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Places to Visit in Sikkim


Sera Monastery
Drepung Monastery
Samye Monastery
The Palkhor Monastery
Tashilhunpo Monastery
Rongbuk Monastery

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Tibet Monasteries

Sera Monastery

'Sera' literally means 'Enclosure of Roses', is one of the 'great three' Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet. The other two are Ganden Monastery and Drepung Monastery. The monastery is about 5 km north of the Jokang in Lhasa. It was founded in 1419, by Jamchen Chojey (Sakya Yeshe), a disciple of Tsong Khapa. Like the Drepung and Ganden monasteries, it had three colleges, namely Sera Mey Dratsang, Sera Jey Dratsang, and Ngagpa Dratsang. Sera Mey Dratsang was built in 1419 and used to give basic instruction to the monks, the largest college, Sera Jey Dratsang was constructed in 1435, and was reserved for wandering monks, especially Mongol monks. Ngagpa Dratsang, built in 1559, was a school for the teaching of the Gelukpa tantras. In 1959, Sera housed more than 5,000 monks. Although badly damaged, it is still standing and has been largely refurbished. It now houses a few hundred Buddhist monks. The Sera’s library houses some of the valuable prayer books. Prayers books in Sera's library Graduates of Sera Jey College who are known in the west  include, Lama Thubten Yeshe, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche.

Graduates of Sera Mey college who are known in the west include, Pabongka Rinpoche—Author of Liberation in the Palm of Your Hands, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche—one of the current Dalai Lama's teachers, Sermey Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tharchin—former abbot of Sera Mey university in Bylakuppe.  


Drepung Monastery

Literally means the 'Rice Heap' monastery', Drepang is also one of the "great three" Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet. Drepung is the largest of all Tibetan monasteries, and indeed at its peak was the largest monastery of any religion in the world. Jamyang Chojey, who was a direct disciple of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelukpa school, founded it in 1416. It is located on the Gambo Utse mountain, 5 kilometers from the western suburb of Lhasa.

At its largest, before the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, the monastery housed fifteen thousand celibate monks and was known for the high standards of its academic study.

Young monks of Drepung is divided into what are known as the seven great colleges - Gomang, Loseling, Deyang, Shagkor, Gyelwa or Tosamling, Dulwa, and Ngagpa. Routines in Drepung monastery is comprised of four parts: education, religious rites, education administration and sundry affairs. It can be a somewhat useful analogy to think of Drepung as a university along the lines of Oxford or the Sorbonne in the middle ages, the various colleges having different emphases, teaching lineages, or traditional geographical affiliations. Today the population at the monastery is much smaller with merely a few hundred monks, due to population capping enforced by the Chinese government.


Samye Monastery

Situated about 40km to the west of Tsedang across the Tsangpo River, it is the first monastery built by King Trisong Detsen in the 8th century. During the reign of this king, the birth of monk community began. This monastery is marvelous blend of three distinctive architectural styles that of India, China and Tibet. These three styles symbolize the source, stability and spread of the Buddhist faith in the respective areas.

The Palkhor Monastery

The Palkhor Monastery also called Palcho Monastery it is quite different from other monasteries of Tibet. Structured as a typical Tibetan Buddhism monastery it was built in 1418 and has remarkably remained intact and unscathed to this day. It lies about 230 kilometers south of Lhasa and 100 kms east of Shigatse at the foot of Dzong Hill. The most remarkable feature of this monastery is that it is the only monastery that  houses monks from different orders. The monks from the Gelugpa, Sakyapa and Kahdampa orders stay in this monastery with noticeable harmony. Although they once quarreled and fought, the different orders eventually discovered a way to get along with each other. As a result, its oblation, architecture style, deities enshrined and murals are very special. 
The Main Assembly Hall of Palkhor Monastery, Tshomchen, was built between the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century. It is a three-storey structure. The ground floor has a chanting hall with 48 columns that are ornamented with old silk "thangkas". It also houses an eight- meter high bronze statue of Maitreya Buddha, which is gilded and made from 1.4 tons of

bronze. On the second floor of monastery there are chapels belonging to “Bodhisattva Manjushri" and "Arhats" from the Ming dynasty. Among these the Arahat chapel is quiet popular throughout Tibet. The roof of monastery also holds chapels which preserve a collection of 15 "mandala" murals. These are three meters (ten feet) in diameter. There are also some other attractive features in monastery like the collection of  about 100 robes and costumes worn in Tibetan opera. These costumes were made of silk, embroidery and tapestry and belong to the era of Ming dynasty and the Qing dynasty.


