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of worship for Tibetan Buddhism as well as of the indigenous
Bon religion abound in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and
many other traditional Tibetan areas. Many of these
monasteries and nunneries are original, dating back
thousands of years while others have been rebuild by monks
and nuns and pilgrims since the end of the Cultural
Revolution after over 6000 monasteries were destroyed.
Located at the foot of mountains, on top of mountains, and
in valleys surrounded by mountains, these monastery and
nunnery complexes are extensive sites of education, housing
and worship. They usually include the Sutra Hall，Zhacang
Buddhist school，living quarters of lamas, the palace of the
Living Buddha, the living quarters for the monks, all
grouped around the Hall of Enlightenment. The various
buildings are connected by corridors, steps, pathways and
courtyards forming a harmonious whole. There is nothing more
thrilling than visiting a monastery and seeing monks in
action, chanting their mantras, pounding their drums and
praying in front of their yak butter lamps. For a student of
religion, those seeking a spiritual experience, a Buddhist
or an intellectual nomad wanting to get the full sense of
this magical land, there is nothing quite like a tour of
monasteries, both the well-known and the small ones off the
beaten path where photos are still permitted. Here are a few
examples, but there are many hidden in valleys and mountains
that only your tour guide will know about. If you are
interested in tracking down those less-known, but charming
older monasteries, be sure to tell your guide so it can be
plotted into your itinerary. You may even be allowed to stay
the night. If you really want to experience Tibet
rather than running with the tight schedule of a group,
hiring a private guide is definitely the ultimate way to see
SURROUNDING AREA MONASTERIES
Jokhang Temple (not a monastery) situated in the center of
the old section of Lhasa was built in the mid - 7th century
A. D. and later extended by successive rulers. It is now a
gigantic architecture complex. Located in the east, facing
to the west, it is a four-story temple with splendid golden
roofs, spires and emblems. The murals in the temple
mainly depict the life stories of historic characters. The
temple houses many historical relics including statues of
King Songtsen Gompo, Princess Wencheng, Princess Bhrikuti
Devi (Nepalese). The Jokhang Temple is the most important
temple in Tibetan Buddhism. Pilgrims come from all Tibetan
areas to worship the Sakyamuni Buddha and other important
Sera Monastery, the largest
monastery in Tibet, with numerous colleges, lies at the foot
of Tatipu Hill in the northern suburb of Lhasa City.
It is one of three most famous monasteries in Lhasa.
The Sera Monastery is of the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat Sect, a
branch of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Tsong Khapa. The
monastery was named Sera which means wild rose in the
Tibetan language, because the hill behind it was covered
with wild roses when the monastery was built. The monastery
is magnificent and covers an area of 114,946 square meters
(28 acres). Its main buildings are the Coqen Hall, Zhacang
(college) and Kamcun (dormitory). Scriptures written in gold
powder, fine statues, scent cloth and unparalleled murals
can be found in these halls. Colorful debates on Buddhist
doctrines are held here (when occupied by monks).
Situated five kilometers from
Lhasa at the foot of Mt. Ganpoi Uze., Drepung Monastery was
founded in 1416 by Jamyang Choje. He was a disciple of
Tsongkapa, the founder of Gelugpa Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The
monastery, occupying an area of 250,000 squire meters with
about 7,700 monks (unknown number since 2008) is the largest
monastery in Tibet (TAR). The monastery keeps plentiful
historical relics, Buddhist scriptures, statues, religious
arts and crafts.
GANDEN - Lhasa
Ganden Monastery is located on
Wangbur Mountain, on the southern bank of Lhasa River in
Tagtse County, 29 miles from Lhasa City. It stands at an
altitude of 3,800 meters (12,467 feet) above sea level.
is one of the earliest and largest Buddhist monasteries in
Tibet, and stands atop of the six famous temples of Gelugpa.
Its significance as a religious, artistic, political and
cultural relic led to it being preserved by the National Key
Cultural Relic Preservation scheme in 1961, and is now known
as being one of the 'Three Great Temples. Every year, one of
the grandest of Buddhist activities - Buddha Painting
Unfolding Festival - is conducted in the monastery,
attracting thousands of visitors and disciples (when open).
Also enjoy other festivals.
SAMYE, Tsedang - 6 hours
Samye Monastery, founded in the
8th century during
the reign of King Trisong Detsen is truly breathtaking. You
can't help but fall in love with the resident monks! As the
first monastery built in Tibet, this
distinctive monastery and village complex forms a gigantic
mandala; a representation of the world, the Tibetan universe!
Enclosed by walls topped with 1008 chortens, the first
Tibetan monks were ordained here.
