This is the preferable way to get to Yungdrungling Monastery. Our driving pulled off the Friendship Highway and parked near an awesome stone suspension bridge. Vehicles cannot cross this. The bridge crosses a tributary that feeds into Yarlung Tsangpo. Once across the bridge follow this road to the right. It is mostly used by sheep and carts pulled by Yaks. When the monastery Kora comes into view, there is a side trail on the left that will take you to the monastey, Along this trail you will see the ruins from the destruction during the cultural revolution. This takes about 30 minutes to arrive at the Monastery.
This is a much different monastery than you might think. By just looking at Yungdrungling, it appears as a typical Buddhist Monastery. but it is not! It is a Bon Monastery. Bon is the original religion of the Tibetan people dating back thousands of years. In the past, the two religions were in a type of competition. However, recently, the Dali Lama recognizes the Bon as one of the official spiritual schools of Tibet.
A very important tradition and practice to take note. When visiting a Bon Monastery, always enter a temple or start a Kora in the counter-clockwise direction. It can be difficult to remember because if someone didn't tell you, you would think you are in a Buddhist Monastery.
The Monastery suffered a great deal of damage during the cultural revolution. Evidence of that can still be seen. I prefer to hike to the Monastery, which is not that far from the Northern Friendship Highway.
Yungdrungling is situated between Lhasa and Shigatse. Again, this monastery can be visited as a day trip from Lhasa, but many people stop by as a side trip during the drive from Lhasa to Shigatse.
Samding can be visited from Lhasa on a long day trip. Most visit when driving from Lhasa to Shigatse. It is constructed on the shore of Yamdrok Tso near the town of Nagartse. The monastery is small but the most important thing about Samding is that it is headed by a female lama. Few people visit this monastery and there really is not too much to see. If you have some extra time at Yamdrok Tso, this makes for a nice side trip.
If visiting monasteries that are seldom visited is your goal, put Ralung on your list. It is a small monastery but it is said to be the location where the red-hat sect of monks was originated. That makes Ralung a very sacred location.
Aside from that, Many of the ruins from the cultural revolution can still be seen. And beyond that, the monks of Ralung are some of the friendliest monks I have ever encountered. Upon my arrival, they acted as if no one had ever visited them before. The highlight of visiting Ralung is definitely the interaction with the monks.
Langtang is only a mile or so from Nalendra. It is a much smaller monastery but if you are in the are to see Nalendra, you should stop in at Langtang.
Some guide books state there are two temples and ruins from the cultural revolution. It seems the cleanup is near complete at this monastery as I saw no ruins and only one temple. There only a few monks remaining here. The highlights of Langtang would be the murals as you enter the temple and the large Chortens outside the monastery walls.
While on the Kora around Sera Monastery, be sure to find the pile of prayer writings carved onto rocks. These are called Mani Stones. Pilgrims will continue to piles these stones up on a sacred spot or at Stupas.
If you want to hike the Ganden Kora, start by walking away from the monastery then up the grassy hill to the right. It is a good idea to spend 3 to 5 days in Lhasa before you attempt this if you are not use to the altitude.
At the highest point of the upper Kora are several small peaks with incense alters and many prayer flags draped from one peak to the other. The hill side is completely littered with prayer flags and scarfs/pieces of prayer paper. An amazing gust of wind drew up all the prayer notes while I was on the summit and swirled them around in the same place for nearly ten minutes. It was like a tornado standing still. I will never forget it and I was lucky enough to capture it on video.
I decided to change my plans for the day because I was so tired of all the driving and waiting and more driving. Looking at my map, I spotted a few small monasteries that seemed nearby Lhasa. I asked my guide about them and he said he had never been to them before. He asked around and said they were accessible and we can go. Great! Unfortunately it was cloudy and raining on and off. The monastery is east of Lhasa and this requires another permit.
After the appropriate permit was obtained, when continued on to Nalendra. It was a little long, poorly maintained dirt road. Nalendra sits on a hill above a small town. Once nearing the end, the road winds through obvious old stone ruins. It was very surreal with the low cloud and mist of rain. Finally we arrive, passing a large stupa under construction. A little further we park. We are directed to the main hall, which is small but beautiful. Inside are amazing statues of various Buddhas. I am permitted to take pictures by a monk that was present tending to the Yak butter candles. He would not specify an amount which is different from any other monastery I've visited. He said I could pay later.
