Longwu Monastery is one of the oldest and largest Gelupa monasteries in the Qinghai province of China (Amdo region of Tibet). Founded in 1301, it is a large complex made up of many smaller temples, a large assembly hall, numerous dormitories for young monks, housing for older lamas, as well as facilities to make incense and for artists to create thangkas, tormas (figurines and mandalas carved out of a mixture of yak butter & flour), and other religious art.
We spent about 3 hours walking around the monastery, along dusty cobblestone paths. Once in a while we come across a group of monks or some cattle, but for the most part it is not very busy. I am enamoured by the bright and saturated colours that decorate each building, and rich tones of the monks' robes. As we step inside the smaller temples, the smell of incense and yak butter candles permeate the air, and large bodhisattva figures (often 1-2 stories tall) look daunting at first.
As dusk approaches we make our way to the large coutyard outside of the assembly hall and watch as young monks gather for their evening prayers. The 4 of us sit quietly on the steps and observe the process; there are no other tourists around. It's interesting to watch the young monks as they try to sit quietly and listen. Much like students back home, some monks can't seem to pay attention, some nod off half-asleep, some whisper and grin at each other, and some arrive late (they don't get a comfy seat cushion). In the first part of the prayer, the monk seated at the front of the square recites the chants himself - his voice is deep and reverberates throughout the square. When the students join in later on, the mix of low and high tones is quite hypnotizing.
The is our first visit to a large monastery and already I feel like I've learned so much about the rich spiritual tradition.
We planned our trip with Snowlion Tours, a Tibetan-owned company based in Xining. Wangden, the owner, is a great guy and I would highly recommend them :)
More photos from my trip on flickr