Ser Gyergo Nunnery

Top choice in Sichuan

Known locally as ani gompa (Tibetan for ‘nunnery’), Hépíng Fǎhùi is home to around 500 nuns and more than 100 monks. Lama Tsemper was a revered hermit who spent much of his life meditating in a cave about two hours' walk across the grasslands from Tagong. Nuns would bring him food and look after him, so when he requested a temple be built here just before his death in the 1980s it was decided that a nunnery be built too.

Lama Tsemper’s remains are in a chörten (Tibetan stupa) inside the original cave; you may have to ask a nun to unlock the door to look inside. Below the cave is the temple and a huge mani wall as big as the temple itself, which has its own kora that attracts many pilgrims. On the far hill, and overlooking the site, is a huge new building containing the nuns residences and kitchens; a little further uphill from that is a large walled complex containing a new monastery and monks residences called the Mùyă Dàsì (木雅大寺). On the opposite hill is a sky burial site. Here you will find the area where the bodies are cut up and left and a tree in which braids of hair, necklaces, glasses and other personal objects of the deceased are hung. You should not visit the sky burial site if a burial is taking place, but when nothing is happening nobody seems to mind you having a respectful look around. In between all the temples are tiny, fragile wooden houses of more nuns. All are painted a blood-red colour. The whole complex is growing fast as more and more nuns and monks arrive. You could easily spend a full day exploring this extraordinary complex, chatting to the people who live here and walking the kora with the pilgrims.

Getting to the nunnery is half the fun and a super little 4km walk from town over the hills and with views over the distant snow peaks. Ask for directions from any of the popular traveller hotels and hostels.

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