Xiahe Labrang Monastery
I left Beijing in perhaps the most stressful way possible. I was a crabby-pants because I had said goodbye to my parents that morning, I got to the train station far later then I should have and it was an insane chaotic scene of crowds and I just barely got to my train on time. I went to sleep almost immediately and woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the rice paddies on Shaanxi. I took a bus from Lanzhou to Xiahe, I knew I was in a different world, with mosques and Tibetan stupas rising out of every village we passed. The rolling hills grew into solid mountains and multi-colored prayer flags could be glimpsed on peaks. Xiahe is in China, but as it is historically Tibetan and largely populated by minorities.. It is apart of a autonomous prefecture which means the laws are a bit different. The area was actually closed to foreigners until 2008 and could close again at any point.
My bus arrived at Xiahe in late afternoon and at the beginning of a rain storm, but I still grabbed my rain coat and ran over to glimpse the monastery and to have my first chance to explore a Tibetan area. Labrang Monastery was once home to 4000 monks, those numbers were drastically and brutally reduced in past years but it has been in the process of rebuilding and is now home to 1800 monks. The small town is filled with monks, pilgrims, Tibetans, muslims, Chinese tourists, and travelers.