Tashi Lhunpo Monastery#7 in Best Things To Do in Tibet
Like the Potala Palace, the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery holds a lot of significance in Tibetan Buddhism. Not only was the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery founded by the first Dalai Lama, but later it became the seat of power for the Panchen Lama, the most important spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama. The monastery comprises multiple gold-trimmed buildings that feature chapels, accommodations for monks, colleges, the stupas, or tombs, of past Panchen Lamas and one of the largest gilded statues in the world, Future Buddha (found in the Chapel of Jampa).
This monastery is also the site of one of Tibet's biggest cultural celebrations, the Buddha Unfolding Festival. The festival centers around the debut of a giant, new thangka (Buddhist painting whose images aid followers in meditation and prayer). The unveiling of this vibrant and detailed depiction of Buddhist deities is meant to spread good fortune and peace. If you can, try to make it to this festival (typically held in the mid- to late summer) as throngs of pilgrims and Buddhists gather in excitement to witness the ceremony.
Even if you aren't able to make it to the festival, travelers say this monastery is definitely worth a visit. Visitors loved the village-like layout of the monastery, its peaceful atmosphere (some say it is less touristy than other monasteries they visited) and the beautiful art and architecture that permeated the grounds. And if you want to take your cultural immersion further, traverse the kora (or pilgrimage trail) set up on the grounds. Do note, however, that it can take up to an hour to complete. Travelers said it's important to know that you cannot take pictures in the complex unless you pay extra.
You can find the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, Tibet's second largest city found 168 miles west of Lhasa. Since you are not allowed to travel outside of Lhasa independently under the terms of your Tibet travel permit, you must have this city as a stop on your tour to visit. Admission to the monastery costs 55 yuan (about $8); the monastery is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, visit the monastery's website.
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#1 Jokhang Temple
Alongside Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple is one of the most important sites in Tibet. The Jokhang Temple was built in the seventh century to promote Buddhism in Tibet, and as such earned the distinction of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Jokhang translates to "house of Buddha," or more specifically "chapel of the Jowo." And it lives up to its name. The temple houses more than 3,000 images of Buddha, deities and other historical figures in the religion, including the Jowo Shakyamuni.
Jowo Shakyamuni, or also referred to as the Jowo Rinpoche, is considered to be the most sacred image of Buddha in Tibet. It is said that the statue was sculpted by Vishwakarma – the Indian god of architecture – between the fifth and sixth century B.C., when Buddha was still believed to be alive. This has led to the belief that the Jowo Sakyamuni, as one of the earliest accounts of Buddha, is the most accurate visual representation of Buddha. Research has shown that this story is factually inaccurate, but that hasn't stopped crowds of Tibetans from coming to the temple to pray. The statue depicts Buddha the moment he reached enlightenment – legs in lotus position, one hand gesturing meditation with the other gesturing the "earth to witness."
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