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DAY 8 (1/2): SAKYA MONASTERY (ས་སྐྱ་དགོན་པ། 薩迦寺), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.23

Founded by Konchok Gyelpo in 1073, Sakya Monastery is the seat of Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. During its heyday in the 13th and 14th centuries, Sakya abbots were the actual governors of Tibet under the Mongol’s rule.  There are actually two monasteries in Sakya at either side of Trum-Chu River.  While the older north monastery (1073) with its 108 structures has been reduced to ruins over the years, the fortress like south monastery (1268) survives and remains as one of the largest in Tibet.  The impressive fortress like monastery washed with ash grey and white and red vertical stripes symbolizes the trinity of Bodhisattva, and had became the symbol of Sakya.  Everything at Sakya is large in size, from its 16m high main assembly hall to the extensive defensive walls.

Many refers Sakya Monastery as Dunhuang (敦煌) of Tibet because of its remarkable murals, artefacts, and medieval scriptures.   Sealed behind a wall and rediscovered in 2003, the 60m long by 10m tall library wall (拉康欽莫大經堂) behind the altar in the main assembly hall is particularly impressive.  It contains a huge variety of text, 84000 in total, made of different materials and about different subjects from the Yuan Dynasty when Tibet was under Mongol rule.  The equally important murals made in the Mongolian style are also a rarity in China nowadays.  In the main assembly hall, the most valuable object is probably the white conch shell (海螺).  Legends has it that the conch shell originally belonged to the Buddha.  Then it went into the hands of an Indian king, and later became an offering to Kublai Khan (忽必列).  Kublai Khan gave the sacred object to Sakya and it remained in the monastery until present day.  Still capable to make a soft low sound, the conch is still blown by the monk to give blessing to pilgrims.  While we were visiting the main assembly hall, we did see a monk took out the conch to offer blessing to the pilgrims, who were so excited and eager to get as close as possible to the sacred object.  Also from Kublai Khan was one of the huge wood columns in the assembly hall.  With a diameter ranging from 1m to 1.5m, these wood columns are quite impressive disregard who its donor might be.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs soon as we arrived in Sakya, our driver Sangzhu took us to the large dining hall of Manasarovar Sakya Hotel Restaurant for lunch.

02Unlike most other Tibetan monasteries, Sakya’s grey walls with red and white stripes offer a unique visual symbol for Sakya in the past 900+ years.

03.JPGWe headed into the entrance courtyard of Sakya and soon found out that almost all buildings were locked.  Apparently the monks were having lunch somewhere else and we had no choice but to wait for their.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn front of the main assembly hall, we stood by the stone lion and wait for the monk’s return.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoon more local visitors arrived and waited for the monk’s return.  We decided to take a walk in the enormous compound.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe followed the long and narrow kora route around the central complex.  There were prayer wheels on one side and the defensive high walls on the opposite.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe buildings in Sakya Monastery all seemed really large to us.

06The Western style lamppost and the ash grey wall with red and white stripes somehow didn’t seem too coherent visually.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt last the monk with the keys showed up and led us into the inner monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeyond the gate, a dark hallway with beautiful murals and old prayer wheels led us into the inner courtyard.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoing through the dark hallway with religious murals on both sides felt like going back in time.

12Without extensive renovations, many murals in Sakya were gradually fading.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the inner courtyard, we walked into the main assembly hall.  In the main hall, we saw the famous white conch shell, wood columns, historical murals and most impressive of all, the 10m high library wall behind the altar.  Just like most other monasteries in Tibet, photography of the interior is prohibited.

14After seeing the interior of the main assembly hall, we climbed the adjacent stair up to the flat roof of the complex.

15The flat roof offers another unique angle to admire the robust architecture of Sakya.

16Via the flat roof, we could walk to a variety of side chapels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe small chapels are accessible via doorways in the otherwise fortress like walls.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALayers of eaves form a series of interesting lines on the flat roof.

19As we departed from Sakya Monastery, more pilgrims arrived to pay respect to this once most powerful monastery in Tibet.

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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

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DAY 5 (3/4): SAMYE MONASTERY (བསམ་ཡས 桑耶寺), Shannan (山南), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.20

After lunch, Sangzhu drove us to Samye village where we would visit the famous Samye Monastery and stay the night.   We took a short break at Samye Monastery Hotel before heading over to the monastery.  We followed its enclosure wall to reach the main entrance of the monastery complex.  Beyond the enclosure, we arrived at a large open space with buildings spread out here and there.  At first glance, we couldn’t comprehend the building arrangement within the enormous monastery ground.  Not until we reached the higher levels of the main building and looked down, then we came to realize the concentric layout of this famous monastery.   First constructed in the 8th century, Samye Monastery is known as the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.

