Photo of the week: The Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海: Yibin 宜宾 Sichuan Province

Coming next: The Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Welcome to the Bamboo Sea near Yibin in Sichuan Province. Our next article looks back on a magical day in this mysterious sea of bamboo

Click here for full article: https://holachina.com/?p=10838

Bambbo Sea as seen from the spectacular cable car ride
The mysterious Bamboo Sea in thick fog

BACK TO SICHUAN PROVINCE

Laomeng Sunday Market

Enjoy these photos taken at Laomeng Market August 2oo6. If you have been recently, tells us how it has changed.

Laomeng Sunday Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan: Five minorities at One Market
Click here to see the photo video with music: https://youtu.be/H0NaaHfpLaA
Laomeng Sunday Market 老勐 市场
aomeng Market 老勐 市场

(Yunnan Province)

Five minorities at One Market

Laomeng Sunday Market, five minorities at One Market, that is what we were promised. The hotel owner in Yuanyang had told us to get there early, as many of the hill tribe people have to walk all the way back and the market starts breaking up at around noon.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Laomeng Sunday Market: Arrival

So we got to Laomeng at about 8.30, where we were among the first to arrive. We walked once round the town and had a look at the few stalls already set up by a small number of colourfully dressed Miao ladies and some older Yi women.

Yao minority Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Most of them seemed as curious about us, as we were about them. By the time we got back  to our starting point, dozens of vans, carts and other vehicles had already arrived, unloading hundreds of passengers and all kinds of goods.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

They brought with them a kaleidoscopic mix of colours, as ladies from the Hani, Yao, Yi, Miao and Black Thai ethnic groups spilled out from the back and descended upon the market for a few hours of frenzied buying and selling.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

For the next 3 hours we were treated to a visual feast that left us drained and out of film. Our driver had filled us in on some of the intricacies of the local costumes, so we were more or less able to distinguish between the women from the different ethnic groups. However, The men on the other hand were fairly indistinguishable, wearing pretty much the same peasant clothes and large wide-brimmed hats.

The Miao 苗族 at Laomeng Sunday Market

miao minority Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Firstly, the Miao. The most colourful group are the Miao. The women of this ethnic group wear short, pleated skirts in electrifying colours such as bright orange, turquoise, yellow, pink or neon green.

miao minority Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
苗族Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The skirts are held in place by tight, embroidered belts and further embellished by lavishly decorated aprons, worn at the back (to protect their clothes when they are carrying loads, or sitting down on their haunches).

Miao minority Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Their lower legs are covered by leggings, usually black, although the trendiest young ladies can wear coloured ones, adorned with dangling pieces of silver, or coins. Their outfits are completed by a final, embroidered strip of cloth, wound around the head as a kind of turban, peaking at the front.

miao minority Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Miao with different style hats Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Given the vibrant nature of their attire, it isn’t surprising that their Vietnamese relations are known as the Flower Hmong. 

The Yao 瑶族 at Laomeng Sunday Market

Yao minority Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan

Secondly, the Yao. In stark contrast with the Miao, the Yao are probably the most fascinating to look at. Their all-black outfits of loose, flowing tunics and trousers, topped by incredible black boxed hats (resembling a Fez) lend them at once a forbidding and mysterious aspect.

Yao minority Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
瑶族 Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The stern black of their costume is only livened up by tresses of fuchsia coloured wool, pinned to the front of the ladies’ tunics, and the heavy silver earrings and necklaces they wear. The proud Yao ladies stride through the crowds mostly unsmiling and they are reluctant to have their pictures taken.

Yao minority Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The Hani 哈尼族 at Laomeng Sunday Market

Hani minority Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Thirdly, the Hani. Hani women also tend to wear a tunic or jacket over trousers, like the Yao, though their tunics are shorter and tighter. And like the Miao, they wear a  protective apron at the back.

hani minority Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Hani and Miao buying apples Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Their colours are subdued, blue and black are the favourites, but some green and petrol- blue can be seen too. If a Hani lady’s headdress is very colourful and decorated, this means that she is single. On the other hand, if her jacket is decorated with silver coins, she is married.

Hani minority Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The Yi 彝族 at Laomeng Sunday Market

Yi minority Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan

Forth the Yi, The Yi ladies are almost as colourful as the Miao, but they wear trousers, not skirts. On top, they wear brightly coloured jackets, often with short sleeves.  The colours can vary, but light blue, pink, yellow and mauve appeared to be all the rage.

Yi minority Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Yi and Hani Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The top part of the jacket is covered with a semi- circle  made of embroidered flowers. At the back, instead of an apron, they tend to wear two embroidered lozenge-shaped appendages.

