Near the shores of Yamdrok-tso, about 10km east of Nangartse, Samding Monastery is situated on a 4550m-high ridge that separates two smaller lakes encircled by the northern and southern arms of Yamdrok-tso. Samding is noted for the unusual fact that it is traditionally headed by a female incarnate lama named Dorje Phagmo (Diamond Sow).
When the Mongolian armies invaded Samding in 1716, Dorje Phagmo changed her nuns into pigs to help them escape. Her current incarnation works for the government in Lhasa but often travels to Samding for the monastery's annual cham (ritual dance) festival on the eighth day of the fifth lunar month. There are 50 monks in residence.
It’s possible to visit the main dukhang (assembly hall), on the right-hand side of the courtyard, which is dominated by an inner statue of Sakyamuni (Sakya Thukpa). There are also photos of the 11th and 12th (the current) Dorje Phagmo, a statue of Dorje Phagmo wearing a turquoise amulet and a gold-painted footprint of the ninth Dorje Phagmo, plus a sacred conch shell and an eerie protector chapel. There are several more chapels upstairs.
The Sangok Phodrang to the left is a Tantric chapel with a central chörten and a fine thangka depicting five manifestations of Jampelyang (Manjushri). Upstairs is a chapel housing a statue of Jampa (the Future Buddha) at the age of eight, and a side room of slate carvings that houses a collection of stone relics and scriptures that survived the Cultural Revolution. The living rooms of Dorje Phagmo are also here.
The compassion chapel to the left of the courtyard houses a gilded stupa made by the seventh Dorje Phagmo.
For dramatic views over the surrounding three lakes of Gongmo-tso, Dumo-tso and Yamdrok-tso, hike for 45 minutes up to the ridge-top cairns behind the monastery. The snowcapped Himalayan giants to the south are Kula Kangri (7538m) and Gangkhar Phuensum (7570m), both bordering Bhutan.
It's possible to stay overnight in the monastery's extremely simple guesthouse.