The town of Lajia is tucked into a bend in the Yellow River about 350km south of Xining. The landscape around the town is a staggering expanse of grass covered red mountains. In contrast to the beauty of its natural surroundings, the town itself is mostly utilitarian cement and corrugated metal houses mixed with small scale industrial plants. Thus, Lajia doesn’t offer much to see in the modern areas. However, an exceptionally beautiful Buddhist monastery makes the small town a worthwhile stop nonetheless.
Some of the older monks at the temple are known for their handlebar mustaches. This guy had a particularly nice specimen.
We arrived at the temple during one of the morning classes in the courtyard. Young monks were huddled together chanting while the teacher paced around their hunched bodies. The young monks acted like young boys everywhere. They hit each other while the teacher wasn’t looking, were constantly whispering to each other, and generally acted like naughty little boys.
Out in the courtyard older monks were sitting in the shade reading and debating with each other. With their books open and hand gestures flying, the monks created an atmosphere of idyllic academia.
A giant gong then let out several big booms and a roar erupted from the young boys. Apparently they were cheering that class was over. They jumped up enthusiastically, and the once peaceful courtyard was suddenly a playground. The boys wrapped themselves in their robes and scurried out of the courtyard to get ready for lunch.
While the boys were off to lunch, we ventured into the monastery’s main hall. We’ve been to a lot of Buddhist monasteries, but this one truly ranks as one of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen. Prayer flags fell from the ceiling like waterfalls and each pillar was wrapped in an ornate vibrant rug. It felt like a dark rainforest of Buddhist paraphernalia. Gorgeous thangkas lined the walls and aisles, while a small humble picture of the Dalai Lama was perched at the front of the hall.
Outside the remnants of the monks’ clothes were everywhere – a shoe here, a hat there. The place felt alive even when it was empty. We noticed on a wall a list of donations by locals. The handwritten record listed amounts ranging from about RMB 20-400.
You don’t need a lot of time to visit Lajia Temple, so if you’re in the neighborhood it is definitely worth a stop. The monks are very friendly and you’re free to walk around and politely knock on the doors. If you can, stick around to watch one of their classes outside.
Finding Lijia Monastery on a Map