Shigatse (Xigaze, 250 kilometers, five hours by road, west of Lhasa) is the second largest city in Tibet, with a population of maybe 100,000 people. It is the center of the Red Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism and the seat of the Panchen Lama, who has traditionally lived in Tashihunpo Monastery. Although he has no political authority some regard him as more of a spiritual authority than the Dalai Lama. Like the Dalai he is regarded as a bodhisattva. Shigatse is also spelled Xigaze.
Like Lhasa, Shigatse has become overun with Chinese. Thousands of residents are Chinese. There are Chinese-style billboards, Chinese-style buildings and streets with Chinese names. Shigatse boasts a new US$7 million ship-shaped central shopping center built with money donated from the Shanghai government. Among its attractions are state-of-the-art bowling alley. In front of the shopping center is a sculpture of Chinese woman in go go boots and a miniskirt holding a "belt of friendship" with a Tibetan woman in traditional clothing.
Shigatse's tallest building is 10 stories. It was built with a US$10 million from the Shandong provincial government. It features a wine cellar and massage parlor. Many people feel that money would have been better spent on something like a water treatment plant or streetlights.
Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Lonely Planet Lonely Planet Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Getting There: Shigatse is accessible by train, bus, minibus, taxi or hired vehicle from Lhasa.
Between Lhasa to Shigatze
On the third full day of my six-day Lhasa-Everest tour, we took the long-scenic route from Lhasa to Shigatze. Stops along the way included viewpoints from the tops of passes and places along Lake Yambdrok, We also stopped at a large mountain glacier not far from Lake Yamdrok.
From Lhasa, the Tibet-Nepal Friendship Highway follows the Kyi Chu river for about 60 kilometers (40 miles) up to the confluence with the Yarlung Tsangpo River (Brahmaputra) at Chushul. The main route continues along the Yarlung valley up to Shigatse, Tibet's second-largest city and formerly the home of the Panchen Lamas. A subsidiary branch crosses the Yarlung Tsangpo at Chushul and crosses the 4,800 meters (15,750 feet) high Gampa La, passes along turquoise Yamdrok Yutso lake before crossing the 5,045 meters (16,550 feet) high Karo La at the foot of Noijin Kangsang, and following downstream the Nyang Chu valley through Gyantse up to Shigatse. [Source: Wikipedia]
Gyangze (230 kilometers west-southwest of Lhasa, 100 kilometers southeast of of Shigatse) is the forth largest city in Tibet. It contains 68 chapels, 15th-century murals, a dzong (fort) attacked by the British in 1904, Kumbum (a lovely stupa built in 1440) and the Palkhor Monastery. Baiju Monastery in central Gyangze is a monastery that embraces all sects of Buddhism. Inside is Wanfo Pagoda, which took 8 million man hours to build and has 11 stories, 108 doors, 77 halls and shrines and walls containing tens of thousands of murals and inscriptions. Website: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
Palcho Monastery (in Gyangze) is very different from other monasteries. Situated at the foot of Dzong Hill, it was founded in 1427 and completed 10 years later. The compound housed approximately 15 different monasteries, made up of three different sects (Gelugpa, Sakyapa, and Kahdampa) in a rare instance of tolerance amongst the Tibetan sects ofBuddhism. It is the only monastery that housed monks from different sects in harmony. As a result, its structural style, enshrined deities, and murals are very special. [Source: chinaculture.org, Chinadaily.com.cn, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China, October 27, 2005]
Palcho Monastery (also called Palkhor Monastery) features a Bodhi stupa (Kumbum in Tibetan, meaning hall of 10,000 Buddhist figures). Deemed as the symbol of the monastery, the spectacular stupa (Buddhist shrine) consists of hundreds of chapels in layers, housing about a hundred thousand figures of Buddha, Bodhisattvas, Vajras (thunderbolt symbols), Dharma Kings, Arhats (enlightened Buddhists), and disciples and great experts of different orders in Tibetan Buddhist history. The stupa also contains roughly 3,000 statues of outstanding figures in Tibetan history such as Songtsen Gampo and Trisong Detsen, so it is also called Myriad Buddha Stupa. Covering a space of 2,200 square meters, the stupa has a total 108 gates and 77 chapels, each of which has a dominant religious figure and murals. The cylinder, 20 meters in diameter, has four chapels inside. The elegant structure is worth a visit.
Lake Yamdrok (60 kilometers southwest of Lhasa and 150 kilometers east of Shiagtse) snakes in between mountain slopes and has delightful turquoise color, freezing only a few weeks in the year (usually in February). There are fish in the lake but nobody fishes there due to the Tibetan custom of water burials.