The temple was built by the Trisong Detsen (reigned
742-798) of the Tubo Kingdom and the work was directed by Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita,
the two Indian masters that the king had invited to Tibet.
It is thought the name SAMYE (meaning "surprise" in Tibetan) originated from an exclamation
When the temple was completed, Detsen took part in the
foundation ceremony and ordained seven descendants of
blue blood. They became the first
group of monks to live at the temple and later became known
'Seven Enlightened Disciples of Samye'.
entire construction of the temple is very extravagant and
complex. It replicates the universe described in the
Tibetan Buddhism sutras. The central temple represents Mt. Sumeru,
the mythical mountain at the centre of the cosmos. The Sun and Moon chapels stand in
the north and south as the sun and moon do in the universe.
Four larger halls and eight smaller halls are distributed
around all sides of the central hall, symbolizing the four
large continents and eight small ones. In the four corners
lie the Red, White, Black and Green Pagodas guarding the
Dharma (virtuous path or religion) like heavenly kings. A circular wall surrounds
the temple as if symbolizing the periphery of the world. The
layout of Samye Monastery resembles the mandala in the
Tibetan or Esoteric Buddhism tradition. Beyond its front
entrance is an idyllic courtyard, planted with flowers,
trees, and bamboo. Over the centuries Samye has
been associated with
various schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Today,
Tibetans of all traditions come to worship here.
Tidrum Nunnery 150 km east from Lhasa - Ü
One hundred kilometers
northeast of Lhasa in the Drigung valley dotted with small
villages lies this impressive monastery on a steep ridge
overlooking the Drigung valley. The
lovely valleys have an untouched and perpetual quality that
makes them seem much further away from Lhasa than they
actually are. The roads are rough but it’s well worth the
effort to make it out hereNorth from the monastery
tucked with craggy peaks is the Tidrum nunnery, a relaxing
place with sacred medicinal hot springs. Drigung Til
Monastery is the head monastery of the Drigungpa school of the Kagyupa order
of Tibetan Buddhism.
begun in 1179, but was almost completely destroyed during
the war between the Zhigung Gagyu Sect and the Sagya Sect.
It was rebuilt and then destroyed again during the cultural
revolution between 1966-1976. The new construction dates
The lovely monastery sprouts from a high, steep ridge
overlooking the Drigung Valley. A steep narrow path makes
its way up into the monastic complex. There is vehicle
access from the eastern end of the valley. The 180-degree
views from the main courtyard are striking and a serene
tranquility infuses the site.
The monastery kora heads up the hill to the main durtro
(burial platform) of the Drigung Celestial Burial Ground.
This is the holiest and most famous sky-burial site in the Lhasa region,
maybe in all of Tibet! People travel hundreds of kilometers to bring their
deceased relatives here to have the sacred rites performed
in this place of unsurpassed serenity.
What is a sky burial?
It may be possible to observe a
sky burial if you are here, but it is absolutely essential
that you gain permission from both the family of the
deceased and the senior lama conducting the ceremony.
The Drigung Powa Chenmo is a
religious festival held once every 12 years, in the year of
the ape. The festival honors women, children and fertility.
Ever since 1959 the Chinese government has forbidden the
festival, but in 2004 the festival was officially approved
and recognized by the authorities. Since then thousands of
Tibetans now travel to the Drigung Til monastery. They pack
their tents, supplies and their children on small tractors,
or go by bus or truck. Seeing this festival, being a part of
it and getting to know these awesome Tibetan people is truly
beyond description. The roads
to this timeless place are
rough but it’s well worth the effort.
Many hikers come from Lhasa. Others get here by bus
or private car, but for those who make it, their lives are
never the same.
RETING - North of Lhasa
Reting is an historically
important Buddhist monastery in central Tibet. It
was founded by Atisha's chief disciple Dromtönpa in 1056 in
the Reting Tsampo Valley north of Lhasa as the seat of the
Kadampa lineage. Although Reting was devastated by the Red
Guards during Mao's Cultural Revolution (1965-1976), it has
been partially restored. Interestingly, the Reting Rinpoches were
the monks responsible for the successful search and discovery of the
current Dalai Lama.
(FRIENDSHIP HWY) AREA MONASTERIES
TASHILUNGPO - Shigatse
is the biggest Gelugpa
monastery in the Tsang region of Tibet.
It is located in Shigatse around 250 kilometers
away from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.
Situated on the
foot of Mt. Drolmari, this magnificent structure is one of the six huge
monasteries of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet.
It was built by First
Dalai Lama in the year 1447 and
expanded by successive Panchen
Lamas over the centuries.
