The heart of this journey is a trek around the central peak of the Amnye Machen range. Further highlights include Kumbum and Labrang, the two largest Buddhist monasteries of the Gelug order in Amdo, an excursion to Lake Kokonor, the largest salt lake on the plateau, as well as the renowned Rebkong school of Buddhist art. Combining the region’s cultural sights with a trek of moderate rigour, this journey offers wildderness trekking with an appreciation of Amdo lifestyle, culture, and religious art.
Our journey begins in Siling ( Xining), from where we drive to close-by Kumbum Jampaling Monastery, founded by the 15th-century scholar-saint Tsongkhapa, whose teachings form the basis of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. Together with the color and warmth of pilgrims and devotees, we pay our respects to this important monastic center.
En route to Amnye Machen, we ride the famous Siling ponies along the shores of Lake Kokonor, largest salt lake on the plateau. Traversing vast expanses of grasslands in land-cruisers, we observe Golog nomads herding their yaks and sheep.
In olden days, the Golog were feared robbers, their notoriety entering the vernacular. To this day, the Tibetan expression for "to create a mess" literally means "to play Golog".
Amnye Machen is the best known mountain range of Amdo. The whole trek around the peak takes about 9 days but the length of the Kora can also be shortened. We hike along-side pilgrims coming from different parts of the Tibetan highlands who worship Machen Pomra, the protector deity believed to reside in the main peak. The trail leads us to old monasteries with beautiful frescoes, wild tributaries of the Machu ( Yellow River), high passes, and peaceful campsites on meadows dotted with alpine flowers.
On the way back from Amnye Machen, we make an excursion to the Rebkong School of Buddhist Art. Masters of traditional art work, Rebkong graduates are sought by many monasteries in Kham and Amdo. We have the chance to observe Thangka painters and other artists in action, and buy some art work.
Our last stop in the highlands is Labrang Tashikyil, an important monastery and outpost on the cultural frontier where Islamic, Chinese, and Mongol influences converge with the Tibetan world. We visit the monastic university, with its hundreds of resident monks, and its numerous chapels and assembly halls. The trip ends in Lanzhou ( Gansu).