Tashilhunpo Monastery Shigatse
Brief introduction of Tashilhunpo Monastery
English Name: Tashilhunpo Monastery
Chinese Name: 扎什伦布寺
Location: The foot of Drolmari (Tara's Mountain), Shigatse
Altitude: 3,950 meters (12,960 feet) above sea level
Opening Year: 1447
Founder: The first Dalai Lama, Gedun Drub
Recommended sightseeing hour: 2-3 hours
Entrance ticket: 100 CNY per person (May to October), 55 CNY per person (November to the next April)
Opening hours: 09:00~17:00, please note that the chapels will be locked between 12:00pm and 14:00pm
Tashilhunpo Monastery is the seat of the successive Panchen Lamas, the second most important spiritual leader of Tibet, which is one of the few monasteries in Tibet remaining relatively unscathed after the Cultural Revolution. Together with the ‘three greatest monasteries’ Ganden, Drepung, and Sera in Lhasa, they are collectively referred to as the "four greatest monasteries" of the Gelug Sect. These four greatest monasteries, as well as the Taer Monastery in Qinghai and the Labrang Monastery in Gansu, are listed as the "six major monasteries" of the Gelug Sect.
Occupying an area of 150,000 square meters and having 57 sutra halls and 3,600 houses, it is considered to be the largest functioning religious institution in Tibet. The whole temple is built on the hillside, with mountains on its back and facing south. In addition, it offers a fascinating experience by strolling along the busy cobbled lanes twisting around its aged-old buildings or hiking along the beautiful kora that circles it.
History of Tashilhunpo Monastery
Tashilhunpo Monastery was founded by Gedun Drub who was later traced back to the Dalai Lama to enshrine the 5-meter-high gold bronze statue of Sakyamuni. The construction started in September 1447 and completed one year later. Subsequently, the Tsoqin Hall for monks to practice and chant sutras, the Lazhang Palace for the abbot to stay, and houses of the monks were built. By 1459, Tashilhunpo Monastery had 5 Buddhist halls, enshrined 12 Buddha statues, and was home to nearly 200 monks. After Gedun Drub became the abbot of Tashilhunpo Monastery, more buildings including Tantric College, Thangka Exhibition Wall were constructed. During the period of the fourth Panchen Lama (1570-1662), it was reconstructed and largely expanded into a large scale with more halls, chapels, palaces, houses to over 5000 monks, becoming the largest monastery of Gelugpa Sect in Tsang. From the 4th Panchen Lama, it was further expanded by the successive Panchen Lamas and officially became the seat of the successive Panchen Lamas.
What to see
As the largest monastery in Shigatse, Tashilhunpo Monastery houses a large collection of age-old treasures including the precious stupas of the successive Panchen Lamas, valuable cultural relics such as gold, silver and jade items, jewels, ancient porcelains, thangkas, manuscript Buddhist scriptures, Buddha statues of different dynasties since Tang Dynasty, and numerous priceless murals. However, the most impressive and magnificent buildings here are the Great Maitreya (Jampa or Future Buddha) Chapel housing the world’s largest gilded bronze statue, the stupas of the successive Panchen Lamas, and the Thangka Exhibition Wall.
Thangka Exhibition Wall
Located in the northeast of Tashilhunpo Monastery, it was built by the first Dalai Lama, Gedun Drub, in 1468 AD to commemorate the birth, nirvana, and initiation into Buddhahood of Sakyamuni. On every May 14, 15, and 16 in Tibetan calendar, a grand Thangka Unveiling Festival will be held here, the massive and colorful thangkas bearing the image of 3 grand Buddhas including Amitabha, Sakyamuni, and Jampa are unveiled and hung on the sunny side of this 32-meter-high Thangka Exhibition Wall. The monks and local Tibetans will dress traditionally and gather here to pay homage to the Buddhas and pray for good luck. It is a perfect time to visit Shigatse during this festival as it is the best way to experience Tibetan religious culture and offers a unique opportunity to learn more about this region and its people.
The Chapel of Jampa (Jamkhang Chenmo)
On the west side of Tashilhunpo Monastery, there is a 5-story chapel called the Chapel of Jampa, which is one of the most impressive sights in Tashilhunpo Monastery built-in 1914. The most eye-catching sight of this 30-meter-high chapel is the Future Buddha (Jampa) Statue, which is the world's largest and tallest gold gilded bronze statue. Sitting on a 3.8-meter-high lotus pedestal, facing south, overlooking the monastery, the Jampa Buddha Statue is 26.2-meter-high and with a shoulder width of 11.5 meters, foot length of 4.2 meters, hand length of 3.2 meters, the middle-finger circumference of 1.2 meters, ear length of 2.8 meters. As a treasure among the giant sculptures, it took 110 craftsmen to finish in 4 years with the extreme cost including countless gold and brass, and numerous diamonds, pearls, amber, coral, pine otoliths inlaid and other precious decorations.
The Stupas of the successive Panchen Lamas
The Buddha Stupas in Tashilhunpo Monastery are the stupas of the successive Panchen Lamas from the 4th to 10th. The body of these stupas is wrapped in gold skin and inlaid with jewelry. During the Cultural Revolution, the stupas of the 5th to 9th Panchen Lama were destroyed, and later from 1985 to 1989, the 10th Panchen Lama rebuilt a joint burial stupa for the 5th to 9th Panchen Lama. Each stupa is gorgeous and magnificent after several years' construction, especially the 4th and 10th Panchen Lama’s stupa.
