The World’s Longest Mani Wall

The World’s Longest Mani Wall / 世界上最长的嘛尼石城

This information is old. The original Mani Wall which you see in this article was destroyed in the Yushu earthquake in late 2009 a few months after these photos were taken. Click here for more photos.

The World’s Longest Mani Wall. Only three kilometers from Yushu lies one of the great sights in the Tibetan world, the Seng-ze Gyanak Mani Wall (), reputedly the largest in the world. Found all over the Tibetan lands, Mani Walls are rows of piled-up stones, engraved or painted with orations. The size of such Mani Walls can vary from the humblest pile to a circuit of several hundred meters. Pilgrims walk round these walls of holy stones in a clockwise direction, uttering prayers and twirling prayer wheels.  

The Seng-ze Gyanak Mani Wall is /was truly enormous

The Seng-ze Gyanak Mani Wall is truly enormous; a sign by its side proudly proclaims that it is 283 metres long, 74 metres wide, 2,5 metres high and consists of 2 billion stones! What’s more, the Wall is still growing, as we witnessed with our own eyes: devout pilgrims contribute new stones everyday, which are hoisted up on to the pile carefully. The billions of beautifully carved stones carry the Buddhist prayers “Om Mani Padme Hum” or, “Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus”, and other orations.


Tibetan pilgrims from all over the Kham region

Tibetan pilgrims from all over the Kham region and further afield descend on this huge Mani Wall from dusk to dawn. Dressed in their finest, they circumambulate the sacred stones in a constantly rising and ebbing flow. The early morning sees a high tide, while the crowds ebb during the afternoon, only to return again in the early evening.

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Longxi Si 龙西寺 & Nangchen曩謙

Longxi Si & Nangchen

Deliberations of an oxygen-deprived traveller.

Longxi Si 龙西寺 & Nangchen曩謙: After 4 nights of me coughing, wheezing, gasping for air and not having slept a wink, we took the decision not to stay the night in Nangchen, but to just take a day trip in that direction instead.  The fact that I was hooked up to a rusty oxygen tank at the time, in a friendly, but far from salubrious, local Tibetan clinic in Yushu, had something to do with it as well. My altitude sickness was a weird phenomenon: while I was all right during the day, I spent most of my night’s sleepless, and at times hallucinating and babbling gibberish.

On the road to Nangchen.

The road from Yushu to Nangchen is truly spectacular, crossing several high passes (4,500 metres) and running next to gushing rivers, including at one point crossing the Mekong River. Vast grasslands extend on either side of the road, with grazing herds of yaks, sheep, goats and horses. The lower areas, with their meandering rivers and meadows strewn with wildflowers, look almost alpine. In the distance there are rolling hills and snow-capped mountains.

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Trangu Gompa / Thrangu Gompa / 禅古寺

Trangu Gompa / Thrangu Gompa / 禅古寺 Yushu, qinghai Province

(Latest: Thrangu Gompa was completely destroyed and many monks killed in the Yushu earthquake ) The Monastery has now been rebuilt.

Trangu Gompa / Thrangu Gompa / 禅古寺
Trangu Gompa / Thrangu Gompa / 禅古寺
Trangu Gompa / Thrangu Gompa / 禅古寺
Trangu Gompa / Thrangu Gompa / 禅古寺

Trangu Gompa / Thrangu Gompa / 禅古寺. Just off the main road between Yushu and the airport,on the other side of the river and up the hill, is the Trangu Gompa 禅古寺. The main chapel is a modern building, surrounded by traditionally built monks’ living quarters. The complex might seem rather unremarkable at a fist glance, and a little bit ramshackle.

don’t let first impressions put you off

However, don’t let first impressions put you off: once you are inside the main building, you’ll be dazzled by a feast of vibrant colours and stunning paintings that will bring about a “wow” reaction even from those who may have seen one temple too many. Our local driver was shaking his head in disbelief that he hadn’t known what was inside the main monastery building; “tai piaoliang, tai piaoliang (it’s so beautiful),” he kept repeating.

