The eastern Amdo (ཨ༌མདོ) region sits on the far edge of the Tibetan Plateau over 1800kms/1125 miles from the Tibetan capital of Lhasa (ལྷ་ས). Even though it is far from Lhasa, it is still full of Tibetan culture, Buddhist monasteries and amazing scenery. Most of the people along the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau are farmers who grow wheat, barley and potatoes along the fertile valleys of the Yellow River and its tributaries. There are many famous monasteries in this area such as Kumbum, Labrang (pictured above), Gomar and Longwo. With all of the monasteries in the area, it is no surprise that this area has some of the most devout Buddhists in all of Tibet.
The starting point for east Amdo is Xining (ཟི་ལིང་), the capital of Qinghai province. Xining is the largest city on the Tibetan Plateau and is the official starting point of the Tibetan Railway. Xining, pictured above, has experienced massive development over the past decade. What was once considered the last Chinese settlement before entering Tibet is now a booming city with a metropolitan population of nearly 2 million. Xining, with an elevation of 2300m, is one of the most culturally diverse cities in China. Along with Han Chinese, Mongolians and Tibetans, the city also has a large Muslim population. Roughly 35% of the city's population is from the Hui and Salar people groups who are both followers of Islam. Though not well known, Xining is actually a good place to spend a few days exploring. The city is home to over 50 mosques and has several small Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.
Rebkong (known as Tongren in Chinese) is a mid-sized town famous across Tibet for its thangka. Some of the best artists in Tibet live in Rebkong (རེབ་གོངར་), pictured above, and make a good living from their paintings. Thangka's from Rebkong can be found in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries across the globe. There are several places where you can buy thangka's and even see artist's painting them. Rebkong has 3 large monasteries in its vicinity. Gomar, Wutun and Rongwo are brightly painted monasteries with rows of prayer wheels lining them. Rebkong sits at 2500m and offers some excellent hiking.
Labrang (known as Xiahe in Chinese) is a very picturesque place and is one of the most popular destinations on the Tibetan Plateau. Sitting in a valley st 2900m, Labrang (བླ་བྲང་བཀྲ་ཤིས་འཁྱིལ་) is surrounded by wooded mountains that are excellent for hiking. Labrang Monastery is one of the largest in Amdo with close to 2000 monks. Several smaller monasteries are in the area and there and there is also a small nunnery not far from town. There are several good western restaurants in town that serve everything from yak burgers to burritos. Bicycles can be rented for a low daily price and the grasslands of Sangke offer horse riding. Labrang offers something for everyone.
Taktsang Lhamo (Langmusi in Chinese) is a beautiful small Tibetan town straddling the Gansu-Sichuan border in east Amdo. While Rebkong and Labrang are mostly farming areas, Taktsang Lhamo is mostly a nomadic region. Large herds of yaks and sheep can be found and Tibetans live in traditional style tents during the summer and fall. Two large monasteries, Sertri and Kirti, are in the area. The town, lying at 3300m, is surrounded by mountains which are covered in snow for most of the year. Taktsang Lhamo offers excellent horse trekking through the grasslands and mountains.
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