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Traveling to Larung Gar

Last update: 2015, Sept 21st

JULY 2016 – IMPORTANT UPDATE : Please check this link, about recent new rules on the site. The site seems to be closed to foreigners. The informations below might be irrelevant currently.


I have traveled to Larung Gar Buddhist Institute two times and it is definitely one of the craziest place I’ve got to visit.

There is very few up-to-date informations in english available online about it. Traveling there without knowing any chinese can be pretty hectic, as people don’t speak english at all. That’s why I have decided to share my experiences and advices here. Perhaps it will help the few brave-enough travelers who will make their way down there!


larung gar monks studiing - antoine schirer

Before Leaving


#1. Be prepared with the language! For real. Larung Gar is not a tourist place. Almost no one there speaks english, neither can read occidental alphabet. And It’s quite hard to get online there.So make sure to download Chinese->English apps on your smartphone. I also like to ask to some chinese-speaking friends to translate me a bunch of sentences that I may be in need. It usually does most of the job (see below). Google Translate sort of works as well.A good way to skip all these troubles could be to get a chinese sim card with 3G. There is mobile phone network over there (…many monks have smartphones actually :D).

#2. Get pills to prevent altitude sickness. This place is really high (4127m), so to prevent altitude sickness, it’s recommended to absorb some of these pills, morning and evening, from 3-4 days before traveling there. Make sure you do it, the first time I went, i got the pills only the same day I climbed up there, I did got sick and I struggled quite a lot up there.

The pill is called Narhodiola Rosea (« hong jing tian 红景天 in chinese). You will find it in any pharmacy in Chengdu.

#3. Check this article, and this article. I used these articles to plan my first journey there.

 

Reaching Larung Gar

There is a bus who link up Chengdu (the province capital) and Sêrtar county, where Larung Gar camp is. Except if you have your own car, it’s definitely the smoothest way to get there.Bus leaves every morning around 6:15AM from Chadianzi Bus Station, direct to Sêrtar. Be ready! This bus ride is not a pic-nic. It takes ~16 hours to reach Sêrtar (~700km). The road is going through mountains, tracing back rivers, crossing tibetan villages.. But, good news: a new road is being made. So there is chances that when you will go there, the road will be finish and your way may be smoother.

To book your ticket:

#1. Online is probably the best solution, but you might need a chinese speaking person to assist you (the website I used is cdqcp.com). To pick up your ticket, there is automatic machine at the entrance of the station, or you can ask assistance to a desk right on the right when you enter the building.

#2. Otherwise, going to the station ahead might be the best option.

#3. (I’ve also heard that using travel agent can work, but I don’t know about this.)You must book 2 days in advance minimum. And it seems buses are quite packed, so better to book as early as possible. I payed Y280 for one way, with some sort of insurance. But seems like it’s possible to get cheaper depending on the day of the week.

Important: I recommend to book a return as well. You may think that you can always book up there, but it’s actually not that evident, as the bus station is not close to Larung Gar site.

 

Arrival

When the bus arrives to its terminus, around 9:30PM, you are actually not yet there. You are at Sêrtar County Seat, which is 20km away from the buddhist town. (The bus passes by actually not very far away from it before arriving.. but it’s really hard to spot when you don’t know the place, especially when the bus arrives at night time.)

So I recommend just to crash for a night at Sêrtar county seat. There is many hotel solutions. I’ve crashed at some hotel there :

Sorry for not having more precise info, it’s really hard to find. I payed 180¥ for a descent double bedroom. There is maybe better deal in town.. but it’s really hard to navigate.

Reaching Larung Gar

So the next morning, the goal is to reach the buddhist institute, which is called Larung Gar. A good solution seems to go to the town center(see the map above), and jump in one of the small vans transporting people there.

From what I understood, people there are Tibetan and don’t speak so much of chinese. So the easiest way is to bring a picture of the place (on paper, or phone), so they can’t mistake. (The first time, I didn’t have picture with me. And at first, they bringed me to another temple, which was the opposite way of Larung Gar.) Then they will take you there.

Price depends on how many people they charge into the van. And since you are foreigner, they want to charge you more. If you jump with locals, you will pay from 5¥ to 20¥. If you have to book a transportation by yourself, expect to pay 50¥-70¥. Enjoy to ride! The arrival is pretty mesmerizing.

Serthar-Sichuan

Staying there

It’s definitely worth to stay at least one night on site. The only solution seems to be this hotel, that stands on the top of one hill, on your left when you enter the valley (see pictures below). You won’t miss it, it’s the only big building which isn’t some sort of temple. And if you just mention « hotel » to some random monks, they will indicate you.

I payed 80¥ for a shared bed in a dormroom (4 beds). The two times I have stayed there, I have been quite disturbed by how people behave (noisy, a little bit dirty…). Private room is from what I remember around 300¥, but it wasn’t available, so it’s probably a good idea to book over the phone.


Capture d’écran 2014-07-30 à 14.13.00

Going back to Chengdu

As I said, I recommend to book the return before, either online, or directly when you arrive at the county seat, at the same bus station your arrive.

So when the time of leaving has come, I recommend to leave Larung Gar on the afternoon, stay overnight again at the county seat,and catch the bus the next morning (leaving at 6AM’ish).

If you miss the bus, as it happened to me, there is a way to travel back to Chengdu, but it’s really, really hectic. The local tibetan people driving vans are also linking Chengdu. But it takes way longer – it took me 24 hours last time (…we got wheel bursted two times, we had to wait for construction works on the road. They also changed vans 3 times: they take you to the next city, then they talk to some other drivers, who takes you to the next city etc etc.). It’s also very, very less confortable than the bus, they cram their vans as much as possible. IMG_3263I was squeezed between local people, bags. The second time, I payed a lot, because the van wasn’t full. So I baicaly payed other people seats… because I had to leave.. Oh and, of course, they don’t speak english, and drive crazy in the small roads :D.

It was sort of fun the first time, I didn’t enjoy at all on the second time ahaha. So this is only a back-up solution if you miss the bus.

Enjoy the journey!


It’s really worth to go, it’s an amazing journey. If you planning on going there and want more informations, don’t hesitate, drop me a line. You can check also this short video I did for Le Monde about the situation there.

Other reviews about Larung Gar

24.03.2017 – Le Monde – « A Larung Gar, la répression silencieuse de Pékin »
28.11.2016 – New York Times – « China Takes a Chain Saw to a Center of Tibetan Buddhism »

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