The citadel of Tsaparang, 18km west of Zanda, is one of Western Tibet's great hidden gems. Dozens of ruined residences and chapels dot a naturally defended hillside, topped by an underground palace. The Kashmir-influenced murals and ruined statues stand as some of Ngari's best examples of early Buddhist art.

Start your climb through the four best-preserved buildings and their murals, from where the trail climbs past monk cells. A tunnel deposits you onto the ruins of the palace citadel, offering fabulous views over the barren Sutlej Valley.

Bring a strong torch (flashlight), snacks and water, and expect to spend at least half a day exploring the ruins. No photography is allowed inside the chapels.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Ngari attractions

1. Lhakhang Karpo

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The large Lhakhang Karpo holds the oldest paintings at Tsaparang and is probably the most important chapel in all of Ngari. The murals date back to the…

2. Chapel of the Prefect

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This small building was a private shrine for Tsaparang’s prefect or regent. The caretaker has named it the ‘Drölma Lhakhang’ after his own sculpture of…

3. Lotsang Lhakhang

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This ruined chapel is flanked by an ancient-looking chörten. Only the feet of the main statue remain inside but there are some lovely old thangkas on…

4. Lhakhang Marpo

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This large building was constructed around 1470. The beautiful murals were repainted around 1630, shortly before the fall of the Guge kingdom. The…

5. Dorje Jigje Lhakhang

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The murals in this small chapel are painted red and gold, and are almost solely devoted to wrathful deities in ecstatic yab-yum pose, such as Demchok …

6. Mummy Cave

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North of the main entrance to Tsaparang a trail follows a green river valley down about 700m to a cave on the left that holds the mummified remains of…

7. Caves

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Worth a quick visit are the photogenic caves and chörtens to the west of the main Tsaparang site, near the public toilet.

8. Summer Palace

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From the four chapels at the base of Tsaparang, the path to the top climbs up through the monastic quarters and then ascends to the palace complex atop…