Top 10 Must-Visit Monasteries for Your Tibet Tour to Seek the Habitat of Spirit
If you are the kind of traveler that journeys to enrich, not just the mind and body, but also the spirit, Tibet is the perfect place for you. The monasteries of Tibet are incredibly beautiful, and their deep, spiritual atmosphere just adds to the experience. This does not mean that you must be a religious person to appreciate Tibet’s many monasteries, but surely you will feel a connection to these buildings when you visit in person.
Visiting various monasteries in Tibet would be an integral part of your unforgettable tour there. It is a way to understand the religion and customs of Tibetan people, and you may discover your own spirituality along the way, just like we did. Here are 10 great monasteries that can help you seek the habitat of spirit on your tour of Tibet.
1. Potala Palace
The Potala Palace is found in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. It was once the summer residence of the current Dalai Lama. Architecturally, the Palace looks like a fortress. Inside its formidable walls, you will find numerous halls, prayer rooms, and galleries. The structure is an architectural feat with magnificent art and artefacts inside.
To gain the most spiritual meaning, visit some of the many prayer rooms. These are perfect for you to get some quiet time and communicate with the universe. Visiting Potala Palace is a great spiritual experience that will not easily leave your mind.
2. Jokhang Temple
Also in Lhasa, Jokhang Temple is located in Barkhor Square. The beauty of this building comes from its mixture of different architectural styles, including Tibetan, Indian, and Nepalese designs. The temple was built on a former lake, which, according to legend, was converted into land just to build the temple. It is home to one of only three statues of Sakyamuni, thus giving it even deeper spiritual meaning for Tibetan Buddhists. Many devotees will come here every year to make the pilgrimage around the temple.
In the streets surrounding the temple and inside it, you will find quite a mixture of people. Many Tibetan monks line the streets, and other devoted Buddhists from across Tibet and beyond are here to visit the site. Along with spiritually minded Tibetans, you will see tourists snapping pictures, and locals selling wares in the streets. The quiet hubbub of the city is inflected with a deep tone of spirituality, making this a truly unique site.
3. Ramoche Temple
Considered by many to be the sister monastery of Jokhang Temple, Ramoche Temple is located north-west of Lhasa. Some consider it the second most important monastery to Tibetan Buddhism. This place has a deep-rooted history dating back to about the 8th century when it was reportedly built to serve as home to the second of the three statues of Sakyamuni. During the Cultural Revolution, the building was partially destroyed and some of its treasures disappeared. However, it has since been restored and protected. In contrast to her sister temple, the architecture of the Ramoche Temple is more Chinese than Tibetan, although it is just as magnificent.
Upon entering the temple, you will see pilgrims prostrating, and statues of fearsome deities who protect the chapels inside. The temple’s history really helps you understand just what Tibetan Buddhism has gone through, leading to a better appreciation of the spirit of the Tibetan people.
This monastery’s name literally means “treasure garden,” or "jeweled park" and it certainly lives up to expectations. Norbulingka is home to Tibet’s largest man-made garden, and it truly is a treasure trove of beauty. Its enormous size came through several expansion projects which were instituted by a series of Dalai Lamas. Norbulingka is considered the summer palace of the Dalai Lama, as several incarnations would come to Norbulingka every summer. The monastery is an ideal destination for those who appreciate the beauty of man-made creations alongside the wonders of the natural world.
Norbulingka also hosts performances, including a Tibetan Opera, making it the ideal cultural stop on a number of levels. Enjoy the bustle of activity that takes place during performances, but don’t forget to appreciate the beauty of nature. Wandering through Norbulingka’s gardens provides the perfect place to commune with nature. It is ideal for relaxing and meditating, thus allowing you to get in touch with your spiritual side, whether you are a Buddhist or not.
5. Drepung Monastery
Drepung Monastery was once the largest monastery in Tibet, home to as many as 10,000 monks. However, it is now a much less populated monastery with monks in the hundreds rather than the thousands. Since this monastery serves as a university for Buddhist monks, you’ll still find it to be busy with activity.
Drepung Monastery is a place that was built for spiritual pursuits, and the wide open spaces of the Tibetan plateau that surround it give you a fresh perspective on your place in the world. Make sure you visit the statue of Maitreya Buddha, which is truly inspiring. Take a sip of holy water when you are there and drink in the spiritual meaning of this ancient monastery.
6. Sera Monastery
Located north of Lhasa, this monastery is named after the wildflowers that would bloom on the spot where the monastery was built. The monastery is another Gelukpa university monastery, and it is known for being home to several hermitages and nunneries.
If you want to witness the famed philosophical debates of Tibetan Buddhist monks, then Sera Monastery is the ideal place to be. More than 3,000 monks reside at Sera Monastery, and seeing them live their lives so simply is humbling. You will walk away from the experience with a new-found appreciation for the spiritual commitment of a simple life.
7. Gandan Monastery
Despite the painful history of this beautiful place, it still stands as a testament to the unfailing devotion of the truly spiritual. Unfortunately, this university monastery was destroyed in 1959, but it has since been partially rebuilt. Today, it is truly a sight to behold. Every year, the annual Buddha Painting Unfolding Festival occurs at Gandan Monastery, attracting thousands of Tibetan Buddhists, as well as visitors from all over the world.
Gandan Monastery is built with a series of long halls that are great for wandering and getting lost in. These grand halls are fantastic places for solitude, giving you an opportunity to get in touch with your inner spirit. Even the current Dalai Lama himself has said that he feels a special spiritual connection with the founder of the monastery whenever he is there.
8. Grashi Monastery
This monastery in miniature has nothing to compare to some of the great monasteries mentioned above, but it makes the list because of its curious occupation. It is devoted almost exclusively to the Tibetan God of Fortune, thus making the crowd who visit quite different from what you might encounter in other spiritual places. Often, it is filled with business owners praying for their businesses. Additionally, since the God of Fortune supposedly likes to drink, you are encouraged to bring alcohol into this monastery and even offer it to the temple.
Get into the spirit of this monastery by praying for your own fortune alongside the many Han devotees that visit this place.
9. Drigung Monastery
Drigung Monastery is another place with a rich and unfortunate history. It was destroyed twice, first by Mongol troops and second during the Cultural Revolution. Drigung Monastery has since been partially rebuilt, and around 250 monks now call this beautiful building home. The location is also quite picture-perfect, as the monastery sits on a hill overlooking the lush valley below. Here, you’ll find some lovely artefacts with deep spiritual meaning, such as ceremonial drums. If you’re looking for a warm drink to enhance your spiritual encounter, visit the tea shop.
There is a trail surrounding Drigung Monastery that is used by Buddhist pilgrims. It starts from a chanting hall below and leads to the sky burial site. Inside the monastery, you’ll find cavernous prayer halls and shimmering statues of Tibetan deities.
10. Galden Jampaling Monastery
Located in the town of Chamdo, Galden Jampaling Monastery is known for its many statues and sculptures of Buddha, all intricate and detailed in their design. Art in all forms is appreciated here, and the walls are decorated with some stunning paintings. The monastery houses around 800 monks, and you may be lucky enough to watch as they perform religious dances.
Galden Jampaling is another famed site for pilgrimages, made here around the inner wall of the monastery. This circuit is an integral part of your visit the monastery, and traversing it is said to bring greater peace of mind.
These 10 monasteries give you a taste of the spiritual customs of Tibet and the places where they are carried out. However, there is no substitute for seeing these beautiful monasteries in person. During your Tibet tour, don’t forget to include a visit to at least some of these deeply spiritual places.