It stands on a whooping area
of around 300,000 square meters! Also this place has been
the seat of the
Panchen Lamas for hundreds of years. As the second most important religious leader of Tibet, Tashilhunpo Monastery has become a prominent landmark in
Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet.
Tashilhunpo Monastery was founded by Gedun Drub, later
titled the first Dalai Lama. He was also the
nephew and follower of the legendary Buddhist Philosopher,
Je Tsongkhapa. This is one of those sites that is
difficult to describe because of its circumference. The massive
renovation of the monastery was started by the fourth
Panchen Lama and was carried on by successive Lamas. When the monastery was at its
most active, there were more than 4000 monks and 4 tantric
colleges with their own abbot. In 1960, the Chinese attacked the
monastery in the absence of the Pachen Lama.
As you enter the monastery,
you will see a wall overlooking the monastery. This wall was build
by the order of the first Dalai Lama. Visitors are in awe by the
mere dimensions and size of this monastery. The largest number of visitors
come during the
Buddha Thangka display festival which is usually held every 14, 15
and 16 of May on the Tibetan calendar. On this day, the
wall displays images of Lord Buddha.
Inside the Maitreya Chapel holds the biggest statue of a sitting Maitreya
Buddha, almost 86 feet in height, well decorated with 275
kilograms of pure gold,
diamonds, pearls, turquoises, corals and ambers, and other rare stones.
It is rather spellbinding to know that the Buddha was handcrafted by
around 900 craftsmen and took more than 9 years to
fabulous attraction of the Tashilhunpo Monastery is the Stupa
from the tenth Panchen
Lama. It lies east of the chapel and is covered with
gold, jewels and precious stones.
The another significant building in Tashilhunpo is the Kelsang
Temple. It is one of the oldest and largest buildings in Tashilhunpo. It is
truly a colossal compound. It has a Main Chanting
Hall where lamas learn sutras and listen to Panchen
Lama sermons. On the back end of the hall lies a 5 meters (16
feet) high statue of Sakyamuni. It is said that a part of
Sakyamuni's remains were placed inside this statue!
If you see no other
monastery outside of Lhasa, Tashilhunpo Monastery is an
absolute must visit!
Monastery - Ghantse
Palkhor Monastery may also be called Palcho or Baiju Monastery.
With a strange mix of monks this enchanting monastery is
different from other monasteries in Tibet. it is the only monastery that houses monks from different
orders. The monks from the Gelugpa, Sakyapa and Kahdampa orders
live in this monastery in harmony and tranquility.
230 (143 miles) kilometers south of Lhasa and 100 kilometers east of Shigatse at the
foot of Dzong Hill, it is truly spectacular. Built as a typical Tibetan Buddhism
monastery it was erected in 1418 and has remarkably remained
intact and unscathed to this day. And that is really an
unbelievable feat since the Chinese destroyed over 6000
monasteries during the Cultural Revolution between
1966-1976. The tower, Palkhor
Tower, is also referred to as the Ten Thousand Buddhas Tower. It is the
calling card of Palkhor Monastery and the most important
building in this monastery. The tower houses around 100
family halls for worshipping Buddha, 10,000 figures of
Buddha in the Buddhist shrines and murals which gives it the
name of the "Ten Thousand Buddhas Tower". With a exceptional
history and a cornucopia of Tibetan Buddhist art,
this monastery is famous
for the incredible temple and stupa dating from the 13th to 15th century. The main Assembly Hall of Palkhor Monastery, Tshomchen,
was built between the end of the 14th century and the beginning
of the 15th century. This three-story structure has many
fascinating features. The ground
floor has a chanting hall with 48 columns that are ornamented
with ancient silk "thangkas".
Most interesting are the murals
depicting stories of Buddha. Notice that the painting
style in this monastery is quite different from paintings that
one seen in other monasteries.
The monastery is famous worldwide for it's matchless architecture and the 'Bodhi
Stupa' or 'Kumbum'. Visit the monastery on 15th of
April according to Tibetan calendar Saka Dawa festival is
celebrated, the birthday of Sakyamuni. An absolute gala fiesta,
to say the least.
Stupa of Palkhor Monastery - Ghantse
Stupa is one of the most distinctive temples in the world.
It is an unusual architectural masterpiece with its nine
levels rise in the manner of a step pyramid. Its
construction started in 1418 and it was completed in 1427.