Yamdrok Lake is one of the largest lakes in Tibet and one of the three scared lakes in Tibet along with Manasarovar Lake and Namtso. The largest inland lake near the northern part of the Himalayas, it covers 638 square kilometers. Snow-capped mountains surround the lake, which is fed by many small streams. Within the lake are small green islands that act as resting grounds for groups of wild birds. Buddhist followers believe the water can wash away "five malignancies of the human soul (greed, anger, craziness, sloth and jealousy)" and can remove uncleanliness from human skin. As a result, the holy lake is crowded with people who come to take a bath there every year. These people also carry water from the holy lake on their long journeys back home, and share it with their relatives and friends. [Source: chinaculture.org, Chinadaily.com.cn, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]
Four bathing gates lead to the holy lake: the Gate of Lotus Baths in the east, the Gate of Sweat Baths in the south, the Gate of Filth-Removing Baths in the west, and the Gate of Belief Baths in the north. The holy lake also has four headwaters: Maquanhe River in the east, Shiquanhe River in the north, Xiangquanhe River in the west, and Kongquehe River in the south. The four rivers are named after the four supernatural animals in paradise — the horse, lion, elephant and peacock. They are are also the origins of four well-known rivers in South Asia: the Ganges, Indus River, Sutlei River andYarlung Tsangpo River. Mapam Yumco Lake's reputation as mother of the rivers in the world was probably established due to this.
The water of the lake is regarded as dew bestowed from heaven. Drinking it or dipping oneself in it helps build up healthy qualities, removes annoyance and prolongs life. Tibetans deem all fish or feathers they take from the lake or lakeside as gifts from the Dragon King. This is why people who come to take a ritual walk around the holy mountain Kangrinboqe also walk around the lake. Many tend to prostrate themselves and then crawl to complete a circuit in a week. Admission: Yamdrok Lake: 40 yuan; Best time to visit: May to September
New Train Between Lhasa and Shigatze
In Shigatse I split from the group and took the new train from Shigatze to Lhasa. It opened in August 2014, reducing a six hour drive to a three hour rail journey. The new train was nice enough: it follows the Brahmaputra River — which originates in Tibet and grows into a great river before emptying into the sea in Bangladesh. The scenery was interesting despite the predominate brown winter color of the lanscape. My guide said the best of time of the year to travel through here was in the spring when the peach blossoms were in bloom. The Lhasa-Shigatse train is the first completed section of a 10-year project to link Lhasa with the Silk Road city of Kashgar in far western China by rail. I was unable to take the Shigatse-Lhasa train by myself. My guide had to take the train from Lhasa to Shigatse to meet me and accompany me on my journey to Lhasa.
Saransh Sehgal wrote in the Asia Times: “In 2010, China started work on a railway line that connects Shigatse to Lhasa. The 253-kilometer line climbs over a pass at 5,072 meters above sea level, making it the highest railway in the world. Nearly half of the new link runs through tunnels and over bridges. Officials plan two more extensions, including a proposed route to the Nepalese border." [Source: Saransh Sehgal, Asia Times, October 5, 2010]
“The rail line is part of a building boom in transport infrastructure to improve links between the remote regions of Tibet and northwest Xinjiang province with mainland China. Chinese officials say the line will promote tourism and access to natural resources in the region, but it is clear that it will also ensure the speedy mobilization of troops and equipment to these occupied areas in future." [Ibid]
“Critics say that the rail line will allow the Han, China's majority ethnic group, to flood into Tibet, marginalizing the Tibetans in their own region. Samphel Thupten, a spokesman for the exile government in Dharamsala, India, said Tibetans had already become a minority in their own land. He pointed out that vast deposits of minerals had been found it Tibet, and that China would move more Han Chinese to Tibetan areas to exploit these riches. [Ibid]
“Critics also say that the rail line will lead to environmental degradation in the largely pristine Tibetan region. But Chinese state planners argue that the route extension is designed to bypass pristine areas, use the least land resources and create the least pollution. “The railway will detour around nature reserves and drinking water sources," said Zhang Qingli, Tibet's Communist Party chief." [Ibid]
“Other opponents of the rail link see it as a provocation of China's neighbor. “The railway line between Lhasa and Shigatse will further aggravate the tension between India and China. Both Asian giants have hugely militarized their sides of the 4,200-kilometer Himalayan border," said Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan independence activist quoted by exile news portal Phayul." [Ibid]
Tashilunba Monetary (in Shigatse) contains the largest Gelug (Yellow Hat) Sect Temple in Tibet and the home of the Panchen Lama. Situated on the slopes of Neseri Mountain, it contains a large Palace Hall and a large Scripture Hall. The latter contains the 80-foot-high Maitreya, the largest copper Buddha in the world. Records show that this Buddha was cast from 6,700 ounces of gold and over 115,000 kilograms of copper. At its peak the monastery contained 4,000 monks, now it only has 600. In 1989, a giant gold reliquary chorten was constructed for the body of the 10th Panchen Lama.
Also called the Heap of Glory, Tashilhunpo Monastery was founded in 1447 by the First Dalai Lama. According to historical documents, the Tashilhungpo Monastery was built under the supervision of the first Dalai Lama Genden Zhuba, a disciple of Master Tsongkhapa (Zongkapa), founder of the Gelug Sect (Yellow Sect). When the fourth Panchen Lobsan Qoigyi, titled by the Qing (1644-1911) emperor, became the abbot, it was expanded to a large scale. Since then, the monastery has become the residence of the Panchen Lama.
