Tholing Monastery in Guge Kingdom
Tholing Monastery, Guge Kingdom

KEY FACTS ABOUT THOLING MONASTERY

Located in Zanda (Tada), Ngari province in Western Tibet
Rinchen Zangpo founded Tholing Monastery. 
The construction dates in different sources listed as between 996 to 1025
School of Buddhism: Kadam and Gelug

MONASTERY COMPLEX

Tholing Monastery in Zanda Tibet

Guge Kingdom King Yeshe O together with the famous Tibetan translator Rinchen Zangpo founded Tholing. You can see murals depicting Rinchen Zangpo in the Red Temple. The architecture of the complex follows earlier styles of Yarlung dynasty and is similar to Samye monastery complex. Some design elements were adopted from Indian temples. Originally, there were six buildings in the monastery complex. Three buildings survived the Cultural Revolution: Main Assembly Hall (Dukhang), Lhakhang Karpo, and Chapel of Yeshe O mandala. About 500 monks lived in Tholing monastery. The original entrance gate was at the East wall of the monastery. 

To explore the murals of the monastery, bring a flashlight.

ASSEMBLY HALL/ RED TEMPLE

The Dukhang or Red Temple is still in good condition. The one-storey temple with high ceiling is the largest building of the complex. There is the main Assembly Hall of the monastery. The main statues of the Assembly Hall are Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future. You will also see the footprint of Rinchen Zangpo. What’s more important, you will see beautiful murals. The murals were painted by skillful Kashmere artists from India. Murals date to the 13-14th centuries, with some later restorations (15-16th centuries). 

Also, there are some Newary (Nepal) elements. You will see murals depicting the life story of Shakyamuni Buddha painted by gilded copper.

LHAKHANG KARPO/ WHITE TEMPLE

Before entering the chapel you will see two cedar wood columns. It is unusual as the surrounding landscape lacks trees. Indeed, the massive trunks are from India. In this chapel you can also see 15-16th century old murals. You will see murals of male and female Bodhisattvas, along with several scenes of the life of Buddha. The wall with male deities murals was damaged by water. Luckily, the murals with female deities are in good condition and provide a great example of Guge art. Murals in the back depict a sky burial ceremony.

YESHE O MANDALA CHAPEL

Previously, it was the main building of the complex and it is at the center of Tholing. The chapel shape represents mandala. Additionally, at the center of the building was a large three-dimensional mandala, hence the name – mandala chapel.  Mandala in Buddhist cosmology represents the universe. Buddhist monks use it during meditation practices, learning to visualize it. There are also four small chapels at the center of each side of the building. Nowadays, the chapels are empty. 

STUPAS/ CHORTENS

There are a number of restored chortens around the monastery. The four stupas at the cardinal directions are narrow in Indian style. 

You will find two larger ones near the monastery complex. Especially picturesque are small chortens lined up to the north from Tholing.  

MEDITATION CAVES

On the cliffside, you can find ruins of old buildings and some meditation caves used in the past. Monks stayed in the caves and in small retreat chambers, which are now in ruins. 

Some of the caves were dug in the muddy mountain slopes. Monks used these caves as a summer retreat escaping from the heat of the valley. Caves are usually small, for one person usually with a small niche – altar for monk’s possessions. 

RECOMMENDED TOURS TO VISIT THOLING

Stupas of The Dira Puk Monastery by the Kailash Mountain in Tibet

17 DAYS MOUNT KAILASH AND GUGE KINGDOM FROM LHASA

A private tour taking you from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet to the most Western part of the country. The tour includes three days trekking around Mount Kailash and visiting the ruins of the Guge Kingdom on the West, in addition to Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse, and Everest Base Camp.

Canyon of Sutlej river in Ngari, Western Tibet

21 DAYS ULTIMATE TIBET TOUR

We will visit all the highlights of Lhasa and Central Tibet, spend a night by the Everest, complete three days trekking around Mount Kailash. After that we will head towards Ngari, the Western part of Tibet to visit the ancient Guge Kingdom. We will return to Lhasa via the scenic Northern route, traveling through vast grasslands, dozens of lakes, including the Namtso lake and nomad’s settlements.

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