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Home Travel in Qinghai Kumbum Monastery
Kumbum Monastery
Travel in Qinghai

Kumbum Monastery
Kumbum Monastery (also known as Ta'er Monastery,  tǎ ěr sì 塔尔寺) is a Buddhist monastery in Qinghai province, China. Kumbum was founded in 1583 in a narrow valley close to the village of Lusar in the Tibetan cultural region of Amdo (ān duō 安多). Its superior monastery is Drepung (zhé bàng sì 哲蚌寺), immediately to the west of Lhasa (lā sà 拉萨). It was ranked in importance as second only to Lhasa.


Overview
Kumbum MonasteryKumbum Monastery is one of the six great Gelukpa sect monasteries in Tibet. The others are Ganden (70 minutes outside Lhasa), Sera (Lhasa), Drepung (Lhasa), Tashilhunpo (Shigatse) and Labrang (Xiahe). Kumbum monastery is located 26km / 16 miles from Xining (known as Silang in Tibetan) in northeast Amdo. Though it is now known as being one of the biggest Chinese tourist attractions in the area, Kumbum has been a very important monastery in Tibetan history.

Kumbum Monastery is about 27 kilometers southwest of Xining. It is one of the two most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries outside Tibet itself. Set among flowing wheat fields and fertile hills, Kumbum Monastery evokes an ambience of relaxation and meditation.


History
Kumbum MonasteryTsongkhapa (zōng kā bā 宗喀巴), the founder of the Gelukpa sect, was born in 1357 where Kumbum Monastery now stands. Tsongkhapa was responsible for bringing a major reformation to Tibetan Buddhism in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. The Gelukpa sect eventually gained political power in Tibet and rules Tibet (in exile) to this day. When Tsongkhapa was born, a drop of blood from his cut umbilical cord fell to the ground. From this drop of blood a huge sandalwood tree grew with 100,000 leaves. Each leaf supposedly had an image of Buddha on it (Kumbum means "100,000 images" in Tibetan). In 1379, Tsongkhapa's mother built a small temple with a chorten (Sanskrit: stupa) around the tree. In 1481, local nomads from the area added other buildings to the temple. In 1577 Sonam Gyatso (suǒ nán jiā cuò 索南嘉措), the 3rd Dalai Lama, was invited to Mongolia by Altan Khan (ǎn dá hán 俺答汗). Enroute to Mongolia, he stopped at the area where Tsongkhapa was born. He ordered that a large monastery be built and appointed a head lama. The monastery was finished in 1583.

Several other Dalai Lama's visited or lived at Kumbum. In 1603, the 4th Dalai Lama, Yonten Gyatso (yún dān jiā cuò 云丹嘉措), stopped at Kumbum monastery on his way to Lhasa. The 7th Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso (gé sāng jiā cuò 格桑嘉措), was also taken to Kumbum before going to Lhasa. The 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso (tǔ dēng jiā cuò 土登嘉措), visited the monastery several times during his reign. The 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso (dān zēng jiā cuò 丹增嘉措), was born in the small village of Takster about 65km / 41 miles from Kumbum. When he was recognized as the Dalai Lama, he was taken to Kumbum where he lived for 18 months before moving to Lhasa. Pictures of the 14th Dalai Lama are found in several of the halls of Kumbum. His picture is illegal to have in Tibet, but many monasteries and families outside of the Lhasa-Shigatse area keep his picture up despite the law.

In the 1950's there were around 3500 monks at Kumbum. Today there are around 700. Kumbum is famous across Tibet for its yak butter sculptures. These elaborate creations are made by hand and are made completely of butter. Monk dancing (Tibetan: Cham) takes place on several occasions each year. The current abbot of Kumbum Monastery is Arjia Lobsang Thubten Rinpoche. He was born to a Mongolian family in eastern Amdo. He fled Tibet in 1998 and lives in exile in California.


Climate
Xining has also been dubbed the Summer Resort Capital of China owing to its cool summer, with a cold semi-arid climate. Conditions are influenced by the aridity and high altitude. Lows are cold or cool throughout the year, and highs are often more than 15 °C (27 °F) warmer than lows. Monthly daily averages range from −7.4 °C (18.7 °F) in January to 17.3 °C (63.1 °F) in July; the year averages at 6.1 °C (43.0 °F). Rainfall falls mainly from May to September, and the area is often dry and sunny, with nearly 2680 hours of bright sunshine per year.


