HE8AGD Samye: Prayer mills in the frozen water of a brook on the way to the Chim Puk hermitage, Tibet, China

Chim-puk Hermitage


Chim-puk Hermitage

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Chim-puk Hermitage is a collection of cave shrines northeast of Samye that grew up over the centuries around the meditation retreat of Guru Rinpoche. Chim-puk's Tantric practitioners were once famed for their ability to protect fields from hailstorms. It is a popular excursion for travellers overnighting at Samye. Make sure your agency knows in advance that you want to visit or you'll have to haggle over the return 20km trip.

Pop into the impressive new nunnery at the base of the hill to hear the nuns chanting between 8am and noon.

From here trails lead up for about an hour past dozens of cave shrines to the lhakhang (subsidiary chapel) built around Guru Rinpoche’s original meditation cave halfway up the hill and that of Jigme Lingpa in a small cave just behind. Most of the hillside shrines here are still inhabited by practitioners.

Ascending clockwise along the kora that visits all of the hillside's temples, the first is the Yongdu Lahkong (Gathering Chapel). Built in 2006, it houses statues of Guru Rinpoche and Samye's former abbots. Continuing up the kora path leads to the Champung Guru temple, built atop the entrance to the meditation cave said to have been used by Guru Rinpoche himself, and believed to grant wishes to devout buddhists who visit. From here it's a short climb to the complex's highest temple, the Samye Changpu (Victorious Stupa). Originally used as a library, the building now houses another large statue of Guru Rinpoche and three large thangka paintings, plus the views from the courtyard present spectacular views of the rest of the Chim-puk complex and the Yarlung Tsangpo river.

From the parking lot up to the Champung Guru temple expect a 1½-hour walk, and slightly more to the Samye Changpu. The descent, which loops around the east of the complex via another small temple housing statues of the wrathful form of Guru Rinpoche, can be accomplished in around 40 minutes.

If you are feeling fit and acclimatised, it's possible to climb to the top of the peak above Chim-puk. To make this climb from the Guru Rinpoche cave, follow the left-hand valley behind the caves and slog it uphill for 1½ hours to prayer flags at the top of the ridge. From there a path leads for another 1½ hours to the top of the conical peak, where there are a couple of meditation retreats and fine views of the Yarlung Tsangpo Valley. You'll need the whole day to make this hike, and plenty of water.

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