5-6 Days: Lhasa Area Monasteries-Yarlung Monasteries-Yumbu Lhagang
Lhasa & Its Monasteries:
(Click the arrows to enjoy the slideshow of Lhasa and Its Monasteries with descriptions below.)
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..YouTube video.
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.
The Yarlung Valley:
The Yarlung Valley (where Gongkar Airport is located, south of Lhasa) is called the cradle of Tibetan civilization because it is here that the first King descended from the sky and landed on top of a sacred hill near Tsetang, thus fulfilling a prophecy. This event marked the beginning of the dynasty of the great Yarlung Kings and the emergence of a small area that would become the nucleus of a large empire. The fertility of the land provided the basis for wealth and expansion and most importantly, became the home for the establishment of the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet in the 8th century—the famed Samye Monastery ("Inconceivable").
Traveling on the newly paved road on the north shore of the Tsangpo River, the first stop is Dorje Drak Monastery, seat of the Jangter tradition or Northern Treasure tradition of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Click the arrows to enjoy this slideshow of the Yarlung Tsangpo River and views from Dorje Drak Monastery:
The beauty of the Tsangpo rivers, the views and sand dunes will delight you and finally you will arrive at Samye and Hepori Hill where you will also find the New Samye Hotel and restaurants.
Samye is such an incredible example of architecture and sacred art that it is impossible to describe it here. Suffice it to say, that the outrr design is a geomatic layout of the cosmos. Thye main temple is a three storied building that showcases the most exquisite statues, architecture and sacred art in all of Tibet. There are also smaller ancillary temples and stupas to visit. it is easy to spend the entire day exploring Samye. And of course, you will mingle with devotees from all over Tibet.
Click the arrows to enjoy this slideshow of Samye:
Behind Samye, just a short drive, is the sacred valley of Chimphu which consists of a beautiful nunnery and many simple cave hermitages where a hundred or more modern-day yogins live and practice with great devotion. The entire area is studded with sacred remembrances of past masters such as Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyal, King Trisong Detson, Jigme Lingpa, Longchenpa and many others. You will spend the day gradually climbing the mountain on well marked and cleared paths and will find tea refreshments along the way. The views of the Yarlung are unsurpassed.
Click the arrows to enjoy this slideshow of Chimphu:
From Samye, you will continue driving along the north shore of the Tsangpo River and come to cross to the southern shore to the small city of Tsetang.
At Yumbu Lhakang, a 100 m high spur juts into the valley and is topped with palace or fortressof the first king, Nyatri Tsenpo. The current version is a three-storied stone tower that contains images and statues of recent origin and symbolizes Tibet's pre-history and the early dynasties.
There are many other historic temples to visit in this area such as Trandruk built int he 7th century as a geomatic subduing temple. There is also Tsechu Bumpa Stupa and the royal tombs of Chongye. We can easily accommodate these extensions while you stay in Tsetang at a hotel of your choice (including 4star.)