The Palkhor Monastery is also popular for its tower, Palkhor Tower, also called the Ten Thousand Buddha Tower. It is the calling card of Palkhor Monastery and the most important building in this monastery. The tower houses about 100 family halls for worshipping Buddha, one over the other. It has 10,000 figures of Buddha in the Buddhist shrines, murals and family halls which provides it the name the Ten Thousand Buddha Tower.

Another significant feature of Palkhor Monastery is "Kumbum Stupa" which is considered the symbol of the monastery.  This pagoda style stupa  consists of hundreds of chapels in layers and houses about a hundred thousand images

of various Buddhist icons. In total, there are about 3,000 statues, so it is called "Myriad Buddhas Stupa" also. It was an important centre of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism and still considered as one of the most outstanding and sacred places of Tibet. This graceful structure is one of the most visited places in Tibet.  


Tashilhunpo Monastery

Tashilhunpo Monastery is located at the west part of the Shigatse city and about 250 km away from the capital of Tibet Lhasa. Situated on the foot of Drolmari or Tara’s mountain, it is one of the huge Monasteries of Gelugpa (or Yellow Hat Sect) in China and the biggest Tibetan Gelugpa Buddhism monastery in back Tibet area. Standing on a whooping area of around 300,000 sq. m it is also called the Heap of Glory. It is known as a seat of the Panchen Lama who is considered to be the second most important religious leader of Tibet.  

Founded by the first Dalai Lama in the year 1447 the monastery significantly expanded by the fourth and successive Panchen Lamas. The Monastery covers an area of nearly 300,000 square meters.

The main structures found in the Monastery are The Maitreya Chapel, The Panchen Lama's Palace and The Kelsang Temple. Tashilhunpo is the seat of the Panchen Lama since the Fourth Panchen Lama took charge in the monastery, and there are now nearly 800 lamas. When seen from entrance the gran d building of monastery enchants the visitor with its golden roofs and white walls. The Thangka Wall built by the First Dalai Lama in 1468 is outstanding with its nine floor high structure. The wall displays the images of Buddha on the 14th, 15th and 16th of May every year following the Tibetan Lunar Calendar.


The west side of the monastery holds Maitreya Chapel, which houses the biggest statue of a sitting Maitreya Buddha. The statue stands 26.2 meters (86 ft) high and is adorned with gold, copper, pearl, amber, coral, diamond and other precious stones. About nine hundred artisans handcrafted this statue in nine years. The Maitreya chapel has been divided into five floors. There is wooden staircase in the chapel that is used to visit the different floors of the chapel. One can more clearly see the statue from the upper floors of the chapel. 

In the east of the chapel lies the Stupa-tomb of the Tenth Panchen Lama. Built in 1993 and enclosed by 1,354 pounds (614 kg)  gold, 868 precious stones and 246,794 jewels, the Stupa-tomb is the most splendid and expensive mausoleum in China since the 1950s. The Panchen Lama's Palace built during the reign of the Six Panchen Lama stands nearby the Stupa-tomb, but it is not opened for visitors. To the east of the Panchen Lama's Palace lies the first stupa-tomb of Tashilhunpo. This stupa-tomb belongs to the Fourth Panchen Lama who is one of the most famous Lamas in Tibetan history. He was also the teacher of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Ornamented with gold and silver this magnificent stupa-tomb was built in 1662.  