Black Thai 壮族 at Laomeng Sunday Market

zhuang black thai Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Black Thai Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Finally, the Black Thai were the least in evidence and dressed very simply in black, as their name suggests. Their ladies wore straight black skirts and short-sleeved blouses.

Zhuang black thai Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Black Thai Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

As to location, the market spreads out all over the town, which is small enough to be explored thoroughly in a couple of hours. Like most markets in China, each area or street is dedicated to a different product.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The square given over to vegetables and fruit is one of the highlights, with colourful ethnic women squatting down behind their wares, mostly small piles of exotic-looking vegetables, herbs or spices, spread out on a piece of cloth.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Purchases in this section are usually wrapped up in banana leaves.

Lunch

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Food Stalls Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Another, larger square combines meat and simple food stalls with stands selling clothes, cloth, wool and other items necessary for sewing, embroidering or knitting. The latter are particularly popular with the younger ladies.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Yao Lady having lunch Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Lunch is a simple affair, with stalls selling noodle dishes with plenty of meat, vegetables and spicies.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

On the outskirts of town, there are corners dedicated to selling chickens, piglets, or watch dogs. 

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

It’s a great place to watch and take photos as well, because once the market is in full swing, nobody will pay much attention to you, even though you may be the only foreigner in town, which is what happened to us.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Don’t come to this market looking for souvenirs; there are few things for sale that would interest tourists, which should hopefully keep tour groups away. We had a look at one of the colourful Miao skirts and were a bit taken aback by its price: although it was handmade and weighed a tonne, we thought that 300Yuan was a bit steep.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Going home Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

True to our landlord’s prediction, by midday the market began to wind down and the vehicles filled up again with their multi-coloured cargo.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Heading Home Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

As we were driving away, we could see lines of people heading off into the forest and up the mountain paths, back to their villages.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Packing up for the day Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Practicalities:

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Laomeng is situated in the south of Yunnan, not far from the Vietnamese border. As the town lies in a river valley, the climate is hot and humid and the surrounding countryside is extremely green and fertile, allowing for two rice harvests a year.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Regarding its ethnic composition, Laomeng straddles two prefectures, Yuanyang and Jinpin. Of these, Yuanyang is home to many Hani and Yi who tend and cultivate the stunning rice terraces the area is famous for, while Jingpin is home to the Miao, Black Thai and Yao.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The first two live low down near the rivers, in the sub-tropical fertile lands, while the Yao dominate the high mountain areas and ridges and therefore the poorer lands.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

As for Laomeng town, there are a couple of basic hotels, small eateries and shops, but not much more, and the buildings are definitely on the drab side.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

However, the market converts the town into festival of colours and sounds and it would probably make a good base for exploring the area.

Coming and Going:

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

From Yuanyang there are plenty of mini buses to Laomeng. The journey can take more than 2 hours, depending on how many passengers the bus stops to pick up and drop off.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

You can hire a minivan for about 150 Yuan to take you to the market and back, including several hours waiting time. Buses from Laomeng also go to Jingpin and surrounding villages.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan
Rural Scene Outside Laomeng Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Click here for Jianshui near Laomeng

Coming next: Laomeng Market, Jinping, Yunnan

Next week we’ll be publishing an updated article on Laomeng Market.
The incredible market near the Yuanyang Rice terraces.

Click here for new post: https://holachina.com/?p=10719

Various ethnic minorites buying and selling at Laomeng Market

The Moustached Buddha Daxiang Shan Gangu

The Sakyamuni statue, sculpted at the height of the Silk Road’s importance during the Tang Dynasty, is approached by climbing a temple lined trail on Daxiangshan 大像山

The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu 甘谷; Daxiang Shan 大像山
The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu; Daxiang Shan 大像山

The Giant Moustached Buddha at Daxiang Shan Gangu 甘谷 Arriving.

The Giant Moustached Buddha at Daxiang Shan 大像山 Gangu 甘谷 is Situated in Eastern Gansu 甘肃省 province. However, on arrival at Gangu 甘谷 you will quickly discover that this is not one of China’s most attractive towns: truth be told it’s pretty ugly.

The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu 甘谷; Daxiang Shan 大像山
The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu; Daxiang Shan 大像山

However, if you are in Tianshui 天水 visiting Maiji Shan and have a day to spare, the large 23 meter moustached statue of Sakyamuni a few kilometers outside Gangu is well worth visiting and can be easily combined with a trip to the beautiful Water Curtain Caves near Luomen.

The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu 甘谷; Daxiang Shan 大像山
The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu; Daxiang Shan 大像山

The Giant Moustached Buddha or Sakyamuni statue

The Sakyamuni statue, sculpted at the height of the Silk Road’s importance during the Tang Dynasty, is approached by climbing a temple lined trail on Daxiangshan 大像山.