Tashilhungpo means auspicious Sumeru. It is one of the Big Six Monasteries of the Gelug (Yellow Hat) sect of Buddhism in Tibet and is one of the "Four Famous Monasteries" of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism (the other three being Sera, Drepung, and Ganden in the Lhasa area). Tashilhungpo occupies 150,000 square meters. Facing south, the complex is built symmetrically against the Nyima Mountain. Its wall, over 3,000 meters long and built according to the topography of the mountain, surrounds 57 buildings, with more than 3,600 rooms.
The Tashilhungpo Monastery boasts priceless Buddha statues, Buddha stupas (shrines), and tangka paintings, as well as handwritten Pattra Leaf Sutra (literature), and Gangyur written in gold power ink. In addition, it has a rich collection of porcelain, enamel, and glassware passed down from various dynasties. Frescoes in the Tashilhungpo Monastery are unique in that they feature changing shapes and bright colors, constituting another masterpiece of Tibetan Buddhist art. All these are valuable for Tibetan studies. Admission: 55 yuan; Hours Open: 9:00 to 5:00pm (closed for lunch from 12:00 to 14:00). Best time to go: In August on the Tibetan calendar each year.
Panchen Lama and Tashilhungpo Monastery
The Panchen Lama is the second highest religious figure in Tibet after the Dalai Lama. Regarded as a reincarnation of Amitabha (Buddha of Infinite Light), he is the head of a branch of Buddhism that rivals the branch headed by the Dalai Lama, and was promoted by Beijing after the Chinese invasion in 1959 as the sole leader of Tibetan Buddhism. [Source: Seth Faison, New York Times; Isabel Hilton, New Yorker, August 23, 1999]
Shigatse, has traditionally been the seat of the Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama has traditionally lived in Tashihunpo Monastery in Shigatse. Although he has no political authority some regard him as more of a spiritual authority than the Dalai Lama. Like the Dalai he is regarded as a bodhisattva. The Panchen Lama theoretically is selected in process similar to the one that is used to find the Dalai Lama. The selection traditionally been handled by the lamas at Tashihunpo Monastery. Only during the final stages are high officials like the Dalai Lama brought in.
The current 11th Panchen Lama — the one chosen by Beijing anyway — has only visited Tashilhungpo a few times and spends most of his time in Beijing (the Panchen Lama recognized by the Dalai Lama disappeared more than a decade and half ago when he was three and hasn’t been seen since).
The 10th Panchen Lama visited the monastery at the age of 51 in the 1989 — after spending years in solitary confinement and under house arrest in Beijing — and suddenly died shortly after giving a speech critical of Chinese policy in Tibet. The official cause of death was listed as a heart attack but many Tibetans believe he was poisoned. The night of his death, according to an article in The New Yorker, some mysterious Chinese men reportedly showed up in his room. After his death his body was embalmed and gilded and interred in a stupa at Tashilhunpo Monastery. His daughter was brought up in the house of the actor Steven Segal in Brentwood, California. The Panchen Lama theoretically is selected in process similar to the one that is used to find the Dalai Lama. The selection traditionally been handled by the lamas at Tashihunpo Monastery. Only during the final stages are high officials like the Dalai Lama brought in.
Buildings of Tashilhungpo Monastery
The earliest building in the monastery is the Coqen Hall (Large Scripture Hall), whose construction lasted 12 years. Inside are 48 red pillars, which support the ceiling. In the center of the hall is the throne of the Panchen. To the left of the hall is the Great Buddha Hall, built in 1461 with financial support from Jorwo Zhabung, king of Guge Kingdom in Ngari. Inside stands the 11-meter-tall, benevolent-looking Maitreya. To the right of the hall is the Tara Hall, which houses a two-meter-tall bronze statue of White Tara and two clay statues of Green Tara. The interior is decorated with schist collected at the foot of the Himalayas and radiates a peaceful aura. In front of the hall is a 600-square-meter area where the Panchen gives Buddhist lectures and lamas discuss Buddhist scriptures. On the surrounding stone walls are engravings of the images of the Buddhism founder, the four Heavenly Kings, the 18 arhats and 1,000 statues of Buddha with different facial expressions. In the middle of the northern wall are engraved images of sages such as Zongkapa, the founder of the Yellow Sect, 80 senior monks and variously styled flying apsaras and Bodhisattva. [Source: China Tibet Information Center, zt.tibet.cn]
“Gyinalhakang, the Han Chinese Buddhist Temple, houses many gifts to the Panchen from the Chinese emperors of past dynasties, such as ancient porcelain wares, gold and silver goblets, tea sets, bowls and plates, jade containers and refined fabrics. The earliest objects, the nine bronze Buddha statues, are said to have been brought to Tibet by Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty (618-906). A red Tara bronze statue is believed to have been made in the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368). A 16.5-jin gold seal, inscribed with the three languages of Chinese, Mongolian and Tibetan, is a gift from an emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) (1616-1911). There are also Buddhist beads made of precious stone, imperial mandates and Buddhist scriptures. Inside the hall hangs a huge picture of a Qing-dynasty emperor in kasaya holding a Dharma wheel. Before the picture is a tablet inscribed with Long live Emperor Daoguang (reigning 1821-1851). When the emperor issued a decree, the Panchen would kowtow to express his gratitude before the tablet after receiving it. The side hall of the Han Chinese Buddhist Temple is the meeting room where the Qing-dynasty grand minister resident of Tibet and the Panchen used to meet.
