Ganden (དགའ་ལྡན་/甘丹寺), Sera (སེ་ར་དགོན་པ/色拉寺) and Drepung (འབྲས་སྤུངས་/哲蚌寺) Monastery are considered to be the three great Gelug (格魯派) or “Yellow Hat Sect” university monasteries of Tibet. Established in 1416 and held 7700 monks in its heyday, Drepung Monastery was one of the largest monasteries in the world. The taxi ride from the Potala to Drepung Monastery in the outskirt of Lhasa took about 15 minutes. Upon exiting the main road, our taxi passed through a busy street with religious shops and stopped at the outer entrance of Drepung Monastery. We were told that a minibus could take us up to the monastery at the lower slope of Mount Gephel (更丕烏孜山). After a ten minute wait, a minibus arrived. We were lucky to squeeze in the bus along with a full load of pilgrims. After only a few minutes, our minibus arrived at the monastery’s main parking lot.
Before the sun get too hot, we decided to walk up the mount behind Drepung Monastery on the kora trail. We followed the pilgrim path west of the compound towards a large platform several storey high. The large platform was the Thangka Exhibition Platform used during the Shoton or Sho Dun Festival (雪頓節) to display the 40m wide x 80m long Buddha tapestry. To witness the fantastic ceremonies of Shoton Festival, we came a month too late. To do the hour-long kora trail around the monastery, we came just at the right time of the day with the perfect weather. We were a little worry on whether we would be affected by altitude sickness during the hike. The actual kora trail began in a woods beyond the Thangka Exhibition Platform. We followed several Tibetan pilgrims to enter the ascending trail. The trail winded up the slope of Mount Gephel behind the monastery, and led us to a number of colourful prayer rocks. At the trail’s highest point, we were captivated by the singing of a group of women who were busy fixing the flat roof of a monastery building, and by the view of the distant mountains. We walked on the trail for roughly an hour before descending to the other end of the monastery.
After a brief taxi ride, we were dropped off at the main gateway of Drepung Monastery at the foot of Mount Gephel.
A minibus took us from the main gateway up to the parking lot in front of the monastery complex. Instead of visiting the monastery buildings right away, we ventured to the path left of Ganden Podrang towards a cluster of rock paintings and the huge Thangka Exhibition Platform.
Along the path there were many prayer wheels for pilgrims to circumambulate around the complex.
Lots of small offerings were left below the prayer wheels.
For pilgrims of all ages, interacting with the prayer wheels is a popular must-do to begin a monastery visit.
We could clearly see rock paintings above us, as well as the uncounted paintings of “ladder to the paradise”.
The Thangka Exhibition Platform looked gigantic as we walked past it. Too bad we were not here for the Sho Dun Festival.
The kora trail began at a prayer wheel adjacent to a small creek.
There are many small shrines and rock paintings along the kora trail.
The vivid colours of the prayer rocks allow visitors to see from afar.
Half way up the trail we had a close encounter with a yak/cow.
A bird landed on a prayer rock at the high point of the trail.
With the occasional pilgrims on the kora, it was not easy for us to get lost.
Small shrines were constructed at certain locations along the kora path.
A group of women staff were fixing the roof at Ganden Podrang.
Beyond the last prayer rock on the trail, we began to descend back to the monastery level.
We entered the monastery complex from the side. It was good to enjoy Drepung Monastery when not many tourists were around.
* * *
More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet