The lush mountains southwest of Bingling mark the outer limits of Tibetan influence – a fact dramatically underlined by the presence among them of Labrang Monastery, the largest and most important lamasery outside Tibet. Overlooking the market town of Xiahe, this sprawling complex is home to hundreds of Gelugpa (‘Yellow Hat’) monks. Throughout the year, wild-haired Tibetan pilgrims file past the long rows of prayer lining the parikrama (ritual circuit) of the great monastery, while in the ornately decorated halls, flickering butter lamps illuminate the gold-faced deities and beautiful thangkhas – an experience not to be missed.

Stay a couple of nights in Labrang, and you can trek up to the high ridges surrounding the town, or make longer trips out to the nearby Sangke grasslands where local nomad families welcome visitors to look around their yurts, and share tea and a snack of yak yoghurt!

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