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  • Ganden Monastery
  • Drak Yerpa
  • Namtso lake

Ganden Monastery

Tsongkhapa was born in 1357 in the north-eastern province of Tibet, Amdo. During the time of the Their Dalai Lama his birthplace was marked by the erection of the Kumbum Jampa Ling Monastery near Xining. While stull very young he was recognised as possessing unusual spiritual qualities and as a young man was sent to Central Tibet to understanding of Buddhism in the more cultured region of the country. The monastrey he visited was that of Drigung, where he studied the doctrines of the Kagyu lineage and medicine. “From here he proceeded to Netang Samye, Zhalu and Sakya monasteries. He met his main teacher Rendawa at Tsechen Monastery just outside Gyantse. For many years he studied the full range of Buddhist philosophy, including the more esoteric tantric systems. Then he retreated to Lhoka, north of the Brahmaputra downstream from Tsetang, and spent the next four years intense meditation. Upon retuning to society he found himself much in demand as a teacher. One place where he taught was the hill in Lhasa on which the Potala was eventually built. Together with Rendawa he stayed for sometime at Reting where he composed his most famous work. The Great Exposition of the stages on the Path to Enlightenment. After another meditation and writing retreat at Choding Hermitage (above where Sera Monastery is now ) he founded, in 1409, the famous annual Monalm (prayer) festival in Lhasa, which after a twenty five years hiatus, was rein-augured in 1986.

After the prayer festival he decided to cease tracelling from place to place and to found his own monastery. He selected Mt. Drokri, a mountain upstream from Lhasa, and called the monastery ‘Ganden’ which is the Tibetan name for the Pure Land of Tushita, where the future Buddha Maitreya currently resides. Within a year seventy buildings had been completed but it was not until 1417 that the main hall of the monastery was consecrated.

Tsongkhapa died at Ganden two years later in 1419, and shortly before his death passed the mantle of succession to Gyeltsab Je, one of his two chief disciples. Gyeltsab Je held the position of Ganden Tripa (Throne Holder of Ganden) until his own death twelve years later, then it is passed to Tsongkhapa’s other chief disciple Khedrup Je. The post of Ganden Tripa was later given to the senior Dharma Master of one of the two main Ganden Colleges, Jangtse and Shartse. It was a five year post for which to qualify one must first have obtained a geshe degree with highest honours (Lharampa) proceeded to the abbotship of Lhasa tantric Colleges, and from there been appointed Dharma Master of either Jangtse and Shartse college. The tradition has been continued in India and the current Ganden Tripa Jampel Shen pen, is the 98th in the succession. It is the Ganden Tripa, not the Dalai Lama, who is the official head of the Gelukpa order. During his lifetime Tsongkhapa was regarded as a remarkable spiritual figure whose genius and saintliness held him above the sectarian differences of his times. Although greatly inspired by the example of Atisha, to the point of attributing authorship of his major written work to him and the spirit of the Kadampa tradition, Tsongkhapa nonetheless studied widely with representatives of all the major orders in Tibet and assimilated their lineages. It is unlikely that the intended from his own order though he must have realized, it was liable to happen. He could not have foreseen, though the dimensions this order (the Gelukpa) would eventually assume and the political power it would wield.

Over the following centuries Ganden Monastery grew to the size of a small township delicately perched along the high sheltered slopes of the mountain and it used to have 3300 monks.

Drak Yerpa

The Drak Yerpa heritage is located about 40 min of driving away from Lhasa. It is a large complex of temples, monasteries and meditation caves nested on the mountain. The elevation here is slightly higher than in Lhasa (a little over

King Songtsen Gampo and his two foreign queens are said to have meditated here in the Peu Marsergyi Lhakhang, where they discovered self-arising’ symbols of buddha-body, speech and mind, and in the Chogyel Puk. Later, Padmasambhava concealed many terma objects around Yerpa, including the celebrated ritual dagger of Sera (Sera Phurzhal), which was eventually rediscovered by the treasure-finder Darcharuba at Sewalung. Padmasambhava also passed some seven months in retreat in the Dawa Puk, which is regarded as one of his three foremost places of spiritual attainment (drub-ne). In the ninth century Lhalung Pelgyi Dorje stayed at Yerpa in solitary meditation, both prior to and after his assassination of the apostate king Langdarma.

Then, following the later phase of Buddhist propagation in Tibet, Yerpa came to greater prominence under Kadampa influence: Lu-me founded 108 temples on the hillside, including a Vairocana Lhakhang. Marton Chokyi Jungne founded the Jampa Lhakhang, and Atisha passed three years here, constructing with the aid of his foremost disciples, the Kyormo Lhakhang and the Chokhang.

