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Old Monasteries with Nyingmapa and Kumbum Festivals in Amdo

Day 1.
Arrive at Beijing. Overnight Jianguo Hotel

Day 2. --Beijing / Drotsang (Ledu)
Arrival in Beijing in the morning. Meeting of our tour-guide in Beijing and fly to Lanzhou or Xining depending on the flight timetable in May 2006. If we fly to Xining, we only drive 40km from the airport to Drotsang County, and 170km from Lanzhou airport to Drotsang (Ledu) county. Overnight Ledu Hotel ***

Day 3. --Drotsang (Ledu) / Gonlung (Huzhu)
Drive 25km to Qutan Si (Drotsang Gonpa). In Tibetan Drotsang means granary, local people call it "Lakhang on" meaning a place where is in a Buddhist temple. Before 1958, the whole county had 31 monasteries for local Tibetan, Mongolia and Tu People with total population more than 30,000, now there are about 17 monasteries are left. The most famous one is Drotsang monastery built in 1392. The original images and unique murals around the monastery wall are exciting to see. Now it has 40 monks. Then we drive 96km to Youning Si (Gonlung Jampaling). Built in 1604, now housing 400 monks. The third Dalai Lama came here to give lectures of Buddhism in 1584 and requested by the local people to build a monastery. The Fourth Dalai Lama, a Great Mongolian, passed here on the way from Mongolia to Lhasa in 1602. Then he sent a living Buddha from Lhasa to build a temple. Before 1958 the monastery used have more than 7000 monks. The monastery was specially built for the local Tu people, a very rare and small nationality who honors their tribe is descendant of Mongolia army settled here since 13th century, the Tu women wearing distinctly colorful striped dresses can be seen in villages and speak their own language but has no written language.
Finally we drive 25km to Huzhu County for overnight, Huzhu Hotel **

Day 4. --Gonlung (Huzhu) - Kamalok (Minhe) Drive 180km to Semnyi monastery (Xianmi Si). In 1584, the third Dalai Lama came this holy place to conduct and spread Buddhism, he suggested to build a monastery for the people. In 1623, a monk Lhari Khanqen. Tsedantundrok from Yerpa Gonpa near Lhasa made a special trip to come here to built Semnyi monastery. After that, it was once became the biggest Gelukpa monastery at north area of Kokonor and had a strong power to handle the local religion and administration affairs. But it was burned by Manchu army during Qing dynasty in 1724 and was rebuilt in 1725 by local five Tibetan tribes. Before 1958, the monastery had more than 160 monks, now it has 35 monks. Then we drive further to the east about 86km to Choten Thang located in Pari County bordering with Gansu province. The monastery of Chorten Tang was originally a Bon monastery constructed during the period of 806-820 AD. During the 11th century, a Tibetan tribe the Amdowa conquered the region. Until the 13th century, when Sakya Pandita passed through en route for Mongolia, the Sakya monastery of Chorten Tang was built upon the earlier Bon foundation. Later still, when visited by Karmapa 4 Rolpei Dorje in 1360, the monastery was converted to the Karma Kagyu School, and following its destruction by Mongol tribes; it finally resurfaced as a Gelukpa monastery. After visit, we drive 136km to Kamalok (Minhe). Overnight Minhe Hotel **

Day 5. . --Kamalok (Minhe) / Xiahe (Labrang)
We drive 110 km to an old monastery Ya si (Tib: Ushidrag Ling), located in a beautiful valley by the Yellow River, the monastery was first built in 1374. There are two parts of the monastery lying about one kilometer from each other, the more interesting temple part clinging to the cliff about half way up the mountain. It is a cluster of buildings that from afar look like a huge hall of six stores. The third floor is taken up by assembly hall, while the fourth serves the tulkus as residence, with lesser temples on the fifth and sixth. In 1949, the temples were taken care of by 95 monks; in 1956, 77 monks; today there are just about a dozen. Then we drive 200km via Linxia to Labrang (Alt: 2980m) Overnight Overseas Hotel ***

