(PRWEB) June 15, 2012
Tibet has hundreds of temples, forts, palaces, monasteries and historic ruins. For first-time visitors it can be daunting figuring out which places to visit on a limited budget and schedule. Explore Tibet, a Lhasa-based Tibet travel agency that focuses on responsible tourism, has put together a guide to help travelers understand the historic and religious significance of Tibet’s major palaces and temples.
Fortunately for most tourists, many of the most famous religious centers are located in or around Lhasa, the starting point for most Tibet tours:
- The Potala Palace is the symbolic center of Tibetan life. Sitting on Red Hill and rising 300 meters from the floor of the Lhasa Valley, it was built by the 5th Dalai Lama in the 17th century, has over 1,000 rooms in 13 stories and is the traditional home of the Dalai Lama and the seat of Tibetan government.
- Jokhang Temple, considered the most sacred temple in Tibetan Buddhism, was constructed by Songtsan Gampo in the 7th century. The king’s two wives, one a princess from Nepal and the other a princess from the Tang dynasty court, each brought with them to Lhasa a statue of the Buddha as a child. These two holy relics are now housed in the Temple, frequently visited by scholars, pilgrims, and tourists.
- Sera and Drepung monasteries are two of the three most important religious and scholastic institutions of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Drepung, located at the foot of Mt. Gephel a short distance from Lhasa city, was once the world’s largest monastery, housing more than 10,000 monks. The Sera monastery, located just north of Lhasa, was built in the 15th century. It is renowned in the Buddhist world for the scholastic achievement of the monks who study there, and lively debates on the nature and principles of Buddhist philosophy occur in the traditional style on a daily basis.
Outside of Lhasa there are many important religious centers known for their role in Tibetan history and their remote and beautiful locations, including:
- Samye Monastery, located by the shore of the Brahmaputra River, about 220 kilometers from Lhasa, was built in the 8th century by the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen. Since the time of the first king of Tibet in the previous century, Buddhism had lost favor with the people. The king wished to revitalize the practice by building a new center of monastic training. The beautiful riverside location of this monastery draws many visitors.
- Rongbuk Monastery, at an altitude of about 5,000 meters, is the highest monastery on earth. It belongs to the Nyingma sect, the oldest of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Shrines within the monastery are devoted to Sakyamuni, also called simply Buddha, and Guru Rinpoche, the sage guru responsible for the spread of Buddhist teachings throughout Tibet in the 8th century. It lies at the north end of Rongbuk Valley, with spectacular views of Mt. Everest and the surrounding Himalayan peaks. The monastery houses about 30 monks and nuns year-round, and offers a guest house for travelers and climbers.
- The heart of the city of Shigatse is the Tashilhunpo Monastery, an important Tibetan cultural center established in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama. The monastery is the traditional home of the Panchen Lama, considered to be the most important spiritual leader in Tibet after the Dalai Lama himself. The Tashilhunpo Thangka display occurs every year during the second week of the fifth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar. The three paintings represent the past, present, and future, and attendance at the ceremony brings blessings to the visitor for the coming year.
Explore Tibet is a Tibetan-run Tibet tour agency focused on responsible tourism and sustainable practice.