A Walk Around Litang Chode Monastery
Located at an elevation of about 4020 meters above sea level, some 350 meters higher than Lhasa, the town of Litang in China’s Sichuan province is home to the 16th-century Litang Chode Monastery. I arrived in Litang late in the evening after spending two days on the road, hitchhiking my way through canyons and mountains from the town of Lijiang. I learned about the monastery from the driver who picked me up on the outskirts of Shangri-La earlier in the morning. The mid-aged Chinese man who was traveling alone around China on his car told me there’s a famous Buddhist monastery in Litang, so I decided to spend a night in the town and visit the monastery the next day, before continuing my road to Chengdu.
Litang town, China | © 2010 Arty Om, teawithstrangers.org
While wandering around the town in search of a place to stay, I came across a young man who told me about a guest house he owns and offered a 50% discount if I stayed there, plus free Tibetan flatbread and honey for dinner. It would be stupid of me to refuse such a generous offer, so I followed him and soon found myself sitting by a traditional Tibetan oven with a loaf of bread and honey in my hands, engaged in a lively conversation with some locals who joined us. I was the only traveler occupying the 8-person dorm room, which was humid and cold, but I was given 2 extra woolen blankets, so it was fine. I woke up early in the morning as I still had several hundreds of kilometers to hitchhike towards the cities of Chengdu and Xi’an. The sleep was good, with the exception of a couple of weird dreams. I took my backpack, left the guest house and followed some locals with their yaks.
Buddhist stupas in Litang town, China | © 2010 Arty Om, teawithstrangers.org
The weather in Litang wasn’t pleasant at all, especially after the warm and lovely weather of Dali Old Town. The only warm clothes I had were the color-striped cotton sweater I bought at a second-hand market a week ago in Dali and woolen socks. Locals looked at me somewhat puzzled as I walked in the direction of the monastery. They weren’t expecting to see a foreigner walking under falling snow without a winter coat, in sneakers. I didn’t care. I had no plans to stay here long anyway, and I knew the weather would improve along the road. I reached the monastery in about half an hour.
Litang Chode monastery, China | © 2010 Arty Om, teawithstrangers.org
The Litang Chode Monastery (also called Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling in Tibetan, or Litangsi in Chinese) was built by the 3rd Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso in 1580. The monastery consists of three main temples, one of which was under reconstruction. Ganden Tubchen Choekhorling was home to many famous and influential figures in Tibetan Buddhism, such as the 7th Dalai Lama Kelsang Gyatso and the 10th Dalai-Lama Tsultrim Gyatso. According to the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, believers circuit around sacred sites, be that monasteries, temples, or natural sites. This practice, which is both a form of pilgrimage and meditation, is called Kora. I decided to follow this tradition and walked along the path together with locals.
Pilgrims walking around Litang Chode monastery, China | © 2010 Arty Om, teawithstrangers.org
The pilgrimage road ran along the walls of the monastic compound, climbing up the hill and then descending to the town. It didn’t take long for me to realize the mistake I made when I decided to carry the backpack. Walking uphill, I could feel every single kg of it on my shoulders. But the stunning view that opened up from the top was a great reward. The snowfall gave the entire scene a touch of magic. The long and winding road running down the hill, the elderly pilgrims with prayer wheels in their hands walking slowly, kids frolicking in the snow, and the white hills coexisted in a silent harmony.
Walking around Litang Chode monastery in China | © 2010 Arty Om, teawithstrangers.org
I stood there for a few minutes, observing the surroundings, then continued my way. I finished the circle around the monastery about half an hour later. Some of the Tibetans who were walking beside me went for the second circle. I rested a bit and walked to a cafe to have my breakfast. The hot and spicy vegetarian noodle soup was delicious. Soon I was on the road again. There were dangerous mountain passes, sleepless nights and other adventures ahead. Besides, a friend was waiting for me in Xi’an, but this is another story.