“West of the Tashilhungpo Monastery is the Qamba Buddha Hall, which was built in 1914 under the supervision of the ninth Panchen Qoigyi Nyima. The hall is 30 meters high and covers 862 square meters. In the hall, the bronze statue of Qamba Buddha is the highest of its kind in the world. It took 110 workers four years to finish casting it. The statue used 6,700 taels of gold and 115,000-odd kilograms of copper. The statue sits on a 3.8-meter-high lotus seat. It is 26.2 meters high, his shoulder 11.5 meters wide, his foot 4.2 meters long, his hand 3.2 meters long, his middle finger 1.2 meters long and his ear 2.8 meters long. Between his eyes are inlaid a total of 1,400 pieces of diamond of various sizes, pearls, amber, coral and other precious stones.
“In 1985, the State Council allocated special funds to renovate the divine pagoda of the fifth to ninth Panchen Lamas, which had been destroyed during the 1966-1976 cultural revolution. Under the personal supervision of the 10th Panchen, the sacrificial hall built to the memory of past Panchen Lamas was named Tashinamgyi (Auspicious Heaven), which opened on January 22, 1989. The whole project lasted three years and eight months. Covering a floor space of 1,933 square meters, the hall is 33.17 meters high, inside which the divine pagoda is 11.52 meters high. The gilded pagoda is covered with a layer of silver and inlaid with precious stones. Its decorative patterns look grand and solemn. The remains of the Panchen Lamas in five sandalwood boxes are placed inside. In its center is the bronze statue of the ninth Panchen Qoigyi Nyima, while the walls of the hall present murals depicting the contributions of famous lamas of different sects.
“Deqen Galsang Phodrang is the summer palace of the Panchen Lama. The summer palace of the Panchen Lama was originally built in Gongjor Lingka; thus, it is also called Gongjor Ling Palace. In 1954, the Nyang Qu River flooded due to snow avalanche and the rare floods destroyed the Gongjor Ling Palace. Because of the concern of the late Premier Zhou Enlai, the state allocated funds to build Deqen Galsang Phodrang, which was called New Palace. Located east of Shigatse city, the palace comprises the living quarters for the Panchen Lama, his office and five sacrificial rooms enshrining more than 100 Buddhist statues. The building complex looks classical and elegant, with verdant trees and lush grass and flowers. The 10th Panchen Lama died there and, four months later, his body was moved to the Tashilhungpo Monastery where he was buried and worshipped.
Stupa of the 10th Panchen Lama
The 10th Panchen Erdeni Qoigyi Gyaincain passed away on an inspection tour to Shigatse on January 20, 1989. Three days later, the State Council decided to build a sacrificial hall and a stupa to enshrine the body of the 10th Panchen Lama for people to pay their respects and to memorialize his love for the country and his devotion to Tibetan Buddhism. [Source: chinaculture.org, Chinadaily.com.cn, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]
After the design was carefully chosen, the construction started on September 20, 1990. The state allocated 64.24 million yuan (US$7.93 million) of special funds, and 614 kilograms of gold and 275 kilograms of silver for the hall's construction. The project lasted three years. A grand inaugural ceremony was held on September 4, 1993 and the hall was named Shesongnamgyi, meaning sacrificial hall for the three sages of Paradise, Human World, and Nether World.
On August 30, 1993, the body of the 10th Panchen Lama was moved into the stupa. The body was first put in a sandalwood bier, which was then put into a specially made safety cabinet and finally moved into the Precious Bottle in the stupa. At the entrance is a life-size statue of the 10th Panchen Lama. Around the body are a variety of religious articles, such as a kasaya, tangka painting scrolls, Buddha statues, and scriptures.
Shigatse connects with Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim (state in India) in the south, Ngari in the west, Nagqu in the north, and Lhasa and Shannan in the east. It occupies an area of 182,000 square kilometers, 800 kilometers from east to west and 220 kilometers from north to south, with a border 1,753 kilometers long. [Source: chinaculture.org, Chinadaily.com.cn, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]
Historically called Tsang, Shigatse has been an important administrative district of Tibet since ancient times. Because Tsang is located mostly along the upper Yarlung Tsangpo River, it was also called Houtsang, a name still used today. Under the prefecture's jurisdiction are the city of Shigatse, 17 counties, and Zham port, the largest State trade port in Tibet. The city of Shigatse, site of the Shigatse Administrative Office, is the second largest city in Southwest China's Tibet, with a history of more than 600 years.