Day 6. . --Labrang
We visit Labrang Monastery in the morning. Built in 1709, now it has 1000 monks. It is one of the six most important Gelukpa (the Yellow Sect) monasteries in whole Tibet and a center of Tibetan learning in Eastern Tibet. Our Tibetan guide will show us the impressive interior of the Assembly hall and other temples. We will be introduced to the Buddha images and numerous protective deities. The importance of textiles on the interiors and exteriors of the monasteries will be brought home to us. Exploring the Tibetan antique shops as well as the shops providing for the needs of monks and the monastery. One finds for sale religious Tangkhas, Buddha statues, prayer flags, a range of monks clothing, rolls of cloth, hand-printed sutras as well as a nomadic jewelers. Many of the shopkeepers are Muslims; know locally as Hui Hui, so bargaining is the order of the day. We can also find many Tibetan nomads who come here for pilgrimage and after their religious practice they buy textiles for their clothing and jewelers along numerous Tibetan shops. Overnight Overseas Hotel. ***

Day 7. . --Labrang / Tongren (Rebkong)
After breakfast, we drive 130km about 4 hours to Repkong (Alt: 2400m). On the way, we pass grassland, forestry, agricultural land and beautiful Red Mountain valley.
In the afternoon, we visit the famous Tibetan art school, Sengeshong Magotsang which was funded during the 15th century and after 16th century Repkong became the hometown of Tibetan art in Amdo. All monks here have good training of painting and sculptures and are often invited to make fine art works in many monasteries or private houses by Tibetan in whole Tibet even nowadays. We will visit some of monks' houses. We also visit the local Museum. Overnight Huangnan Hotel ***

Day 8. --Tongren
In the morning we visit the Longwu (Tib: Rongpo Gonchen) Monastery, an important and the local biggest monastery, built in 1301. At beginning it was Sakyapa monastery, after 17th century, the 5th Daly Lama changed it into Gelukpa and once was the political and administration center in Repkong area. Now it has 450 monks. In the afternoon we visit Gomar monastery built in 1741 and now it has 160 monks inhabited. This small but beautiful monastery is famous for its colorful 7-storey Astronomy (Tib: Dhekor; Sanskrit: Kalachakra) stupa, mainly used for monks to realize and understand time and space to work out every year's new Tibetan calendar and relationship between our globe with universe. The monks and the village people are also renowned for their handcraft application.

Day 9. --Tongren / Chabcha (Gonghe)
Drive 290km to Gonghe (Chabcha) via Laji (Lhamori) and Sun and Moon (Nyima Dawa La) Mountains. A long day driving from Amdo agriculture area to the wild grassland, during the driving the beautiful landscape seams changeable at every minute. It is true that for too long East-Tibet has been a far off place shrouded in mystery that only few foreigners know the area instead of Central Tibet. But the factor is several famous and longer Rivers Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong start from here and it is hard to imagine for those who have never been here, how much beauty are added to this holy and mountainous land by their countless tributaries. Only at this time, I feel it is so hard for me to describe the beauty in my limited languages. And another factor is that we call it a holly place because the present Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama 10 and the great master, Gelukpa founder Tsongkhapa were all born in this region where are included in this itinerary you are going to see. Before our destination of today, we pass the biggest holy lake in Tibet and largest salt lake in China, Kokonor. Covering an area of 4581 Square KM, four times bigger as Hong Kong, she looks just like ocean. In May of 1578, exactly at east shore of Lake Kokonor, King of the Mongols, Altan Qan first gave the title Dalai Lama 3 to Sonam Gyatso, since then the Living Buddha system of Gelukpa started. Overnight Hainan Hotel **

Day 10. --Gonghe / Xia Dawu (Tawo Zholma)
Drive 220km to Xia Dawu (Tawo Zholma), a beautiful Golok nomadic grassland where the north base of starting trekking around Mount Amnye Machen (6282m). It is a most holy mountain and has an important place with a strong feeling in all Tibetan and Mongolia's heart in Eastern Tibet. Camping

Day 11. --Xia Dawu - Amnye Machen
Today we visit Nyingmapa Guri Gompa on the way, a branch of Dzogchen and Dodrub Chode of the Nyingmapa School, was formally built in 1952, before it was an old tent monastery. We will do some easy Trekking along pilgrim's paths when you find fantastic views. I suggest starting trekking after the Drakdar Pass Alt: 4700m (Zhihede), the second highest pass around the Amnye Machen Khore, viewing the scenery of Weigele Glacier at average altitude: 4,450 m. We will choose a lower and nice place for camping. To our favorite, we will cook the best meal around the area: fresh boiled lamb and mutton noodle soup with potato and green vegetables, which will leave you a lifetime memory. Camping

