This small hill-encompassd dusty town, lying along the banks of the Daxia River at an altitude of 3000 meters, is a county seat within the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Its historic role has been the servicing of the Great Tibetan monastery of Labrang.
Today, shops along the main street supply the simple requirements of the Tibetan farmers and semi-nomadic herdsmen from the grasslands as well as those of the local monks. The two-storey wooden shop, mostly run by the Hui, stock Tibetan religious objects such as hand-printed sutras, moulds, prayer wheels, musical instruments, bells and vajras (thunderbolts), as well as hand-tinted photographs of the Dalai Lama and late Panchen Lama. The town is thronged with colorful pilgrims between harvests. Local watermills grind roasted barley into flour (tsampa), the staple of the Tibetan diet.
The surrounding valley is serene, with yaks pulling ploughs in the nearby fields. The grasslands, excellent pasturage for herds of yaks and horses, begin about 30 kilometers beyond Xiahe. In the summer, they are carpeted with wild flowers, and Chinese beekeepers spend the short summer here, moving their hives every 20 days.
The Labrang Monastery is located at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain northwest of Xiahe County in Gannan Tibetan Nationality Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province. A propitious place in the hearts of the Tibetan, it stands by the Daxia River and faces the Dragon Mountain.
As for the Dragon and Phoenix Mountains, there is a beautiful legend. A long time ago, this place was a boundless sea. After countless changes, mountains and lands appeared. One day, a golden-wing phoenix flew here and rested on one of the mountains in the south. It was so thirsty that it drank all the water; thus the sea dried up. A dragon in the sea was greatly shocked, so it cavorted out of the water, which led to the emergence of a spring at the site where the phoenix drank. As the spring water effused more and more, the Daxia River was formed. So the dragon became the Dragon Mountain and the phoenix became the Phoenix Mountain. And the Daxia River flowed from west to east through the two mountains, eroding the hollow into a basin. The Labrang Monastery was built on the Zhaxiqi (means auspiciousness) shoal which is in the north of the basin.
Sangke Prairie lies about ten kilometres west of Xiahe County, Gansu province. It enjoys a good reputation in the northwest Tibetan district for its excellent pasture and frequent magnificent Buddhist ceremonies. Belonging to the meadow steppe and bordered by the Daxia River, Sangke prairie is at an elevation of 3000 meters (9843 feet) with an area of 70 square kilometres (27 square miles).
The prairie is named for the summer-blooming sangke flowers that form a natural carpet extending to the far horizons. Reflecting sky and mountains, the Daxia River twists through grass and earth like an undulating silk belt. Countless sheep, yaks, and tents are visible over the prairie.