Places To See in Tibet
Lhasa in Tibet is considered as one of the holiest places in Tibet. It is home to the most beautiful Potala palace and an administrative seat of the successive Dalai Lamas. Jokhang situated 2 Km east of Potala is a Tibetan spiritual center where locals often frequent to offer their worship and prayers. There are also monasteries all over Lhasa, the important being the Gelugpa monasteries of Sera and Drepung which till today remain intact.
Similarly Ganden Monastery, Nangkhor, Barkhor and Lingkhor are famous for their artistic beauty, statues and mural paintings.
Sangtso Gampo is the unifier of greater Lhasa. Lhasa was annexed and turned into capital during the middle of seventh century BC. The Yarlung Empire is said to have ruled Lhasa for over 250 years before it was taken over by the Dalai Lama. Palaces in now the Potala Palace were constructed along with temples of Ramoche and Jhokang to house Buddha images brought in dowries from Nepal and China.
From 10th century till the early 17th century, Shigatse kings ruled who were defeated the fifth Dalai Lama with Mongol support. The Lama moved to Lhasa and built the Potala Palace and ever since Lhasa has been the administrative and religious capital of Tibet, most of the historical sites still standing today date to the latter century. The city divides between western or Chinese section and eastern or Tibetan section.
Jokhang in the Tibetan side is surrounded by Barkhor where Kora is done. This place is deeply religious and commercially viable. A medieval town which has its essence protected from modernity. Make a Barkhor Circuit passing through the temples of Mani Lakhang, Jampa Lakhang, 7th century Meru Nyingba Monastery, Jambhala Lhakang. See Tibetans counting their rosary beads in temple courtyards and Tibetan artists making Thangkas.
The Jhokang is a highly revered shrine that dates back to 7th century. Here you can observe the greatest congregation of Tibetan pilgrims. The temple is believed to have been built by King Songtsen Gampo tohouse the image of Mikyoba brought as dowry from his Nepali princess Bhirkuti and Ramoche to house the idol of Sakya Thukpa brought from his Chinese wife Princess Wencheng. The site was chosen by Princess Wencheng which is mired in many mythical tales. The palace has undergone many renovations. Coutyards inside the temple houses important images of deities and statue of Guru Rimpoche, Maitreya, Avlokiteshvara among others. There are chapels of the Buddha of Infinite Light, Eight Medicine Buddhas, Chapel of Chenresig and Maitreya inside the temple.
It is jewel of Eastern architecture visited by Chinese and western tourists. You will have to pay entrance fees for access to internal chambers. Taking photos inside is prohibited.
Songsten Gampo was the first to choose the site for his palace in his expanded kingdom. Later the fifth Dalai Lama replaced the old palace with the nine-storey Potala Palace. The Potala palace can be divided into White and Red palaces The project on the White Palace completed in three years starting in 1645 where as the construction in the Red took 12 years later where the body of the fifth Dalai Lama was laid to rest. Since then it has been home to successive Dalai Lamas as winter residence. Vice premier Zhou Enlai protected the palace with his own armies during the Cultural Revolution.
The Red Palace consist of the chapel of the Holy Born, chapel of Sakyamuni, chapel of Kalachakra and chapel of Rigsum Lhakhang where you can observe statues of Guru Rimpoche, Sakyamuni, and eight medicine buddhas among others. There are big assembly halls with fascinating carved pillars. The Dalai Lama’s Tombs has a 12.6 m-high chorten of the fifth Dalai Lama gilded with gold. There is also a statue of Songsten Gampo on the second floor along with his Chinese and Nepali wives. The third floor contains tombs of the seventh, eighth, ninth and thirteenth Dalai Lama, chapels of immortal happiness, victory over the three worlds, three-dimensional mandalas and jampa.
The white palace offers the view to the private quarters o the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas, mural paintings of Bodhgaya, reception hall and meditation room and Deyang courtyard.
Making Kora of the Potala is a popular activity among pilgrims and visitors. You are likely to come across Durbthub Nunnery and a cave temple of Palha-Lu-PUk which is believed to have been the meditation retreat of King Songtsen Gampo. Visit Lukhang temple beside the lake and the hill of Chagpro Ri, home to Tibetan’s medical college which dates back to 15th century. The carvings on nearby cliffs is said to have been carried out by Nepali artisans under the direction of King Songtsren Gampo. Other temples of interest include Ramoche Temple, Pode Kangsyang and Gyume
Built around 1755, The Norbulingka became popular as the summer residence of Dalai Lamas. This is a popular site for majority of tourists and locals visiting Lhasa. Each successive Dalai Lama added new features to the palace including lake, garden, New Summer palace and north western palaces most of which were destroyed by the Chinese in 1959. This also has a political history in that the 14th Dalai Lama escaped Tibet overnight through Norbulingka.
