Visiting Drak Yerpa makes a great day trip outside of Lhasa. You can also combine it with a visit to Ganden monastery in the afternoon.
The monastery will be of particular interest to those who is interested in meditation, as are many meditation caves in the complex, and to visitors who are preparing for a trek in Tibet. The elevation here is a slightly higher than in Lhasa (a little over 4,400 meters at the bottom and 4, 880 meters/ 16.000 ft at the top) making it easier to acclimatize to the Lhasa altitude after going up to Drak Yerpa.
King Songtsen Gampo and his two foreign queens are said to have meditated here in the Peu Marsergyi Lhakhang. In the cave, they discovered self-arising symbols of Buddha-body, speech and mind. 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.
Visiting the Complex
We start at the bottom of the complex, where you will see wonderful white stupas and a local restaurant. We will be climbing up the mountain to visit the monasteries and meditation caves.
The first building that we visit is Lhalung-puk. Monk Lhalung meditated in this cave after assassinating King Langdharma who was against Buddhism in Tibet.The chapel was recently rebuilt.
We continue walking above the Lhalung-puk, moving to the right towards the Dawa-puk (Moon Cave). The main statue there is the statue of Guru Rinpoche (Padma Sambhava) who spent seven years in this cave. There is a wall painting of Tsechigma on the left side and the footprints of Guru Rinpoche and Lhalung on the right side.
After visiting the Moon Cave, we head West towards the Chögyal-puk, the Cave of Songtsen Gampo (7th century king of Tibet). The chapel houses the statue of thousand-armed Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara or Compassion Buddha). The statue is also known as Chak- tong Chentong. When you walk around the central pillar, you can see the eyes of a self-arising lion’s face. On the right there is a small cave and the statue of Songtsen Gampo.
The main building of the complex is the yellow temple Jampa Lhakhang. The central statue inside is a two-story tall statue of Jampa (Future Buddha), accompanied by Vajrapani on the left and Vairocana and Hayagriva on the right. There are also statues of Atisha, the Fifth Dalai Lama and Tsongkhapa.
The cave on the top is Drubthub-puk. From there we continue to the cave where Atisha meditated. Around Atisha cave, there are several caves dedicated to Vajrapani.
Below the main caves and to the east is the Neten Lhakhang, for worshiping the sixteen Arhats (Buddha’s main disciples). It is believed that Atisha conducted his teachings in this area.
To the East from the Drak Yerpa complex, there is the holy mountain of Yerpa Lhari. It has a sky burial site (not used nowadays) and a path around the mountain. We can walk around the mountain enjoying the view on the Drak Yerpa and the surrounding valley and mountain ranges.