Kumbum Monastery


One of the great monasteries of the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Kumbum Monastery was built in 1577 on hallowed ground – the birthplace of Tsongkhapa, founder of the sect. It’s of enormous historical significance, and hundreds of monks still live here, but the atmosphere can feel a bit overrun, perhaps because it’s such a big tourist draw. The artwork and architecture, however, remain impressive.

Nine temples are open, each with its own characteristics. The most important is the Grand Hall of Golden Tiles (大金瓦殿, Dàjīnwǎ Diàn), where an 11m-high chörten (Tibetan stupa) marks the spot of Tsongkhapa’s birth. You’ll see pilgrims walking circuits of the building and prostrating outside the entrance. Also worth seeking out is the Yak Butter Scripture Temple (酥油花馆, Sūyóuhuā Guǎn), which houses sculptures of human figures, animals and landscapes carved out of yak butter. The hall is incredibly ornate, with an interior emblazoned with colour.

Kumbum is located 27km from Xining in the town of Huangzhong. Bus 909 (¥4, one hour) runs from the public bus terminal at the train station in Xining to the monastery every six minutes between 6.30am and 6.40pm. Get off at the last stop and walk up the hill to the monastery. The last bus back from the monastery is at 7pm. A faster, direct and nonstop bus (one way/return ¥25/50) also leaves Xining main bus station at 10am each day.

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