Lhasa Monasteries, Terdrom Nunnery, Sacred Hot Springs, Drigung Til Monastery, 5-6 Days
The holy city of Lhasa was founded as the capital of the Tibetan Empire in the 7th century by the Emperor Songtsen Gampo and since the beginning of the ascendancy of the Dalai Lamas in the 17th century, it has had no rivals on the Tibetan Plateau.
"The Place of the Gods", (10 950 ft.) which straddles the Kyichi Valley, is the planet's majestic rooftop city where the traditional Tibetan lifestyle continues, amid temples, wafting incense and devoted Buddhists. Filled with sights, sounds and an abundance of shops, restaurants and historical monasteries, the Tibetan quarter of Lhasa will keep you busy!
The glorious Potala Palace, truly an architectural gem, was the residence of the Dalai Lamas known to the Tibetans as Yishin Norbu, Wish-fulfilling Gem. The Emperor Songtsen Gampo is believed to have built the first palace in 637 and later it was rebuilt and expanded by the Great Fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century. Today the Potala is a state museum but the vibration of sanctity can still be felt.
The Jokhang was built in the 7th century by King Songtsen Gampo and his two wives—the Nepalese Princess Bhrikuti and the Chinese Princess Wencheng. It houses the famous Jowo Rinpoche (Buddha Shakyamuni) statue, the holiest object in Tibet. Over the centuries, the complex has expanded and been rebuilt several times but remarkably, the core of the original temple still remains and can be visited. The Jokhang is a UNESCO World Heritage site and its importance to the Tibetan people cannot be exaggerated.
The best way to experience the Jokhang is to arrive in the morning and mingle with pilgrims from all over Tibet as they perform their devotions. Then visit the temple in the afternoon with your guide. The interior of the Jokhang is a dark labyrinth of chapels dedicated to various gods and bodhisattvas, illuminated by votive candles and thick with the smoke of incense.
Five km north of Lhasa, Sera once housed more than 5,000 monks in the Gelugpa tradition. Sera, Enclosure of Roses, was established in the 15th century by a disciple of Tsongkhapa. Since 1959 and the Cultural Revolution, it has gradually been rebuilt but today it is still only a shadow of its former self. Displaying an impressive architecture, it also houses an impressive collection of sacred art and upholds the debating tradition of education which are held every afternoon except on Sundays. YouTube debate video
The Norbulingka is a park that was developed in the mid 18th century as the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lamas. It was also the seat of government during the summer. The complex includes a debating courtyard and three palaces. To the east there is an open air stage and gardens where operatic performances are held during Shoton Festival.
Drepung or Rice Heap Monastery located at the foot of Mount Gephel is one of the great three Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet. The other are Ganden and Sera. Drepung is about 8 km west of Lhasa and is built below a valley wall. It once housed more than 7,000 monks. Much has been destroyed but the four main buildings have been preserved.
South-west of Drepung, Ganden was built by the Second Dalai Lama in the 16th century. Today it houses two important images, the talking Tara statue and the Great Compassionate One.
A few hours northeast of Lhasa, the Rep‐chu Gorge is the sanctuary of Zhoto Tidro, also known as Terdrom Nunnery. This is among the most favored of all hermitages because it was here that a great female adept named Yeshe Tsogyal, practiced ascetic meditation with the master Padmasambhava for many years.
To this day, the nunnery is governed by a female abbess and houses many important artifacts. Just below the main temple are the magical and popular hot‐springs associated with Padmasambhava, who is believed to have created the springs to benefit visitors in the future. The average temperature of the springs is 40°C. They are known to contain sulfur, limestone, bitumen, coal and other minerals which can alleviate gastric disorders, tumors, paralysis, rheumatism, dermatitis, poor blood circulation, and general debility. The hot springs are a favorite holiday destination for Tibetans.
For those in excellent physical condition, there is also a 10-12 hour hike or pilgrimage route high into the mountains, leading to the secret cave of Yeshe Tsogyal called Kiri Yangdzong. At 5,060 m, the cave is accessed via a 15-meter ladder. For a shorter, much easier hike, you can visit the Padmasambhava Cave which is nestled in the mountainside.
Drigung Til Monastery is an important Kagyu institution founded in the 12th century. Destroyed in 1959 and now partially rebuilt, it offers magnificent views of the valley and exquisite contemporary Buddhist art.