The palace made by eight Dalai Lama consists in total of 65 thangkas and statues of eight medicine Buddhas. New summer palace lies in the center of the park and is the most recent palace built by the 14th Dalai Lama. Summer palace of the 13th Dalai Lama is on the western section of Norbulingka.
8 km west of Central Lhasa literally means ‘rice heap’ suffered excesses of Tsang and Mongols and cultural revolution but still stands the test of time
Founded by monk Jamyang Choje in 1416. Within a year there was a strong community of 2000 monks. The second Dalai Lama established the Ganden Palace nearby in 1530 from where the third and fourth Lamas also administered Tibet. All of them have been entombed here. The palace is a yearly venue of traditional Cham dance that is held during the Shotun festival.
Tsogchen also called Main Assembly Hall is the main structure in the Drepung monastery and houses colorful thangkas and statues of 13th Dalai Lama, Sakyamuni, eighth bodisttvas etc. The third and higher floors hve chapel of aof Jhampa and Sakyamuni.
The four tantric colleges inside the perimeter of Drepung are Ngagpa college, Loseling College, Gomang and Deyang College. The Drepung kora involves rounding up to 3900m pass rock paintings and wall thangkas. Other monasteries of interest include Nechung Monastery, Sera Monastery, Pabonka Monastery, Ganden Monastery and Shugsheb Nunnery.
Namtso is considered as one of the most beautiful places in Tibet. Located in Damxung County and Baingo County, Tibet Autonomous Region, Lake Namtso is the second largest salt water lake in China. Namtso means ‘Heaven Lake’ in Tibetan. Namtso is at an altitude of about 4,718 meters (15,479 feet) — truly a lake in the sky.
Namtso is regarded as a holy lake by Tibetan Buddhists. During the Year of the Sheep in the Tibetan calendar believers make a pilgrimage to Lake Namtso. There are four temples around the lake. Quiet and large Lake Namtso, next to the blue sky, with white cloud surrounding the giant snow mountains, will purge your soul whether you are a Buddhist believer or not.
Samye Monastery is one of the most unique monasteries situated in the Northern Tibet. It is the oldest monastery in Tibet believed to be 1200 years old. It was built by Trisong Detsen around the third quarter of eighth century. The design of the monastery represents the cosmological interpretations to Buddhist philosophy. A place called Hepo Ri, east of Samye, was where Guru Rimpoche is believed to have achieved victory over demons of Tibet. The first seven Tibetan monks were ordained in this monastery. It is also a place where the battle between Indian scholars and Chinese scholars took place over the kind of Buddhism to be preached.
The Utse is the main building of Samye Monastery which is a mixture of Indian and Chinese architectural style. For instance, the ground and first floor are Tibetan in style, the second floor Chinese and the last or third floor is influenced by Indian architecture. The entrance consists of the Tibetan script that proclaims Buddhism as the state religion of Tibet. The ground floor consist of an assembly hall and statues of Trisong Detsen, Songsten Gampo, Guru Rimpoche and lamas belonging to Kadampa, Nyingmapa, Skayapa and Gelugpa orders. The chapel of Jowo Khang has three doors of entrance which represent three doors of liberation namely that of emptiness, signlessness and wishlessness. There is also a statue of Sakyamuni which stands 4m in height, 1000-armed staute of Avalokiteshvara and bas-relief plates. The second floor has an image of Guru Rinpoche along with a rich collection of murals.
Yamdrok Lake (Yamdrok Yumtso) is one of the three holy lakes in Tibet. Located in Nagarzê County, Shannan Prefecture, Yamdrok Lake is about 70 kilometers from Lhasa.
Yamdrok Lake means ‘jade lake’ in Tibetan. It is a barrier lake, since glacial mud-rock flows blocked the river way millions of years ago. Yamdrok Lake, with a surface area of 638 km2 is about 70 times the size of West Lake in Hangzhou. It is a coral-colored lake and it is also called coral lake.
The famous Samding Monastery, the only Tibetan monastery which is headed by a female tulku is on the southwest coast of the lake. The unique natural scenery of Yamdrok Lake, combining lakes, islands, pasture, wild animals and plants, the monastery, snowy mountains, and blue sky, is incredibly attractive.
Yangbajing Hot Springs
Yangbajing (also spelled Yangbajain) is a town in Damxung County, about 90 kilometers northwest of Lhasa. The town is famous for its geothermal resources. The Yangbajing Hot Springs are the highest hot springs in China surrounded by snowy mountains. Therefore, it is an important tourist destination in Tibet.