Trangu Gompa / Thrangu Gompa / 禅古寺artists from Tongren (Repkong)

The monastery employed artists from Tongren (Repkong), the most renowned in the Tibetan world and whose works can be found in Tibetan monasteries as far as Lhasa, to paint the inside of the chapels. Exceptionally, the artists actually travelled to Trangu and painted on site.

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Zhira Gompa no Sky Burials Please! The plane is landing

Zhira Gompa (吉然寺) –Yushu – Qinghai Province.

Zhira Gompa no Sky Burials Please! What’s a Sky Burial?

Zhira Gompa no Sky Burials Please! The plane is landing. Sky burials have been banned at Zhira Gompa due to vultures putting planes at risk.

Zhira Gompa

“Sky burial or ritual dissection was once a common funerary practice in Tibet wherein a human corpse is cut in specific locations and placed on a mountaintop, exposing it to the elements or the mahabhuta and animals – especially to birds of prey. In Tibet the practice is known as jhator (Tibetan: བྱ་གཏོར་; Wylie: bya gtor), which literally means, “giving alms to the birds.”

Zhira Gompa Yushu
The majority of Tibetans adhere to Buddhism, which teaches rebirth. There is no need to preserve the body, as it is now an empty vessel. Birds may eat it, or nature may let it decompose. So the function of the sky burial is simply the disposal of the remains. In much of Tibet the ground is too hard and rocky to dig a grave, and with fuel and timber scarce, a sky burial is often more practical than cremation.” (quote taken from Wiki-pedia)

Path to Sky Burial site
Path to Sky Burial site

The grisly details and other considerations

I’ve never gone out of my way to see a Sky Burial, though I’ve had the opportunity. In Litang, Continue reading “Zhira Gompa no Sky Burials Please! The plane is landing”

Princess Wencheng Temple “Nabalinangzelekang” 文成公主庙

Princess Wencheng Temple 文成公主庙

Princess Wencheng Temple “Nabalinangzelekang” 文成公主庙
Princess Wencheng Temple “Nabalinangzelekang” 文成公主庙

For photos go to holachina views

Princess Wencheng Temple “Nabalinangzelekang” 文成公主庙
Princess Wencheng Temple “Nabalinangzelekang” 文成公主庙

Princess Wencheng Temple “Nabalinangzelekang” 文成公主庙. Spectacular, stunning, other-worldly, an extravaganza of colour, are just some of the adjectives you’ll be spluttering to anyone you meet after a visit to the Princess Wencheng Temple. And this before you have actually seen the temple which, in all truth, is nice, but nothing special. It is the Kora, the sacred pilgrims’ trail performed by walking around, or circumambulating, a temple, that provokes such awe and stupor. Even veteran travellers to Tibet will find themselves struggling to recall anything like it.


The temple was supposedly built to mark the spot where Princess Wencheng and her husband, the Tibetan King Songtsän Gampo, stopped for a month on their journey from Xian to Tibet. The marriage of the Tang dynasty Princess, a niece of Emperor Taizong, to the Tibetan King is celebrated by both the Chinese and Tibetans; though their interpretation of the events varies.

Buddhism to Tibet

The Chinese claim it was Princess Wencheng who brought Buddhism to Tibet, by converting her husband; the Tibetans dispute this. According to the Tibetans, Songtsän Gampo forced the Tang Emperor to hand over his niece, after a string of military victories over the Chinese and their allies. In the Chinese point of view, the Princess’s hand was offered as a sign of friendship, to seal the long lasting bond between the Chinese and Tibetan peoples. There is even a famous Chinese opera that corroborates this view.


The Princess Wencheng Temple is situated some 15 kilometres from Yushu in Qinghai province, at the entrance to the beautiful Leba Gorge. We approached the temple from the Gorge (see article…). A first inkling of what was in store for us were the intense red, yellow, and green colours on the rocks formed by the prayer flags that made a pattern rather like a giant spider’s web.

