Lhasa to Gyantse – Yamdrok-tso and Gyantse monastery

On the fourth day, now acclimatised to the high altitude, we left Lhasa and headed towards the Nepal border. The day’s sights would include Yamdrok-tso lake, two mountain passes, Kamba-la pass and Karo-la pass, and the day-end destination town of Gyantse.

Yamdrok-tso lake

Yamdrok-tso lake is interspersed between the mountains and we seemed to be following it for the majority of our journey from Lhasa to Gyantse. The beautiful scenery was a nice change from the three-days of monasteries and Buddha statues.

Yamdrok-tso lake, TibetYamdrok-tso lake, TibetYamdrok-tso lake, Tibet
Yamdrok-tso lake, TibetYamdrok-tso lake, TibetYamdrok-tso lake, Tibet

Mountain passes

A pass is a track or road over a mountain used to get to the other side, the tip or highest point of the track is known as the pass. We had already experiences a few ‘minor’ passes in Kyrgyzstan and the ‘major’ Tanggu La Pass at 5072 metres on the train to Lhasa. Passes are fun, they provide amazing views, and may even break your personal-best highest elevation. In Tibet the passes are marked by prayer flags, locals selling knick-knacks and sometimes an elevation marker or small chorten. The passes we went through were Kamba-la pass at 4700 metre, Karo-la pass at 4960 metres and Simu-la pass at 4280 metres. They were not snow covered, which was a surprise as this had been the case for the lower elevated passes in Kyrgyzstan.

Mountain passes, TibetMountain passes, TibetMountain passes, Tibet
Mountain passes, TibetMountain passes, TibetMountain passes, Tibet


Gyantse monastery – very similar to the many previous monasteries we had visited, for an unusually small fee we were permitted to take photos, below are photos the Buddha books (books with literature of all things relating to Buddhism, the usual Buddha statues and protector statues.

Gyantse monasteryGyantse monasteryGyantse monastery
Gyantse monasteryGyantse monasteryGyantse monastery

Gyantse Kumbum (100,000 Buddha images) –  a large chorten (or stupa), which is usually a large circular shaped building that tapers up, the architecture has specific Buddhist meaning, as well as the structure in general. What made the Kumbum so unique was as its named suggested, the hundreds of Buddha images found in the many small rooms circulating the chorten. Each room was filled with beautiful Buddhist murals and a statue of a Buddha or a protector. After about the first two floors, having entered all the rooms so far and made an effort to study the murals, we started to skip a few as it was starting to take a little while and the themes were very similar. At the top we had a view of the courtyard where our guide was patiently sitting, now we understood why he elected to wait for us, as explaining all the murals and statues would have been tiresome.

Gyantse Kumbum, Tibet
Gyantse Kumbum, TibetGyantse Kumbum, TibetGyantse Kumbum, Tibet
Gyantse Kumbum, TibetGyantse Kumbum, TibetGyantse Kumbum, Tibet
Gyantse Kumbum, TibetGyantse Kumbum, TibetGyantse Kumbum, Tibet

Gyantse Dzong – the Gyantse skyline included the Gyantse Dzong, a fort-like structure sitting on the city’s overshadowing mountains, unfortunately, it didn’t seem open to tourists.

Gyantse Dzong, Tibet

Lhasa, Tibet – Jokhang Temple and Drepung Monastery

Jokhang Temple and Barkhor square

Our first day in Lhasa started with a visit to the Jokhang Temple, walking through the bustling Barkhor Bazaar to the Barkhor square.

By the time we arrived, there were already many pilgrims outside the temple, performing prostrations whilst two large incense burners omitted strong smoke of juniper.

As we lined up amongst the tens of Tibetan pilgrims, we couldn’t help but notice the strong smell of yak butter which we later found is used to burn offering candles. The Jokhang Temple is quite a large complex. We entered courtyard first and our guide Demdah advised that this was the place where important examinations (e.g. to determine the highest lama) sat by Gelugpa Iamas are held.

After the courtyard, we entered the inner prayer hall which is surrounded by a number of chapels.  The prayer hall contained six statues – two of Guru Rinpoche, three Jampa statues (Maitreya, the Future Buddha) and the thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara.  We would learn later that these statues would be seen repeatedly across many of the monasteries in Tibet.

As per Buddhist tradition, we encircled the surrounding chapels clockwise.  Inside the chapels, we were also required to encircle the room clockwise. There were numerous chapels, including the Chapel of Tsongkhapa (the founder of the Gelugpa order, probably the most renown of the four orders), Chapel of Chenresig, Chapel of Jowo Sakyamuni (said to be the most important shrine in Tibet, as it houses the Present Buddha image at age twelve and is thought to have been brought to Tibet by Princess Wencheng, the Chinese wife of King Songstan Gampo – the founder of Tibet). After visiting a number of chapels, we headed to the roof of Jokang to view the surrounding areas, including views of Barkhor Square and Potala Palace.

Barkhor Bazaar selling scarfs and prayer flagsA Tibetan lady selling various itemsHandheld prayer wheels
Handheld prayer wheelsBarkhor Bazaar located around Jokhang TempleTraditional Tibetan jewellery being sold inside Jokhang Temple
An image of Buddha in the courtyard of Jokhang TempleThe roof of Jokhang TempleThe exterior wall of Jokhang Temple
A snow lion on the corner of Jokang TempleOne of the smaller rooms surrounding the main templeThe upper open courtyard of Jokhang Temple
Gilt roof of the Jokhang TempleSnow lion found on the gilded bellPrayer and prostration in front of the Jokhang Temple
Jokhang Square also know as Barkhor SquareFlowers leading to Jokhang Temple in Barkhor SquareJokhang Temple from Barkhor Square

Drepung Monastery

After Jokang, we headed to Drepung Monastery, located about 8km from Lhasa, stopping by Potala Palace to pick up tickets for the next day (there is a 2000 limit on ticket numbers per day for the popular attraction). Drepung was founded by one of Tsongkhapa’s disciples in the 15th century and is part of the Gelugpa order. It has a number of key buildings, we visited Ganden Palace, the main assembly hall (with a large Jampa statue), the kitchen (used to cook the lamas meals) and a meditation hut where we were told some monks meditate for years on end. It was our first monastery and I enjoyed walking around and admiring the beautiful deep red and white buildings with their wispy white curtains.  We had a lunch of rice and vegetables at the Monastery restaurant next door before heading to our next destination.

Typical braiding of coloured scarfs found on door ringsTibetans turning prayer wheels at Drepung MonasteryBuddhist stupa outside Drepung Monastery
Colourful rock murals of Buddha with protectorEntrance to the chapel at Drepung MonasteryYak butter lamps used for lighting and an offering
Inside the Drepung Monastery chapel, statues can be seen on the wallInside the Drepung Monastery chapelStatue of Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa school
The Yellow Hat worn by the Gelugpa sect of BuddhismInner buildings of the Drepung MonasteryGanden Phodrang, the residence of Dalai Lama
High walls of the Drepung MonasterySteps leading to a chapel in the Drepung MonasterySonya with a background of traditional Buddhist colours
A colourful hallway at Drepung MonasteryA colourful inner court at Drepung MonasteryA colourful inner court at Drepung Monastery
Four animal friends, an elephant, a monkey, a rabbit, and a bird positioned on top of each otherAn interesting paintingCommonly  seen in Tibet, a Dharma chakra (Wheel of Life) with pair of deer
One of the many colourful doorsThe inner courtyard of Drepung MonasteryA snow lion on the corner of the Drepung Monastery, commonly seen in Tibet