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Monlam Festival is another name of the Great Prayer Festival in the Tibetan area. It is the grandest religious festival in Tibetan regions during January and February when Chinese Lunar New Year Festival is being celebrated in the same period in other parts of China. It originated from a prayer meeting once organized at Jokhang Temple in Lhasa in 1409 by Tsong Khapa, founder of the Gelukpa (Yellow Hat) Sect.
☝ Local Tibetan, Monks, Pilgrims and Travelers Are Curiously Waiting the Huge Scroll of Thangka to Be Carried Out from the Monastery
During the meeting, thousands of monks and believers from far and near would gather for prayers, theological debates and examination for Geshe, a doctoral degree in Buddhist theology at monasteries with countless pilgrims coming to listen to sermons. Gradually ,this prayer activity became a very important festival of whole Tibetan area which covers the north of Sichuan Province, the south of Gansu Province, the whole Qinghai Province and every corner of Tibet Autonomous Region. But for some reason, today you can only find this holly festival being hold in historic Amdo area of Tibet in northern Sichuan province, southern Gansu province and southeastern Qinghai province.
Tibetan Monlam Prayer Festival is originally scheduled to start on Februrary 15 and end on February 28 in 2021. It is cancelled for prevention of COVID-19 pandemic. With the vaccine rollout going well, the world is expected to return to normal in 2022. We are optimistic that Monlam Festival will be allowed next year from February 4 to February 17, 2022.
☝ Monks and Believers Are Carrying A Big Scroll of Huge Thangka on Their Shoulders in A Religious Ritual
This tour of Monlam Festival will provide us a chance to join colorfully dressed pilgrims and monks in a variety of religious ceremonies at Tibetan monasteries in Amdo area (the name of the areas of Northern Sichuan, Southern Gansu and the Southeast of Qinghai). Highlights of the festival will be the display of huge Thangka painting at mountain slope or shining site near a monastery, the mystic mask dance of monks from the monasteries ,the transferring of Buddha statute around the monastery or village, etc. During the ceremony, a very big sized thangka of Buddha measuring 90 ft of length and 60 ft of width will be unfurled on a hillside. The festival will be accompanied by lively Cham dances and prayer assemblies throughout the entire period of two weeks.
☝ People Are Unfolding and Hanging a Large Thangka on the Holy Wall to Be Worshipped by Believers
🕐 Day 1: Xining⇒Tongren
Fly to Xining ,the capital city of Qinghai province, with the inhabitance of 3 million people. Upon arrival of Xining ,meet with your guide and then drive 2.5 hours to Tongren directly. With the elevation 2,700 meters, Tongren is the home town of Regong arts (Rebgong arts), an intangible cultural heritage of the UNESCO, including Thangka painting, clay sculpturing, rock carving, wood carving, etc. After checking into the hotel , you will be served with a welcome dinner.
🕑 Day 2: Tongren⇒Gormar Big breakfast⇒Tongren
In the morning, we will make a short drive to Gomar Monastery (Gomar Gompa) to watch their annual big breakfast festival. Between 9:30 AM and 11:00 AM, Tibetans in the neighborhood will come to eat local variety Tibetan food and drinks being served by the local monks. Yak meat, Tsanba, Yak milk tea, deep fried dough cakes, fruits ,Cola, and other sweet drinks are the basic things that you may see on the table. Normally this big breakfast is fully sponsored by some local villagers or monks who had a good harvest or made good money in the previous year. This big breakfast is not only the most important event on the festival but also a way of thanksgiving, and a ritual for good luck to all. This will be an excellent place to get some amazing photos of this festival as well as pictures of Tibetans wearing their traditional clothing.