The prefecture has a population of about 650,000, of which Tibetans make up 95 percent; the other 5 percent is composed of Han Chinese and 15 other ethnic groups, such as Hui, Monggol, Tu, Manchu, Miao, and Zhuang. There are also about 1,875 Xia'erba people. The population in Shigatse forms one-fourth of the population in Tibet Autonomous Region, and the population density is 3.3 people per square kilometer. Most of the people live in the Yarlung Tsangpo River area, while the western pastoral area is sparsely inhabited.
Geography of Shigatse Prefecture
Shigatse is located mostly between the middle of the Himalayas and the middle of the Kangdese-Nyenchen Tanglha (Nyainqentanglha) ranges. The southern and northern terrains are high, while the South Tibet Plateau and the Yarlung Tsangpo River constitute the low-lying middle area. Formed basically of high mountains, wide valleys, lakes, and basins, this land has a varied topography with an average elevation of more than 4,000 meters.
The Himalayas, which stretch across southern Shigatse, is the youngest and highest mountain range in the world, with an average elevation of more than 6,000 meters. In that area, five peaks are more than 8,000 meters high — Mount Qomolangma (also known as Mount Everest — 8,848.13 meters), Mount Lhoze (8,516 meters), Mount Kab (8,463 meters), Mount Qowowuyag (8,201 meters), and Mount Xixabangma (8,012 meters). Mount Qomolangma, located on the border between Shigatse and Nepal, is the world's highest peak, the roof of the world. In addition, there are 14 peaks that stand more than 7,000 meters above sea level. Besides those mentioned above are high mountains such as Karru La, Gyaco La, Ma La, Zom La, Lhagyi, and Mari La. All these mountains are spectacular natural views ideal for sightseeing, exploring, and conducting scientific investigations.
The upper southern Tibetan basin along the Yarlung Tsangpo and Nyang Qu rivers is the largest grain production area in Shigatse, and consists of parts of the densely populated Larze-Rinbung valley and Gyangze-Shigatse plain. Other plains include the Penqoi River valley on the southern Tibet Plateau at the northern foot of the Himalayas and some sparsely scattered small river valleys. These plains sprawl on gentle slopes, with thick soil, temperate climate, and plentiful water. With natural conditions suitable for growing crops, they form the major farming areas in Shigatse.
Monasteries Near Shigatse
Xialu Monastery (20 kilometers from Shigatse) was built in the 11th century. It was once the residence of a great scholar, who contributed greatly to Tibetan Buddhismin the 1st century. The monastery's architecture is a typical combination of Tibetan and Chinese styles with archways, carved pillars, tiledroofs, and Song- and Yuan-style murals, differentiating it from other monasteries in Tibet. [Source: chinaculture.org, Chinadaily.com.cn, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China, October 27, 2005]
In addition to the various statues of Buddha, the monastery has four treasures of inestimable value, including a scriptureprintingboard carved out of sandalwood, a copper jar for holy water, a stone basin which is said to have been used by Shaja Banzhida, and a stone board engraved with the nature-made six-character principle. Concerning the last treasure, an exquisite mini stupa is engraved on each of the four corners. It is said that this board was unearthed when the construction of the monastery first started.
Sakya Sakya Monastery (180 kilometers west of Shigatse) is a wonderful place with blue stone houses that look something you would see in Yemen. This large monastery has thick red wooden doors with prayer scarves tied to the handles, chapels reached by rough-hewn ladders, and a library containing tens of thousands of ancient books and high ceilings. The books were spared because the Red Guards did not find the library. Sakya contains a collection of religious relics that may be viewed by visitors with some restrictions by the monks.
The Because the monastery walls have three separate stripes — red, white, and blue, representing Wisdom Buddha, Bodhisattva, and Buddha's warrior attendants — the Sakya Sect is also called the Stripe Sect. The main hall of the Southern Monastery occupies 5,700 square meters, with 40 red pillars supporting the ceiling. The four in the center are the thickest, and the thickest of the four — Gyina Seqen Garna, meaning pillar sent by the emperor — is 1.5 meters in diameter. The second thickest is named Chongbo Garwa, meaning pillar sent by the wild yak; the third thickest is Dabo Garwa, meaning pillar sent by the tiger; and the fourth thickest is Nabo Chaza Garwa, meaning bleeding pillar sent by the sea god.
Sakya (Sagya) Monastery has been called the "Second Dunhuang," a reference to the Buddhist caves in Gansu Province that are filled with art and historically-useful items that date to the A.D. 5th century. Sakya boasts many classical books, relics, and rich and precious mural paintings, the finest collection of remaining Tibetan religious relics. More than 40,000 volumes of books are housed there. The temple also stores 21 volumes of Buddhist scriptures on pattra leaves (originally over 100 volumes). On each pattra are Buddhist scriptures written in Sanskrit. Each volume contains 100 to 200 pages, including four-color illustrations.
