Tibetan Places: Rebkong

Repkong lhawa festival

Lhawa (Shaman Festival)

Quick Facts:

  • Location: 200 km south of the Qinghai provincial capital Xining
  • Elevation: 2500 m. above sea level
  • Population: approx. 80,000 75% Tibetan
  • Cultural Significance: Artistic and intellectual center
  • Must See: Artist Village & Rongwo Gonchen
  • Must Eat: Rebkong’s famous bread, made using a special process of burning a fire on soil, with no use of ovens.

 Artistic Capital of Tibet

Known as ‘Tongren’ in Chinese and ‘Rebkong’ in Tibetan, this town is famous for its long and renowned tradition of Tibetan thangka painting.  Famous throughout China and the world, skilled local craftsmen, and increasingly in recent years, crafstwomen as well, painstakingly create these religious images that adorn monasteries, temples, and private homes.  These paintings are intricately crafted in vivid colors with paint made from coral, turquoise, locally sourced stones, and even gold. Rebkong is famous for its other styles of religious artwork as well, such as cloth-based religious images, embroidery, religious statues, and masks.  Rebkong can also boast a unique tradition of Tibetan shamanism.  Shamans, known as ‘lhawa’ in Tibetan, are individuals whose bodies are overtaken by local mountain gods and who display erratic and prophetic behavior each year during the 10-day-long shaman festival, held in almost every village of Rebkong each summer.

The town where intelligence arises

One of the most common phrases used by Tibetans to describe Rebkong is “the town where intelligence arises.”  The hometown of many famous Tibetan intellectuals, Rebkong is a town proud of its strong intellectual tradition. Gendun Choephel, one of the foremost Tibetan thinkers of the modern era, hails from this area.  Known for his prolific writings and controversial views, Gendun Choephel is a much-loved figure widely regarded as a representative of Tibetan culture, modernization, and the Tibetan intellectual tradition.

Rongwo Gonchen Monastery

Rebkong town is centered around the great Rongwo Gonchen, one of the largest and most ancient monasteries in the area, housing a large complex of temples, and centered on the religious education of hundreds of monks. Monks in training can be seen engaging in the lively practices of religious debate, chanting, and ritual dancing at various times of the year.  Soon after Tibetan new year, Rongwo Gonchen and many other monasteries surrounding Rebkong town hold the bustling Monlam religious festival.  Tibetan nomads and farmers from nearby villages descend on Rebgong town in large numbers to pray, engage in religious rites, and witness the Monlam festival, packed with activities that last for several days.

Researchers and travellers also flock to Rebgong to witness its strong Ngakpa, or tantric religious tradition.  Ngakpa men, easily identified by their long dreadlocks wound into a bun at the top of their heads, are lay religious practitioners skilled in numerous esoteric practices which they perform for the well-being of their villages and families.

Getting There

Located 200 km south of the Qinghai provincial capital Xining, Rebkong can be reached in three and a half hours by public bus from Xining.  A number of hotels and hostels welcoming foreigners have also been built in Rebkong in recent years, making Rebkong a conveniently accessed tourist destination.  With its wealth of cultural resources, Rebkong has become one of the main tourist destinations of Amdo.  Moreover, nomadic grasslands, Labrang monastery, and the other major tourist sites of the region can all be accessed via bus connection from Rebkong.