Dzogchen Gompa

Top choice in Dzogchen

Backed by mountains, the massive Dzogchen monastery complex sits halfway up a steep ridge overlooking a valley dotted with stupas, shedras (Buddhist colleges), dormitory blocks, and further chapels and prayer halls. One of the most important seats of the Nyingma (Red Hat) sect, the monastery was originally established in 1685 but almost everything you see today was rebuilt with flamboyance from the 1980s onward. Visiting the monastery and other Buddhist sites in the valley takes at least a day.

In Tibetan, 'Dzogchen' means 'Great Perfection'; the monastery is so named because it's supposed to be the perfect place to study the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition and the site is regarded as one of the holiest places in the Tibetan world. As such, over the years thousands of Buddhist practitioners have come to the valley to study at the renowned shedra. Today the monastery's popularity means it's continuing to grow and many of the students studying here are actually Han Chinese. Currently, there are around 300 registered monks and nuns, but many hundreds more are present at any one time.

The main part of the complex contains three different prayer halls. After you've finished exploring these, clamber uphill for ten minutes to the prayer-flag-lined ridge just above from where there are stunning views. Afterwards, descend down to the valley floor and walk up towards the head of the valley. Along the way you'll pass the main shedra on your left, accommodation blocks for students, further smaller temples and a large stupa that's a near-exact copy of the famous Boudhanath Stupa in Nepal (though without the atmosphere of that one), before finally arriving right at the end of the valley and a nunnery. On the mountain slopes above are remote meditation caves.

From around 8am to noon daily, monks gather in the main prayer hall to pray and chant. Interested visitors are welcome to sit in and watch.