Set in a beautiful mountain valley, Xiàhé is most definitely worth a visit, especially if you can’t get to Tibet. It’s the leading Tibetan monastery town outside of Lhasa and many Tibetans come here on pilgrimage dressed in their finest, most colourful clothing. Walking through the warrens and alleys of the huge Labrang Monastery (Lābǔléng Sì), side by side with the prostrating pilgrims and monks in fuchsia-coloured robes, feels like you’ve entered another world, which in many ways you have. The surroundings were long part of the Tibetan region of Amdo.
The religious focal point is Labrang Monastery, one of the six major Tibetan monasteries of the Gelugpa order (Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism). The others are Ganden, Sera and Drepung Monasteries near Lhasa; Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse; and Kumbum (Tǎ’ěr Sì) near Xīníng, Qīnghǎi.
Labrang is the seat of the Jamyang, a line of reincarnated rinpoches (Living Buddhas) that rank third in importance after the Dalai and Panchen Lamas. The current Jamyang works for the government in Lanzhou.
Xiàhé is a microcosm of southwestern Gānsù, with the area’s three principal ethnic groups represented. In rough terms, Xiàhé’s population is 50% Tibetan, 40% Han and 10% Hui.