The Sakyamuni statue, sculpted at the height of the Silk Road’s importance during the Tang Dynasty, is approached by climbing a temple lined trail on Daxiangshan 大像山
The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu; Daxiang Shan 大像山

While none of the temples are spectacular, they are quiet and peaceful. You and a handful of pilgrims will be the only people on the trail even in the middle of August. The statue itself is quite special.

The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu 甘谷; Daxiang Shan 大像山
The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu; Daxiang Shan 大像山

The colours are vibrant and the decorations surrounding it unique. But what stands out is the blue moustache, something almost unseen in the rest of China. There are some good views towards the rising Loess Plateau as you climb the trail.

The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu 甘谷; Daxiang Shan 大像山
The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu; Daxiang Shan 大像山

Getting there:


You can get to Gangu from Tianshui 天水 by train in just over an hour. The convenient K377 leaves Tianshui station in Beidao 北道 at 8.32 and costs 13 hard seat (buy your ticket the night before, there were plenty of seats available).

The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu 甘谷; Daxiang Shan 大像山
Pilgrims and monks at The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu; Daxiang Shan 大像山

Alternatively you can take one of the frequent buses from Tianshui’s twin town Qincheng 秦城.

The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu 甘谷; Daxiang Shan 大像山
miniture staue at The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu; Daxiang Shan 大像山

I’d recommend combining a visit to Gangu with the Water Curtain Caves (Shuiliandong 水帘洞) near Luomen 洛门 some 60 km away.

The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu 甘谷; Daxiang Shan 大像山
miniture statue at The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu; Daxiang Shan 大像山

Hiring a taxi for the best part of a day from  in front of Gangu  train station costs 200 Yuan after a little bargaining. However, I don’t recommend visiting The Water Curtain Caves until restoration work has finished sometime next year (read the next posting).

The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu 甘谷; Daxiang Shan 大像山
The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu; Daxiang Shan 大像山

One curious feature of the statue is that when you see it close up, the face of the giant Buddha has a contented expression. However, Seen from a distance, he looks quite miserable.

The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu 甘谷; Daxiang Shan 大像山
The Giant Moustached Buddha at Ganggu; Daxiang Shan 大像山

The Water Cutain Caves nearby:

Tianshui

The Great Mosque in Lhasa: Photo of the Week.

Photo five of the Muslim Hui community in Lhasa taken in the Muslim quarter outside the Great Mosque: Qing Zhen Da Si 清真大寺

The Great Mosque in Lhasa 清真大司寺
清真大司寺 The Great Mosque in Lhasa
Muslims outside the Great Mosque in Lhasa清真大司寺
清真大司寺 The Great Mosque in Lhasa

For the other pictures in the series click here:  1 & 2 & 3 & 4

Muslims outside the Great Mosque in Lhasa清真大司寺
清真大司寺 The Great Mosque in Lhasa

Gyantse and the Kumbum

One of Tibet`s most traditional towns. You’ll find fantastic architecture, amazing back streets and lots of cows.

The Kumbum Gyantse Tibet

Getting to Gyantse: the beating heart of Tibet

Gyantse and the Kumbum are the beating heart of Tibet and Tibetan culture. We visited Gyantse on a three-day trip by mini-van that also included Shalu monastery and the town of Shigatse. We reached Gyantse after a long eight-hour ride, made even longer by our detour to see Yamdrok-Tso Lake.

Yamdrok-Tso Lake Tibet
Yamdrok-Tso Lake

From the Kamba-La Pass at 4794 metres, there are spectacular views over the turquoise waters of the lake. However, due to road works (expected to be finished next year), it wasn’t possible to continue along the old road to Gyantse, so we had to turn back and rejoin the new road.

Yamdrok-Tso Lake Tibet
Yamdrok-Tso Lake

The final part of the journey took us through fertile and idyllic fields, full of grazing animals and harvesting farmers.

 Countyside Tibet
Rural scenery near Gyantse
 Countyside Tibet
Rural scenery near Gyantse

Approaching Gyantse and seeing the Fort

The approach to Gyantse is truly spectacular: the ruins of the fortress, the Dzong, destroyed by Younghusband and his British troops, set on a steep, rocky hill, stand out against the azure sky and the golden roofs of the monastery gleam in the sun.

Gyantse fort Tibet
Gyantse Fort in the late afternoon

Gyantse itself is rather more prosaic; it is basically a scruffy one-street town (2007: has expanded now) with an interesting, traditional Tibetan quarter.

