If you want to get off the beaten track, make an 8km detour south off the Friendship Hwy from the road between Nangartse and Gyantse, across a huge, sweeping plain to Ralung Monastery (4740m). Ralung was founded in 1180 and gets its name from the ‘self-arising’ image of a ra (goat) that spurred the monastery's construction. It was from Ralung that the religious leader Nawang Namgyel (1594–1651) fled Tibet, finally arriving in Bhutan in 1616 to reshape that country's identity as its top religious leader, the Zhabdrung.
The original tsuglhakhang (great temple) stands in ruins, as does a multistoried, multichambered chörten (stupa) visible from the roof. As you wander around, look for images of the yellow-hatted founder, Tsanpa Gyare, and the Drukpa Rinpoche (head of the monastery's Drukpa Kagyud school), who resides in India. In the far left corner is the local protector Ralung Gyelpo riding a snow lion, beside the mountain deity Nojin Gangtsang, who rides a blue mule.
The monastery is home to 12 monks. Ask one of them to point out the meaning of the mountains behind the monastery; each one stands for one of the eight auspicious symbols. The dramatic snowcapped peak to the northeast is 7191m high Nojin Gangtsang. There are cham (ritual dances) here between the 13th and 15th of the sixth Tibetan month.
At the time of writing, the monastery was undergoing big renovation works expected to finish in October 2018, and was open for free. Post-renovation admission prices had not been decided.