Tibet - Places of Interest
Lhasa the capital city of Tibet at an altitude of 3,650 meters, is situated
on the northern banks of the Kyichu River. Lhasa in Tibetan means "Palace
of Gods", the (former) residence of the Dalai Lama is the earthly
representation of the Celestial Palace of Avaloketeswora, the Buddha
of Infinite Compassion whose incarnation in the human form is believed
to be Dalai Lama. As Tibet's political, religious and cultural center,
it is a city truly blessed by the gods, where life is unhurried, it's
people jovial and yet remaining staunchly independent.
This legendary palace built atop a hill in the capital is synonymous
with Tibet. First built in the 7th century as a fortress by Tibet's
foremost king, Srongtsen Gampo, it was later expanded to the present
size in the 17th century by the 5th Dalai Lama. This 13 storied, 1000-room
citadel served as the headquarters of the former 'church state' of Tibet
and has been home to successive Dalai Lamas. Since the 18th century,
it has served as the winter palace.
The 'Jewel Park ' as it is known in Tibetan, was built in the 18th century
and served as the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lamas. The colorful landscaped
garden around it used to be a site for picnic gatherings. The palace
itself is ornately decorated and adds an atmosphere of peaceful repose.
The Jokhang Temple
Situated in the heart of Old Lhasa, it houses Tibet's most precious
religious relics, a golden Shakyamuni Buddha which was brought as a
gift by the Chinese Princess Wen Ching on the occassion of her wedding
to the Tibetan King, Srongtsen Gampo. Surrounding the Jokhang is the
bustling Barkhor marketplace, the social center of Lhasa.
Said to be largest monastery in the world housing over 10,000 monks,
it was founded in AD 1416 by the disciple of Tsongkhapa, founder of
the Gelugpa Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The Second, Third,
and Fourth Dalai Lamas lived and were entombed here. Drepung in Tibetan
means ' mound of rice'.
Gyantse is a pastoral town 264 Kilometers south west of Lhasa. Untouched
by modern expansions, it still retains the charm if a traditional Tibetan
town. It made world headlines in 1904 when Colonel Younghusband led
a British Expedition to Tibet and defeated the Tibetan army there. As
a junction on the principal trade route to India, it used to be known
for the excellence of its carpets. This settlement is draped around
by an impressive wall presided over by a hilltop fortress.
This is one of the most unique and magnificent buildings in Tibet six
stories tall. It has 112 chapels and its walls are adorned with religious
paintings. Built in the 15th Century, it has escaped all ravages of
battles and the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
Pelkhor Chode Monastery
Located near the Kumbum, it was founded in the 15th century. It has
been remarkably well preserved and many of the statues and paintings
inside date back to the time of its founding.
Shigatse is the second largest town in Tibet and the capital of Tsang
province. It is 354 kilometers west of Lhasa and stands at an altitude
of 3180 meters.
Founded in AD 1447 by Genden Drup, the First Dalai Lama, it is the seat
of the Panchen Lama who is second only to the Dalai Lama in Tibetan
Buddhist hierarchy. The 5th Dalai Lama declared that his teacher, the
Abbot of Tashilhunpo to be a manifestation of the Amitabha Buddha, and
thenceforth to be addressed by the title of Panchen Rinpoche. Tashilhunpo
has one of the world's largest statues, a 9-storied bronze-gilded statue
of the Maitreya Buddha.
Shalu is 19 kilometers southwest of Shigatse. It was a famous Tantric
school where yogic practices were taught and perfected. The architecture
of Shalu is uniquely Chinese.
Sakya lies 143 kilometers to the southwest of Shigatse. Sakya Monastery,
the center of the Sakya order of Tibetan Buddhism, was founded by Konchok
Gyalpo in 1073. During the rule of the Sakyapas, the priest-patron relationship
between Tibet and China was established. The Sakya order reigned over
Tibet for almost a hundred years between the 13th and the 14th century.
Many of the priceless images, statues, and scriptures within date back
to the time of it’s founding.