Every morning, the Yangbajing Hot Springs are suffused by white vapor as the hot water meets the cold air. It is the most beautiful time at the Yangbajing Hot Springs, and it makes you feel like you are in a fairyland. At the right time you can watch a boiling hot geyser rush out to the sky. It is enjoyable to take a hot spring bath in winter with snow around.
Ganden Monastery - Holy monastery of Gelugpa
Ganden Monastery is one of the earliest and largest Buddhist monasteries in Tibet. With over 600 years of history for building in 1409 by Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug Sect, it stands atop of the six famous temples of Gelugpa, and also known as one of the Three Great Temples, together with the Sera Monastery and the Drepung Monastery. In the meaning of happiness and contentedness in Tibetan, Ganden Monastery is the main dwelling of successive Gelug abbots and their tombs were built into pagodas for over 90 numbers. With an orderly architectural layout of standing Buddha halls, towering roofs, splendid stupas, Ganden Monastery is arranged well with vivid colors of black windows, white walls and the golden roofs, like a castle under the heaven. Besides, the kinds of architectural buildings and a large quantity of cultural relics and handicrafts are worth visiting. Along the winding twisty road up, you can appreciate the authentic holy land under the blue sky.
Everest base camp
The northern Everest Base Camp is one of the highlights for adventure travelers in Tibet and it provides stunning views of the Everest massif, as well as Makalu and Shishapangma. The spectacular Rongbuk glacier forms part of the amazing panorama you will be able to enjoy from your tent. Rongbuk monastery, which was founded in 1902 has a series of meditation caves which had been in use for over 400 years, is the last hint of civilization in this area. The lama here traditionally blesses all expeditions aiming for the summit of Mt. Everest. The trek to "Advance Base Camp" provides even more incredible views and a real sense of the awesome grandeur of mt Everest
Gyantse lies in the southern part of Tibet and is famous for the largest chorten in Tibet, Gyantse Kumbum. Its importance grew during the 14th and 15th centuries with the growing influence of Sakyapa order. In later centuries it remained a trade route center between India and China, with increasing deals in wood and wool
Horse-racing and archery are two of the most popular festivals that take place in the summer. Permit to Gyantse is available at Shigatse.
Pelkor Chode Monastery: Built around 1418 AD, Pelkor Chode Monastery is a rare combination of three orders of Tibetan Buddhism namely Gelugpa, Sakyapa and Buton. Altogether nine monasteries have been dedicated to Gelugpa and three each to the other two. The monastery contains an assembly hall and a number of chapels that are lined with the statues of Sakyamuni, Maitreya and bodhisattvas. The assembly hall itself contains mural paintings and life-size tormas.
Gyantse Kumbum: As the name suggests (Kumbum means 1000 images) Gyantse (1427) has probably the largest collection of mural paintings in the entire Tibet. Divided into six floors with a golden dome as its beautiful feature, taking in Gyantse would mean following Tantric experience. The paintings often believed to be inspired by Chinese and Nepali artisans have withstood the test of time. Fortunately the chorten has survived the difficult ordeal of Cultural Revolution. Each floor is filled with chapels dedicated to a number of Buddhas( Dhyni, Sakyamuni, Dipamkara etc.), protector and tantric deities and kings of Tibet. Gyantse Dzong is another attraction for visitors in Nyang-chu Valley.
Sightseeing around Gyantse can be an entertaining experience. Visit the ruined Tsechen Monastery in the Tsechen village just a day’s hike to and from Gyantse or travel a little distance more to Riche Ganden Retreat, Nenling Monastery or Yungdrungling Monastery. The latter is situated halfway between Lhasa and Shigatse and is a special sight to visit for those who are interested in Bon Po religion.
Considered as the second largest town after Lhasa, Shigatse is an ancient city of Gelugpa order. It is home to a formidable Tashilhunpo Monastery, the traditional seat of Panchen Lama. Here you will find the ruins of monasteries and the fort that was under the Tsang dynasty. Once an important administrative center, Shigatse today has grown to become a bustling city.
Regarded as one of the six Gelugpa institutions, Tashilhunpo Monastery was founded in the middle of 15th century by Gended Drup. Drup was incidentally the first Dalai lama but it was only during the fifth Dalai Lama that Tashilhunpo became was revered for Panchen lama. The monastery now houses white washed buildings with gold dome that contains the tombs of past panchen Lamas. You can also do a kora around Tashilhunpo.