Day 12. --Amnye Machen - Xueshan - Machen
Another easy trekking day and after Xueshan we drive 80km to Machen County. Amnye Machen is also the home of the sacred protector of the Gologs, Machen Pomra. It was suggested up to 1949 that the holy mountain was the higher, even than Everest, but the height was finally fixed during the 1960's at 6282m. . If it is a clear day we shall have a splendid view of this superb peak. Then we plan to visit an encampment of Tibetans and we have arranged to see various nomadic daily lives as well as having an opportunity to see the tents interior and perhaps eat yak yogurt with the nomads on the way. On our journey we will call in at a great assemblage of flying prayer flags that stretches over the mountainside. The site is sacred and we shall see local pilgrims walking round the flags with their prayer wheels turning. Local craftspeople carve rocks with the sacred words om ma ni padmi hom which translated means hale to the jewel of the lotus. One can buy these beautiful souvenirs from this deeply religious community.
Overnight Snow Mountain Hotel **

Day 13. --Machen / Henan
Drive 80km to Rakya (Rabgya) Monastery, which is located just at the Yellow River Bank, at foot of Mount Amnye Chunggo (Blue Garuda, a mythological bird normally depicted with an owl-like sharp beak, often holding a snake, and with large powerful wings.). From a distance, the mountain just looks like a huge eagle who protects the monastery. Rabgya monastery is an important branch of Sera monastery in Lhasa, founded at the advice of Dalai Lama 7 in 1769 by a Mongol from Kokonor named Arik Geshe. For centuries, this important monastery along the Yellow River emerged many great lamas and their books have given great achievements to the Tibetan Buddhism. Before 1958 the monastery had more than 1300 monks and now has 500. And we continue to drive 140km to visit a Nyingmapa monastery Hor Gompa (Terton Chogar) built in 1831. The monastery is famous for its 200 meters long Mani Wall that was honored as "the World Wonder of Stone Book". During early 1930s,more than 50 monks including artists started to build this wall, and finished whole construction in early 1950s. But some parts were destroyed in 1958 and "Culture Revolution". In resent years, supported from believers and even some funds from foreign volunteers, the wall has been rebuilt. In old days, this monastery was also well known for the religious opera enacting the life of King Songtsen Gampo who first united whole Tibet in 7th century. Then we drive 130km to Henan Mongolia Autonomous County with population 2,4000 of which 90 % is Mongolia. They came here during the 13th century and some of them emigrated from Gobi desert north of Amdo. Nurtured and fostered by one of the best quality grassland in Amdo, men are strong and handsome, women are beautiful, here produces the best sheep and horses in Tibet. Stay in Government Guesthouse*. Some time much noisy from the hotel bar from 9:00pm to 12:00 am. It is better for you to bring your earphone for earlier sleep.

Day 14. -- Henan / Jentsa
We drive for 230km to Jentsa where we will stay two nights. Once again it is a superb journey through beautiful scenery. We begin with to visit a small monastery Lakha Gonpa and Mongolia nomadic yurt. For thousands of years, Tibetans had assimilated them and they totally changed their language and costumes to Tibetan style, the only Mongolia tradition they maintain now is their yurt which is different from that of Tibetans. We will arrange time to chat about nomadic customs, lifestyle, textiles with people we are going to visit both Mongolia and Tibetan families en route. After 40km, we will drive in a typical nomadic area Tsekok. I think many of modern girls and boys' romantic hairstyles you find in those big cities were learned from this Wild West. Later we drive through a landscape dotted with villages inhabited by Tibetan and Muslim farmers who grow wheat, barley and rape, as well as fruit and vegetables. As the altitude is only 2000m, the place Jentsa we are going for overnight is considered as one of the best area for Tibetan agriculture along the Yellow River in Amdo. Overnight Lijiaxia Hydro Power Station Hotel**

