Gongkar Chöde Monastery

Top choice in Ü

Surprisingly large, the Sakyapa-school Gongkar Chöde Monastery, founded in 1464, is famous for its 16th-century Kyenri-style murals. It lies 400m south of the highway, around 10km from the airport, along the road to Gyantse. The monastery has been renovated with the help of the Shalu Foundation (www.asianart.com/shalu).

The assembly hall has statues of Sakya Pandita, Drölma, Guru Rinpoche and the monastery founder, Dorje Denpa (1432–96). To the left of the hall is the gönkhang (protector chapel), whose outer rooms have black murals depicting a sky burial. The inner hall has a statue of the Sakyapa protector Gonpo Gur (Mahakala Panjaranatha) and some elaborate spirit traps (in a case to the right). The inner sanctum has fine murals of the Sakyapa founders by the entrance, and an inner kora (nangkhor). Art specialists say the Khyenri-style murals show a marked Chinese influence, most noticeable in the cloud and landscape motifs. Bring a powerful torch (flashlight).

The chapel to the right of the assembly hall has particularly fine images of the Past, Present and Future Buddhas. To the left of the main hall is a protector chapel with mandalas made of coloured string and a collection of exquisite offering cakes made of yak butter, tsampa and flour.

The upper floor has more lovely old murals, including some showing the original monastery layout. On either side of the roof is the Kyedhor Lhakhang, which has fine protector murals and statues in yabyum (Tantric sexual union) pose, and the Kangyur Lhakhang.

As you walk clockwise around the main monastery building, look for the shedra on the northern side. The monks practise debating here at around 6pm.

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