Gyantse fort tibet
Gyantse Fort in the morning

We had just enough time to visit the Pelkhor Chöde Monastery complex, situated dramatically at the foot of the barren mountains and surrounded by a brown wall.

Traditional buildings in Gyantse
Traditional buildings in Gyantse

The Kumbum

Gyantse’s highlight is the Kumbum, an 8 storey chorten, topped by a golden roof and umbrella, apparently the best- preserved structure of this kind in Tibet.

The Kumbum Gyantse Tibet
The Kumbum

The 8 floors contain 108 chapels, all covered in frescoes and many holding statues. The outside is painted a dazzling white and decorated with colourful stucco, as well as four huge pairs of eyes, which survey the surrounding countryside.

The Kumbum Gyantse Tibet
The Kumbum

Though most of the frescoes are hidden in darkness and many are damaged, we managed to make out some frightening demons, adorned with necklaces of skulls, fine many-armed Buddhas and delicate maidens.

The Kumbum Gyantse Tibet
The Kumbum

The chapels which are set at the corners are the best, as they are two storeys’ high and contain a variety of large statues.

The Kumbum Gyantse Tibet
The Kumbum

On the sixth floor we emerged onto an open platform, level with the painted eyes, from which we could observe the other monastic buildings, the walls, the mountains, as well as the Tibetan old town.

Gyantse Old town seen from the Kumbum
Gyantse Old town seen from the Kumbum

Gyantse Fort

The next day we visited the old fortress, or Dzong, and explored the Tibetan quarter.

Gyantse Old town seen from the fort
Gyantse Old town seen from the fort

As we mentioned before, most of the Dzong is in ruins; thanks to Younghusband and his men who came riding in from Sikkim to ‘open’ Tibet to trade… They are, however, quite atmospheric ruins. One of the highlights is a grey memorial stone with the curious inscription ‘Jump off the cliff’

jump off the cliff!
Directions or an order?

However, this isn’t an exhortation to visitors, but rather a commemoration of an act of bravery committed by the outnumbered defenders.

Gyanste Fort seen from the old town
Gyanste Fort seen from the old town

Gyantse Old Town

The old Tibetan quarter, lying at the foot of the fortress, is another gem that takes you right back in time.

Cows in the streets of gyantse
Gyantse Old Town

Along the main street, there are placid cows chewing the cud in front of every household, while pigs and sheep rummage around in the gutters.

Cows in the streets of gyantse
Cows in Gyantse Old Town

People gather at the communal pumps to draw water, wash their clothes, hair or rinse dyed strings of sheep’s wool.

Gyantse Old Town people and cows
Gyantse Old Town

Inside the traditional stone houses, Tibetan ladies work the heavy wooden looms to weave cloth or colourful Tibetan carpets.

weaver in Gyantse tibet
Gyantse Old Town

A peaceful, mellow village ambience reigns and life continues, unhurriedly, as it always has done.

Traditional buildings in Gyantse
Gyantse Old Town

Gyantse Practicalities:

Traditional buildings in Gyantse
Traditional buildings in Gyantse

Accommodation:

The Kumbum Gyantse Tibet and Gyanstse Monastary

We stayed at the Jianzang hotel which lies on the main street of the modern part of town (Yingxiong Nanlu) and is certainly one of the nicest places we stayed at in the whole of Tibet, or even China. The hotel is embellished with bright, colourful murals and lovely potted plants and flowers, while rooms are large, clean and comfy. We paid 180 Yuan for a double with bathroom, though there were cheaper rooms and dorms as well. The hotel also has its own rooftop restaurant and staff are very friendly.

The Kumbum Gyantse Tibet
The Kumbum

Food:

You will have no trouble finding several places to eat along the same main street. The Yak bar and restaurant, for which you have to go upstairs, is a pleasant, laid-back place with Tibetan sofas and low tables, specialising in western-style food such as chips, pizzas and burgers. There is a large Chinese restaurant, a few doors away and identified by a green sign, where we had an excellent meal.

Gyanste Fort seen from the old town
Gyanste Fort seen from the old town

Visit Shalu Monastery near Gyantse: Click here

The Thangka Painters of Tongren

Tongren is a great off the beaten track destination in China’s Qinghai Province. There is great scenery, Tibetan culture, and the opportunity to watch the world’s best thangkas being painted in front of your eyes.
A thangka is a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala. Thangkas are traditionally kept unframed and rolled up when not on display. (Wikipedia)

The Thangka Painters of Tongren 同仁 Qinghai Province 青海省

Tongren 同仁 Qinghai Province 青海省

Map

People say that the Thangka Painters of Tongren are the best in the world. Here is how we visited them and saw them make their master pieces.

