Kumbum Monastery is one of the two most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries outside Tibet itself. It presents a beautiful landscape of temples and residences nestled in the peaceful hills of Xining's suburbs. On top of that, Kumbum Monastery is the perfect place to see yak butter sculptures, traditional embroidery, and witness the debate of the lamas.
The most famous items in this monastery are the "Three Treasures". The yak butter sculptures called "Suyouhua" are one of them.
The yak butter 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 month 1 day 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 Buddhist pictures are pieced together with silk.
Murals are the third 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 there 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 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.
Kumbum Monastery, also called Ta'er Monastery in Mandarin Chinese, 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 about 400 monks. Prior to 1958, over 3,500 monks still lived here. The monastery has been vital to explorers and researchers from the West for hundreds of years. Many explorers have spent time here.
The best part of visiting Kumbum is the insight into normal monastery life, which continues regardless of visitors and tourists. There are not as many tourists in Qinghai Province as there are in the rest of China, meaning you truly get to experience something special.
To get to Kumbum Monastery, take the Xining to Huangzhong Special Line bus to Huangzhongta Station from Xining Railway Station. From the stop, the monastery is a 270 meter walk, slightly uphill. The monastery is located approximately 27 km from Xining city center.
China Highlights can help you customize a tour to visit Kumbum Monastery and other highlights in Xining. Take a look at some of our Xining tours, and let us know what else you'd like to see. This way you can make the most of your time in Northwestern China. Although the monastery is generally visited during summer, visiting at the end of winter is also stunning as there may be a layer of snow left, and there are fewer other tourists.
While you are in Xining, it is worth visiting Qinghai Lake, a huge salt lake. One of the most popular attractions at the salt lake is Bird's Island. While in the city itself, Dongguan Mosque is a must visit. It is one of the biggest mosques in Northwestern China.