It is designed in classic stupa or pagoda style. The
word Kumbum literally means 10,000 images and according to
its name Kumbum stupa contains 10,000 murals some of which
are dates back to 15 century and still in tact. These images
include Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Vajras, Dharma Kings, Arhats,
Disciples, great adepts of different orders in Tibetan
Buddhist history, and outstanding figures in Tibetan history
such as Songtsen Gampo and Trisong Detsen. It was an
important centre of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism and
still considered as one of the most outstanding and sacred
places of Tibet. This amazing structure is 35 meters in
height, octagonal in shape, has a 9 storey terraced
exterior, 108 chapels, and superb murals (wall paintings).
It raises over four symmetrical floors plus two upper floors
and is capped with a gold dome. The four floors contain 108
chapels which the pilgrims visit.
SAKYA - Shigatse area
Located in Skaya Country 30
kilometers off the Shigatse-Xegar highway, this monastery
stands in two parts on either side of Dongchu River. This
monastery is the center of the Sakyapa Sect (White Earth
northern part of the monastery was built in the year 1079
and the southern founded in 1268. For people seeking
spiritual and personal growth, Sakya Monastery provides
access to the Buddha’s teachings and guidance within a
community of practitioners. Sakya Monastery provides a place
to learn from highly qualified and spiritual Tibetan Lamas
in a beautiful traditional setting.
The monastery of Shalu was founded by Chetsun Sherab Jungnay
in the region of Nyangro near the present day town of
Shigatse. In the early fourteenth century it became the most
important centre of learning under Butön Rinpoche (1290-1364
), one of Tibet's greatest scholars. There he brought
together the one hundred and eight volumes of the
fundamental texts of Buddhism, the Kanjur, and the two
hundred volumes of "treaties and commentaries", the Tenjur.
the same time he supervised the execution of 499 tantric
mandalas, a few of which can be still seen in two chapels on
the first floor. In 1305, Butön Rinpoche advised Prince
Drakpa Gyaltsen to extend the monastery, following which
Shalu was decorated by Tibetan and Nepalese artists who had
been trained in the Mongol imperial workshops under the
famous Newari master, Arniko (1245-1306). Due to Butön's
activity, the monastery became one of the most important
centers of study in Tibet, continuing on as an influential,
non-sectarian monastery for centuries to come. The
association has adopted the name of Shalu, as an exceptional
repository of Tibetan religious art, and in memory of this
Rongbuk Monastery is one of
the highest monastery in the world. At the elevation of 4800
meters it is the last inhabited spot before Everest Base
Camp. Of course, interesting in its own way and a place to
stay overnight, Rongbuk is small and really only worth a
visit if you are on your way up to Everest Base Camp. It is
situated in Basum Township, in Shigaste Prefecture of the
Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). The road up to Base Camp is
not paved and very rough.
Rongbuk was built by a local lama
in about 1899. Previously this land area was a camp of meditation huts
used by monks and hermits for over 400 years.
The best part is the hermitage meditation caves that dot the cliff walls all around the
monastery complex and up and down the valley. Lining the paths,
are many walls and
stones are carved with sacred syllables and prayers. Zatul Rinpoche, the lama who founded this monastery
has always been held in high esteem by Tibetans. Even though
a minor physical monastery, in past times this place
was an active centre of Tibetan Buddhism teachings. During
annual ceremonies this place came alive with masked dancers
and throngs of faithful pilgrims. Cymbals clanked amid the ceaseless thunder of the long Tibetan trumpets.
The chorten dramatically marks this last human dwelling place
before one heads up to the stark valley to Base Camp. Walking
up from Rongbuk Monastery, you see the famous Rongbuk
Glacier Zone which is the largest of all the hundreds of
glaciers formed around the Mt. Everest. The three glaciers north
of the Mt. Everest flow south and assemble at a river traversing
the foot of the monastery. This is called 'Rongbuk River', and
the water here is extremely cold.
In Rongbuk monastery both the monks and nuns reside and
celebrate Tibetan Buddhist festivals together.
Come during the
three days Saga Dawa Festival which is held to celebrate the
birth of Sakyamuni. During the play many monks disguise
themselves and dance for hours.
RALUNG - Gyantse area, Tsang
Ralung Monastery is the
traditional seat of the Drukpa Kagyu order of Tibetan
Buddhism. The monastery is surrounded by the towering peaks
and majestic glacier fields. The founder of Bhutan was the 18th abbot
of Ralung monastery. In 1616 he fled Tibet when his
recognition as the reincarnation of renowned scholar Pema
Karpo was challenged by the governor. Ngawang Namgyel proved
to be a worthy incarnation as he far surpassed the
accomplishments of his tormentors. He unified the warring
valleys of Bhutan, fending off attacks from Tibet, forming a
national identity, and establishing a Drukpa theocracy that
continues to this day in modified form as the Royal
Government of Bhutan.