Day 15. -- Achung Namdzong
It is an easy drive of 40km to Jentsa Achung Namdzong to visit an important Nyingmapa (Red sect) monastery, Sangak Tengyeling, built in 1814 and surrounded by beautiful red mountain peaks, a very quiet and holy place, including a biggest Nyingmapa nunnery, Samten Chopeling nearby housing 200 nuns, it is said it was built in 13th century. During the eighth century, Padmasambhava, a great Tantric master who first introduced Buddhism to Tibet, blessed his power to the Local Mountain God to be a local protector and spread deep knowledge of Buddhism and wisdom to the ground where since then became a strong magnetic field of Buddhism. Many Lamas and monks came here to study Buddhism and to meditate in some caves. Some of them made a great achievement to the Tibetan Buddhism and become famous masters. Such as Tsang Rabsel, Mar Shakyamuni, Yo-ge Jung and Lhalung Pelgyi Dorje. They preserved the monastic lineage and their disciples started the Later Diffusion of Buddhism in central Tibet after the King Langdarma's severe Movement of Persecution of Buddhism during the 9th century. Then we drive 40km back to Lijiaxia Hydro Power Station Hotel** for overnight.

Day 16. --Jentsa/Shyachung/Kumbum Monastery
The monastery Namdzong Sangak Tengyeling has another two branch monasteries separated in different cultivated mountain valleys nearby. They are Dorjia and Geiwa Erkhang monastery. Every year, monks of three monasteries work together to hold a big Nyingmapa festival in each monastery by turns. The festival is an impressive Masks Dance by Nyingmapa masters with their very old and unique traditional way, which is quite different performance from Gelukpa monasteries. It is one of the biggest local religion festivals during a year, so it attracts hundreds of local people for pilgrimage, but almost no any tourists to visit. In 2006, the festival will be rotated in Dorjia monastery located 45km away from the hotel. After festival, we drive for 70km to visit Shachong monastery (Jakhyung Shedrubling). This is one of the most historic and renowned Gelukpa monasteries of Amdo, founded in 1349 by Lama Dondrub Rinchen (1309-1385), the teacher of Tsongkhapa. Prior to the Gelukpa foundation, Karmapa 2, Karmapakshi in the 12th century, had built an earlier monastery on the same site. Later, following the Gelukpa foundation in 1409, the monastery was listed, along with Serkhok, Chubzang and Gonlung, as one of the four great monasteries of the north, a phrase used in Amdo to signify the oldest and most significant Gelukpa institutions of the region. It was here that Tsongkhapa became a monk to study Buddhism when he was seven years old, and studied until leaving Amdo for Lhasa at the age of 16 in 1372. Historically, several scholars had studied here and later became the teachers of Dalai Lama 7, 8, 9 and 10. The monastery once housed more than 3000 monks and now has 400 monks to study here. After visiting, we drive 97km to Kumbum monastery. Overnight Kumbum Tsongkha Hotel ***

Day 17. --Kumbum
Visit Monastery-Festival. We see the masks dance by lama artists, which happens only twice a year in Summer time. The performance starts at 1:00 PM and finishes at 4:00 PM. The Gelukpa (Yellow sect) founder Tsongkhapa was born here in 1357 and the third Dalai Lama built this monastery in 1560 in memory of this great master. It is one of the six important and famous Gelukpa high institute monasteries in whole Tibet. Two of Tsongkhapa important disciples became the Gelukpa ancestors of Living Buddha system, Dalai and Panchen Lama. The high level art works of its old frescos, appliqu¨¦s and butter sculptures are known as three wonders of the monastery and now it has 500 monks.

Day 18. -- Kumbum
To see whole procession of Sunning the Buddha, a big Tangkha 40m long 20m wide carried by monks to display on a mount slope for the Commemoration Day of Enlightenment of Buddha Shakyamuni. Meanwhile in front of the big Buddha monks and believers pray for good rain for crops and grassland in order to have a good harvester of the year. In the afternoon to see Masked Dance of Hayagriva (Horse Headed Protector King), then drive 35km to Xining. Overnight in Qinghai hotel****

Day 19. --Xining
Drive 60km to Taktser (Hongyacun) of Tsongkha Khar (Pingan) County to pay a visit of the birthplace of the present Dalai Lama 14. And we drive 40km to visit Shadzong monastery in Sanhe Township. Shadzong means a place where deer live in quite. In old days, it was a quite place hidden in a forest where attracted many Buddhists to be here for meditations. One of them was Tsongkhapa's teach Robe Dorje (1340-1383) and he held a ceremony for Tsongkhapa to be initiated into monk hood and became ordained as renunciation in this monastery when Tsongkhapa was only three years old in 1360. Overnight Qinghai Hotel ****

Day 20. --Xining / Beijing
Flight to Beijing. Transferring to Hotel. Free time. Overnight Jianguo Hotel ****



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