After spending some time in the main hall we went to explore the ground but it was raining very hard. We made our way to the building where I was to pay. Inside was an older Monk. He invited me to sit and offered some butter tea as my guide asked questions about the monastery. At one point this monastery had about 2000 monks. All the reconstruction being done is paid for by pilgrim donations when they visit. The amount is small because it is not that easy to get here.
I handed my donation to the monk. After some more talking he invited us to have some lunch. I happily accepted. We were served what the monks eat every day. A bowl of Rice with golden raisins and dates mixed in. It was good but I could not imagine eating that every day. He asked me what is common food for Americans. I found myself having some difficulty answering his question. America is such a melting pot, I eat different ethnic food nearly every day. Embarrassingly, my answer ended up be "steak and potatoes." He just nodded his head. He also gave me a receipt for my donation along with these special seeds that I'm suppose to take with my meals. Not sure about that. After about one hour talking I thanked my host. As I was leaving the monk stopped us and gave me a hata (white silk scarf), placing it around my neck, for a safe travel and a quick return. It was very moving. It was still raining and now thunder could be heard. I was able to take a few shots of the ruins before we left. It is sad to see the destruction that occurred during that time.
I will definitely be returning to see my new friend.
Tengye Ling is a Nyingmapa temple, honouring Tseumar, Tamdrin and the protector deity Pehar. The most amazing thing is that the chapel feels a bit like a wine store, though a weirdly-decorated one - this is due to the stockage of rice wine, which is used as a ritual object to refill Tseumar's cup.
Historically, Tengye Ling was also one of the 4 temples the Lamas of which could be regents to a new Dalai Lama until he reaches the age of 18 (these were called the Four Royal Colleges or Regency Temples).
The chapel is close to the Snowlands hotel and the Backstreet Bar.
There are a number of chapels in the Jokhang temple that are much less frequently visited and less crowded, and hence give the possibility to study the Jokhang architecture with somewhat more peace and quiet that one normally gets.
Among them are:
- Chapel of Tsongkapa and His Disciples, with the seated statue of Tsongkapa (founder of the Geligpa order) surrounded by his 8 disciples
- Chapel of the Buddha of Infinite Light (a bit of a hit and miss as to whether this one will be open - we got lucky)
- Chapel of the Eight Medicine Buddhas, although it has to be pointed out that the statues are not antique
- Chapel of the Seven Buddhas
- Chapel of the Nine Buddhas of Longevity
- Chapel of the Kings, featuring statues of the early-day kings, including Songtsen Gampo, Trisong Detsen, and King Ralpachen
It took me many times to get this photo as I wanted it...she was really competing for the world record of how fast you can walk with a ton of goodies on your back...which didn't help me as I was feeling the altitude and running to keep up with her didn't help matters!
I had seen these two women, mother and daughter, going around all the different rooms in the monastery and everything the mother told her daughter to pray to, she would. It just seemed so bizarre to me that you could pray to so many things or touch so many things for good luck..there is a great belief in these people. This photo was taken when I was playing with the little boy and taking photos of the dogs, hence the dog in the picture!
Why were the women laughing you ask? Well because eventhough it was the warmest day there, it suddenly began to hail! I have never been in a hail storm and have hardly ever seen it hailing before so I guess it was another experience I can take away from Tibet with me. They were hitting me hard and fast at one point and the women started laughing as I had no idea what it was at first! Great expressions!
These two children live in a village on the way back from Yamdrok Lake to Shigatse. We went into one of their houses to watch how they make incense sticks, so I took a photo of the children. We said we would send them to our tour guide in Lhasa so that when he next passed the village he could give them to the children to keep.
We were in Samye Monastery a couple of hours away from Tsetang and this lady was waiting for everyone as they went upstairs to the restaurant. I just loved these people's expressions..and they all look so old and wrinkly...maybe yak butter ISN'T the be all and end all cure!
The key to an off the beaten path experience is research. Tour companies would like to stick with an itinerary but most allow you to set your own itinerary if you are organizing your own group...