Also in the monastery are ancient porcelain wares, jade bowls, gold-gilt Buddha statues, armors, musical instruments used in Buddhist mass, robes, boots, seals, tangka painting scrolls, satins and silks, and numerous other rare relics presented to the Prince of Dharma in Sakya by emperors of the Central Plains through the dynasties. The murals in the monaster are regarded as the epitome of Tibetan art. They depict Buddhist stories, portraits of Princes of Dharma of Sakya through the dynasties, Pagba's meeting with Kublai Khan, and the construction scene of the Sakya Monastery. Wrought in a vigorous, meticulous style, the murals, as rare artifacts, are fresh and lively with various compositions. Web Site: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
History of Sakya Monastery
Sakya Monastery was Tibet's most powerful more than 700 years ago, and is the ancestral monastery of the Sakya Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Sakya originally comprised the Northern and Southern monasteries, but only the Southern Monastery remains today. In 1073, Kun Gongjor Gyibo, founder of the Sakya Sect, built a white palace on the gray clay hill on the northern bank of the Chun Qu River, and named it Sakya (meaning "gray clay"), which became the ancestral monastery of the Sakya Sect. But now only wall ruins remain, called the Northern Monastery. In 1268, Pagba built the Southern Sakya Monastery. The monastery evolved to its present stae under the renovation and expansion of his descendants. The monastery occupies 45,000 square meters, and its surrounding wall is five meters high and nearly two meters thick. On each of the four corners stands a watchtower. [Source: chinaculture.org, Chinadaily.com.cn, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]
In the largest renovation during the Pagba time — the period of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) in Central China — a number of Chinese Han craftsmen were employed for the work, thus making the Sakya Monastery a combination of Tibetan, Mongolian, and Han architectural styles with obvious influences from the Tibetan religion. With the Sakya Monastery as the political, economic, and cultural center of Tibet, the Kuns steadily developed the Sakya Sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
Five descendants from the Kuns made great contributions to the founding of the Sakya Sect, so they were hailed as the five founders of the sect. Gonggar Nyingbo, who inherited and spread the Buddhist Neo-Secret Sect, Soinam Chemo, who advocated the recruitment of disciples for the Neo-Secret Sect, and Zhaba Gyaincain, Soinam Chemo's younger brother who excelled in both the Open and Secret sects, were called the Three Founders in White by later generations, as all three married and had children. The other two were called the Two Founders in Red, as they who became lamas, abided by Buddhist principles, and excelled in Buddhism. They were Gonggar Gyaincain, who was knowledgeable and respected as a man of wisdom, and Pagba, a famous Buddhist scholar and political activist.
During the times of Gonggar Gyaincain and Pagba, they visited the emperors of the Yuan Dynasty twice, thus making great, historical progress in integrating Tibet into the territory of China. In 1260, Pagba was granted the title of State Master by the Kubla Khan of the Yuan Dynasty, and later, the titles of Great King of Dharma and Teacher of the Emperor.
The Yuan Dynasty conducted a census in Tibet, established a prefecture that ruled 130,000 households, set up posts, sent troops to the region, and appointed head officials of Sakya to represent the Central Government in tackling political affairs in the area, thus establishing the ruling status of the Sakya Sect in Tibet. The Yuan Government also set up the General Council (later the Political Council) to administer national religious affairs and administrative affairs in Tibet.
Yarlung Tsangpo (Upper Brahmaputra) River Region
The Yarlung Tsangpo River region (South of Lake Yamdrok) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Covering the valley of the middle reach of Yarlung Tsangpo River, its branches and some lakes on the Tibetan Plateau, Yarlung Tsangpo River region (Yalong) is the cradle of Tibetan culture. The extant relics, artifacts and ancient sites demonstrate the early civilization of the Tibetans, including their early religion, culture, arts and society. Yarlung Tsangpo River region covers an area of 1350 square kilometers. It is an area of high cultural and natural value on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. This region belongs to plateau temperate semi-arid monsoon climate, with strong sunshine, strong radiation and thin air. Average annual temperature is 8. 3 degrees and annual rainfall is between 330 and 390 millimeters. Average annual total radiation in Zedang is 172kcal/square cm. The average atmospheric pressure is between 60,000Pa and 70,000Pa. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]
“The middle reach of Yarlung Tsangpo River is the biggest valley region on the Tibetan Plateau. The discontinuous ultra basic rocks and exotic rocks demonstrate the action of crust and Earth mantle. The snow mountains, gorges and lakes create unique ecological types and demonstrate rich plateau landscapes. Because Yarlung Tsangpo River cuts through the Himalayas and opens a passageway for the warm and wet atmosphere from the Bangladesh Bay to flow into the valley of Yarlung Tsangpo River region, favorable water and heat conditions have been provided for the early development of the Tibetans.
