Although a small monastery was founded at the present site of Mindroling as early as the 10th century, the date usually given for the founding of Mindroling is the mid-1670s. The founding lama, Terdak Lingpa (1646–1714), was highly esteemed as a terton (treasure finder) and scholar, and counted among his students the fifth Dalai Lama. Subsequent heads of the monastery were given the title Minling Trichen, which passed from father to son
The monastery was razed in the Dzungar Mongol invasion of 1718 and later restored, but is still renown as one of the best educational centres in the Nyingmapa tradition. From a height of around 500, the monastery is now home to 70 monks.
The central Tsuglhakhang is an elegant brown stone structure on the western side of the courtyard. The bare main hall itself has a statue of Terdak Lingpa, along with Dorje Chang (the founder of Tantric Buddhsm) and a row of seven Kadam-style chörtens – the monastery originally belonged to the Kadampa school. The inner chapel has a large Sakyamuni statue. The hands were destroyed by Chinese troops looking for relics, but the rest is original.
Upstairs, the first chapel you'll see is the Zheye Lhakhang, with statues of Guru Rinpoche and Terdak Lingpa (with a white beard and an excellent hat). The Terza Lhakhang houses several treasures, including a stone hoof print, a mirror that takes away disease and a famed old thangka with the gold footprints and handprints of Terdak Lingpa, which was given to the fifth Dalai Lama.
The top floor holds the central Lama Lhakhang, with some fine ancient murals of the Nyingma lineages, plus a central statue of Kuntu Zangpo (Samantabhadri) and two 3D mandalas. The Dalai Lama’s quarters remain empty.
The other main building, to the right is the Sangok Podrang, used for Tantric practices. To the left of the main entrance is a famous ‘speaking’ mural of Guru Rinpoche. Flanking the left wall of the assembly hall is a huge thangka that is unfurled once a year on the 18th day of the fourth lunar month. The views from the rooftop here are excellent.
Nice walks lead off from the kora around the Tsuglhakhang, west up the valley through the village to the ruins of what used to be a meditation retreat and a nunnery.
Mindroling has cham dancing (ritual dances) on the 10th day of the fifth Tibetan lunar month and the fourth day of the fourth lunar month. The latter festival features the creation of four sand mandalas nine days later.