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Of all the Buddhist sights in western Sìchuān, there is none as striking as Larung Gar. The future of Tibetan Buddhism is contained here in this school, the largest of its kind in the world, cradled in a valley some 170km northeast of Gānzī. Some 10,000 students study here, dedicated for six to 13 years to serious monastic study.
Larung Gar was founded in 1980 by 30 disciples gathering at the modest home of their charismatic leader Khenpo Jikphun. Many more soon arrived. Today the two main halls that anchor the valley floor – the nunnery (女金室; nǚjīn shì), distinguished with three darchen (flag poles) in front, and the massive main monastery (大金室; dàjīn shì) – are thoroughly surrounded by a hive of subsidiary chapels and low-slung living quarters that blanket the valley in crimson. Devoted pilgrims climb to the ridge to prostrate before a huge chörten and walk the kora spinning prayer wheels.
Most of the classes in Buddhist philosophy, history and discourse are taught in Tibetan, even though the students are a mix of Tibetan, Han and other minorities from across China and as far away as Singapore. You can observe students engaging in lively debates at 5pm in the monastery.
Monks- and nuns-in-training live separate lives, only gathering in the monastery hall for scripture readings. Living quarters are divided by a high wall and they cook their meals in designated areas. At around 11am you can watch monks cooking for 3000 in giant woks outside, next to the monastery.