“More than ten thousand years ago, the ancestors of the Tibetans chose here as their place for settlement and formed their unique way of living. In the 3rd century B. C. , Yarlung Tsangpo River region tribes were formed and in 217 B. C. the first Tibetan king created a slavery system kingdom. As the origin of the Tibetan culture, Yarlung Tsangpo River region have seen early agriculture and animal husbandry development and the development of unique Tibetan culture. Here one can find well-kept early gathering places, palaces, temples, burial grounds and manors. The early Tibetan characters, poems, operas, medicine, astronomy and calendars were also created here. As the origin of Tibetan Buddhism, the role of the ancient temples in the region is irreplaceable. It was from here that the Tibetan Buddhism gradually influenced Tibet and the vast area of west and northern China.
“Two out of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in Tibet — Habu Mountain and Gongburi Mountain — and sacred lake — Lamunamucuo (meaning “the lake of Mother Buddha “) are in this region. Every reincarnated boy of the previous Dalai is found with the revelation of the sacred lake. This region is also the place where the earliest Tibetan characters and operas were created.” [Coordinates: 28°40'-29°30' N / 90°50'-92°20' E]
Geology and Ecosystems of Yarlung Tsangpo River region
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The geological structure of this region is very complicated. The area to the north of Yarlung Tsangpo River belongs to Mesozoic depression belt and late Yanshan Era-Himalayas Era granite of northern Gangdisi Mountain Range;the area to the south of the River is metamorphic flysch rock belt of northern Himalayas. In this region, the Quaternary strata are thick and well developed and are dotted with a lot of gyittja, river facies sediment and glacial drifts of different glacial periods. The relative height between high peaks and low valleys is 1500 meters. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]
“With the interaction of glaciers and rivers, magnificent scenes of high mountains, grand rivers and big valleys were created. Many hot springs, waterfalls and karst caves can also be found here. Yarlung Tsangpo River is the highest large river in the world. A section of about 302 kilometers of the Yarlung Tsangpo River is in this region, with an average elevation of more than 3,000 meters. The East-West straight valley is a typical tectonic valley developed on the margin zone of Indian Plate in the south and Eurasian Plate in the north.
“The maximum flow of the river is 3,250 cubic meters per second. The widest place in the valley of the middle reach of the river is 7 kilometers. The river develops into a network shape and the wide valley forms the Zedang plain area. Yarlung Tsangpo River region River, a branch of Yarlung Tsangpo River, originates in the northern part of Cuomeisangwula Mountain, takes in the melted snow water from Yadongtianxiangbu snow mountain (elevation 6, 635. 8m;with large area of modern glacier), and flows into Yarlung Tsangpo River at Zedang Plain.
“Yamdrok Lake, a plateau lake and one of the three “sacred lakes” of Tibet, is formed by river sediment clogging the original tree-like river course. The lake, with an elevation of 4, 445 meters and maximum depth of 60 m, covers an area of 638 square kilometers. The clear lake and the swamps and meadows by the lake together create extremely beautiful scenery. In this region there is rich bio-diversity and one finds typical natural vertical belts:temperate grassland belt-alpine grassland belt-alpine tall grass meadow belt-alpine frigid sparse vegetation on alpine scree belt (snow peeks). The vegetation in the valley is shrubs dotted by trees. There are 683 species of common plants, 7 species of ferns, 7 species of gymnosperm and 669 species of angiosperm. Animals under state grade one protection are Equuskiang, Grusnigricollis, Teteraogallus tibetanus, Cervusalbirostris and argali. Yamdrok Lake, the “fish storage of Tibet”, is abundant in fish, mainly schizothorax and plateau carp. There are a dozen bird islands on the lake.”
Early History of Yarlung Tsangpo River region
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Yarlung Tsangpo River region is where the ancestors of the Tibetans lived and is the cradle of the Tibetan culture. A lot of early Tibetan cultural artifacts and sites demonstrate the religious, social, cultural and scientific and technological development at that time. Before 633 A. D. , when Songzanganbu unified Tibet and moved his cultural center to Lhasa, Yarlung Tsangpo River region had always been the political and cultural center of Tibet and had been playing an important role. Changguo Ruins, a complete relics site of a primitive village in Neolithic Age, demonstrate that this was the place where the Tibetans settled 10,000 years ago. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]
“According to ancient Tibetan books, the legend that the Tibetans were the offspring of monkeys and fairy has its origin in this region. The agriculture and animal husbandry here have always been quite developed. The valleys in the middle reach of Yarlung Tsangpojiang River and the valleys of Yalog. River are the major agricultural region and are claimed as the “granary of Tibet”. Yangzuoyongcuo Lake is one of the important ranges in Tibet due to rich grass around the lake. The first palace in the history of Tibet-Yongbulakang Palace was built in the 2nd century B. C. on the top of the Zhaxiciri Mountain. The magnificent palace demonstrated typical Tibetan style. Later Dalai V expanded and rebuilt the palace into a temple, which is kept intact now.
