In the remote town of Xiahe, the monastery is a little piece of Tibet along the Gansu-Qinghai border. A world away from Lanzhou, Xiahe has experienced a dizzying rise in the number of travelers over the past decade. Even Tibetan monks clad in traditional fuchsia robes now surf the Internet, play basketball, and listen to pop music. Despite the encroaching modernity, Xiahe is still a wonderful place, attracting large numbers of pilgrims who come to study and to spin the 1,147 prayer wheels of the monastery daily, swathed in their distinctive costume of heavy woolen robes tied with brightly colored sashes.
The Labrang Monastery is the largest Tibetan lamasery outside Tibet. Founded in 1710, it once had as many as 4,000 monks, a number much depleted due in large part to the Cultural Revolution, when monks were forced to return home and temples were destroyed. Though the monastery reopened in 1980, the government's continued policy of restricted enrollment has kept the number of monks
down to about 1,500. There are guided tours daily at 10:15 am and 3:15 pm.
There are two ways to reach Xiahe: by public bus or by private tour. Buses for Xiahe leave from Lanzhou's South Station (汽车南站, Qìchē nán zhàn) in the morning (6:30 and 7:30) and afternoon (2 and 3) and take about four hours. Make sure to purchase tickets in advance, as some departures require travel insurance. Have two photocopies of your visa and passport information on hand in case they are required.
As of this writing, the monastery is open to tourists. However, it has been closed in the recent past due to political uprisings, so as you plan your trip, keep tabs on the news.