• Tag Archives Ta’er
  • Xining, the city that has nothing to show

    Probably I should change my travel guide. I have always spoke bad about imaginary guides, guides based in what you are supposed to see and do, instead on what you actually see and do. My first experience was with Fodor’s Guide to Iran:

    The water mirror at the Sahn (central courtyard in a Mosque) reflects the four Iwans that surround it, offering, to clever photographs, the inverted image of their arches. The South Iwan, sided by two minarets, gives access to the prayers room. This room is simply a pure wonder of unexpected lightness and elegance under a dome of these dimensions”


    Well, one expect this:

    2009-10-27 at 11-04-48,

    although, what you see is more similar to this:

    2009-10-27 at 11-37-02

    or to this

    2009-10-27 at 11-34-08

    Moreover, on the first photograph you may see the green color of the water at the rinsing pool. This green is lime, an in the pool water you may see all kind of trash. So, it is better if you maintain the correct distance to take the photo.

    So, when I read in the Lonely Planet Guide

    ” Though many travelers use Xining as a jumping-off of landing point in the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, it’s also a wonderful place to explore the province’s varied cultures: Muslim (Huí, Salar and Uighur), Tibetan and Han Chinese, – specially the dynamite culinary mix that these groups bring together”

    and that the almost only thing to see is the Provincial Museum of Qinghai with old potteries and the Tibetan Culture Museum, which scores the longest (618 meters) thankga (tibetan scroll), which took 400 artisans to paint, and that was completed in 1997, well, I am confused. I do not expect the Guides to lie to me, but I do expect they show at least some interest.

    So, let us skip also Xining and head to the Ta’er Monastery. Well, this is worse.

    It is of enormous historical importance – said the guide – and hundreds of monks still live there but, perhaps because it is such a big tourist draw for this part of Qinghai, the atmosphere can, at times, feel a bit overrun

    And when I read that, with the “Grand Hall of the Golden Tiles”, the other worthwhile thing to see is the “Yak Butter Scripture Temple” with contains human figures, animals and landscapes carved out of yak butter… well, I wonder if I should skip Ta’er too

    … or change my travel guide 🙂

    All photos, but for the last one, are mine (Isfahan, around 1979)


  • Kumbun, Koumboum or Ta’er, aka. the Big Lamasery

    2009-08-07 at 05-34-012011-01-01 at 12-09-10Ella and Peter arrived to Sining. They had lost en route the Smigounovs, sent back by Chinese authorities  to Tsien-Tsin. An incomplete passport allowed them to leave Lanzhou, thus passing the hot potato of the two heterodox travelers to next stop, in this case Xining,

    Lanzhou authorities did not dare to stop a “Correspondent of the Imperial and Foreign Department of The Times” with her boy (usually Ella was considered as Peter’s assistant), and they gave to them a passport for the Koukou Noor, written in Chinese only and not in Tibetan.

    So, they arrived to Sining, to be stopped again, waiting for a valid passport and without authorization to leave the city. This is the first city that Ella as well as Peter find “not Chinese”. Sining is a cross-road for “Mongols from Tsaidam and Tibetans from Labrang and even from Lhassa” (PF), Both, Ella and Peter talk about the exoticism of Sining.

    They strolled in the city, talked to the Authorities, bought their last equipments: a tent, designed by Ella with an “aerodynamic” look, sleeping bags made from cured skins of mutton (you may imagine what it should be to sleep inside), a recipient (a wok?) that was utilized by Ella to make laundry first, and to cook later.

    Finally, they got an authorization to visit the Big Lamasery of Kumbun, as Peter calls it, Koumboum for Ella.

    2006-04-13 at 17-47-122011-01-01 at 12-12-02
    They were overwhelmed by the lamasery, and the life there. Both talk about the gallery with stuffed animals, their fur bathed in yak’s butter. Odor should have been overwhelming. But they enjoyed staying there. Probably they felt that their trip had already started.

    They only needed: a caravan, some camels, a guide and they were all setup!

    (photos from the Author, Chengddu and Shaolin Temple.)