“The first Buddhist palace in the history of Tibet-Changzhu Temple, built in the 7th century, was one of the first Buddhist temples built during the reign of Songzanganbu. After three expansions and improvement, the complex now covers an area of 4, 660 square meters. In the temple there is a priceless treasure — a “picture of Avalokitesvara” made of pearls. “
Temples, Monasteries and Dzongs of Yarlung Tsangpo River region
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: In 767, the first Tibetan temple with Buddha’s sculpture, Buddhist sutra and monks — Shangye Temple — was built. It was the grandest building during the Tubo Dynasty and was the political center of that time. The complex covers an area of 120,000 square meters and has a floor area of 25,000 square meters. The layout of the temple was an imitation of the ”Datura” pattern of the Indian school of Buddhism. The main hall is a combination of the building styles of Tibet, Chinese Han and India, which reflects the integration of the three cultures. “The ‘picture of Tibetan history’, claimed as the Tibetan “Records of the Historian”, is a 92 meters long mural. The 8th century classic Tibetan medical book Complete Works of Medicine was discovered nearby the temple in 1012. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]
“Qingpu, 15 kilometers away from Sangye Temple, is another place of Buddhist activities, where one can find many carya caves (carya caves are natural caves used by famous Indian monks Lianhuasheng and Jihu when they were invited to Tibet to spread Buddhism. Now about 40 such caves are well preserved), sky burial platform, springs and a lot of basreliefs on precipices and pagodas. Buried underground are “fuzang”-buried sutras to be discovered.
“The Minzhulin Temple was acclaimed as the No. 1 Seat of Learning of Tibet. It was built at the end of the 10th century and later was expanded into an institution of higher learning in the 17th century. In the temple, not only sutras, but also Sanskrit language, medicine, calendar and astronomy were studied. It also provided biannual Tibetan calendar, which is still used today. The existing buildings in the temple cover a floor, space of 100,000 square meters. The earliest and biggest royal mausoleums, the Tibetan Mausoleums, were built in the 8th century when Tibet was unified. There were originally 21 mausoleums and now only 16 remain. The graveyard covers an area of 3,050,000 square meters. The owners of 9 mausoleums have been identified. Further textual research and excavation will be needed.
“Many of the well-kept remains in the region are evidence of the important “dzong xi” administration system in the social development of Tibet. Dansati Temple was built in 1158 and is the first temple of Gaju School. In 1354 Qiangqujianzan established Pazhu Dynasty and practiced “dzong xi” system to turn Tibetan society from a slavery system into a feudal serf system. Now there are many complete “dzong” and “xi ka” remains. The “dzong” (county) includes Qiongjie Dzong (on the top of Qiangwadazi mountain;elevation 3, 800 meters;area 1, 600square meters;the current remains were built during the time of Dalai I), Qiaga Dzong, Woka Dzong, Baima Dzong. The “xi ka” (manor)includes Langsailin Manor (built in the late Tubo Dynasty and expanded to current scale in Pazhu Dynasty;the main building has 7 floors and is 22 meters high;the main building and main walls are kept intact;the buildings were built by using special construction methods using stone and earth), the 12th century Dalai Manor and Ludingpozhong. The influence of Yarlung Tsangpo River region valley on the Tibetans remains today.”
Border of India, Sikkim and Bhutan
Nathu La (300 kilometers south of Shigatse, between Tibet, India, Sikkim and Bhutan) is a 4310-meter-high (14,000-foot) Himalayan pass that opened in July 2006 after being closed for 44 years. Formally part of a Silk Road route between China and India and revived the British, it was the most important trade link between India and China, accounting for 80 percent if bilateral trade in the early 1900s.
After China and India became independent after World War II, trade boomed with 1,000 mules and horses and 700 people crossing the border on the narrow trail every day. India imported raw wool, animal hides and yak tails for use in shrines, and exported clothes, gasoline, tobacco, Rolex watches and even disassembled cars, including one for the Dalai Lama. Payment was made with sacks of Chinese silver coins. Trade continued after Tibet was invaded and didn't stop until China and India went to war in 1962. Five years later skirmishes on Nathu-la left many dead on both sides,
The reopening of Nathu La is expected to generate US$3 billion worth of trade at some point in the future but in initial phase only 39 items — including goat skins and yak tails — could be traded. Nathu La connects Tibet with Sikkim. The government in Sikkim is much more enthusiastic about the opening than New Delhi. There is one plan to build a US$500 million highway from Nathu La to western India.
Yadong (Near Nathu La) is a small frontier town located in the southern side of the middle part of the Himalayas. The area covers more than 4,000 square kilometers and is 3,000 meters above sea level. Despite its high altitude, its name means "deep valley with rushing water" in Tibetan. In addition to its lush greens, Yadong has many famous local specialties, such as Yadong fish and barley wine. The main tourist sites of Yadong are Donggar Monastery, Garju Monastery and Kangbu Hotspring. Yadong is also a major trade center between China and India.
Serkar Guthok (near the Bhutanese border in southern Tibet) contains an 11th century nine-story
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Nolls China Web site; CNTO; Perrochon photo site; Beifan.com; University of Washington; Ohio State University; UNESCO; Wikipedia; Julie Chao photo site
Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in July 2020