For two years I have heard the word “Labrang” dropped.  I’ve heard descriptions of its beauty, its vastness.  I’ve heard my family in Dharamsala repeatedly, like a mantra, say “Labrang: this is my home.”  Until recently, Labrang was just a dream somewhere in Western China.  I had Google Map images implanted on my mind, I had no concept of its accessibility, nor of its tradition or history.  Now it is a place that I have witnessed.

I arrived in warm sunlight after seven hours nudged between Tibetan women and their children who fell into my lap with the jolting of the bus.  We had traveled passed Buddhist holy sites painted on cliff faces and decorated with the blues, reds, greens, yellows, whites of prayer flags.  We had crossed over half frozen rivers, petrified waterfalls that, coupled with the braided hair and chuba adorned men and women beside me, made it seem that time itself had stopped.  And finally, after countless mountain passes, we started to hear the other passengers call out, “Xiahe!” “Labrang!” and we knew we had arrived.

Labrang is one of the largest Tibetan monasteries still in function in Western China.  Located in the city of Xiahe, it is nestled between small barren mountains and a river winds through the southern edge of the city.  The day I arrived, it seemed the place glowed gold and red.  Monks walked along the dusty streets and dotted the earthen city with their maroon robes.  The red and white painted monasteries stood proud under their shining gold roofs, and the Tibetan curtains hanging from the windows billowed lightly in the quiet wind.

And the city bustled.  Pilgrims, with long grey braids and small prayer wheels in their wrinkled, left hands, circumambulated the monastery grounds and turned the larger stationary prayer wheels so that their squeak was heard at the other end of the town.  The pilgrims shuffled, they prostrated, they mumbled their mantras in rhythm with their heavy step. And I knew it was Labrang I had made this journey for.

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