Xiahe to Tongren

The early morning bus, packed to bursting point with predominantly Tibetan passengers whose clothes exude a penetrating smell of yak butter, climbs cumbersomely out of the monastic town of Xiahe and up onto the wide open grasslands that separate the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai.

Tibetens waiting for a lift between Gansu and Qinghai provinces
Xiahe to Tongren 同仁

Up there, everything is wetness, emptiness and desolation; the sodden yaks and horses look decidedly miserable, but resigned.

xiahe to tongren landscape
Xiahe to Tongren 同仁

The Tibetan Grasslands

The only sign of human existence are the roaming Tibetan nomads wrapped tightly in their fur-lined greatcoats, their faces swaddled in scarves, their cheeks red and chapped by the biting wind, the rudimentary settlements and the odd small monastic town, which somehow manage to survive in this harsh but stunning landscape.

xiahe to tongren landscape
Xiahe to Tongren 同仁

On approaching  Qinghai province, huge snow-capped mountains loom in the distance, forming a daunting barrier between the two provinces, and this was only September. Suddenly, when it looks as if our poor old bus will have to scale those giants, the road drops into a dry and barren valley, where herds of goats and yaks often block the way.

goats blocking the road to tongren qinghai provinve
Goats blocking the road to Tongren 同仁

Arrival in Tongren

At the bottom of the valley, along the river, the barrenness gives way to fertile farming land, dotted with neat and prosperous farms and white Stupas. The climate has undergone a dramatic change too and we can see people harvesting everywhere under a warm autumn sun. After about 30 minutes of this rural bliss, the bus rolls into Tongren,  a neat and organised modern town.

entering tongren qinghai province China
Rolling into Tongren 同仁

Like most Tibetan towns in Sichuan and Gansu, Tongren is made up of two virtually separate towns; the modern one, housing most businesses, shops and hotels, and the monastic one, centred around the temples.

longwu temple amazing door tongren
An Amazing door at Longwu Si Tongren

In most cases, this separation also marks the division between the Chinese and Tibetan populations. However, the authorities in Tongren seem to have avoided this kind of cultural apartheid and they have managed to incorporate a large part of its Tibetan population into the modern town

(the modern town has expanded dramatically in recent years).

Longwu Si 隆务寺

longwu temple tongren qinghai province china
Longwu Si 隆务寺

The Longwu Si, or monastery complex, of Tongren is only a short stroll away from the modern centre.

statue in longwu temple tongren qinghai
Longwu Si 隆务寺

It’s surprisingly large, perhaps as big as Xiahe, but we have it all to ourselves. You can spend a good few hours wandering about this atmospheric place.

longwu temple statue tongren qinghai province china
Longwu Si 隆务寺

The temples are a mixed bunch of old and new as the complex, having suffered extensive damage during the Cultural Revolution, is currently undergoing some massive restoration.

hell scene from longwu temple qinghai province tongren
Longwu Si 隆务寺

Scenes from the Buddhist Hell

Highlights are the gruesome paintings and carvings of scenes from hell, vividly depicted skulls, heads with the eyes popping out, fearsome monsters, demons and such, which decorate some of the oldest temples. Click here for more gruesome photos of Longwu si.

hell scene tongren longwu temple
Longwu Si 隆务寺

And on a more spiritual note, the small footprints and soft round dents, worn into the wooden floor in front of a particularly venerated Buddha statue by an elderly lama prostrating himself thousands of times…

hell scene longwu monastery tongren
Longwu Si 隆务寺

The Tangkha Painters of Wutun Si 五屯寺

The Thangka Painters of Tongren 同仁 Qinghai Province 青海省
The Tangkha Painters of Wutun Si 五屯寺

Although the Longwu Si on its own warrants a visit, the main reason for coming to Tongren is to see the Tangkha painters at work in the village of Sangkeshan, some 10 kilometres out of town, and particular in the Wutong and Gouma Monasteries.

The Thangka Painters of Tongren 同仁 Qinghai Province 青海省
The Tangkha Painters of Wutun Si 五屯寺

Tangkha’s are Tibetan paintings, mostly of a religious nature, and usually mounted on embroidered and decorated pieces of brocade.

The Thangka Painters of Tongren 同仁 Qinghai Province 青海省
The Tangkha Painters of Wutun Si 五屯寺

The Tangkha painters of Tongren are rated as the best in the Tibetan world and their art, known as Repkong Art (Repkong being the Tibetan name for Tongren), can be found in the monasteries of Lhasa, Xiahe and many other great Tibetan monastic towns.

The Thangka Painters of Tongren 同仁 Qinghai Province 青海省
Wutun Si 五屯寺

Some of the painters are monks, others are laymen, but they work together in teams, completing orders from far and wide.

