then drove 27 km southwest to Kumbum (Ta’er Si) Monastery, a stunning and large complex of buildings, including temples, libraries, and learning centers, belonging to the Buddhist Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect. More than 40,000 Tibetan herdsmen and their families live between Xining and Tianzhu, and we see some of the many who make annual pilgrimages to Kumbum. Some do it by prostrating themselves along the roads leading to the Monastery…their devotion is just as stunning as the buildings we see.
The spiritual art on view in Ta’er Si is indescribable – Amazing, breathtaking paintings, frescoes, embroidery, weaving, thankas, and architecture, including priceless scrolls, and world famous yak butter sculptures. The very elaborate yak butter sculptures are actually destroyed every year and made anew during a festival that many monks from around the region attend, but you would never guess they are impermanent by looking at the intricate details, gestures and coloring of each figure…and these butter sculptures fill two huge exhibition cases taking up the entire floor space of one of the buildings!
It was so cold today it actually began to snow while we were there!!! It’s hard to remember that we are on the verge of summer, and that we will soon be baking in the desert heat of Xinjiang Province!
We stayed in Ta’er Si until about 3:30pm, while Jason and our driver had some van repairs done, then drove back into Xining for a late lunch. After lunch at 5pm, we drove over to the North Temple for a quick look, just as they were closing the main doors for the day, then went back to the CBD. We shopped in two malls and bought warm jackets and hats for the freezing temperatures, (they will also come in handy when we get to Tibet) then had dinner walked back to the hotel. We made plans to start tomorrow at 10am, with a trip back to the North Temple, then to drive on to Zhangye.