☝ Tibetan People on the Big Breakfast Festival of Gormar
🕒 Day 3: Tongren⇒Gormar big Thangka display⇒Tongren
Today, we will again drive to Gomar Monastery to watch the huge Thangka displayed at the stone wall near the monastery. Local Tibetans will be there to witness and worship this massive tapestry being hung and being unfolded. Gormar is the name of one of the villages on the Longwu valley. With more than 1,000 years of history, this village is shaped like a castle so that villagers could unite together to fight off attacks from the outside. They got united when the war came and they worship the Buddha in peaceful time. To gather together and pray in front of a unfolded Buddha tapestry is the most important event today. The activity will be started to prepare at the early hours of the day by monks chanting in the main hall of the monastery. When it is dawn, well dressed villagers come to the monastery and walk around the pilgrims path to pray, some of them will prostrate on the mirror like wood floor in front of the main hall. The whole morning is good time to take photos of grand temple complex, different costumes, different faces, beauties, etc. The morning is worth expecting, but the highlight comes in the afternoon when the climax arrives with the sounding of long Tibetan trumpets which are put on the rooftop of the main hall and played backend by monks. At this exact moment ,the monks and the young but strong fellows will carry the big roll of that huge Thangka on their shoulders from inside the main hall ,people will then rush to the outside yard to touch the big roll as they believe they will be blessed by having the chance to touch such holly stuff. The huge Thangka will be carried to outside the monastery till finally it is hung on the wall to be witnessed and to Sun-cure. 30 minutes to 1 hour later ,the big Thangka will be folded again and well collected to restore in the main hall.
☝ A Giant Buddhist Thangka Painting is on Display Near Gomar Monastery
🕓 Day 4: Tongren⇒Wutun temple mask dance⇒Tongren
You will spend the whole day to watch the mask dance at lower Wutun temple. The mask dance is no doubt one of the most sacred activities of the day. According to the religious understanding, all sufferings, unhappiness, sickness and sadness are caused by the haunting of ghosts and gods, so as a matter of course , todays’ highlights are performing the stories of the above ideas. Monks of lower Wutun temple will wear different big masks of grim skull such as 3-eye gods,6-arm ghosts, ugly looking protectors, etc. Throughout the 3 hour long performance, they are teaching people the theory of karma and the retribution for sin. Obviously ,this provides you a valuable opportunity for moral education.
☝ Monks and Attendees on the Opening Ceremony of the Mask Dance Festival in Lower Wutun Temple
🕔 Day 5: Tongren ⇒Xiahe
In the morning, we will leave from Repkong (the Tibetan name of Tongren) and drive for Labrang in Xiahe County of Gansu Province. On the way to Labrang, we will firstly visit the Gangya (Ganjia) Grassland which is the home of wild yaks and Tibetan sheep for sightseeing and photo shooting, and secondly visit Zuohai Monastery, the home to Tibetan yogis (also known as "Ngagpa"). These yogis perform many important roles within Buddhism even though they are non-monastic priest. Even more mysterious, they would keep their hair long and uncut though most of them are married. We hope to visit it in meditation time that will be led by the yogis. In Labrang, we will stay at a modern, centrally-located hotel. The distance from Rebkong to Labrang is 110 kilometers (70 miles) and Labrang has an elevation of 2,935 meters (9630 feet).
☝ Monks and Attendees on the Opening Ceremony of the Mask Dance Festival in Lower Wutun Temple
🕕 Day 6: Xiahe⇒Labrang Monastery⇒Xiahe⇒Langmusi
In the morning we will explore Labrang monstery and its surroundings. Labrang Monastery is one of the six largest monasteries of Tibetan Yellow-hat Sect, the largest monastery in eastern Tibet region and the most important monastery complex outside of Lhasa. We will visit the monastery led by local monk guide who speaks understandable English and walk the 3 kilometer (almost 2 mile) pilgrimage circuit around the monastery. You can find many many Tibetans walk around this circuit, which is lined with prayer wheels, while chanting and praying. In the afternoon ,we will drive 220 kilometers to Langmusi, a village on the borders of Gansu and Sichuan Provinces . Upon arrival to Langmusi ,check into the hotel and then have dinner in a very famous local restaurant that is well know by western backpackers to have yummy food such as some yak pancake, apple pie, potato pie ,etc.
