Rabgya Gompa: Vermillion Robes and Carpeted Pillars

Rabgya Monastery
Rabgya Monastery in Amdo Tibet

Rabgya Gompa (Rabgya Monastery) is magnificently situated between a towering, twin-peaked mountain rising straight up behind it and the curving waters of the Machu, the Yellow River. It’s easy to get to, being right on the road from Guide to Machen (also spelled as Maqin and also known as Tawo), and well worth a visit.

As we arrived the monks were gathering from every corner of the gompa for a prayer in the main hall – their thick, full-length vermillion capes strikingly beautiful as they hustles in small packs to the entrance way, dropping off their felt long boots and milling around a few minutes before pouring into the hall and settling into their seats on long cushions interspersed between the rows of carpeted pillars.

Monks are Prayer Hall
Monks are Prayer Hall

With a full contingent of young monks, the young energy was palpable from the moment we arrived. The youngest, maybe 13 or so, laugh and run. One young monk dropped his wooden tea bowl as he hustled into place, and sprinted to catch it as it spun across the floor. Like almost everyone here, they are shy but curious and friendly with us.

Monk making tea
Monk making tea

The gompa is curiously divided by curtains into different sections, maybe because it sits above 10,000 feet and is quite cold even in October. In the main central section the largest group, maybe 25 monks sat in two facing rows while an imposing senior monk – tall and burly, with a mustache – paced slowly up and down the center aisle, chanting.  He wore a long brocade down his back, something I had not seen before.

I followed tea servers to the gompa kitchen, where a chubby monk stood over a decorated tea vat while young monks ran in with tea pots to fill for the monks sitting in the hall.

Rabgya, which is a branch of Sera Monastery, was founded in 1769 by a Mongolian named Arik Geshe, but is now largely rebuilt, like so much else in Amdo. The gompa is also known as Tashi Kundeling.

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Updated on February 20, 2021. First published on October 25, 2015.

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