A Few Snapshots of a Remote and Unique Buddhist Village Before it Disappears
For those of us who don’t know, Larung Gar is a small and extremely remote town located somewhere high in the Chinese mountains, and well off the beaten track for any tourists around. It nevertheless is one Tibetan cultural and historical jewel. However, in past decades, and given the tensions between China and Tibet, the town is undergoing tremendous changes over the past few decades.
As one of the largest Buddhist settlements in the world, this town located in the province of Sichuan and is home primarily to monks and nuns studying there. The Larung Five Sciences Buddhist Academy located here is, in fact, the largest religious institute in the world. But since it’s high up in the mountains of central China, not that many people know about it.
Fortunately, however, Italian photographer Marco Grassi travelled to the sacred destination to provide outsiders with a glimpse of what else is there in the world, unbeknownst to many. A self-tough photographer and passionate traveller, Grassi went all the way to Larung Gar in 2015 on an 18-hour-long bus ride. But despite the long and bumpy journey, he describes the destination as “the kind of place where you have to pinch yourself to believe you’re not dreaming.”
His first night was spent on the rooftop of a hotel, one of the few places where he could stay. He nevertheless explains:
“It’s hard not to be inspired by such an incredible and unusual place. I simply couldn’t believe my own eyes by what I’ve witnessed… Walking around the village was like being inside a maze. It was a chaotic and busy place, but it was still very organised, thanks to the routine that this entire community had developed over the years.”
He took these amazing photos during sunset and sunrise from atop the hill opposite the valley of the Buddhist settlement. He had to manoeuvre around chimney stacks, smoke, and packs of stray dogs in order to take these shots.
“[The smoke] covered the village under a soft veil and created a low contrast. To overcome these challenges, I often had to change my framing, or even postpone the shooting of that portion of the village and reschedule to another day.”
Unfortunately, however, entry into Larung Gar has been closed off to tourists by Chinese officials as of June 2016. According to the London-based organisation, Free Tibet, says that demolitions began one month later, in July, in an effort by the Chinese to limit the number of people living there from roughly 10,000 to only about 3,500. Their reasoning is based on “overcrowding concerns”. As of November 2016, the demolitions were still ongoing, but have slowed down due to unfavourable weather.