The Thangka Painters of Tongren 同仁 Qinghai Province 青海省
The Tangkha Painters of Wutun Si 五屯寺

Making Thangkas for various Monasteries

On the day of our visit, some painters at Wutong were working on a large piece for a monastery on Wutai Shan (one of the Holy Mountains of Buddhism), while others were completing an order for the Ta’er Si temple near Xining, the capital of Qinghai province.

The Thangka Painters of Tongren 同仁 Qinghai Province 青海省
The Tangkha Painters of Wutun Si 五屯寺

Meanwhile, some of their colleagues at Gouma were finishing a Tangkha for the Yushu monastery, in the remote northern part of Qinghai province.

The Thangka Painters of Tongren 同仁 Qinghai Province 青海省
The Tangkha Painters of Wutun Si 五屯寺

Buying Thangkas in Tongren

Apart from offering you a chance to see the painters and their apprentices at work, and to buy one of their smaller pieces, both monasteries are well worth having a look around.

The Thangka Painters of Tongren 同仁 Qinghai Province 青海省
The Tangkha Painters of Wutun Si 五屯寺

The main hall of Wutun Si 五屯寺is a splendid affair which houses three large golden statues, dressed in colourful embroidered robes, as well as many valuable paintings.

The Thangka Painters of Tongren 同仁 Qinghai Province 青海省
The Tangkha Painters of Wutun Si 五屯寺

The monk showing us around explains how they managed to save these paintings during the Cultural Revolution by turning the wooden panes around, hiding the valuable paintings at the back and displaying some newer, relatively worthless ones for the Red Guards to destroy!

monastery tongren dragon

Other prominent features of the Hall are the fierce dragons coiling their bodies around the pillars and the heavy entrance doors, exquisitely restored and decorated in red and gold by a trembling octogenarian monk with his glasses tied to his head.

dragon tongren monastery

Restoration

As we had already witnessed at Longwu, renovation, restoration and even expansion are at full swing at the Wutun Si monastery 五屯寺: a new Stupa is being erected, as well as a new temple hall.

tibetan monks tongren

A group of workers is busy assembling the central clay sculpture, which has not been painted yet either.

statue tongren

This whole process of temple renovation and revival is evident all over China; on the one hand many people are returning to their former beliefs, while on the other hand the government once more tolerates Buddhism and even encourages the restorations, as another way of obtaining tourist revenue.

monasteryin tongren qinghai province

Gomar Gompa

gomar gompa tongren
Gomar Gompa

The likewise brand-new and shiny Stupa just outside Gomar Gompa, a few kilometres away on the other side of the valley, is a colourful multi-tiered structure that stands out against the barren hills.

gomar gompa tongren

Up close, you can appreciate the intricate decorations in bright red, blue, green and yellow colours.

gomar gompa tongren
Gomar Gompa

The monastic buildings are right behind the Stupa and if you wander around its quiet streets for a bit, you are most likely to be invited into one of the intimate courtyards where the painters work.

gomar gompa tongren
Gomar Gompa

Other Products Made in Tongren

Besides Thangkas, the monks, artists and artesans of Tongren also produce clay sculptures, as well as hand-sewn cloth wall-hangings and cloth frames for the paintings.

gomar gompa tongren
Sewn Wall Thangkas

Some of these wall-hangings are made up of countless, brightly coloured cloth circles that are held together not only by sewing, but with the help of glue and staples as well.

One of the best places to witness the creation of these curious  pieces is the Nian Tou monastery, a few kilometres outside Tongren.

tongren scenery
Tongren Scenery

In the Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, all around Tongren County, there are many other remote monasteries, some of them only accessible with a four-wheel drive vehicle. Locals even told us about a monastery, some 40kms away, supposedly inhabited by a sect of long-haired monks! Whether this story is true or not, the area most certainly has plenty of places left to explore.

Practicalities:

gomar gompa tongren
Gomar Gompa

Where to Stay and Eat:

We stayed at  Huang Nan Binguan, an old but cosy hotel set in a shady courtyard, where we paid 100 Yuan for a slightly worn, but clean double. Incidentally, the new Huang Nan, a glass-fronted dark monstrosity on the main road, is infinitely worse than its older counterpart. There are several other, cheaper options in town too.

shagua tongren
Sha Guo

For food , try the “Sha Guo” restaurant a few doors down from the hotel. A “Sha Guo” is a delicious clay pot soup, which can have many different ingredients, such as meat, fish, vegetables and eggs. Washed down with a couple of cold beers, they make for a satisfying and filling meal after a long day sightseeing.