The stupa of the 10th Panchen Lama, enshrined in the Serdung Sisum Namgyel, is a dazzling gold-plated funeral chörten. After 3 years of construction, in the year of 1993, the construction of the 35.25-meter-high chörten was completed, which covers an area of 1,933 square meters. The entire compound has been wonderfully constructed with a fusion of the ancient Tibetan religious architectural style, the architectural style of the Tang and Qing Dynasties, and the architectural form of Buddhist pagodas. The chörten consists of two major architectural parts, red and brown. The 11.55-meter-high stupa is placed at the top of the chörten. The stupa is gold-wrapped and inlaid with precious jewels and diamonds, etc.
Kundun Lhakhang is the gold-roofed chapel holding the stupa of the fourth Panchen Lama, Lobsang Choekyi Gyeltsen (1567–1662), teacher of the fifth Dalai Lama. This was the only stupa at the Tashilhunpo monastery to be spared during the Cultural Revolution. This chapel took over 4 years to complete in 1666. With the height of 11 meters, the chapel was inlaid with over 7,000 corals, pearls, agates, pine otoliths, etc. and contains over 135kg of gold, 1,650kg of silver and 3,900kg of copper, making the stupa colorful and luxurious.
Tashi Langyer was built by the 10th Panchen Lama to enshrine the stupa of the fifth to the ninth Panchen Lamas and replace stupas destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. The construction of this hall lasted for 3 years and 8 months, with a total construction area of 1933 square meters and a height of 33.17 meters, of which the height of the stupa is 11.52 meters. The gilded stupa is with jewels inlaid all over, gorgeous carvings, and solemn shapes. The decorations inside the tower are also very elegant. The remains of the 5th to 9th Panchen Lama were packed in 5 sandalwood boxes and placed in the treasure bottle of the stupa. A bronze statue of the 9th Panchen Lama was placed in the center of the stupa. The walls around the main hall are painted with murals of famous monks from various sects of Tibetan Buddhism.
Tsoqin Hall (The assembly hall)
It is one of the earliest buildings in Tashilhunpo Monastery, dating from the 15th-century founding of the monastery and taking 12 years to build. In front of the assembly hall, there is a large courtyard of more than 600 square meters, which is the place for the Panchen Lama to give lectures to all monks and for monks to debate scriptures. The surrounding walls are painted with over 1,000 buddhas and 80 Buddhist masters, various fairies, and Bodhisattvas. In the assembly hall, forty-eight large red lacquered pillars stand upright in the distance, supporting the massive throne of the Panchen Lama in the middle of the hall. On the left side of the main assembly hall, you can see a large chapel enshrining an 11-meter-high Maitreya Buddha statue. On its right side, there is the Tara Buddha Hall housing a two-meter-high white bronze Tara statue with clay sculptures of green Tara statues on both sides.
Tashilhunpo Monastery Kora
Another highlight of Tashilhunpo Monastery is its beautiful kora that circles Tashilhunpo Monastery. It’s a great pleasure and unique experience to follow the pilgrims to walk along this fascinating Kora in the morning, which is the best way to appreciate the religious charm of Tashilhunpo Monastery and the beautiful views of Shigatse and the surrounding countryside. Along the way, the golden prayer wheels are placed in a clockwise direction, colorful prayer flags flutter in the wind, mottled ancient murals, mani piles, and stone tablets with scriptures can be seen everywhere. For those who have sufficient time during their Tibet tour, it is highly recommended to spend another 2 hours walking around the Kora.
How to get to Tashilhunpo Monastery
Located in the western region of Shigatse, it is quite easy to reach Tashilhunpo Monastery. You can even see its golden woof afar on the National Road G318. Once you are in Shigatse, it is possible to reach this monastery within 30 minutes’ walk. As the second-largest city of Tibet, Shigatse is well connected by air, railway, and road. You can take a flight to Shigatse directly from Chengdu, or take an overland tour or a train to Shigatse from Lhasa. The most popular way is to travel along the southern Friendship Highway to Shigatse from Lhasa, and usually take about 8 hours, no matter take a private Tibet tour or join a Tibet group tour.
Useful Travel Tips
- It is suitable for traveling here all year round, however, summer is the best time to travel here as the scenery of its surroundings is in the best shape.
- A great time to visit Tashilhunpo Monastery is during the Thangka Unveiling Festival.
- Photography in places inside the monastic buildings is severely restricted, you may ask for permission from the lamas and sometimes you may need to pay for it. The cost varies from CN¥75 per chapel up to CN¥150 in the assembly hall. In some chapels, it takes CN¥1,000 to CN¥1,800 to make a video.
- International travelers are not permitted to travel independently to visit Tashilhunpo Monastery, they are required to book a private tour or join a group tour with Tibet permit, a licensed tour guide, a private car with a driver from one of the local travel agencies.
- Upon your stepping into the monastery, you need to walk clockwise from left to right.
- There are lots of rooms with complicated layouts in the monastery, letting it easily get lost when you are there, hence, we would highly recommend you to keep up with your guide to visit the monastery.