Among some of the important among visitor’s interests include Chapel of Jampa which contains world’s largest gilded statue of Maitreya! It is said that it took four years and some 900 artisans to complete the entire structure. Watch out for the tombs of Panchen Lamas some of which were run over during the cultural revolution. Kelsang Temple is another place of interest where you can observe 15th century assembly hall and exquisite display of thangkas. Also visit renovated Shigatse Dzong, colleges of philosophy and tantric nearby and the summer palace of Panchen Lamas.
Just 20 Km north off Shigatse is Shalu monastery which is believed to have been raised during 11th century. The monastery is a mix of Tibetan and Chinese monastery however the mural inside is a combination of Mongol, Chinese and Nepali architectures.
Lhatse sits parallel to Friendship Highway that connects Nepal and Tibet. Located 150 Km off Shigatse to the South West, Lhatse has many dzongs to appeal the visitors. Xiquianj Hot Springs is a widely popular retreat for Tibetans to take benefit of the healing hot waters. Another interest could be Drampa Gyang Temple, which is one of Songtsen Gampo’s demoness subduing temple.
Phuntsoling Monastery & Jonang Kumbum
Formerly a Kagyu sect dominated learning center, Phuntsoling Monastery is situated 61 km from Lhatse. During the 11th century till 18th century, it remained one of the strong proponent of the theory of Shentong. The Monastery today holds an awe inspiring experience for it big assembly hall that contains a statue of Avlokiteshvara, 10th Panchen Lama, fifth Dalai Lama, and murals that depict the life story of Sakyamuni Buddha. Another attraction is Jonang Kumbum which resembles the Gyantse Kumbum in its style of architecture.
Lying in Friendship Highway, the Tingri has some uniqueness in history and nature. Tingri is literally a huddle of Tibeta houses that overlooks a vast landscape that stretches to the foot of the Himalayan peaks. Being in the south side you can clearly see the towering peaks of Everest and Cho Oyu from here and enjoy the serenity of isolated valley. There are ruins scattered along the way between Tingri and Shegar which is believed to have been rampaged by Nepali forces in the early part of the 18th century. You can get here from Shigatse and Lhatse.
Langkhor Monastery and Tsamda Hot Springs are two of the most visited spots in Tingri. Situated just 20 km from Tingri Langkhor was affiliated with Padampa Sangye, an Indian monk who is supposed to have propagated Tibetan Buddhism. At 12km from Tingri is the hot water of Tsmda where you relax by dipping into the natural spring water.
Mount Kailash is regarded by both Buddhists and Hindus to be the abode of Lord of Demchok and Shiva respectively. That is why thousands of pilgrims have been going for a kora of Mt. Kailash for centuries. Today Mt. Kailash combined with Mansarovar is one of the greatest tourist attractions in the western part of Tibet. Tibetans could be seen making prostration and kora of Mt. Kailash in huge numbers. There respect and revelation of mountains is often beyond a religious convention. Tibetans often called Mt. Kailash Kang Rinpoche or ‘precious jewel of snow’.
Hindus strongly believe Kailash to be embodiment of Shiva and Mansarovar, Brahma’s mental creation, so visiting the region is the most pious pilgrimage.
Similarly, the Jains of India revere the mountain as a place where first saint achieved emancipation and Bon followers as the spot from where Bonpo founder Shenrab took off to heaven.
Kailash lies in the drainage system through which rivers flow to meet the huge rivers in the Gangetic plains. So it is believed that four rivers namely Ganges, Indus, Sutlej and Brahmaputra have their origin in Mt. Kailash.
One of the most appropriate times to visit Kailash is during the festival of Saga Dawa which marks the enlightenment of Skayamuni and wherein locals raise the Tarboche prayer pole and do a kora of the pole itself. Visit the lakes of Mansarovar and Rakshah and Gyangdrak Monastery and Selung Monastery nearby.
Lake Mansarovar (Lake Mapham)
Popularly known as Lake Mansarovar, Lake Mapham Yum-tso is one of the most scenic and serene lakes in the western Tibet. Both Hindus and Buddhists believe the lake to be the origin of all the four rivers that drains the Gangetic plain. Just beside the Mansarovar lake is Lhanag Tso or the Raskhas Tal. Both these lakes hold special reverence among Tibetans. The two lakes ares believed to make a powerful Tantric figure.
For centuries, the lake along with the Mt. Kailash has been worshipped by the people of the Himalayas. The lake has been mentioned in the Hindu text of Puranas and often referred as the most sacred lake where sinners can purge their sin by bathing in its water. The lake is quite close to Chiu Monastery which contains images of Skayamuni and Guru Rimpoche.
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