To experience the Buddhist culture of Tibet without going through the hassle of permits and tour guides, there may be no better place than Labrang Monastery (Lābǔlèng Sì, 拉卜楞寺), located near the tourist boom town of Xiahe, six hours out from smoggy Lanzhou. Labrang is the largest Tibetan lamasary outside of Tibet. Its sprawling grounds feature a host of 18th century architectural masterpieces including the Grand Sutra Hall, Spring Debate Palace and the Temple of White Umbrella as well as hundreds of prayer wheels and over a..
Some 15 km (9 mi) southwest of Xiahe, Tibetan families still herd yak on the rolling plains of the Sangke Grasslands (Sāngkē Cǎoyuán, 桑科草原). The influx of tourists into Xiahe hasn't gone unnoticed in Sangke, however—a collection of yurts banking off the tourist boom cluster around the entrance with souvenirs for sale, horse rides and kitschy photo-ops. Beyond the county-fair-style setup at the front, pristine green prairie rolls off into the distance where it's met by a horizon clustered with mountains. Farms and..