TIBETAN AREA MONASTERIES
NOT LOCATED IN THE TAR
Located on the southern side of Mt. Gangpo Ri, Trandruk
Monastery can be found 2 kilometers south of Tradrug on the
eastern bank of Yarlung River. This is one of the earliest
Buddhist monasteries and worth a look if you're in the area.
It looks a lot like the Jokhang Temple
Trandruk means 'the sound
of an eagle roaring like a dragon' in the Tibetan language.
Rumor has it that the land where Trandruk Monastery now
stands was once a lake. Here's the story. A monstrous dragon
with five heads settled in the lake and created huge
problems for the inhabitants of this area. In an effort to
regain peace and happiness for the people, Songtsen Gampo
turned himself into a roc, an incredible sortof bird. After
many fights with the dragon, Gampo finally won the battle
over this evil creature, The roc pecked unendingly at the
five heads of the dragon and it finally died. Therefore the
name of Trandruk was given to the monastery when it was
built, to commemorate the great deeds of Songtsen Gampo.
As one of the most famous monasteries in Tibet, built in
the age of the great ruler Songtsen Gampo, the main building
is called Tshomchen. Residing inside this ornate building is
a giant copper statue of Buddha. The jawdropping thangka
(painted wall hanging) is the greatest treasure of the
monastery. With 29,000 plus pearls, a diamond, two
carbuncles, and other precious gems it is priceless.
Labrang Monastery is one of the
six great monasteries of the Geluk (Yellow Hat) school of
Tibetan Buddhism. It is located in Xiahe County (Gannan
Tibetan Autonomous Perfecture) in the Gansu province area of
Amdo. It's about four hours from Lanzhou. This rural area is
magnificent to visit in the summer with yaks roaming the
verdant green hillsides and sheep meandering along the
roadside. Although less visited than the TAR, this area is a
place you can experience Tibetan life as it was for
centuries as it is still about seventy percent Tibetan
(nomads and farmers). The monastery complex towers above the
northern village. The white walls and golden roofs feature a
blend of Tibetan and Han architectural styles. The monastery
contains 18 halls, six institutes of learning, a golden
stupa, a sutra debate, and nearly 60,000 sutras. There once
were more than 2000 monks in residence. There is also a very
interesting museum. If you're in this area, this is a
Monasteries near Xining, Qinghai
Tibet Shashung Monastery
Monastery currently houses 350 monks. Founded in 1349 this
is one of the oldest standing monasteries in the region.
Kumbum Jampa Ling Monastery/Ta'er (Gelugpa/yellow hat sect)
In commemorating the founder of the Yellow Hat Sect of
Tibetan Buddhism, Tsong Khapa (1357-1419), the Kumbum Jampa
Monastery was built in 1577 more than 150 years after his
death. In the Tibetan language,
Kumbum Jampa Ling is translated as 'gongben', which means
'10,000 figures of Buddha'. more
Tibetan Buddhist Monastery
There are many, many other
monasteries in the TAR and other Tibetan areas, almost all
of them worth a visit is you are in the mindset of studying
this fascinating religion and culture. These are but a few.
Depending on your time, itinerary and desires, our guides
can coordinate visits to all of the off-the-track
monasteries and temples that have been such an integral part
of the development of the Tibetan people and their mores.
Please contact our guides
for more information.
Tibetan Sky Burial can be
shocking for the western mind, but if you put off your
cultural mores and just think of the practicality behind the
sky burial, it is probably the most logical burial practice
in the world. A sky burial doesn't bury the family with the
financial burden of a western funeral. A sky burial is a
neat, clean, efficient way to dispose of the physical shell
a human leaves behind. A sky burial prevents the waste of
sky burial allows the body to be of use to living things and
contributes to the benefit of those still living and in need
of food. We must remember, as the Tibetan's clearly believe,
that the body is not the person. The body was a useful
cocoon, or shell, or edifice for the energy, the soul, the
person who has gone on to another realm, heaven or world.
Keeping these things in the forefront of your mind, here is
the definition of a Tibetan sky burial.
After a week of prayers,
chants, and religious rites to help the departed soul, the
body is taken to a celestial burial site, usually on the top
of a sacred hill or a nearby hill used for this purpose. The
body is laid out for the vultures to clean or the monks cut
the flesh from the bones and the vultures are invited to
feast on it. The bones are then cut up, smashed up, mixed up
with the brains and some tsampa and again offered to
the birds. Everything must go, anything that remains is
burnt and again offered to the sky in a separate ritual.
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