Twenty-five kilometres southeast of Xining, Kumbum is one of the most important monasteries outside Tibet. Set in the cleft of a valley, the walled complex is an imposing sight, an active place of worship for over six hundred monks as well as the constant succession of pilgrims from Tibet, Qinghai and Mongolia, who present a startling picture with their rugged features, huge embroidered coats and chunky jewellery. There are plenty of tourists too (not to mention a hulking great military base right next door), but Kumbum remains a good introduction to Tibetan culture.

The monastery dates from 1560, when building began in honour of Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, who was born on the Kumbum Monastery estates. Legend tells how, at Tsongkhapa’s birth, drops of blood fell from his umbilical cord causing a tree with a thousand leaves to spring up; on each leaf was the face of the Buddha (the trunk is now preserved in one of the stupas). During his lifetime, Tsongkhapa’s significance was subsequently borne out: his two major disciples were to become the greatest living Buddhas, the Dalai and Panchen Lamas.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

China features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

From ancient temples to hyper-modern skyscrapers, these are just a few of the world's most incredible architectural wonders. Whether you're looking to wander l…

01 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
China travel tips: 8 things you need to know before you go

China travel tips: 8 things you need to know before you go

Even 20 years ago China was not a conventional tourist destination. Despite the allure of its beautiful landscapes and history-filled cities, politics, poverty,…

13 Jan 2017 • Simon Frank insert_drive_file Article
The roof of the world: a first-timer's guide to Tibet

The roof of the world: a first-timer's guide to Tibet

The ‘roof of the world’ has exerted a magnetic pull over travellers and adventurers for centuries. This vast, high altitude desert has spawned myths and leg…

10 Nov 2016 • Stuart Butler insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month