Getting Around:

hell in tongren

Hiring a taxi to take you out to Wutun Si 五屯寺 monastery costs about 10 Yuan. Getting between the various monasteries, or back into town, there are plenty of mini-vans plying the route.

Coming and going:

gomar gompa tongren

In 2004 (was still the same in 2012), there was one bus a day leaving Xiahe at  7.30, plus another one with a similar timetable coming from the other direction. Leaving from Xiahe, it may be a good idea to book a day in advance, as our bus was absolutely packed. The journey takes about 5 hours and the scenery on the way is spectacular. Beware that the weather can be cold and treacherous; we even had snow in early September.

amazing door tongren qinghai province china

Moving on, there are numerous buses leaving for Xining throughout the day. The journey, which is fairly boring, takes between 5 and 6 hours.

Shuānglín Si Temple Pingyao

Visit Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao. An amazing temple where in winter you can visit the place without another tourist in sight. That is if you can bear minus 10º.

Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺 Pingyao

Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

It’s Freezing

Shuānglín Si Temple Pingyao at half past 9 in the morning. When we get out at the Shuanglin Temple (Shuānglín Sì or 双林寺), we’re in for a bit of a shock: though sunny, it’s bitterly cold! Our breath’s coming out in large white clouds and the thermometer has plummeted to minus 10º.

Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

With one of those great Chinese understatements, our driver concedes that it’s yidian leng (a bit chilly)! On the positive side, this means we have the temple almost entirely to ourselves.

Warrior outside the temple
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

A UNESCO World Heritage Site Since 1997

The ancient and venerable temple complex – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997 – is renowned for its over 2,000 painted clay sculptures, made by skillful craftsmen from the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties (12th to 19th century). Though once painted in vivid colours, many of the sculptures have since faded to red, earthy hues.

Warrior Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

From the outside, the temple complex appears rather like a fortress, as it is surrounded by a high compound wall with a gate. Once inside, there are ten halls to explore, set around three courtyards.

Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

The Fantastic Sculptures

The first Hall is guarded by fierce warriors. The sunlight, slanting through the protective bars that surround them, hits their orange clay faces and distorts them into frightening grimaces.

Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

In fact, all the sculptures are arranged behind bars, against backdrops of swirling water or clouds, mountains, gnarled trees, towers, buildings and other decorative elements.

Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

Bring a Torch!

Unfortunately, this makes it more difficult to fully appreciate them in the dusty half-light of the halls. We wish we’d brought a torch!

Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

The sculptural themes focus on representations of the BuddhaBodhisattvas (divine persons who have attainedEnlightenment, but postpone Nirvana in order to help others reach salvation), Arhats (Buddhists, especially monks or nuns who have achieved enlightenment and at death pass to Nirvana), Warrior Guards, Heavenly Generals, but also some common people.

Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

There is even a statue of the husband and wife who took care of the temple during the Cultural Revolution.

Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

The Arhat Hall (Luohan Ting or 罗汉厅)

One of the halls to look out for is the Arhat Hall (Luohan Ting or 罗汉厅), with its 18 life-like and somewhat sinister Arhats, whose black- glass eyes seem to follow you around the room.

Bodhisattva Hall (Pusa Ting or 菩萨厅) Shuānglín Sì
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

Don’t miss the Bodhisattva Hall (Pusa Ting or 菩萨厅),with the sculpture of a young, attractive, female Bodhisattva, with twenty arms and  many more hands, dressed in richly decorated clothing.

Hall of a Thousand Buddhas
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

Hall of a Thousand Buddhas

Last but not least, the many inhabitants of the Hall of a Thousand Buddhas, one of whom is seated on a coiled dragon, are considered masterpieces of Ming dynasty Buddhist sculpture.

Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

At the back of the last Hall, we climb up onto the compound wall in an attempt to find out where the music we’ve been hearing is coming from.

The School
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

The school and the Slaughter House

Turns out, there is a primary school right behind the temple and all the little kids are made to run around the schoolyard before class. Frozen as we are, we could do with a bit of running ourselves! And then there were the poor pigs; off to the slaughter house, just outside this spiritual and peaceful place.

Pigs going to the slaughter house
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao
Shuānglín Sì / 双林寺: Pingyao

For more on Pingyao click Below:

The Miniature Opera Dolls of Pingyao

Old Photos of Mao during the Cultural Revolution

Suzhou has Changed

Some old photos of Suzhou 苏州 taken in 1990 and found during the Coronavirus lockdown.