Namtso Lake

Namtso is the Tibet’s largest saltwater lake, and at 4718m, also one of the highest lake in Tibet. The lake is over 70km long, reaches a width of 30km and is 35m at its deepest point.

A newly paved road cuts across country from a turn-off northwest of Lhasa and approximately 250km. Driving on the paved road over 5190m high pass (Largen La), it takes an hour to reach Lake Namtso: the road runs through a grassland valley, with the odd nomad encampment visible, and herds of yaks, sheeps and goats roaming around. For the nomads, life is dependent on yaks: they live in yak-hair tents, and use yak-dung as their main fuel source.

Namtso is a sacred lake: there are cave- temples, hermitages and a nunnery for contemplation at Tashi Dor. From this area you can see one of the most beautiful natural sights in Tibet and the lake is a miraculous shade of turquoise with snow mountains (Nyechen Tanglha).

The Nyechen Tanglha (Tangula) range in distance, to the south, 7088m snow cap of Mount looms up, along with the range of the same name.

 Tsurpu Monastery

Tsurpu Monastery was founded in 1189 by the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, who was born in the eastern province of Kham region. He came to Central Tibet to study and at the age of thirty became a disciple of Gampopa. He returned to Kham and founded the monastery from which the Karma Kagyu order derived its name. Only towards the end of his life he return to Central Tibet to found Tsurpu. Shortly before he died he said that he would be reborn in Tibet and gave indications as to how he could be found. He was became the first lama to introduce the unique Tibetan custom of lines of recognised “Tulku” a practice that eventually became popular with all the main orders.

Dusum Khyenpa returned in 1204 as Karma Pakshi, the second karmapa nine years after his death. Again he was born in Kham and came to Tsurpu only when he was forty-three years old. He stayed there for six years. In 1256 he was invted by Kublai Khan, the founder of the Mongolian Yuan dynasty in China and disciple of the sakya Lama Pakpa, to the imperial court where, in acknowledgement of his teachings, he was presented with a black hat embellished with gold. He was also given the title “Pakshi” which means Master’ (Acharya) in Mongolian. However, in 1260 as a result of intrigue an rivalry, he found himself banished from the court and imprisoned. Upon his release four years later he went to Kham. After eight years of teaching he returned to Tsurpu and spent the rest of his life renovating and enlarging the monastery.

Tsurpu was further enlarged during the time of the Fifth Karmapa, Deshinshekpa, in the fifteenth century. Duringthe sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Karmapa were the spiritual abvisors to the kings of Tsang and thus became powerful political figures. They vied with the early Dalai Lamas but when the Mongolian army of Gushri Khan defeated the king of Tsang and enthroned the fifth Dalai Lama as ruler of Tibet in 1642, they lost their political influence. Although many smaller monasteries belonging to the Karmapa sub-sect of the Kagyu school were then forcibly turned into Gelukpa centres, thus diminshing the power of the Kagyupa in Central Tibet, Rigpai Dorje, the Sixteenth Karmapa, went into exile in Rumtek sikkim and directed the Karma Kagyu order from there. A powerful and charismatic figure, he played an important role in preserving the doctrines of the Kagyu tradition and introducing them to the outside world. He died in Chicago in 1981. As the seat of the Karmapa, Tsurpu was the headquarters of the Karma Kagyu order in Tibet and had numerous other sub monasteries and temples scatterred throughout the country, many of which were in Kham. Monks from the order would travel here for their doctinal and contemplative training and,once qualified, return to their home province to take charge of their local monastery.

The building is the Zhi-wa’ Dratsang and this is the place where the monks now gather from their services. The principal object in the main hall downstairs is a throne for the Karmapa, on which stands a photograph of the most recent incarnation, the Sixteenth. To the side of the throne an older black and white picture in China, In 1958 shows him as a young man. The only ancient is one of Nugu Rinpoche, a teacher of the Eighth Karmapa, the great scholar Mikyo Dorje, to the right of the throne. Images of the First, Second and Sixteenth Karmapas sit to the left of the throne. The hall is small and not elaborately decorated. Tangkas most of them modern, depicting various Buddhas, Taras and different incarnations of the Karmapa hang on the walls.

On the upper storey is a protector chapel dedicated to Mahakala, Pelden Lhamo and Dharmaraja, and two residential chambers. The first of these chambers was where Jamgon Kontrul Rinpoche and Tai Situ Rinpoche styed during their 1984 visit. In a glass cases set into the wall are many small bronzes depicting the different Karmapas. These status are presumably quite old and many of them may have been cast while their subjects were still living. The second chamber houses four resently comissioned images of the three tibetan founders of the Kagyu school. Milarepa and Gampopa. To the right of Marpa is a statue of Rigpai Dorje, the Sixteenth Karmapa. Hanging from one of the pillars in the room is a photograph of Tsurpu taken in 1967, just before its destruction