01We walked over to the main building’s forecourt, which was dominated by three tall prayer flag poles and incense burners, and started our monastery tour at the main building.  The monastery is laid out in shape of a giant mandala with buildings positioned according to the Buddhist cosmology.

02Situated at the very centre of the site, the main building is the tallest building in the complex, representing the mythical Mount Meru, the sacred cosmological mountain at the centre of the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain universe.

05Before entering the main building, there was an interesting sign about the risk of fire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe entered the inner courtyard of the main building through a beautifully decorated gateway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the gateway, we bought our admission tickets from an old man.

06The inner courtyard was actually a cloister surrounded by colonnades and prayer wheels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABehind the row of prayer wheels, there were Buddhist murals on the walls.

10Unfortunately many murals were vandalized during the Cultural Revolution.

09At the far corner of the cloister, we found the famous white rooster.  According to legends, once upon a time there was a fire broke out during midnight.  Luckily all monks escaped unharmed because a white rooster woke them up just in time.

11We headed up to the upper level via a steep wooden stair.

12We reached the highest level of the main building after climbing several flights of steps.  On the highest levels, we could admire the scenery at all four directions.

13Many pilgrims left behind offerings at different parts of building, such as leaving money at the joint of wall panels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking out from the top level of the main building, we could see the distant mountains and the spectacular chortens at the four directions.  The scattered buildings in the monastery ground actually symbolize the four continents at the cardinal directions, and also the sun and moon.

15Walking down the main building, we reached the lower roof terrace, which offered us another look at the magnificent main building of Samye Monastery.

16At the monastery ground, there were minor restoration work going on here and there.

17We spent the second half of the visit wandering in the open spaces, and climbed up one of the four chortens.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the red chorten, we enjoyed a beautiful view of the main building under the late afternoon sun.

19Before sunset, we walked to the enclosure wall of Samye Monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked part of the kora route, following pilgrims who turned every single prayer wheel in the clockwise direction.

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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


Day 4 (2/3): GANDEN MONASTERY (དགའ་ལྡན་ 甘丹寺), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.19

After Drepung and Sera, Ganden was the last of Tibet’s three great Gelug university monasteries we visited.  Ganden lies some 40km northeast of Lhasa atop Wangbur Mountain at an altitude of 4300m above the sea.  Founded by famous Buddhist teacher Je Tsongkhapa in 1409, Ganden was once a powerful monastery with a few thousand monks until 1959 when much of the monastery was destroyed by the Chinese army.  A further blow to the monastery occurred during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.  As the ancestral monastery of Gelugpa (Gelug school), the abbots of Ganden Monastery are considered as the abbots of Gelugpa, and hence the most powerful figures in Tibetan Buddhism after Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama.  Despite its destruction in the 20th century, the monastery has been subjected to series of reconstructions which lasted from the 1980s until the present day.  Today, Ganden is still very popular among the local pilgrims.  The monastery is consisted of more than 50 buildings with prayer halls, monk quarters, colleges, etc.  After the kora hike which passed around the back of the monastery, we had about 1.5 hour to wander around the religious compound.

DSC_0194Just like many Tibetan monasteries, Ganden is mainly finished with white and red paint.

DSC_0198Buildings are built on various levels on the mountain slope, connected by series of stairs and ramps.

DSC_0202We took our time to wander around the compound.  Not many buildings were opened, but we were delighted to walk around and take pictures of the colourful environment.

DSC_0207We saw different groups of local pilgrims interacted with the monks.  Some were visiting like tourists while others seek for blessing from senior monks in different buildings.

DSC_0211Despite most buildings were reconstructed, the atmospheric environment of the compound was spiritual and pleasant to walk around.

DSC_0219The traditional Tibetan motifs are present at entrance vestibules of many chapels and assembly halls.

DSC_0244Tsokchen Hall (措欽大殿), the main assembly hall, is an essential structure in the Ganden compound.

DSC_0221From the front terrace of the Tsokchen Hall (措欽大殿), we saw a large group of monks gathered outside the main parking lot engaged in some sort of rituals.

DSC_0225At the front terrace of the Tsokchen Hall (措欽大殿), two crows were attracted by the food offering on the balustrade.

DSC_0234With its golden roof, the Serdung (羊八犍) that houses the tomb of Tsongkhapa, is probably the most important building in Ganden Monastery.

DSC_0240The original tomb of Tsongkhapa was damaged by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.  The new red building was reconstructed to house the salvaged fragments of Tsongkhapa’s skull.

