Larung Gar, Tibetan City in the Sky

Larung Gar, Tibetan City in the Sky
A dreamy scene straight out of a postcard, Larung Gar’s night view is as captivating as it is during the day, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Nestled in Sechuan province, Larung Gar is the world's largest one of the largest centres of Buddhist learning

Trinetra Paul
July 22 , 2020
07 Min Read

It is said art has the power to transcend all geographical differences and portray some of the most powerful and even embittering truths. The statement held true for ‘Essence’, a New York art show in the Tibet House in 2018 which features unique art pieces by Tokyo based artist Yasuko Ota and NYC based artist Gyatso Chuteng.

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A post shared by Gyatso Chuteng (@flyingyak) on Aug 19, 2018 at 11:24am PDT

Chuteng’s art explored the magnificence and beauty of Larung Gar, a town nestled in the sparse mountains of East Tibet and which has been a site of ongoing violence between Tibet and China. Facing much turmoil for decades, Larung Gar, the largest Budhhist academy in the world, has been destroyed by China over the years. 

Chuteng has painstakingly produced aerial views of the place with thousands of incence sticks such that each piece is in the form of a mandala.

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A post shared by Gyatso Chuteng (@flyingyak) on Jun 3, 2018 at 7:32am PDT

The thick maroon colors and the vertical depth of the Larung Gar challenged the artist to explore mediums that go beyond paint or pigment.

The subtle fragrance that looms over the gallery, and the maroon hued representation of the Buddhist huts, draws one back to Tibetan monasteries where similar scents and sights could be seen.

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A post shared by Uscaper (@uscaper.official) on Jun 30, 2018 at 11:45pm PDT

Founded in 1980 by Jigme Phuntsok, an influential lama of the Nyingma tradition, the sacred religious haven has been home to thousands of monks and nuns who stay and practice their faith. 

Located at an elevation of 12,500 ft in Sertar, around 370 miles from Chengdu, it can be accessed after a grueling 20 hours journey by coach. Monks battle extreme conditions to study and live by very basic means.

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A post shared by Khentrul Lodro Thaye Rinpoche (@khentrullodrothaye) on Jul 2, 2020 at 6:47am PDT

The Chinese government demolished 4,725 monastic dwellings at Larung Gar in June 2017 and expelled 4,828 monks and nuns who lived and studied there. Free Tibet, a London based group, is of the view that demolitions at the site began in July 2016 and a number of people living there have already been evicted.

These actions follow orders by local authorities to cut the number of Larung Gar residents from 10,000 to no more than 3,500 nuns and 1,500 monks. The heart-wrenching videos of the evicted nuns and monks have been shared globally.

The Chinese government opined that the settlement was too overcrowded and thus a 2014 fire proved quite deadly as it devoured 100 homes. But residents are of the view that many Chinese cities are also overpopulated. Officials can build newer and cleaner enclaves instead of evicting people.

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A post shared by chinasights (@chinasights) on Jul 4, 2019 at 2:20am PDT

What made Larung Gar special were the countless red painted homes, monasteries with incessant butter oil lamps, numerous stupas, temples and giant prayer wheels. Since the conflict began, it has not only influenced Buddhist tradition and culture but has also inspired artists and photographers who have flocked there to capture the beauty and brutality that surrounds the valley.

Today, when China and Tibet stand at loggerheads with each other demanding and fighting for freedom and sovereignty, Larung Gar stands testimony to the brutality of history. Though it might have been lost in the pages of history or washed by the waves of time, the beautiful town amidst lofty striking mountains remains isolated.

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