LUCHU COUNTY ཀླུ་ཆུ་རྫོང་། (LUQU XIAN 碌曲县)
Like much of the rest of this part of Gannan, Luchu is an area of vast, rolling grasslands populated by yak and sheep herders. However, the extreme southern section of the county (where the highway enters Sichuan) holds a higher, craggy mountain range whose lower slopes are thickly forested with conifers. This mountainous region, which holds the famous monastic town of Taktsang Lhamo, is the primary attraction of the county.
Set in a valley between low, rolling hills, the Luchu county town (2900m) doesn’t have much in the way of attractions – but neither is it a bad place to relax for a day or two. There are hotels near the bus station. Most people pass through here on their way to other destinations; it is often used as a transfer point between Taktsang Lhamo, Tsu, Labrang, Henan (Huangnan prefecture in Qinghai), Zoige, and other destinations.
Taktsang Lhamo སྟག་ཚང་ལྷ་མོ། (Langmusi 郎木寺) – 3500m
A beautiful mountain village (more of a small town, really) made up largely of whitewashed, shingle-roofed cottages, with forested slopes and pinnacled peaks looming overhead, Taktsang Lhamo is the Tibetan take on Europe’s idyllic alpine hamlet.
Two large and famous monasteries lie on opposite hillsides and on opposite sides of a provincial border, facing each other from across the valley, each nestled comfortably below dense, sprucecovered slopes reaching upwards to rocky peaks. Gaudily glittering Sertri monastery sits on the right side of the valley (if looking uphill from downtown Taktsang Lhamo) across from the big peaks. Evidently the better funded of the two monasteries, Sertri is a beautiful place to explore for a bit. More interesting and funky, however, as well as far more important in the Tibetan Buddhist world, is neighboring Ser$ri monastery (whose name is a bit politically sensitive). Surrounded by spruce-shingled, whitewashed cabins and an interesting chorten that has the haphazard, experimental appearance of a middle school art project writ large (in a good way), this large monastery is the home of several very important incarnations and is constantly being circumambulated by pilgrims. Take your time to explore the complex, as well as the rows of water-powered prayer wheels that line the streams.
Taktsang Lhamo’s hiking and horse trekking are justifiably famous. A good place to start is the gorge directly above the Kir$i monastery, where you can find some fantastic scenery. There are also trails to all of the nearby peaks, and up a number of grassland valleys. For more information, maps, or to learn about horse-trekking opportunities, visit the Langmusi Hotel.
Lodging, Food, Transport
People have discovered that Taktsang Lhamo is one of those little Alpine paradises transposed to the Gansu/Sichuan border. As such, there is no shortage of places to stay or eat – unless you come in winter, in which case you’ll find two restaurants (notably, Lesha’s Cafe) and two cold hotels open. Transportation-wise, there are direct morning buses to Tsu (Hezuo), Labrang (Xiahe), and Zoige (Ruo’ergai); many more buses to a wide range of destinations pass by the highway intersection 3km below town.