☝ A Monk Mask Dancer with His Audiences on the Mask Festival in Labrang Monastery
🕖 Day 7: Langmusi⇒Thangka Display⇒Xiahe
Today is the most holly day throughout the whole journey. The monks from Langmusi monastery and Kerti Monastery will get united to be able to carry a huge Buddhist tapestry (known as a Thangka) out the monastery and put it onto the large display wall on the far side of the town. Normally ,the time slot of displaying of such a huge Thangka is from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM. Visiting guests are advised to get up very early and climb to the top hill to find your best place for cameras. During the whole period ,a lot of local Tibetans will be there to witness the massive tapestry being hung. This will of course be one of the many highlights during the journey. While experiencing this grand cultural festival, you will also be able to photograph local Tibetans, monks and many other interesting aspects of the ritual. After the festival ,we’ll drive the same way back to Xiahe. Upon arrival of Xiahe, have dinner and then check into the hotel .
☝ Monks Are Enjoying Their Time on the Mask Dance Festival in Labrang Monastery
🕗 Day 8: Xiahe⇒Labrang Monastery Mask Dance⇒Xiahe
Today will be our last day in Labrang. We will take you to the main monastery complex to watch the Cham Dancing Festival. Unlike that in Wutun Temple, mask dances here in Labrang Monastery have a long line of guards of honor who are sitting on strong horses holding real mental weapons firmly in their hands. Here, the costumes and props are much more traditional, and the story played is more interesting and impressive. With many thousands of local Tibetan farmers and nomads in attendance, this will be a great way to end your time in Labrang. Afterwards, we will leave you unguided so that you can explore the monastery town of Labrang on your own.
☝ Monks in Labrang Monastery Are Having Their Morning Classes
🕘 Day 9: Xiahe⇒Guashize⇒Xining
We will leave Labrang in the late afternoon and drive 245 kilometer to return back to the city of Xining. Along the way, we will make several stops, visiting the high altitude grasslands in Gangya as well as a couple of Tibetan farming villages. When driving down the mountain of Rongchen, we will also pay a visit to Guashize Temple to take some amazing photos there. After having a local lunch at Chongqe, we will continue driving to Xining. In Xining, we will stay at a centrally located hotel and have a final dinner together talking about the many impressive highlights this journey had.
🕙 Day 10: Xining⇒Next City
This Tibetan New Year Tour successfully concludes after breakfast. Guests will then be escorted to Xining Airport or Xining Railway Station for the next journey.
☝ Guards of Honor Are Making Ready to Debut on the Mask Dance Festival in Labrang Monastery
✔ A good conditioned coach with experienced driver throughout the tour; ✔ 9 nights accommodation in local best hotels on twin or double sharing basis( foreign related 4 star hotels) ✔ All tours and transfers by private vehicle with an English-speaking tour guide; ✔ 18 Meals as stated & daily bottled water; ✔ Beverages in the restaurants where meals are included; ✔ Entrance fees as stated in the itinerary.
✖ Airfare Fee; ✖ Gratuities to guide & driver; ✖ Personal and other expenses not stated in the itinerary; ✖ special admission fees to the festival(200 Yuan per monastery) ✖ Travel Insurance.
Clients have flexibility to purchase the whole tour as specified here or purchase partial and customized tour. Please contact us to request a quotation as it differs with number of travelers and etc.
We actually offer various Qinghai tours such as 4 Day Xining Tour to Qinghai Lake, Dongguan Grand Mosques, Ta'er Monastery and Tibetan Medicine Culture Museum, 5 Day Rebkong Monlam Festival Highlight Tour, 5 Day Lanzhou - Xiahe - Rebkong - Xining Tibetan Buddism Tour, Qinghai Silk Road Tour and many more. We also offer tailor made tours according to your specifications. Please send enquiry to [email protected] or leave message in the comment box below to contact us..
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