ganjia tibetan monastery gansu

Wild Lands of Tibetan Ganjia

Gansu - Van Life in China

An ancient city lured us – but the isolation seized us. So after van-camping at mud wall ruins, we drove the next morning towards the horizon of ragged cliffs.

VIDEO: Travels in Gansu in Tibetan Ganjia

dusk octangle ancient city tibetan ganjia gansu china
Octangle Ancient City (the 2000-year-old city of Bajiao Cheng: a 12-sided mud-wall fortress shaped like a Buddhist Mandala) viewed from a hill-top platform on a bleak day – don’t be fooled by the beautiful dusk light as icy gusts blasted us to death! I could barely keep my camera straight.

Tibetan Ganjia – Monastery & the Living Goddess

That second day, we halted in a Tibetan monastery village.

And later on another hillside, we met a friendly monk at the temple of the Living Goddess, who showed us around – however, no photos allowed.

mountain and grasslands of tibetan ganjia in gansu china
Tibetan Ganjia – TOP: That “horizon of ragged cliffs” and surrounding elements seen on our 3rd day in Ganjia – still cold but at least some sun. I shot these aerial landscape perspectives on my DJI Mavic Mini.

On the first day, waves of icy winds were flowing over this cliff like slow-motion waterfalls. BELOW LEFT: “Temple of the Living Goddess”. RIGHT: River-eroded landscape facing towards the ancient fortress.

When I asked of the Goddesses’ whereabouts – via Wei in Mandarin – he replied she’d died 9 years ago but that her reincarnation was due to appear next year.

tibetan village scenes ganjia grasslands in gansu china
Tibetan monastery village amid the mountain and grasslands of Ganjia in Gansu.

At the lower monastery, a baby goat besotted with Wei kept running after her and bleating.(*1) Meantime, the other goats watched, and wondered what the fuss was about.

symbols tibetan monastery ganjia gansu china
Elements of Tibetan Buddhist structures at the monastery village in Tibetan Ganjia.

On another hillside, vultures gathered around the carcass of a baby yak; fighting and prancing around the feast.

arid landscape scenes ganjia gansu china
TOP: Austere landscape of Tibetan Ganjia in Gansu Province in western China; vultures feast. BELOW: People enter a section of broken wall at Bajiao Cheng / Octangle Ancient City; shepherd and sheep.

That second afternoon and evening, we spent in a river valley in a grassland of long-horned sheep, overshadowed by those humps of the ragged horizon – now hiding a sacred cave (which we’d explore tomorrow).

snow mountains octangle fort ganjia gansu china
Second morning, it was calm, so I got this drone shot before the wind appeared. Looking at Octangle Ancient City – as it’s called nowadays – seen about 800 meters away (before I lost the transmission signal and had to get it back safely). NOTE: that “Horizon of ragged cliffs” in the distance that would be the journey today.

Baishiya Karst Cave

Hell, not what we expected. Sacred cave or not, it was a mission into an abyss known as the Baishiya Karst Cave ( 白石崖溶洞 ).

But it’s also home to the earliest hominin fossil ever found on the Tibetan Plateau, (found by a monk in 1982) proving that humanity arrived in this high-altitude, low-oxygen environment around 160,000 years ago.

Today, the cave remains a place of meditation for monks and Tibetan reverence and, according to legend, Baishiya Cave is over 50 km long – reaching to Qinghai Province.

sacred tibetan cave ganjia gansu china
The mountains hiding a sacred cave – a quiet place of pilgrimage for Tibetans from Gansu and Qinghai Provinces. The entrance – this part of the cave was fine and partly lit, but after this it plunged into a narrow, slippery, dark crack.

Anyway, ancient and sacred or not, I didn’t go in much deeper than 100 meters – pictures above – before it descended into tiny darkness (not wanting to trash my hand-held DSLR camera – no bag with me; I wasn’t prepared).

Didn’t even have my head lamp. Duh!

Wei went further. Holding her iPhone as a torch and stuffing my action camera into her jacket, she accompanied a Tibetan family, baby tied and shrieking on mother’s back. They went deeper.

And I could still hear the baby crying …

They came out 30-40 minutes later, exasperated, all with muddy shoes and trousers. The elderly Tibetan chief lay gasping and mad, nearly dead – like having a heart-attack as two young male members of family consoled him .

Wei said it wasn’t worth it, despite a monk explaining what this or that rock formation – may have – resembled. (*2)

van life camping ganjia gansu china
Our 3rd day at our 3rd location in Ganjia grasslands in Gansu. TOP: Wei gazing to a slice of our vast 360 vista – an afternoon looking to the cave-mountains, grassland dotted with sheep, the Tibetan monastery village and river ravines, and in another direction – high snow mountains and the Octangle walled fortress. BELOW: At this viewpoint, we van-camped the night here, having beer and baijiu with spicy, fried Yak meat snacks and the next day, a breakfast of toasted garlic-bread and milk tea.


(*1) – Documented on a video she posted on Chinese social media. (The goat had colored ribbons tied to it; apparently it was gifted from a villager to the monastery. Now, it was to be untouched – not eaten, to be allowed to live a long and happy life.)

(*2) – Likewise a video on Chinese SM.

Travels in China – 2020

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