The ancient town of Repkong sits in the verdant grass bowl of the Gu-chu river valley. It’s a lovely place to spend a few days bumming around town, but the real draws here are the temples and monasteries in and outside of town, particularly the Wutun Monastery, which is home to some of the most talented artists in the Tibetan world. Truly, the highlight of any trip to this high-altitude town is not only meeting these world-class monk-artists, but also buying some of their incredible work to take home with you.
This sleepy village south of the capital is one of the best places to experience Tibetan culture in the province. The Rongwo Gongchen Gompa (Lóngwù Sì; 隆务寺; ¥50; 8:00-18:00; phone: 0971 611 7282) is the town’s principal monastery; it dates back to 1301, and it has 500 monks and plenty of Tibetan sculptures, artwork and prayer wheels... lots and lots of prayer wheels (remember to always spin them counter-clockwise). Your ticket will include access to six main halls, but there are other areas you may be able to see as well. Check out the Hall of Bodhisattva Manjusri, where lively daily debates occur.
Just 6 km (3.7 mi) from the center of Repkong is this region’s top attraction, Wutun Monastery (Wútún Sì; 吾屯寺), a handsome, sprawling warren of renovated areas and living quarters. The monastery is actually divided into two sections (each one costing ¥10 to enter), and one of the 500 monks here will be happy to show you whichever areas are open. The best part of Wutun, however, is that it’s actually a world-class art gallery. So renowned are the thangkas (tángkǎ;唐卡;Tibetan spiritual art) here, a whole school of Tibetan art was actually named after the city. Their specialty is beautifully detailed images of Buddhist deities meticulously painted on fine-woven silk canvases. Orders for works from the elite resident artists here come all the way from Lhasa, and you can bet that prices are not cheap. The smallest thangka will easily go for hundreds of RMB, while a poster-sized one can run in the thousands and the largest pieces get up to the tens or hundreds of thousands. A medium piece may take artists over a month to complete, and the largest can take up to a year of multiple artists’ time. You will get what you pay for, and if you plan to buy, hitting up an ATM before coming is a smart move.
Another cool attraction a mere 1 km (0.6 mi) from Wutun Temple is Gomar Gompa (Guōmárì Sì;郭麻日寺; ¥10). There are about 150 monks living here, and it also houses the largest stupa in all of Qinghai. As you approach, look for the huge chorten surrounded by dozens of glowing, whitewashed residences.