DSC_0245We started heading back to the main parking lot half an hour before our bus departure time.

DSC_0256We walked towards the parking lot under the strong midday sun.

DSC_0266The sky was clear and the air was warm.  The view of Ganden Monastery from the parking lot was spectacular.

DSC_0274By the time we reached the parking lot, the group of monks were returning to the monastery after some sort of rituals outside the compound.

DSC_0278The incoming monks were in a delightful mood, chatting with each other with frequent laughter.

DSC_0281On the way back to Lhasa, our bus stopped by another small temple for a 15 minute visit.  We didn’t go in with the local pilgrims.  Instead we stayed with the friendly driver at the parking lot, thinking of where to visit back in Lhasa.

* * *

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


Day 4 (1/3): KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (དགའ་ལྡན་ 甘丹寺), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.19

The closest thing to Tibetan pilgrimage that we experienced in Lhasa was our visit to Ganden Monastery (དགའ་ལྡན་ 甘丹寺).  Slightly after 5am, we left the hotel and walked to the street intersection of Yutuo Road and Duosenge Road near the Jokhang Monastery.  Several locals had already gathered at the street corner waiting for the public buses designated for different monasteries around the city.  The bus for Ganden Monastery soon arrived and we were told to get on with the pilgrims.  Foreign tourists were not permitted to take these pilgrim buses.  As visitors from Hong Kong we were allowed to join the locals.  Before departure, a vendor get on the bus to sell prayer flags.  We picked a five-coloured one that costed 50 RMB.  Before leaving Lhasa, the bus stopped by a security checkpoint where all passengers were required to register with our identity cards, and a local bakery where the majority of the passengers including us went down to get some bread for breakfast.  Soon our bus left Lhasa into the countryside northeast of the city.  After a two-hour bus ride, our bus finally arrived at Ganden Monastery on Wangbur Mountain at about 8am.

Just like our Drepung visit, we decided to walk the kora pilgrim route around the monastery before visiting the actual buildings.  From the parking lot, we followed a sloped path heading up the hill behind the monastery.  After making a turn in front of a small security station, we soon arrived at the hilltop overlooking the monastery.  A pilgrim stood by an incense burner surrounded by myriad of prayer flags.  We took out our 5-colour prayer flags, tied it to the flag cluster, and made a wish for a smooth journey ahead of us.  We continued onto the winding kora path along the slope.  The path soon split into two: the upper and lower.  We followed the upper path and passed by a number of small shrines.  We took out the bread we bought and sat down beside the path for a brief rest.  Beyond the scenic valley of Lhasa River, layers of mountains extended as far as the eye could see.  Further down the slope there were more prayer flags, small shrines and probably a small platform for sky burials.  We followed several local pilgrims to finish the latter half of the kora and arrived at the monastery at its far end.

01We passed by the forecourt of Jokhang Monastery at around 5:30am.  Pilgrims were burning some sort of plants at the incense burners.

02After arriving at the parking lot Ganden Monastery, we walked uphill along a path heading to the trailhead of the kora pilgrim route.

03At the hilltop, the view of Ganden Monastery was spectacular.

04A local dog followed us from the parking lot all the way up to the hilltop.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the hilltop, a local pilgrim was preparing offerings at the incense burner.

06We tied our 5-coloured prayer flags at the hilltop overlooking Ganden Monastery.

07The kora path continues beyond the prayer flags to the backside of the hill.

08We soon reached the first shrines along the kora path.

09Below the kora path, the Lhasa River passed through the valley behind the Ganden Monastery.

10Also known as Kyi River, Lhasa River is a tributary of Yarlung Tsangpo River.

11Farming terraces occupy a valley below the Ganden Monastery.

12The kora path split into a few footpaths along the slope, connecting a series of pilgrim shrines.

13The kora offered us a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains.

14There were many violet wild flowers on the green slope along the path.

15 Some pilgrims took the lower kora route along the green slope.

17Towards the end of the kora path, we once again passed under a series of prayer flags.

19After the prayer flags, a few more Buddhist shrines came to sight, as we approached the Ganden Monastery at its far side.

18At the incense burner near the end of the kora path, we could see the winding vehicular road that our bus first arrived.

20The winding road where our bus zigzagged up earlier in the morning looked wonderful from a distance.

DSC_0190We entered the monastery compound from its far end.

