Hikers and anyone who likes to get well off the beaten track will enjoy this excursion to Tibet’s largest nunnery, set in a large natural bowl about 55km south of Lhasa and home to over 160 nuns. The region is a favourite of bird-watchers.
The newly paved road leads right up to the village-like nunnery (4410m). The central assembly hall contains statues of Guru Rinpoche and several old lamas of the Nyingma and Dzogchen schools. Stairs to the right lead upstairs to a chapel with a statue of Machik Labdronma (holding a double drum), the famous 11th-century adept who opened up the valley and who is considered an emanation of Yeshe Tsogyel (the consort of Guru Rinpoche). The assembly hall a B&W photo and wall mural of one of Labdronma's subsequent reincarnations.
You can hike up the hill, following the electric poles, for about 45 minutes to the Gangri Tokar shrine (Drubkhang), where Longchenpa, an important 14th-century Dzogchen lama, once meditated. The chapel has a cave shrine and a sacred tree stump in front of a rock image of the Dzogchen deity Rahulla.
From here fit and acclimatised hikers can climb for a couple of hours up past meditation caves (marked by prayer flags) to the ridgeline behind. The views of the Kyi-chu Valley are fantastic from here and if the weather is clear you’ll get views of snowcapped 7191m Nojin Kangtsang and other Himalayan peaks to the south. From the ridgeline you can continue northwest across a boulder field for 15 minutes to a small hill (5160m) topped by a chörten that offers epic views northwards as far as Lhasa. Alternatively you can continue east along the ridge to summit the bowl’s main peak.
The road to Shongse branches off the main expressway to Gongkar Airport at Tsena village and diverts 13km up a side valley, passing the picturesque cliffside Samanga Monastery and small Öshang Lhakhang en route.