Location: Samye Town
Samye altitude: 3,580 meters
Duration of Visit: at least 2 days tour from Lhasa
Best Time to Travel: year round
Samye monastery was built in the second half of the 8th century by the King Trisong Detsen. The king invited Indian master Padma Sambhava (also named Lotus Buddha, while Tibetans call him Guru Rinpoche) to help to establish Buddhism in Tibet.
Samye is the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
SAMYE MONASTERY COMPLEX
The Samye monastery complex is in a shape of Mandala that represents the Buddhist Universe.
Utse, the main temple of the monastery represents Mount Meru. The surrounding twelve chapels represent continents (the larger four chapels) and subcontinents (the smaller eight chapels). There are also Sun and Moon temples to the south and north of the main chapel respectively.
There are four large colored stupas at the four directions from the main temple: the White Stupa with snow lions, Red Stupa or “Dharma Wheel” with lotus decorations, Black Stupa or “Nirvana” and Green Stupa “Tashigomang” with sixteen doors.
The wall with 1008 stupas surrounds the entire monastery complex.
HISTORY OF SAMYE MONASTERY
The monastery was built by Tibetan King Trisong Detsen, Padma Sambhava and Shantirakshita, who later became the first abbot of the monastery, in 750 – 779 AD. You can see statues of all three of them, commonly known as the “Abbot, Master and Dharma King” in the main Assembly Hall of the monastery.
After the construction of the monastery, first seven monks were ordained here by the first abbot Shantirakshita in Namthak Trimkhangling “The Pure Discipline” Chapel.
Utse, the main temple of the monastery had three floors each built in different style. The first floor is in Tibetan style, the second floor is in Chinese style and the third one in Indian.
In Samye Indian and Tibetan scholars and masters translated first Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit to Tibetan.
Over its more than a thousand years long history, Samye was under influence of different sects of Tibetan Buddhism. However, because of its founder Padma Sambhava, it is usually associated with the Red Hat sect (Nyingmapa). Padma Sambhava established the Nyingmapa sect in Tibet.
Samye monastery was damaged and rebuilt many times throughout its history, and it was badly damaged during the cultural revolution. In recent years many of the temples and chapels were rebuilt.
HOW TO PLAN A DAY TOUR TO SAMYE MONASTERY
It is always best to visit Tibetan Monastery early in the morning, when all chapels are open. After you go through the main gate, head to the Protectors Chapel. You can go up to the roof of the chapel for a view around the monastery complex.
The next attraction is the main building of the complex – Utse temple. Three floors of the temple are built in distinct style.
If you have time, walk around the monastery in a clockwise direction and visit chapels in the complex. You can also visit all four stupas colored in white, red, green and black. On some days, you can see monk’s debates in a courtyard on the West side of the complex.
In the afternoon, walk to Hepo Ri hill dominating the scene. When you climb up to its top, you will see panoramic view of the complex and Brahmaputra River. If time permits, wait until the sunset to enjoy the glorious view in yellow and red hues of the sun.
WHERE TO STAY IN SAMYE
Guests visiting Samye Monastery usually stay in the monastery hotel located across the street from it. The hotel is simple, however, it offers all basic amenities: rooms with two twin beds, hot shower, tea kettle and free Wi-Fi. Your stay includes very simple breakfast.
WHERE TO EAT IN SAMYE
There are many small Tibetan serving traditional Tibetan food. Most of them are concentrated around the main gate of the monastery and on the street leading directly to the gate. In most restaurant you will find a menu with various Tibetan meals. Some restaurants serve Western breakfast to supplement simple breakfast served in a hotel tea house.
Near the gate you will see sellers offering fresh made potato fries and chips, as well as cold wheat and jelly noodles. Be careful with the spices!
PLACES TO VISIT NEAR SAMYE
Hepo Ri, the mountain overlooking Samye is the place where Padma Sambhava subdued demons in the 8th century and helped to establish Buddhism in Tibet. If you hike up the mountain, you will get a majestic view on Samye, Yarlung River, and the valley.
You can see Hepo Ri from Samye: the small temple on the top and a huge rock painting of Buddha of Longevity in the middle of it. The hike takes approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Mindrolling is another great Nyingmapa Monastery in Yarlung valley. Buildings of the complex are made of beautiful brown stones, and large tall white stupa dominates the landscape. Inside Mindrolling you can see some old murals and old original statues.
Chimpu caves are located 15 km to the East from Samye. You can reach them by a short hike or drive there. It is one of the most sacred sites in Tibet. In addition, it is located in a very picturesque place with a great view of Yarlung valley.
You will find Padma Sambhava’s meditation cave there, among many other caves. Buddhist practitioners still use the caves on the mountain for meditation and prolonged retreats.
Yemalung is another nunnery located on the top of the mountain 25 km to the North from Samye. It is far less popular than Chimpu, but not any less interesting.
Padma Sambhava was meditating in the caves of Yemalung and later created a mandala to pray for the long life of King Trisong Detsen.
TOURS YOU MIGHT LIKE
10 DAYS MEDITATION TOUR
On this tour you will experience Tibetan culture, visit incredible landmarks and see the natural beauty of Tibet. At the same time, we will travel to the most peaceful and special places where the greatest Buddhist Lamas have been meditating for years.
We will spend time in the meditation caves, away from the busy world, make stops by the most impressive natural sightseeing spots, and, of course, visit the most important monastic centers, including Samye, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
6 DAYS TIBETAN CULTURAL HERITAGE TOUR
This private tour takes you from Lhasa to Yarlung Valley and Samye Monastery. Yarlung valley is the birthplace of Tibetan civilization. You can see Yumbulakhang, an ancient fort and the first surviving building in Tibet. After that you will visit Samye, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
10 DAYS GANDEN TO SAMYE TOUR
This trek goes along an incredibly beautiful route in Tibet. We start in Lhasa, where we visit the most important historical places and acclimatize before the trek.
During our trek, we will walk through high mountain passes (up to 5,250 meters), rocky mountains, vast green valleys, cross mountain rivers, and finally reach dense forest area.
We complete our trek at the Samye monastery, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
For those who feel adventurous, there are some one-day trekking options available near Samye. They can be added to your tour.
7 DAYS PHOTO TOUR: THE CRADLE OF TIBETAN CIVILIZATION
This tour will take you to the birthplace of Tibetan culture. From these places Tibetan civilization as we know it emerged. We start our tour in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. In Lhasa, we will visit Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Sera and Drepung monasteries. After that, we will drive to Ganden monastery.
After that, we will continue our journey to Yarlung Valley, the cradle of Tibetan civilization. Here, we will visit Yumbulakhang-the first building and fort, Samye -the first Buddhist monastery and Tradruk- one of the first temples.