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Xining: A Snowball Fight at Kumbum Monastery

by Margaux Schreurs   - Aug 5, 2015


While visiting Xining (Xīníng; 西宁), my first day was spent at Youning Temple (Yòuníng Sì; 佑宁寺), about two hours away from the city. My second day was spent enjoying the sites closer to the city.

Firstly, I went to check out the Qinghai Provincial Museum (Qīnghǎishěng Bówùguǎn; 青海省博物馆), which was only a short bus ride away from my hostel, and had some interesting exhibits. Although the bus driver was a little bit shocked to have a foreigner on his bus, he was eager to help me get to the museum.

The museum itself is not the most impressive sight in the city, but there are some interesting artifacts from the Han Dynasty until present times inside the building. Most impressively, there was a huge collection of porcelain vases and plates from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Because the region is full of different ethnic minorities, there are a lot of ethnic minority artifacts that really paint a picture of how diverse this part of China is.

On top of that, the park next to it is an expanse of playing children, relaxing grandparents, and there are some people selling drinks and snacks too. As part of my reason for leaving Beijing and flying out to Xining was to relax, I was happy to sit in the park and read a book for a little while out in the open after spending about an hour wandering around the museum.

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People relaxing at the park


After the museum, I headed over to Kumbum Monastery (known as Ta’er Temple in Chinese 塔尔寺; Tǎ’ěr Sì), one of the top religious sights in the city and also ranked as second most important only to Lhasa in terms of Tibetan Buddhism. This monastery is about 27 kilometers from Xining’s city center, and takes about an hour to get to by public (bumpy) bus.

I had read online that Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism’s mother built a small temple on the side of his birthplace in the 1360s. It slowly grew into a more important site, until Altan Khan of the Mongolians invited the third Dalai Lama to bring Buddhism to Mongolia.

On his way to meet him near Qinghai Lake (Qīnghǎi Hú; 青海湖), the third Dalai Lama stopped at the retreat by the tree that Tsongkhapa’s mother had planted over two hundred years previously. He requested for a larger monastery to be built at the site, which was done in 1583. The name, Kumbum, means Jampa Ling.

To get to Kumbum, I took a local bus - 公交专1  - from Xining Railway Station (Xīníng Huǒchēzhàn; 西宁火车站) towards Huangzhongta Stop (Huángzhōngtǎ Zhàn; 湟中塔站). From the final stop on this bus, the monastery wasn’t far on a slanted slope. As soon as I got off the bus, it started snowing slightly which only added to the amazing atmosphere; it wasn’t busy at all as there were few tourists here at the time.

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Kumbum Monastery from the ticket office

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The buildings of Kumbum Monastry flow around the hill


At the monastery itself, it is easy to wander around and get lost for the entire day. It was a good thing that I got up early, as otherwise it would’ve been hard to fit all this into my schedule. Especially since I really wanted to check out the museum beforehand.

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Kumbum Monastry in the snow

The snow, which we don’t get much of in Beijing, really made the visit very special. After an hour of wandering around the monastery quite a bit of snow had collected on the floor making for some picturesque sights.

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Kumbum Monastry in the snow

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Kumbum Monastry in the snow

At the moment, there are about 400 monks live in the monastery, compared to an impressive 3,600 in 1958. Most of these are at the debate college, which is also the most impressive thing I witnessed while there; the debate of the Lamas. The Lama will stand in front of his seated teacher, and the student will pose a difficult question from the Buddhist sutras. While raising the question, the monk clapped his hands until his teacher answers the question in a few words.

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Kumbum Monastry in the snow

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Kumbum Monastry in the snow

There are also a lot of really young monks living there, as I discovered when a spontaneous snowball fight erupted in one of the residential areas of the monastery! It was amazing to witness this, and the young monks were pretty keen for me to get involved so after snapping a few photos I put my camera safely away and decided to get involved. It was great. Some of the older monks also got involved, until it grew into a huge spectacle! Unfortunately there wasn’t that much snow and it eventually stopped snowing.

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The younger monks enjoying a snowball fights at Kumbum Monastery

Once the monastery shut at five, I got the bus back to the railway station (there were a bunch of buses waiting at the bottom of the hill) and then got a taxi back to the hostel. Traveling there was really easy, and the monastery is definitely worth a visit for anyone spending time in Xining. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit the famous Qinghai Lake, but I’ll just have to go back to Qinghai Province and travel further outside Xining next time!

 


About Writer   

Margaux_Schreurs.JPGMargaux Schreurs is a translator, editor and writer living in Beijing. She was born in the Netherlands, and became interested in China and Chinese culture after her first Chinese language class while living in Singapore. She holds an MSc in the anthropology of China from the London School of Economics, and since then has written for several publications throughout the world about her travels and about current affairs, in print and digital media.
 

 

 
 

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