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Tongren

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Qinghai : Tongren
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Tongren (铜仁; Tóngrén; Tibetan: Rebkong) is a city in Huangnan Prefecture, Qinghai Province.

Get in

Tongren can only be reached road but, given the geography, it navigates zig-zaging mountain roads, descends into precipitous valley floors alongside raging rivers and passes though undulating verdant grasslands. Certainly one of the more beautiful journeys that will keep you looking out the window.

From Xiahe

Though only a little more that 100km away from Tongren the journey takes around 3hrs. One bus per day leaves Xiahe at 7.15AM from the main bus station (¥25).

From Xining

Buses from Xining leave all day long, about every 30mins, from the south bus station, opposite the train station. (¥32.5)

Get around

The town of Tongren is small enough to walk, but to visit the painting monasteries you will need to either hire a cab or catch a ride in a minibus. Both frequently roam the Tongren's streets, and it is easy enough to flag one down. Expect about 5RMB a person each way.

See

  • Wutong Monastery (五屯寺), (In Sangkeshan Village 10km outside town). The main reason to visit Tongren is to see thangkas painted. These elaborate Buddhist works of art have been created here for centuries, and the town is still considered the best place in the Tibetan world to buy one. Studios are concentrated in and around the monastery. There is an upper (上寺) and lower (下寺) monastery, of which the upper is far more impressive. They both charge 30RMB, and the monks at both will offer to take you to a studio. There is no pressure to buy anything, and you can watch as long as you like.NB: During the summer (Late July to ealy September), women are not allowed to enter the monestary.
  • Longwu Monastery, (Western part of the city). It closes at 7PM. This is the main monastery in Tongren. There are several temples you can visit. That's not the place where the Tangkas are made. 50RMB.

Do

  • Main Market. Lively place, with fruit stands and fun restaurants.
  • Performance Arts Theater, (At the south end of the main market). Few shows outside the summer tourist season.

Buy

  • Thangkas. The best deals are straight from the artist at Wutong. Your main options are to buy a pre-made thangka or to commission one. Not all artists will have pre-made goods to sell, and the most popular ones may have years worth of reservations. It takes one month to create a small painting and up to eight for a large one, but thankfully the artists all have e-mails, phones and fax machines, so it is possible to ship your work of art overseas whenever it is completed. These paintings run anywhere from ¥500 to ¥10,000, depending on size, quality and reputation of the artist. Shop around.

The main market has a couple of shockingly fashionable botiques, including a clothing store owned by a Tibetan with excellent English on the center of the main street. China's heavy army presence in these parts also means there is plenty of second-hand military stores in town.

Eat

Hui food dominates with dozens of noodle stands on every street. A few unnamed Tibetan places are hidden in small alleys, look for the people eating on couches instead of tables.

  • Yak yogurt, (Upper town. Almost in front of the 8 stupas of the Longwu monastery.). Run by a young Tibetan lady. Yogurts made from yaks raised by her family in Zekog. A 'must taste' in Tongren. 2RMB.

Drink

Sleep

Numerous cheap hotels (Binguan) in the few blocks next to the Monastery but they can be selective about accepting foreigners. Generally they charge as little as ¥10-30 per bed with basic bathroom facilities and may have early curfews. Bigger, potentially English signed and speaking hotels can be found along Zhongshan Lu and Dehelong Nan Lu that provide more comfort for a higher price.

Budget

  • Xia Chang, To the right of 13 Maixi Lu (In the courtyard with a painting of a monkey riding an elephant). A super-basic place for travellers who are counting their kuai and don't mind sleeping with families of Tibetan pilgrims. The rooms are sparse, though clean, and have a shared bathroom down the hall. Don't bother asking where the shower is because there isn't one. ¥30 per bed.

Midrange

  • Dianxin Hotel (Dianxin Binguan). Rooms with free within-country long distance and in-room internet access. Accepts foreign guests. Doubles for ¥130.
  • Huangnan Hotel (Huangnan Binguan), 19 Zhongshan Lu. Usually the first place guidebook toting travellers head when they step off the bus. Some might stay. Others will be compelled by the dirty toilets, worn furnishings and gloomy interior to look elsewhere. If you do relent to its charms you might find the soft beds, thick blankets and sultry heating will make for a comfortable sleep after you turn the lights out. Doubles without shared bathroom ¥80, with bathroom ¥100.
  • School Guesthouse, 88 Zhongshan Lu. The accommodation of choice for visiting officials, though you too can sleep in one of the comfortably huge wooden beds in equally spacious and clean rooms. The bathrooms on the other hand are tiny and have the most utilitarian of washing facilities. Doubles ¥100.
  • QH-Tibet Yadu Hotel, Dehelong Nan Lu (200m from Repkong Bridge). The classy gold wallpaper in the foyer continues into the big warm rooms that have soft beds and clean ensuite bathrooms with hot water showers. The friendly, though somewhat bewildered looking, staff are exceedingly helpful if you fail to get the rooms electrics to work. Doubles ¥85.

Splurge

  • Big Modern looking Hotel, (On the other side of the river). This place is a bit reluctant to give you a price unless you look serious about staying there. Nonetheless it does look a upmarket, if a bit antiseptic feeling, and probably costs far too much.

Get out

  • Xiahe – A Tibetan town centred around the huge Labrang Monastery.
  • Xining – The lively capital of Qinghai Province.
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