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Larung Gar: a city just for monks & nuns

Tiny boxes on the hillside: a sneak peak into Buddhist life along the Tibetan Highway

Story by Priscilla Dorresteijn July 26th, 2015

Larung gar - བླ་རུང་སྒར

Larung Gar, in Western Sichuan, China - a place so magical it‘s hard to describe. It’s one of the biggest Buddhist institutes in the world and houses around 40.000 monks and nuns: It’s incredible to see the scale of this place - basically, a giant pile of boxed little houses stacked on top of each other, and not just in one spot, there’s literally box houses ALL AROUND, as far as your eyes can see. And even though space is really scarce, I read that there’s still >1000 new huts built every year.. whew!

The academy provides training in Tibetan Buddhism, commonly in Amdo Tibetan, but some in Mandarin Chinese as well. Males and females are each housed on different sides of the hills, so one side is all nuns and the other one for monks only, and there’s several temples where the monks and nuns go for daily practice and study.

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Friendly Monk Encounters

We met so many friendly monks while climbing the hills and wandering around in the area. During our strolls, we often stopped for a small chat with them, and were invited into some of the monk’s houses for a Tibetan butter tea - which is not my cup of tea, btw ;) but as we would say in Dutch: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!”

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Mind you, These monks are pretty DIGITIZED...

Whenever we asked the monks if we could take their portraits, they’d smile and pose happily, then pull out their smartphones, click photos with us in return and ask us for our Wechat accounts to exchange the pics. They actually seem to be as hooked to their phones as the folks I see around here in Beijing! :)

Btw, I thought the kid looked really awesome, almost Elf like with his ears and the colored background!

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The Elf boy!

The Daily Grind

I’m not gonna lie, Larung Gar is quite hard to reach (~7 hours of pure torture on a mostly unpaved and extremely bumpy road from Ganze), but this at the same time is a great thing: it allows the place to stay very much off the tourist trail (for now) and it’s pretty magical to get the chance to stay there and explore the area for a few days.

There’s a hotel and several guest houses on site, so you can have the chance to stay right in the “epicenter” - tip: go pretty much all the way up from the road side once you enter Larung Gar, the guest houses are close to the town square near the top. Oh, and Larung Gar is a heaven for Vegetarians, as it’s got super tasty, subsidized Vegan food! There’s a few canteens where you can join the monks for lunch of dinner. Food is really cheap, and you pay a small ‘food deposit’ which you get back if you clean your plate before handing it back in and hence you don’t waste any food - really great, I think they should install this rule in Beijing restaurants!

For me, visiting Larung Gar was an experience of a lifetime. If you don’t mind some traveling discomforts and want to have a true taste of Tibetan Buddhist life, go for it!

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Sertar, Garze, Sichuan, China