Dzongsar Monastery

Top choice in Sichuan

One of the oldest, most important and certainly most visibly impressive monastery complexes in Kham, the remote Dzongsar Monastery sits on a sharp ridge above the main village of the Dzongsar Valley. The monastery was originally founded in 746 by a Bönpo lama, but has been much reconstructed since and, considering its importance, is quite a small structure, though it's none the less magical for it.

In the late 13th century a new Sakya monastery was established on the site of the Bön monastery (Bön was the religion that predated Buddhism on the Tibetan plateau) and the monastery has remained a part of that school of Tibetan Buddhism ever since. However, it has also played an important role in the Rimé movement and is known for its openness to most Tibetan Buddhism schools. The complex contains a number of chapels, one of which houses the ashes of the first and second Rinpoche Dzongsar, who were leading figures in the 19th-century Rimé movement.

Colourful traditional wooden housing for the monks is clustered around the monastery and along the valley floor below. It's down on the valley floor that the large and highly regarded shedra (Buddhist college) is located. Around 1900 monks study here. Many of them have studied previously in India and some will likely want to practise their English with you. The colourful buildings and constant ebb and flow of monks moving around the complex make for a wholly exotic and mystical place to explore. Come to the shedra in the early evening and you might catch the courtyard full of hundreds of debating monks. What makes the place so utterly charming is the absolute dearth of other tourists.

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