As we got closer, the temple itself came into view. Surrounded by a wall and a courtyard, the main chapel is built against the rock face and has some beautiful statues inside, carved directly out of the rock. A handful of friendly monks keep the place in order. Opposite the temple is a clear, fast flowing and winding river.

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The Leba Gorge Yushu

Leba Gorge Majestic Scenery
Leba Gorge Majestic Scenery

Leba Gorge 勒巴沟

The Leba Gorge Yushu prefecture, Qinghai Province is a great exursion from Yushu Town.

Leba Gorge Yushu
Leba Gorge Yushu

About 20 kilometres to the south of Yushu (玉树) lies the incredibly scenic Leba Gorge. The Leba Gorge is a magnificent valley full of rushing rivers, wild flowers and painted, sacred rocks. Its vast, open grasslands are inhabited by yaks and wild marmots and its changing, threatening skies are crossed by soaring eagles.

The Leba Gorge Yushu: Dodgy Entrance Ticket

Visitors can access the gorge from a clearly marked entry point near the Yangtze River, drive all the way through and end up at the Princess Wencheng Temple(文成公主庙); which is precisely what we did:

A couple of kilometres down a bumpy track that precariously hugs the mountainside, with the rushing river beside and below us, our car is stopped at what seems to be a makeshift roadblock. Here, a dodgy ticket system is run by some rather shady- looking characters. We are charged Continue reading “The Leba Gorge Yushu”

Xining to Yushu on the Sleeper Bus

Xining 西宁 to Yushu玉树 on the Sleeper Bus (Qinghai Province)

Xining to Yushu on the Sleeper Bus
Xining to Yushu on the Sleeper Bus

Xining to Yushu on the Sleeper Bus. As I observed the scene from the upper berth on the overnight sleeper from Xining to Yushu, memories of China’s famous scenic mountain Huangshan flooded back. The upper-tier beds seemed to be floating in a sea of clouds, just like the famous rocks and gnarled pines of Huangshan and, as happens on that mountain, occasionally everything was swallowed up by an enveloping mist. Except that the clouds and the mist on our bus were no manifestation of the bracing and refreshing mountain air, but rather a thick curtain of acrid cigarette smoke, rising up from our fellow passengers on the beds below.

there were no-smoking signs everywhere

Initially, Margie and I were quite relieved when we saw our bus at Xining bus station: at first sight it looked pretty new and clean; even the bedding was quite passable. Our upper berths right at the front of the bus seemed comfortable enough and, even more importantly, there were no-smoking signs everywhere. Encouraged by these favorable impressions, we began to look forward to the trip. Of course, we should have known better.

Xining to Yushu on the Sleeper Bus
Xining to Yushu on the Sleeper Bus

“Heaven is high and the Emperor is far away”

While in the more developed eastern parts of China non-smoking rules on public transport are usually enforced quite strictly, previous experience had taught us that the situation in the remote areas of western China could be very different. The Chinese have a fabulous saying that sums up how rules are enforced, or not, the further you are from Beijing: “Heaven is high and the Emperor is far away” (tian gao huang di yuan 天高皇帝远). And indeed, the emperor seemed a long way away as the two drivers boarded the bus, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, and the other passengers began the customary ritual of foisting cigarettes upon each other.

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Tongren (Repkong) Longwu Si

Tongren (Repkong) Longwu Si (2004)同仁隆务寺

Tongren (Repkong) Longwu Si . We visited the Qinghai town of Tongren in 2004. It seems that over the past few years it has become quite a popular destination. The stunning scenery along the road that crosses the wild grasslands from Xiahe in Gansu Province is one of the great journeys in China (and it is only about 5 hours.)


The Monasteries around Tongren are famous for their thangkas (The Tibetan Paintings you see in the Monasteries). This year when we explored the area around Yushu we visted the Trangu Gompa. The new  monastery building had been completely painted by artists from Tongren. The scenes from the Buddhist hell were particularly impressive. We’ll put them up soon. But for now here are some pictures of Buddhist hell from Tongren’s Longwu Monastery.