Attractions
The Tar Monastery covers an area of 40 hectares. well-preserved halls include the Grand Gold Tile Hall (dà jīn  wǎ sì 大金瓦寺), the Tsongkhapa Memorial Pagoda, the Maitreya Buddha hall(mí lè diàn 弥勒殿), the Happy Vajra Buddha Hall, the Buddhist Guardian Hall (also called the Lessor Gold Tile buddha Hall), the Longevity Buddha Hall(cháng shòu fó  diàn 长寿佛殿), the four others. The best-preserved are the 18 residences for the Living Buddhas, including the most famous one, the Grand Abbot Residence (also known as the Residence of the Panchen Erdeni).


Grand Gold Tile Hall
Grand Gold Tile HallOf the six major Gelug sect monasteries, the Tar Monastery boasts more halls built in the Tibetan, Han and Hui styles. The Grand Gold Tile Hall is of Han palace style, with three-tiered roofs adorned with patterns of clouds and lotus petals, pagodas, gold animals and bronze bells. Inside the hall stands the 11-meter silver pagoda enshrined with the gilded statue of Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug Sect. On the lotus altar are perennially burning butter lamps. The inscribed handwriting of the Qing Emperor Qianlong adorns a horizontal bar.

Grand Gold Tile HallThe Grand Gold Tile Hall is revered throughout Tibet and Mongolia. Inside, it is full of wonderful relics, great banners of silk brocade called "katas" (tankas), wonderful lamps of gold and silver, thousands of small vessels burning butter, a colossal figure of Tsong Kapa, said to be made of gold. All is in semi-darkness which adds to the mystical effect, and the gleam from the butter lamps threw into relief some beautifully wrought temple vessels, or the queer blank face of some saintly Buddha image.

At the center of the Grand Gold Tile Hall, there is an 11-meter-high Grand Silver Tower where it is said that Tsongkhapa was born. What’s more impressive is that all the sculptures are carved out of yak butter, which is a uniquely Tibetan art tradition that goes back 1300 years.


The Eight Pagodas of buddha Sakyamuni
The eight pagodas of Buddha SakyamuniThe eight pagodas of Buddha Sakyamuni (Lotus, Bodhi, Turning Dharma Wheel, Conquering Heresies, Rebirth, Peace, Victory and Nirvana) were built in 1776 to commemorate the events in the life of Sakyamuni.


The Lesser Hall of the Golden Roof

The Lesser Hall of the Golden RoofThe Lesser Hall of the Golden Roof (xiǎo jīn  wǎ sì小金瓦寺) is a temple for lovers of taxidermy, containing within its walls some well-preserved stuffed specimens of bulls, antelopes, bears and monkeys, and a white horse, which is said to have taken the ninth Panchen Lama (bān chán lǎ mɑ 班禅喇嘛) from Tibet to Qinghai within one day.



The Great Hall of Meditation
The Great Hall of MeditationThe Great Hall of Meditation (dà jīng tang 大经堂) is a large, dark prayer hall that contains dozens of hanging silk tapestries and thickly carpeted pillars.


The Hall of Butter Sculptures
The Hall of Butter Sculptures (sū yóu huā táng 酥油花堂) contains many of the famous yak butter sculptures. This art has existed for many hundreds of years, originally coming from Tibet to Kumbum in the sixteenth century. The better of the sculptures are put on display during the Lantern Festival (Yak Butter Lamp Festival).


Butter Sculpture
Butter SculpturesThe butter sculptures (sū yóu huā 酥油花), murals and appliques are known as Kumbum Monastery’s unique " three wonders " of art. Butter sculpture is another Tibetan Buddhist artistic visual impact. The sacred offering is made from mainly butter and other mineral pigments. The size of butter sculpture varies from several centimeters torma to several meters tableaux, covering a variety of subject including deities, butter mandalas, flowers, animals and Buddhist motifs. Traditionally, butter sculptures are displayed on monastery altars and family shrines as offerings. In the session of the Great Prayer Festival, there will be a butter sculpture display and competition before the Jokhang Temple.

