The monasteries in Tongren, called Repkong/Rebkong/Rebgong in Tibetan, are noted producers of Tibetan art. The beautiful thangkas — Buddhist paintings — produced here are among the most famous in the world. Visitors come to see, and often buy, the works produced by the town’s monks and lay artists. Aside from the monasteries, however, Tongren has little to offer. The downtown is a fairly generic example of a rapidly-developing Chinese town, and the restaurants and accommodations are unremarkable.
Places to see
Wutun Si (吾屯寺): Upper and Lower Monasteries
The two monasteries of Wutun Si each have their own art school, and you can meet painters and buy thangkas at workshops within the monastery walls. (For more on buying thangkas, see below.) Our visit to the Upper Monastery coincided with that of a visiting lama, so it was crowded with monks and pilgrims. But a young monk took an interest in us and gave us a quick tour of some of the temples. At each gorgeous painting, we stopped to listen to him explain (in Chinese, which we could only partially understand) the story of the Buddha or Bodhisattva depicted there.
The Lower Monastery was mostly closed for renovation when we visited in August 2009, so we didn’t see much, aside from the eight chorten in front of the entrance. We did catch a glimpse of two painted wood panels that had survived from the Cultural Revolution — the monks had turned them around in their frames so that the paintings would not be destroyed by marauding Red Guards.
Entrance to the Lower Monastery costs 26 RMB; entrance to the Upper Monastery costs 10 RMB. To get to the monasteries, located about 6 km outside of town, you will need to catch a minibus (1.5 kuai per person) at the intersection of Zhongshan Lu and Dehelong Lu, near the bus station. The driver will drop you off at either the upper (shang, 上) or lower (xia, 下) monastery, and you can easily walk from one to the other.
Rongwo Gonchen Gompa (Longwu Si, 隆务寺)
After more than a week spent exploring the Tibetan areas of Gansu and Qinghai, and visiting more temples and monasteries than we could remember clearly, we all agreed that this was the most beautiful one we saw. The interior of the main temple is draped with extraordinary textiles, which hang in the dim light of yak-butter candles. Large, elaborately detailed thangkas cover the walls inside and out. Even better, the same lama we later ran into at Wutun Si was also at this monastery when we were, so it was crowded with worshipers.
Entrance to the Rongwo Gonchen Gompa costs 15 RMB. The monastery is located south of the bus station, in the Tibetan neighborhood.
essay writers online . samedayessay review If you’ve fallen in love with Tibetan art, Tongren is a good place to find a piece to bring home with you. The town’s many artists have pieces available of every size and price point. Large poster-sized thangkas cost thousands of RMB, but the price depends on the level of detail as well as the size. Which is why the painting I liked best, despite being half the size of the largest thangkas, was the most expensive we saw (4000 RMB). We did most of our shopping on the stretch of road between the Upper and Lower monasteries of Wutun Si, though we also peeked into shops in the monasteries themselves. You’ll definitely want to shop around — the quality and styles varied noticeably from shop to shop. We all ended up buying small thangkas, not much bigger than a sheet of computer paper, for 300 RMB. The painters rolled up the canvases and tucked them into protective plastic tubes so that no damage would ensue during the rest of our travels.
There are tons of small restaurants on Zhongshan Lu and in the neighborhood around the Rongwo Gonchen Gompa. I would particularly recommend a small, anonymous baozi stand near the corner of Zhongshan Lu and Dehelong Lu. Look for racks of steamers just inside the doors. If you’re looking for a nice place for a snack or a drink, try the Rebgong Teahouse across the street from the Post Hotel. A beer and popcorn cost 22 RMB.
Youzheng Binguan (Post Hotel)
We stayed here despite a warning from a friend that it was not entirely as advertised in Lonely Planet, so we weren’t expecting much. We got very little. While the entrance to the hotel appears typical, our large four-person room was weirdly situated across the courtyard in a former apartment block. The locks were sufficiently weak that I wouldn’t have wanted to stay there by myself. The beds were clean enough, but the tiny bathroom (squat toilet only) had some plumbing problems — the only way to flush the toilet was by running the shower. We were quite happy to leave.
A four-person suite cost 120 RMB total (30 RMB per bed). The hotel is located at the west end of Zhongshan Lu, Tongren’s main drag. From the train station, walk up the hill and turn right onto Zhongshan Lu. Walk to the end of the road.
You can get to Tongren from Gansu to the east or from other parts of Qinghai. We came from Xiahe, which is now a two-hour (down from five) bus ride away, with gorgeous views the entire way. The ticket is 25 RMB. Along the way, your bus might stop for women selling creamy homemade yogurt. Don’t miss out — it’s the best yogurt I’ve ever had. Xining, the capital of Qinghai, is close to five hours away from Tongren. Tickets cost 32.50 RMB.