* * *

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

 

 


DAY 3 (2/2): SERA MONASTERY ( སེ་ར་དགོན་པ 色拉寺), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.18

After a simple noodle lunch, we hopped on a taxi for Sera Monastery ( སེ་ར་དགོན་པ 色拉寺).   At the northern suburb of Lhasa, Sera is a popular destination among foreign tourists where its famous debate sessions usually take place in the afternoon.  Unlike Drepung where reaching the monastery required ascending the Mount Gephel, accessing Sera Monastery from the main road was just a few minutes’ walk.  There weren’t too many tourists around.  As one of the three main Gelug university monasteries in Tibet, Sera is consisted of a series of colleges, residences, and assembly halls on its 28 acres of land.  Once with a monastic population of about 5000, the current monastery is a shadow of its past.  Founded in 1419 by Sakya Yeshe, Sera Monastery has gone through ups and downs in history.  Fortunately, the monastery was left relatively undamaged during the Cultural Revolution in 1960s.

Beyond the main entrance, we passed by the large stupa Tsangba Kangtsang and a row of prayer wheels circled by several devoted pilgrims.  We turned left into a small alleyway between several small buildings and continued to the courtyard of Sera Me College.  We entered the main hall and visited the upper deck of the building.  There were hardly any tourists around, except a few prostrating pilgrims at the front veranda.  We then headed over to Sera Je College, the largest college in Sera, and Tsogchen, the Main Assemble Hall, before finding our way to the famous debate courtyard.  Many visitors had already gathered at the perimeter of the courtyard.  In the middle of the courtyard sat a large group of monks all dressed in red robes.  Full of anticipation, we sat down on the pavement curb behind the monks, hoping to witness their unique exchange despite we knew we couldn’t understand the Tibetan language.  We soon realized that the particular day of our visit was an exam day for the young learners instead of a regular debate session.  Instead of forming small debate groups, each young monk were given a brief time to perform his speeches and gestures in front of a panel of two teachers.  It was interesting to watch how the young monks perform their hand clapping and speeches in attempt to win over the crowds and the teachers.  We stayed for about half an hour before heading back to the monastery entrance and quickly hopped on a taxi returning to the Barkhor Old City of Lhasa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were more lamas than tourists at the entrance when we arrived at Sera Monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first thing in Sera Monastery we encountered was a large stupa and a row of prayer wheels.

03We walked into a lane left of the entrance attempting to find Sera Me College.

04The colourful monastery buildings were quite eye catching.  We wandered into different empty courtyards before reaching Sera Me College.

06The Sera Me College dates back to the earliest years of the monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike many other monasteries, the stair at Sera Me College was really steep.

08The front veranda of Sera Me College were occupied by prostrating pilgrims.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had seen this checker pattern several times at different Tibetan monasteries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext we walked over to the largest college at Sera Monastery: the Sera Je College.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had a peaceful moment at the upper level of Sera Je College.

12The flat roof of Sera Je College was also accessible, but we couldn’t stay for long because of the strong afternoon sun.

13It was fortunate that most buildings at Sera Monastery escaped damages from the Cultural Revolution.

14We then returned to the maze of alleyways and headed towards the Main Assembly Hall.

15Dated back to 1710, the Tsogchen (Main Assembly Hall) is the largest buildings in Sera Monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe rested a bit under the shade on the upper level of the Main Assembly Hall.

17After Main Assembly Hall, we returned to the main path and walked to the Debate Courtyard at the far end.

18Through the doorway, we could see the courtyard was already filled up with spectators.

19The young monks walked out one by one to perform their debate speech and body gestures.

20We sat down behind a group of monks for a while and watched the performances by several monks.

* * *

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

 


DAY 2 (3/6): DREPUNG MONASTERY (འབྲས་སྤུངས་ /哲蚌寺), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet, (西藏), 2017.09.17

Tsongkhapa was a famous teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, whose activities led to the founding of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism.  Drepung Monastery was found in 1416 by Jamyang Choje Tashi Palden, one of Tsongkhapa’s disciple.  He was also known as the second Dalai Lama.  Soon after, Drepung had become a large institution consisted of lamaseries and colleges, forming a religious community of several thousand monks at the foot of Mount Gephel.  Drepung remained as the residence of Dalai Lama until the 5th Dalai Lama moved to Lhasa’s Potala Palace.  Today, a few hundred monks resided at Drepung.  Compared to many Tibetan monasteries, damages caused by the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s was relatively small for Drepung.