Butter sculptures are modeled by hands. Since butter melts easily, monk artists making butter sculptures need to work in cold conditions, they have to dip their hands into cold water to make their fingers cold enough then can they start to model. Monks take great pride to do the religious work. A few tools, such as hollow bones for making long threads and moulds for making leaves and alike, are applied.

The butter sculptures in Ta'er Monastery enjoy the highest reputation in the Tibetan world. The monastery has a butter sculpture museum housing a collection of fine butter sculptures.


Lodging & Dining
There are basically two options for those who wish to stay the night here. The first is the small Pilgrim's Hostel in the monastery itself, a really ancient old building with ancient (and cheap) facilities to match. The second is with the two star Ta'er Hotel (tǎ ěr bīn guǎn 塔尔宾馆, Tel: 0972-232452) at 57 Yingbin lu (yíng bīn lù 迎宾路), just to the left of the main monastery gate as you face it before entering. Triples here will set you back around RMB55/bed or RMB180 for a double room (negotiable). For dining there is a restaurant in the Pilgrim's Hotel, or a few places down in the town. All serve standard Muslim food.

Location: Kumbum Monastery is about 27 kilometers southwest of Xining.
Tel: 0971-6122987
Transportation: Kumbum monastery can be easily reached from Xining. On Kunlun Zhong Lu (near Xi Men) there are taxis that will take you the 26km to the monastery for CNY32. This price is per car and not per person. You can also take a bus to the town of Huangzhong (the small town where Kumbum is) for CNY6 per person.
Recommended Golden Time: The best time to go to the monastery is around Losar (Tibetan New Year). Many Tibetans from Amdo come to the monastery during this time. Try and avoid going to the monastery during the summer. Loads of Chinese tourists are there everyday.
Opening Hours: 8:00am-5:00pm
Admission Fee: CNY80 (it was raised from Y35 to Y80 in 2006)
Travel Tips: Photography is prohibited within the monastery.


Attractions Nearby

Dongguan Mosque

Situated in the south of the Dongguan Street, the Dongguan Mosque (dōng guān qīng zhēn dà sì 东关清真大寺) is one of the largest mosques in northwest China.  First built in 1379 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the mosque enjoys a long history of more than 600 years and still remains the most well preserved ancient building. Architecture of the mosque combines traditional Chinese style and the local features, with grand appearance and delicate, dazzlingly inside ornaments. The mosque has a prayer hall which can hold up to 3,000 people. Now this mosque serves as an educational center and institution of higher learning for Islamism, and also is the leading mosque in Qinghai.

Location: In Dongguan Street, Sining, Qinghai Province
Tel: 0971-6122987
Transportation:
1. Take flight to Xining Airport or take train to Xining Railway Station first.
2. Take Bus No. 1, NO.2 or No.3 to Dongguan Mosque in Xining Railway Station or take a taxi.
Opening Hours: 8:00-12:00; 14:00-17:00
Recommended traveling time: From a half to a whole day.
Travel Tips: Female can’t enter the prayer hall. Besides, the consumption of pork is prohibited in the temple.

Xiazong Temple
Xiazong templeRuobeiduojie, the 4th living Buddha of Gemage sect and famous monk in Tibet, had stayed in Xiazong temple (xià zōng sì 夏宗寺) that was built at the end of Yuan Dynasty, when he obeyed the emperor’s call to Dadu which was the capital in Yuan Dynasty, by way of Ping’an. The founder of Gelu Sect of Tibetan Buddhsim Zong Kaba, guided by his father, took his ordainment in the temple at the age of three. Many famous monks in Qinghai Area had practiced Buddhism here, thus, the temple is well known in Qinghai Area and becomes the famous temple in the Tibetan Buddhist circles. There were over 400 palaces and houses lived by monks at its peak. The whole temple is built along the cliffs, and the Cave on the site of temple is of imposing scale. The best place to command a view is Bagua Pavilion, which was built in the reign of Qianlong Emperor and on a mountain peak behind a hall.

Location:
Xiazong temple is located in 28 kilometers southwest of Pingan Town
Opening Hours: 9:00-17:00
Transportation: It is situated in a place 28 kilometers south off the 1924.8th kilometer of NO.109 National Road. In 2005, the newly built Panshan road stretches to the temple gate.
Recommended time for tourist: half a day