The another significant building in Tashilhunpo is the Kelsang Temple. It is one of the oldest and biggest buildings in Tashilhunpo. It is a colossal compound. It has a Main Chanting Hall where the lamas learn the sutras and listen to the Panchen Lama's sermon. On the back end of the hall lies a 5 meters (16 ft) high statue of Sakyamuni. It is said that a part of Sakyamuni's relics was placed in it. There are two chapels situated on both sides of the Main Chanting Hall. The left one is devoted to Tara, the goddess who is believed to be the avatar of Avalokitesvara. The chapel contains the statues of White Tara (which is seated in the middle) and two Green Taras on each side. The right chapel is devoted to Maitreya Buddha. The chapel houses the statutes of Maitreya Buddha, the Avalokitesvara and Bodhisattva Manjusri. The Great Courtyard of the Kelsang Temple is used by the lamas for practice and debate. Thousands of images of Sakyamuni in different postures and expressions cover the wall around the courtyard. 

In addition to the majestic palace and gigantic statues, the Tashilhunpo Monastery also treasures distinctive murals. These murals are notified for their variety of shapes, brilliant colors and fine painting and are considered to be another masterpiece of Buddhist art. Monastery also houses some rare sutras, thangka, china and glass services of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Thus, Tashilhunpo Monastery helps you to explore the history and society of Tibet.


Rongbuk Monastery

Rongbuk Monastery  is one of the highest monastery in the world. Located at the elevation 4800 meters it is the last inhabited spot before Everest Base Camp. Rongbuk monastery is situated in Basum Township, in Shigaste Prefecture of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, China. When seen from this monastery Mt. Everest appears like a lofty pyramid surrounded by mountains that touch the sky. When a pile of the thick clouds float above the peak on  sunny days, it creates the magical site of 'The Highest Flag Cloud in the World'. The monastery is accessible today via vehicle by means of an undeveloped road.

Rongbuk Monastery was built by a local lama in about 1899. It was built in an area of meditation huts that had been in use by monks and hermits for over 400 years.

Hermitage meditation caves dot the cliff walls all around the monastery complex and up and down the valley.

Many walls and stones, carved with sacred syllables and prayers, line the paths. Zatul Rinpoche, the lama who founded this monastery was much respected by the Tibetans. In olden times, the Monastery was a active centre of the teachings. It was a site of special pilgrimage during the annual ceremonies with masked dancers. Throngs of the faithful would come from far and wide—some from Nepal and Mongolia—and sit on every level of all the many-tiered flat roofs of the monastery to watch the masked dancers in the great open courtyard. Cymbals clanged amid the ceaselessly overlapping thunder of the long Tibetan trumpets played in relay to accompany the monk dancers in their ritual. These ceremonies were shared with the satellite monasteries across the Himalaya also founded by the Rongbuk Lama. The ceremonies survive to this day, notably at the Sherpa monastery at Tengboche. The monastery houses a vast collection of books and costumes, which had been taken for safekeeping to Tengboche, were lost in a 1989 fire.   

The monastery has five-tier building, but only two floors are in use now. In the frontispiece of the main hall, were forfeited the statues of Sakyamuni and Geru Rinpoche. There is a beautiful, large, round chorten, a reliquary with religious significance embedded in its terraced structure and crown of emblems of the sun and moon, symbolizing the light of Buddha's teaching. The chorten dramatically marks this last human dwelling place before one heads up the stark valley to Base Camp. Walking forward from Rongbuk Monastery, you can see the famous Rongbuk Glacier Zone, which is the largest among all the hundreds of glaciers formed around the Mt. Everest. The three glaciers north of the Mt. Everest flow south and assemble at a river traversing the foot of the monastery. This is called 'Rongbuk River', and the water here is extremely cold. 

In Rongbuk monastery both the monks and nuns reside and celebrate the Buddhist festivals together. Monastery hold the three days Saka Dawa Festival which is held to celebrate the birth of Sakyamuni. During the play, many monks disguise themselves as Rabbis and dance many scenes one after another, and most scenes portray different characters and clothing. Another Tibetan festival is held in the month of  December of Tibetan Calendar to placate wandering ghosts, and monks wearing masks also perform this grand ceremony.

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