Shigatse and Tashilumpo

After an exhilarating day at Rongbuk and Everest Base Camp, we had another long drive to get to Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet, staying at the Van Ray Hotel. The heaters did not work very well here, breakfast was poor but it was an easy walk to the main street and Tashilumpo Monastery the next day. The afternoon was free for our first open afternoon.

Tashilumpo, one of the six great Gelugpa institutions (along with Drepung, Sera and Ganden), was founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama. It became the seat of an important lineage - that of the Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama's role is to help in the search for the next Dalai Lama.

The Kora around Tashilumpo takes about an hour and provides great views of Shigatse and the valley in which it sits. Lots of shopping and seemed to be more prosperous than I remember from 2006.

Mt. Everest, Rongbuk and Base camp

A long day on the bus (380kms) took us on paved highways over several high passses - Khamba La (4996m) with views of Yamdrok Tso (4400m), one of 4 holy lakes in Tibet.

Lunch in Nangartse and then over the Karo La pass (5193m), Simi La (4611m) and a stop in Gyantse (3980m) to see the Kumbum (a 32m high chortan under renovation), Pelkor Chode monastery and the Gyantse fortress.

Arrived in Shigatse, Tibet's second largest town (3900m) at 8:30pm, got a quick shower and off to bed! Up early the next day to drive to Shegar (Xegar) at 4408m. It was a good, paved road from Shigatse and driving out to see Sakya monastery, however road construction closures prevented us from continuing.

Disappointed, however, this gave us an opportunity to visit the Tonggar Chode Monastery, a much smaller, but beautiful new building completed in 2009. We had a Chinese lunch in Lhatse and then over Gyatso La (5205m) and the first views of Mt. Everest. Arrived in Xegar 5:30pm - the sun was warm but the rooms…

Ganden Monastery

Ganden Monastery

Just 40 km outside Lhasa, Ganden sits at 4500 metres above the Kyi-chu valley. Founded in 1409 by Tsongkhapa, it was almost totally destroyed by the Red Guards by artillery fire and bombing in 1959 and 1966. Rebuilt in the 1980's, more is being done every year.

Ganden (which means 'joyous')was the first Gelugpa monastery and the seat of this major Buddhist order. The views of the valley and the hour walk around the kora provide an amazing experience.

 There is a special place on the kora where sky burials are done, and while walking by several vultures flew overhead presumably waiting for something to happen...

In addition there is a meditation cave on the kora where Tsongkhapa, the founder, had a hermitage with butter lamps and an image of Sakyamuni on the side.

The Barkhor and Jokhang Temple

The Jokhang Temple is the most revered temple in Tibet, the spiritual centre dating back to about 639AD. The Jowo Sakyamuni Buddha image remains in Jokhang despite of years of desecration by the Chinese in the 1950 - 1970's. Restored since 1980, it is a great experience to visit amid the smell of yak butter lamps, prostrating pilgrims and a deep feeling of its age! A truly Tibetan experience.

The Barkhor is the Kora, or spiritual walk around the Jokhang temple, which takes one clockwise about an hour. It is lined with more shops than I can remember from a visit in 2006, and is the commercial district for Tibetans and tourists.

The Barkhor Square is a large plaza in front of the Jokhang which used to be heavily policed and observed with many cameras, but now secured by an entrance gate where your bags are scanned prior to entry, presumably to control entry and any protests.

Drepung and Sera Monasteries

The two main Gelugpa lineage (yellow hat) monasteries - Drepung and Sera

A visit to Tibet would be nothing without visiting the major monasteries. They are considered the spiritual centres of Tibetan Buddhism and hold beautiful representations of the various Buddha manifestations.

Drepung Monastry - was at one time one of the world's largest monasteries. Drepung means 'rice heap'. It was founded in 1416. The 2nd. 3rd and 4th Dalai Lamas are entombed here.

Sera Monastery - about 5km north of Lhasa, founded in 1419, Sera once had more than 5000 monks, now less than 100. They fill the courtyard every afternoon to debate their philosophy in an active exchange, smiles and accent their points with a clap of the hands!