Suzhou as it was in 1990/ 苏州 1990年

Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年
Adam resting with locals in Suzhou 1990

Map

Looking through Old Photos of Suzhou

Suzhou has Changed and changed a lot in 30 years. Lockdown has at least given me time to dig out my old photos from the store room and start to play around with them. It’s also given me plenty of time to reflect on the many ways in which life has changed.

It’s well known that Madrid was particularly badly hit by Covid 19 and while the first lockdown was brutally hard on everyone, a second one seems just around the corner.

old canal scene Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年
Floating Markets Suzhou 1990

It was against this depressing background that I turned to the photos we had taken during our 1990/91 trip to China. Nearly 6 months of hard and fascinating travel, which turned me into a China freak and changed my life too.

canal scene Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年
Floating Markets Suzhou 1990

Our First Trip to China 1990

The trip started by crossing over the Karakorum Pass into China on a clapped out traders’ bus from Pakistan and eventually leaving China from Guangzhou on the gambling ferry to Macao, which has long since ceased to exist.

old canal boat Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年
A Full ferry going under a bridge in Suzhou 1990

Sometime in late December we found ourselves in Suzhou. I recently came across our photos from that time in and around Suzhou and on the Grand Canal. Some of these had never been posted. So here they are.

old bridge Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年

The Photos Could have been Better

I don’t want to make too many excuses about the quality of the photos; however, the camera we used was a rusty piece of crap and we also made the mistake of having them developed in China (1991). I have tried to restore them the best I can.

old suzhou Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年

So how has Suzhou changed? The somewhat deteriorated photos show that Suzhou was once a real, working water town. The barges came right into the town’s central waterways. Many of Suzhou’s trading markets actually took place on sampans on the canals.

old suzhou Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年
Small barges loaded with goods in Suzhou’s waterways 1990

Returning to Suzhou 2005

When we returned to Suzhou in 2005, all the river traffic had been moved away from the city center to the main artery of Grand Canal, several kilometers outside of town.

old suzhou Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年

In 1990, the city’s canals were also a transport hub providing local transport to people from outlying villages. Part of the fun of being in Suzhou at that time was siting on one of the many bridges watching the over-crowded ferries shuttling people to and fro.

old suzhou Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年

Travelling by Boat to Hangzhou

You could also still take passenger boats from Suzhou to loads of destinations along the Grand Canal, including the day long journey to Hangzhou, which we took. These have all now been discontinued.

old suzhou canals Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年

In 2005, the only boats working on the inner-city canals were used for clearing weeds and rubbish thrown into them by the hordes of tourists.

old suzhou Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年
Local having a smoke on one of Suzhou’s bridges 1990

Suzhou has changed so much since then that any remnants of what we saw in 1990 are almost impossible to find.

Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年
A couple having a chat on one of Suzhou’s many bridges 1990

In 2005, there were still a few canals that retained some of their old world ambience and charm, but speculators were moving in fast and locals were being evicted apace.

Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年

New boutique hotels, upmarket restaurants and discos were replacing canal side markets, corner shops and teahouses. A whole way of life was being obliterated.

old bridge Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年

Of course, Suzhou’s fate is by no means unique! The transformation that started happening there in the early 2000s, began here in Madrid around 2016, with the advent of Airbnb and the ‘Disneyfication’ of Madrid’s historical center.

canals suzhou Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年
Busy waterways in downtown Suzhou

Ironically, it took a pandemic to give Madrid back to the locals, albeit in a much reduced and depressed form!

Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年
Margie by a canal in Suzhou 1990

We can only wonder what the effects of Covid 19 will be on mass tourism around the globe…

Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年
Suzhou: as it was in 1990。苏州 1990年

Floods reach Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛

Even the great protector can’t be protected

Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛

Click here for a detailed Chinese Video:

Even the great protector can’t be protected. The Great Buddha statue (Leshan Dafo 乐山大佛), just outside Leshan in China’s south western province of Sichuan, was carved out of the cliffs in the 8th century at the confluence of three rivers.

Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛

His purpose was look over and protect the fishermen from drowning in the turbulent waters and defend the population against flooding.

Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛

Now, it is the local population flooding to the aid of the Giant Buddha by using sand bags to protect him from rising flood waters.

Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛 Foot

Not since 1949 have the flood waters reached the magnificent statue’s enormous feet.

Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛

This is another a recent video from Leshan showing the dramatic scenes of the flood waters reaching the base of his feet.

Click below to see the video.

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/other/flash-floods-submerge-feet-of-famed-giant-buddha-statue-after-heavy-rain/vi-BB188KDQ

Update

It appears that for now that the situation has stabilized with flood waters receding and passing their highest levels, but with more rain to come, we can only keep our fingers crossed.

Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛 Hand

The photos are from our 2001 trip to Leshan. We visited the Giant Buddha after climbing nearby Éméi shān 峨眉山.

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