Top 10 Must-Visit Monasteries in Tibet

Buddhism is the essence of Tibet culture, and monasteries are the best place to experience Tibetan Buddhism culture. In addition to palaces, Tibet owns more than 1,000 Tibetan buddhist monasteries. The golden roof of Jokhang Temple, thangka exhibition of Drepung Monastery, scripture debating of Sera Monastery, and the four palaces of Tashilhunpo Monastery attract a crowd of tourists every year. In this part, we will introduce the top 10 must-visit monasteries in Tibet.

The Most Popular Monasteries in Tibet

Jokhang Temple

Jokhang Temple, together with the Potala Palace is the must see in Lhasa. Jokhang Temple, located in the center of the city, is the true spiritual heart of Lhasa. Jokhang temple is the most sacred temple in Tibet, with an otherworldly mix of butter lamps, wafting incense and prostrating pilgrims. It is is listed in the World Cultural Heritages with Potala Palace and Norbulingka. Visiting Jokhang Temple for a real discovery tour in the mysterious and sacred land, you can get close to the religious part of Tibet and experience the devotion of Tibetans.

Ganden Monastery

Ganden Monastery is one of the “great three” Gelug Sect monasteries of Tibet, China. Founded in the 17th century, Gandan Monastery is located about 40 kilometers northeast of the center of Lhasa. The annual Buddha Thangka Unfolding Festival is held every year in the Gandan Monastery, attracting thousands of Tibetan buddhists and tourists from all over the world. The name of the gelug sect in Tibet came from this monastery, which is short for “Ganden Lug”, meaning “Ganden tradition”. Visitting the monastery and its long halls and corridors takes at least half a day, preferably in the morning when there are usually fewer visitors, and the best time of year to visit is May to October.

Drepung Monastery

Drepung Monastery is located at the foot of Mount Gephel, is one of the “great three” Gelug sect monasteries of Tibet, China. Drepung monastery is the largest monastery of Tibetan Buddhism, 5 kilometers from the western suburb of Lhasa. Freddie Spencer Chapman reported, after his 1936-37 trip to Tibet, that Drepung Moanstery was at that time the largest monastery in the world, and housed 7,700 monks, “but sometimes as many as 10,000 monks”.

Sera Monastery

Sera Monastery is one of the “great three” Gelug Sect monasteries of Tibet, located about 3 kilometers northern suburb of Lhasa. The other two monasteries are Ganden Monastery and Drepung Monastery. The origin of its name is attributed to a fact that the site where the monastery was built was surrounded by wild roses in bloom. The original Sera Monastery is responsible for some 19 hermitages, including 4 nunneries, which are all located in the foot hills north of Lhasa. The Sera Monastery, as a complex of structures with the Great Assembly Hall and three colleges, was founded in 1419. Today, Sera Monastery is noted for Tibetan Buddhism debating, which is cultural landscape you shouldn’t miss.

Samye Monastery

Well-known as being the first true Buddhist monastery in Tibet, Samye Monastery was built in Shannan City by the 8th-century king, Trisong Detsen, overlooking the Yarlung Tsangpo River. It is also the birthplace of Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. There are numerous frescos, sculptures, and prayer wheels worth a visit in the monastery. When visiting Samye Monastery, you will also pay a visit to Yongbulagang Palace, the first palace in Tibet. In addition, Puning Temple built by the Qianlong Emperor of Qing Dynasty in Chengde of Hebei in the 18th century was modeled after Samye Monastery.

Palcho Monastery

Palcho Monastery or Pelkor Chode Monastery is located in Gyantse County of Shigatse, Tibet, about 230 kilometers south of Lhasa and more than 100 kilometers east of Shigatse, with an altitude of 3,900 meters. It is a monastery with a coexistence of Sakya Sect, Shalu Sect and Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, and the only Tibet monastery with three sects in one temple. The famous Gyantse Fortress, which is not far from the monastery, was built in the 13th century, and was an important part of the area.

Tashilhunpo Monastery

Tashilhunpo Monastery is one of the must-see attractions on the way to Everest Base Camp from Lhasa via Shigatse. Tashilhunpo Monastery, a monastery of Panchen, is one of the four major monasteries of Shamanism. It has both religious and political functions, and is the administrative core of Shigatse and even Tsang area. It is the largest monastery of Gelu sect of Tibetan Buddhism in Tsang area and the major activity place for Panchen Lama. Besides, Tashilhunpo Festival, also known as Buddha Exhibition Festival in Tashilhunpo Monastery enjoys high popularity among local Tibetans and tourists. The festival lasts for 3 days in the middle of the 5th lunar Tibetan month, probably in July of Gregorian calendar. 

Rongbuk Monastery

Rongbuk Monastery is a monastery of Nyingma sect, and a monastery that has both monks and nuns in it. Located at the foot of Mount Everest, the south of Basong Township, Tingri County, Shigatse, Tibet, 90 kilometers from the county seat, about 5100 meters above sea level. With high, steep and cold terrain, Rongbuk monastery is the highest temple in the world, and the landscape is wonderful as well. With an altitude of 5100 meters, Rongbuk Monastery is not far from Everest Base Camp. Every year when the tent hotels at Everest Base Camp are evacuated in winter, tourists can stay at Rongbuk Monastery for overnight. 

Sakya Monastery

As the principal monastery of the Sakya School, Sakya Monastery is located in Sakya County of Shigatse, on a small hillside on the road to Tingri County. Sakya Monastery has more than 3,000 exquisite frescoes, with themes widely related to religion, history, culture and social life, and other aspects. The subjects are Buddhist scriptures, doctrines, myths and legends, historical stories, Sakya history, landscape, flowers and animals, decorative patterns, etc, with grand scene and rich content. There are also valuable Pattra-Leaf Scripture, Tripitaka, altar city murals of Yuan Dynasty, ancient porcelain and other cultural relics in the monastery.

Tsurphu Monastery

Located in the upper reaches of the Chubu river, the northwest of Doilungdeqen District, about 70 kilometers western suburb of Lhasa, Tibet, Tsurphu Monastery is the principal temple of the Kagyu Sect. The world-renowned reincarnation system of Tibetan Buddhism was first established here and then extended by other sects in Tibet. Tsurphu Monastery has a large number of rare cultural relics, it is more about ancient Tibetan literature, the study of Tibetan politics, economy, religion, etc.  They all have important Historical value. You can feel the most primitive Tibetan Buddhism here.

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