Day 1. Arrive at Chengdu / Gurgo
Upon arrival, drive 240km along the Zumg-chu (Minjiang), one of the main tributaries of the Yangtze River to Gurgo Valley. Overnight Hot Spring Hotel or other similar hotels **
Drive 240km to Ngawa (Chi: Aba Alt: 3200m), we will cross two passes, the first with an elevation of 4000m and second 3700m where you will have great views to look far into the distance. In Tibetan Ngawa means: Men who beat drums. The old people explain Ngawa is the first place where the King Songtsen Gampo conferred and awarded the title to warriors during the 7th century. For centuries, Ngawa is one of the largest nomadic areas in Eastern Tibet. As one of the important Tibetan cities in Amdo and the central of Tibetan culture, religion, trade and communication, you will have a strong feeling of atmosphere of real Tibetan culture and life here. Especially during the festival time, as this area has not yet formally opened to foreigners for a long time, the strong local culture has less influenced from other nations till these days. The way of their celebrating the festivals is still keeping strong old traditional way during the New Year (Losar) time in different sects monasteries. Highlights to see are Jonangpa and Benpo monasteries’ activities including dresses of monks, masks dances and the way of pray as they all are rear to see in whole Tibet nowadays. Overnight Jingu Hotel. ** Good rooms with facilities and heating, but I will inform you a new better and warmer hotel when I will be confirmed.
We drive 2km to Kirti Gonpa, the largest Gelukpa monastery in Ngawa, built in 1472 by one of disciples of Tsongkhapa and it has about more than 1000 monks now. At 9:00am, about 3000 monks pray together in Assembly Hall, some monks come from other monasteries nearby. The very low and high tones from their chanting fill the air and seams to purify everything. Can easily make your brain empty and make your body blood circulation smoothly. At about 9:40pm, a ceremony for Sunning the Buddha begins and a big Tangkha of Tsongkhapa displays in front of Assembly Hall in a quite different way from other Gelukpa monasteries in Amdo area. The Sunning the Buddha (Tib: Khakhl) first held in 1468 by the first Dalai Lama, Gendun Drub (1391—1474). At beginning the size of the Tangkha was smaller and after 4th Panchen Lama, Lobzang Chokyi Gyeltsen (1567—1662), the size changed to bigger and bigger till present size. In Ngawa many ceremonies during the New Year Festivals (Tib: Losar) are still held in old traditional ways. After lunch we drive 3km to one of the oldest and few sect Jonangpa Setenling Gonpa to see a very different ceremonies of Sunning the Buddha and Turning the Buddha. Jonangpa or Jonang Sect was first founded in the middle of 13th century, till 14th century, this sect became one of the strangest religion in Tibet and spread to Amdo at that time. During 17th century, the fifth Dalai Lama changed most Jonangpa monasteries to Gelukpa, and only few were left in remote area, such as in Zamtang, Pema and Ngawa. After Jonangpa monastery festival, we drive back to Kirti Gonpa to see a heated Knowledgeable Debating by monks in front of thousands of nomadic people. Then to see a competition of feats of strength by the fighting monks (Dobdo). Usually this activity is held by the monks, but at this monastery it has been held by the local people for the last couple years.
At 9:30 am, first we see a guard of honor of 70 nomadic men with their own decorated horses who were selected from a tribe, which gives majority donation to the monastery this year. All men are strong and well dressed with countless and colorful jewelries decorated. After one hour, Masks Dance by monks starts accompanying strong monastic music. The dance is quite different from other monasteries we see in Repkong. The mask dance starts at 10:30 am and runs till 6 pm. The fire prayer (Trogyak) starts at 4 pm. If you like you also can go to see the mask dance in Gomar Monastery which is located 20 km north of Ngawa (town) and is also a very important branch of Kerti Monastery. Stay in same hotel.
Drive to Nangshuk (Narshi) Monastery, the largest Bon monastery in Tibet. It is a branch monastery of Mingling in Western Tibet. There are 800 monks living there. They practice both Bon Tantra and Sutra. You can also visit the Bon College and Hospital in the monastery. In the morning, you can see the circling dance, which is an unusual festival in Tibet. All the monks walk around the temple playing religious musical instruments. After the festival you will have time to visit Tokden Monastery (Bon) which is located east of Nangshuk Monastery. The whole monastery has been rebuilt recently. The monastery also has a mask dance ten days before the Nangshuk Festival. On the way to the hotel you can visit some of the local Tibetan families and wonderful wooden houses. Stay in the same hotel.
Drive to Nangshuk Monastery at 8am. The local people burn incense offering in front of the protector temple. This is one of the most important and highlights parts of the festival to see in Nangshuk. After the incense offering, all the local people walk to the monastery with horses and very fancy dresses. More than tree hundred herdsmen walk slowly to the crows, they hold different color flags and decorated horses. Wearing traditional typical nomadic chubas and hats, piling with jewelers on each one’s body. They symbolize the treasures and backbones of Tibetan people in Amdo. In old days, they were selected from sharpshooters. They all appear bold and powerful manner with inflexible will. Usually the mask dance starts around 10 am till 4 pm. normally there some differences between the Buddhist masks and the Bon masks as far as visual appearance, but the meaning behind Bon & Buddhist mask dances can be very different. About 4 pm after the last ceremony, we drive 75km to Jiuzhi. Overnight Juizhi Nianbo Hotel.
We drive for 385km via Dalag to Machen (Alt:3800m) in Tibetan means: The highest mountain of the Yellow River. The county is the homeland of the Tibetan Golok people, another strong tribe of Tibetan. The Golok means: Marching strait ahead and never turn back your head. If you want to have an experience of a real wild area, today’s driving will make you satisfactory, we will pass over at least three big mountain passes with altitude over 4200 meters, decorated with different colored pray flags. You will meet many typical Golok nomadic people on the way, they are strong and nice, and every aged people’s charming face just like world classics and it is who, the nomadic people live nearest to the nature for thousands of years and accumulated rich knowledge about life which also full of various romantic stories. We believe that because of their clean minds with kind hearts, most of their bodies remain much more instinct feelings to receive the positive energy from the nature and helpful waves from the monasteries. We will also visit one or two old monasteries on the way. Overnight Snow Mountain Hotel or other better Hotel, sometime no hot water for shower. **
Drive 412km to Xining. Another wonderful day for picturesque landscape while we drive: grassland with yaks and sheep and Snow Mountains, maybe we could see few nomadic black and white tents at this season, but more and more of them live in houses in Winter time now. Along the Yellow River valley we will experience the red and Blue Mountains and forestry. This part of driving concentrates many futures of Amdo, the scenery is fantastic changeable geographically at every short distance. Overnight 4 star Qinghai Hotel or other similar hotels.
Fly to Guangzhou or other cities. But the flights to Guangzhou only on (Mon.Wen.Fri.Sun.) in a week, please let me know your idea.
Please note: Maybe I suggest to stay one night in Guide on March 7th from Machen as that day is too long driving and less time for photos on the way. On 8th March we drive 170 km to Xining, after lunch we drive for 30km to visit Kumbum monastery (I think you never been there), overnight Xining and next day Friday, March 9, you fly from Xining to Guangzhou. Or if you have time you can take train to Lhasa.