I must admit I love Buddhist scenes of hell and these ones at Longwu si are among my favourites.

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Seafood in Xining: Daxin Jie

Seafood in Xining: Daxin Jie

Plenty of choice

Seafood in Xining: Daxin Jie. Imagine pigging out on prawns, clams, razor fish and other weird and wonderful critters lying around in buckets in Xining, the capital of remote and landlocked Qinghai province. Well, that is exactly what thousands of Xining’s residents do every night. Xining may seem an unlikely place to enjoy a delicious fresh seafood meal, but Daxin Jie in the city centre is home to a host of restaurants, specialising in Wenzhou style seafood.

Seafood in Xining: Daxin Jie
Seafood in Xining: Daxin Jie

Wenzhou arrives in Xining

Wenzhou, in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, is renowned for its fabulous fresh seafood and fish. In Madrid where we live, about 90% of the Chinese come from Wenzhou and nearby Qingtian. Over the years, many of these homesick immigrants have abandoned the typical spring roll and fried rice restaurants, adapted to the local Spanish taste, and inaugurated some amazingly authentic Wenzhou style restaurants instead, catering for the burgeoning Chinese community. So it was with a sense of recognition, but a large degree of  incredulity as  well, that we saw that nearly half the restaurants in Daxin Jie announced themselves as Wenzhou Haixian Fandian 温州海鲜饭店 (Wenzhou Seafood Restaurant).

The Wenzhou style of cooking places emphasis on the taste of the product, rather than on using a lot of spice, which is why it is sometimes a little bland for the taste buds of the residents of Western China. If you are like them, just ask the waiter to add a bit of la 辣 (hot spice).

huge water tanks

With China’s increasingly improved transport links, refrigeration technology and the use of huge water tanks, residents of far-flung places like Xining can now enjoy recently caught or farmed seafood and fish on their plates, as fresh as it would be in Wenzhou. If Wenzhou style is not for you, Daxin Jie is also home to a few Shandong style seafood restaurants that do a roaring trade in spicy squid kebabs. Other restaurants feed hungry customers with Shaguo, an iron soup bowl filled with a wide choice of ingredients.

Prices are reasonable. 100 Yuan will get a decent meal for 2 or 3 with beer.

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Youning Si 佑宁寺

Mongolian Tu Minority Youning Si

Youning Si 佑宁寺 – (Qinghai Province)

Youning Si 佑宁寺 is a  mysterious monastery and when we visted it was also off limits to foreigners (officially). Tucked away in a steeply forested valley, Youning Si (Rgolung in Tibetan), a monastery belonging to the Gelugpa order (or the Yellow Hat Sect), is a fantastic hidden gem and makes for a great day trip from Xining. The setting is gorgeous: a couple of large, colourful monasteries that line the road up the valley mark the beginning of the pilgrims’ trail.

Youning Si Golden Temple

Youning Si 佑宁寺 Pilgrims

From here, gaggles of pilgrims climb up the steep paths, half-smothered by lush vegetation and covered in prayer flags. The flags skirt the flanks of the mountain and lead to a scattering of small chapels and shrines, perched high on the hillside, their golden roofs gleaming from the distance.

Youning Si Tu Minority

On rainy days, such as the day of our visit, the muddy paths can get quite treacherous. Needless to say that the pilgrims, including the frail old grannies and small toddlers, skip along the trails, ignoring the hairy bits. We on the other hand, with our clumsy feet and exaggerated fear of heights, held everybody up as we hesitantly negotiated the steepest parts.

Youning Si 佑宁寺 at First Sight

At first sight, Youning Si could easily be mistaken for a typical Tibetan Monastery: the 200 or so shaven- headed monks (there once used to be 7000) wandering around in dark red robes, the temple decoration, the images of the deities, the photos of famous Lamas that adorn the altars, are all just as you would find them in any Tibetan monastery.

And yet, there is something different about Youning Si: the monastery Continue reading “Youning Si 佑宁寺”