Sunday, January 3, 2010

Qinghainese Midwinter

As the week-end was longer than usual, I went to visit Xining, a city where Tibetan and Muslim cultures meet. Leaving home in the early morning on Friday, I managed to check-in at the hotel already before lunch. As it is the low season, most hotels offered great discounts. In this part of China, buildings are well heated in winter time and therefore it is very comfortable to go back to your hotel after a long walk outside. During the first afternoon my first stop was the North Mountain Temple, a Taoist temple complex comprising a few pagodas and caves on a hill north of the city. From the top of the hill, the views were great. Later it was the turn of the Dongguan Mosque, one of the largest in China, combining Chinese architecture. There is also a Western style cafĂ© nearby called the Green House, where you can enjoy Italian espressos. Saturday it was time to go out of the city and head to Huangzhong in order to visit the Kumbum Lamasery. It is one of the largest and most important of the Gelug Buddhists, founded by the thirds Dalai-Lama, it houses about 400 monks. Many temples are open to the public. It attracts many pilgrims from the province and its neighbors. Some were kneeling to the ground many times on their way to the temples, even though temperatures were well below zero in that early morning. One interesting feature of the monastery are the Buddhist sculptures made of yak-butter tea. A stupa is on the top of the hill outside of the gates and provides a splendid view of the surroundings. On the way to the bus station, some locals asked me in English whether I spoke Tibetan, a reminder that this is where national minority cultures are still thriving a giving a distinct appearance to the province. Back in the city, a cold wind was blowing; it was to be the coldest night of my stay with temperatures around twenty below freezing. This lead to the decision of not heading to the Lake of Qinghai on the following day.Therefore Sunday was dedicated to a further exploration of the gems of the city itself. There is a Buddhist monastery on the south of the city, on a small hill providing beautiful views of the city in addition to fine spiritual architecture. On the small frozen tributary of the Huangshui River, itself a tributary of the mighty Yellow River, people were skating and enjoying other activities on the ice. On both sides, a park makes the walk along the river delightful. After some grilled squid and fruit tea for lunch, I took a short rest at the hotel before heading to the Qinghai Provincial Museum, an old mansion of a local warlord turned into a museum. It shows artifacts of various dynasties and also some elements of the life of the multitude of ethnic minorities living in the region, Hui, Salar, Mongol, Tibetan… On the walk back, I walked past a few interesting mosques, though less than the main one.Pictures of the trip are available on Facebook for those of you who are outside China, under the following URL:

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