8/18/2007 to 8/20/2007 | China , Gansu

Xiahe: Monks, Pilgrims, Plays, and Basketball, oh my!

The city of Xiahe, in China’s Gansu province, is home to the massive Tibetan monastery of Labrang.  I had timed my arrival to coincide with a festival on the 20th of August.  There were a lot of pilgrims performing the kora, circumambulation, around the monastery.  The monastery was one of the most active I had seen on this trip.  On the day before the festival, all of the monks gathered in the prayer hall for debates and to make offerings before upcoming exams.  At this gathering I started talking to a group of young monks who it turned out were big basketball fans; one was a big Kobe fan (I’ll pause for all the non-Laker fans out there to vomit), and another was an Iverson fan (who apparently has the Tibetan word for strong tattooed on is arm among all his other tattoos).  Maybe all his tattoos are strategically designed to maximize his global popularity, but I doubt it.  After the monks were dismissed, I went with them to play some ball.  I was playing in my hiking boots, but as the court was dirt that may not have been that much of a disadvantage, certainly not as much as playing in a robe which the monks did.  After a few games of three on three, a couple of the monks wanted me to give them some shooting pointers which I was happy to oblige.

On the day of the festival, I arrived early to watch the preparations and stake out a prime location to photograph the monk’s performance of a Buddhist story that the festival is centered around.  I grabbed my seat on the dirt at about 9:00 am, it eventually started at 10:30 and I finally bailed out at about 1:30 pm making it 4 hours sitting on the dirt.  Not the most comfortable position.  I was able to head back into town, grab some lunch and spend a half hour on the internet, while still making it back for the end or the performance at about 3:30 pm.  That’s a pretty long play, but there were plenty of old Tibetan women who sat through the whole thing, praying and prostrating occasionally throughout the performance.  After the performance, many of the faithful scrambled to gather the chalk lines that were used as markers during the performance.

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