Kumbum Monastery is about 27 kilometers southwest of Xining. It is one of the two most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries outside Tibet itself. Set among flowing wheat fields and fertile hills, Kumbum Monastery evokes an ambience of relaxation and meditation.
Kumbum Monastery, also called Ta'er Monastery, originated in 1379 from a pagoda that marked the birthplace of Tsong Kha-pa, founder of the Gelugpa Sect of the Tibetan people. The site covers around 400,000 square kilometers and is home to over 750 monks. The most famous items in this monastery are the "Three Treasures", the yak butter sculpture called "Suyouhua". Made from yak butter, the sculptures bring to life Buddha, animals and flowers, and vary from a few meters to less than a centimeter high. To prepare for the grand butter sculpture show on the night of January 15 on the lunar calendar, the lamas must start working at least three months ahead. To prevent the butter from melting, they must work in sub-zero temperature and the sculptures are kept in giant, air-conditioned glass boxes after the show.
Another treasure housed in this monastery is the appliquéd embroidery displayed in the Great Hall of Sutra. The pictures are pieced together with silk and the Buddha. Mural forms another treasure of the monastery. They were painted with pigments made from minerals and plants, allowing the colors to stay fresh and bright for centuries. But the most interesting thing you will encounter here is the debate of the lamas. Standing in front of his seated teacher, a student must think of difficult questions from the Buddhist sutras, then clap his hands as loudly as possible and extend his right arm to his teacher while raising the question. Generally, the teacher will answer succinctly in one or two words. Occasionally, he will speak longer and the student's smile clearly shows his gratitude for the advice. Tourists are not allowed to watch the debate, and if you show enough respect to the lamas, you might be able to have an interesting talk with them.
Do not miss out on the eight stupas to the right of the entrance, representing the life story of Sakyamuni.