Yarchen Gar not to be mistaken with Larung Gar, even tho both are located in close proximity to each other in the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in western Sichuan Province in China.
While Larung Gar has been closed down for foreign visitors since June 2016, So are Yarchen Gar open for foreign tourists (There have been reports that foreigners have also been denied entry here, but during my visit in August 2017, was it no problem at all), but you will have to register with a police checkpoint about 4km before you reach Yarchen Gar, your passport and visa will be checked and registered!
There´s heavy building activity going on here and a new hotel being built together with a new Monastery complex, so it´s not likely it’s getting closed down in the near future.
While Larung Gar is built all around the steep surrounding hills in the valley, are Yarchen Gar built around the bend of a river, almost surrounded by it.
And while Larung Gar was mostly home to male monks, is Yarchen Gar mainly was home to female nuns, and the whole “city” inside the river is home to nuns and of limit to monks.
As a male foreigner, you are allowed to cross the bridge and walk around the outskirts of the nuns living quarters, but you will be asked nicely not to step inside the female living quarters.
Yarchen Gar was established back in 1985, but it wasn’t until 2001, when the first demolishing of Larung Gar happened, that many nuns and monks moved here.
The official numbers of nuns and monks here are around 10 000 but according to the people living here, so are the number closer to 20 000 now, might even have gone past it.
While most of the monks/nuns in Larung Gar are there for study, so are many of the monks/nuns at Yarchen Gar here for meditation.
You will see tiny white huts in the surrounding hills and around the hill leading to a giant golden statue of Guru Rinpoche.
Nuns will stay in their tiny meditation huts 24/7 and up to 100 days. That´s more than three months! Only leaving for necessary toilet breaks. Food and drinks are brought to them by fellow nuns.
When not meditating, the nuns will attend lectures at one of the 3 Monasteries (number 4 is currently being built) located around the area or walking around one of the two big stumpas and by the end of the day, they are just relaxing in the surrounding hills, generally by the foot of the big Guru Rinpoche statue.
As a tourist, there isn’t much to expect other than just walk around and soak in the impression of the Buddhist lifestyle; while there are no English signs around the area, but the English speaking Monks/Nuns will find you and help you.
I got approached by two friendly English speaking monks that were happy to show me around, tell me about Yarchen Gar in general and help me find a guesthouse to spend the night and offer me a few cups of yak butter tea.
By far, the biggest part of Yarchen Gar is the nuns living quarter, so if you’re a male visitor, a full day here be will probably be enough, and if your a female visitor, then two days would be enough.
You will have to tell the police at the checkpoint before reaching Yarchen Gar how many days you plan to stay here.
I have no idea what happened if your overstay your attended time here.
NB. There isn’t any running water here, so all toilet facilities are extremely basic.
All the toilets are either public outdoor toilets or just small shacks over the river—even the ones belonging to the guesthouses. I didn’t count, but it´s definitely less than 20 toilets for 20 000 people. So brace yourself for your toilet visits here.
Additional Information About Yarchen Gar.
How To Travel To Yarchen Gar:
Reaching Yarchen Gar is a three day long and bumpy ride from Chengdu with public transportation; you might be able to reach it in two very long days with your own transport.
Chengdu the capital of Sichuan, and your starting point into western Sichuan and Yarchen Gar.
Chengdu is a huge city with a population of around 14 million people; it’s when of the most livable cities in China.
You can easily spend some days there exploring and visit the world-famous Chengdu Panda Research Base.
When you decide to move on to Yarchen Gar and western Sichuan, you head to the Xīnnánmén bus station, also known as Chengdu tourism bus station, since most buses going to the most famous places in Sichuan and even some places in Yunnan departs from there.
The bus station is quite small, some of the staff speak some basic English and are very help full to get you on the right bus.
The buses from Xīnnánmén bus station to Kanding departure between 7 am to 14.00 costs about 130RMB.
The route to Kanding is only about 330km but will take you between 6 to 12hours. There´s road construction most of the way, so be ready for a very, very slow ride the last half of the trip.
Kanding in Sichuan
Kanding is a small mountain city at an altitude of 2600m (8,530 ft); you will notice the clean air compared to Chengdu straight away when you arrive. If you’re not in a hurry, Kanding, you could spend a few days in Kanding exploring the mountains surrounding or visit one of the two temples in their area.
The bus station in Kangding is very small and located in the “beginning” of the city; buses run to Chengdu from around 6 am to 15.00. Buses to other designations include Ganzi (Garzê) only goes about 6 am. The price is 120RMB and takes around 6-12hours depends on how many locals it picks up and drops off on the way.
Ganzi in Sichuan
When leaving the bus station, just across the road is Chengxin Hotel, it got a big sign saying foreigners allowed, the hotel is basic but good, it has a heating blanket and WiFi.
There’s a young girl working there that speaks some English and will gladly help.
From 90RMB for a double room.
There´s NO direct bus from Ganzi to Yarchen Gar. But there are minivans going, ask the girl at the hotel to help you. If there are no minivans going the day, you’re going find a minivan to Buiyu and ask them to drop you off at the junction yo Yarchen Gar.
The police checkpoint is at the junction; from there try to hitchhike.
There´s a lot of minivans and shared taxis leaving Yarchen Gar for both Buiyu and Ganzi all day. The road quality between Ganzi and Yarchen Gar is horrible, while the trip from Yarchen Gar to Buiyu is probably the most beautiful in all of China.
Where to stay in Yarchen Gar:
There not many options here. There´s one proper hotel when entering Yarchen Gar, just across the parking lot. The only restaurant in the area is also located here. The hotel was full during my visit.
The one other option is to head to one of the three small local guesthouses located inside the Yarchen Gar on the left side of the bridge (opposite side of Nuns living area)
All the three guesthouses are very basic; it’s literally just a bed and a power plug, the room is as clean as you would expect in a place like this: just outdoor toilet and bucket washing.
The price for a bed in a three-person room is 35 RMB a bed; you can decide to share the space with two other random people or get the whole room for 105 RMB.
Where To Eat in Yarchen Gar:
The only restaurant is located inside the hotel; it serves very cheap local dishes; another option is to buy instant noodles from one of the small shacks selling it together with other basic needs.