Along with Ganden Palace, the residence established by the second Dalai Lama, the four Dratsang (college and administrative organization) still exist today at Drepung Monastery.  After our kora hike, we started our brief visit of Drepung from Gomang College (果芒扎倉).  As one of the four Dratsang, Gomang has its own main Sutra Hall and a number chapels.  We were able to visit most of these spaces, including the flat roof above the Sutra Hall, despite we could not take photos inside the building.  We spent roughly two hours to wander around Drepung Monastery and its main buildings, including Loseling College (洛色林扎倉), Tsogchen Main Assembly Hall (措欽大殿), Ngagpa College (阿巴扎倉), Ganden Phodrang (甘丹頗章), etc.  The entire monastery was like a village with stairs, courtyards and winding alleyways connecting different buildings.  There weren’t many tourists around, except two groups of Western tourists in front of the Main Assembly Hall.

After a thorough wander in the monastery compound, we waited a bit at the parking lot and asked around for the minibus.  No one seemed to know when the minibus would leave.  We decided to follow several pilgrims to walk down to the main gateway.  The walk took about 20 minutes.  We walked past the main monastery gate and continued along the main retail street out to the main road.  Before we reached the main road, we flagged down a taxi who was willing to take us back to Central Lhasa.

DSC_9118A monk carrying a water container in front of the Gomang College (果芒扎倉).

DSC_9115A pilgrim with a bead necklace walking up the entrance stair of the Gomang College (果芒扎倉).

DSC_9141Gomang College (果芒扎倉), the second largest Dratsang (college) in Drepung, was the first building that we visited at the monastery.

DSC_9125The beautiful wall painting at the entrance of Gomang College (果芒扎倉) seemed recently repaired.

DSC_9132It was awfully hot with the sun above our head, but we couldn’t resist not to visit the flat roof above Gomang College (果芒扎倉).

DSC_9146Resembled a village, the Drepung Monastery is a huge compound with lots of buildings and alleyways.

DSC_9154Wandering around the alleyways in Drepung Monastery was quite pleasant especially when there weren’t too many tourists around.

DSC_9158After a while, we soon lost track on how many buildings we had visited as most halls looked quite similar with their white walls, golden roof decorations and entrance setting.  Despite of their similarities, every single building we visited looked gorgeous both outside and inside.

DSC_9162With the powerful highland sunlight, most monastery windows are protected by textile awning canopies.

DSC_9181With 183 columns and an area of about 1800 square metres, Tsogchen Main Assembly Hall (措欽大殿) is the grandest structure in Drepung Monastery.  The plaza in front of the hall is also the largest square in the compound.

DSC_9197The roof above the Tsogchen Main Assembly Hall (措欽大殿) is well worth a visit.

DSC_9198The row of windows on the left is actually celestial windows for the main assembly hall below.

DSC_9201A group of local tourists posted for photograph on the roof terrace of Tsogchen Main Assembly Hall.

DSC_9211We meandered through narrow alleyways and stairs between buildings.

DSC_9221Occasionally we would pass by small stupas where pilgrims would circle around in clockwise direction.

DSC_9219Loseling College (洛色林扎倉), the largest Dratsang (college) in Drepung Monastery, was another highlight in the monastery.

DSC_9240Before the establishment of the Potala, Ganden Phodrang was the residence of the Dalai Lama from the 2nd to the 5th Dalai Lama.

DSC_9241Our visit of the Drepung Monastery ended at Ganden Phodrang (甘丹頗章).

* * *

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


DAY 2 (2/6): KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (འབྲས་སྤུངས་/ 哲蚌寺), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.17

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.

DSC_8970After a brief taxi ride, we were dropped off at the main gateway of Drepung Monastery at the foot of Mount Gephel.

DSC_8985A 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.

DSC_8986Along the path there were many prayer wheels for pilgrims to circumambulate around the complex.

DSC_8993Lots of small offerings were left below the prayer wheels.

DSC_8999For pilgrims of all ages, interacting with the prayer wheels is a popular must-do to begin a monastery visit.

DSC_9013We could clearly see rock paintings above us, as well as the uncounted paintings of “ladder to the paradise”.

DSC_9026The Thangka Exhibition Platform looked gigantic as we walked past it.  Too bad we were not here for the Sho Dun Festival.

DSC_9032The kora trail began at a prayer wheel adjacent to a small creek.

DSC_9034There are many small shrines and rock paintings along the kora trail.

DSC_9039The vivid colours of the prayer rocks allow visitors to see from afar.

DSC_9041Half way up the trail we had a close encounter with a yak/cow.

DSC_9047A bird landed on a prayer rock at the high point of the trail.

DSC_9052With the occasional pilgrims on the kora, it was not easy for us to get lost.

DSC_9057Small shrines were constructed at certain locations along the kora path.

DSC_9061

DSC_9068A group of women staff were fixing the roof at Ganden Podrang.

DSC_9087Beyond the last prayer rock on the trail, we began to descend back to the monastery level.

DSC_9097We 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