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Monasteries in Mount Kailash

Circling Mount Kailash

Map of Mount Kailash (click image for larger size map)

Map of Mount Kailash (click image for larger size map)

The 1st Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare's disciple Gyalwa Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorje also went to meditate at Mount Kailash. Until then there was no proper route and pilgrims walked about as they chose. Gotsangpa charted the route for circumambulation of the Mountain and the Lakes and started the tradition of circumambulation. The total distance, covered in a complete circumambulation of Mount Kailash according to the route charted by Gotsangpa, is 52km and takes about 13 to 15 hours. Tibetan pilgrims generally start early in the morning and complete one circumambulation by nightfall. Most Tibetan pilgrims do three to thirteen circumambulations of Mount Kailash. There are some who do 108 circumambulations of Mount Kailash.

Chag Tsal Gang

Starting the circumambulation of the Mountain from Darchen, one reaches Lhalung-do. While proceeding to circumambulate Mount Kailash, Gotsangpa stopped on the banks of Lake Manasarovar, near Lhalung-do, to drink tea. He went to look for stones with which to make a fire. But in his pure vision he saw all the rocks as images of Buddha and mantras. So instead, he prostrated and prayed. This place came to be known as Chag Tsal Gang, meaning the 'Point of Prostration'.

Moving further down there is a footprint of the Buddha. A little further is the footprint of Guru Padmasambhava. Below a white, rocky trail known as Sengchen Do-zam is the footprint of Tsangpa Gyare.

Dar Nyon

At Ser Shong, a short distance from Chag Tshel Gang, is Dar Nyon, the huge prayer flag that is changed every year amidst rituals and ceremony in the fourth Tibetan month. On the thirteenth day of the month the old flag is removed and a new pole measuring 108 feet is readied. On the fourteenth the flag is raised partially and on the fifteenth, which is the day of the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and paranirvana, the flag is raised to its full height and ritual offerings are made. The monks of Choku Gompa conduct the ceremony during the raising of the flag.

Rechen Phug

On the rock below the Buddha's footprint on the western face of Mount Kailash is Rechen Phug, where Milarepa stayed while he competed with Naro Bonchung in the exhibition of miracles. There are many meditation caves and huts belonging to the Drukpa lineage in the rocks and hills around Rechen Phug.

Nyenri or Choku Gompa

Below this is Nyenpo Ri-dzong or Nyenri Gompa. A yogi named Nyenpo Drubchen and Tsangpa Gyare built it. It is also known as Choku Gompa (Choku means Dharmakaya in Tibetan), because it houses the image of Dharmakaya Buddha Amitabha. It is said that Avalokiteshvara manifested himself as five images – Garsha Phagpa, Tang Phagpa, Tadum Namlha Karpo, Khyunglung Amitabha and Tisi Dharmakaya Amitabha – in Lake Woma in Garsha (near Manali of present day India). An emanation of Avalokiteshvara brought the Dharmakaya Amitabha image to Ngari and offered it to the king of Ngari. Later Lhatsen, the protecting deity of Mount Kailash, took this image to Nyenri monastery. This monastery (at the time of publication in 1990) is managed by the Drukpa Lineage in Bhutan. Besides the Amitabha image, the monastery is in possession of the conch of Naropa, Naropa's cauldron, a gilded copper image of Buddha brought from Ralung (the first monastery built by the first Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare) and statues of the first Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare, Guru Padmasambhava and Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (reincarnation of the 4th Gyalwang Drukpa Kunkhyen Pema Karpo and the unifier of Bhutan as a nation state).

Dri-ra Phug

When Gotsangpa came to open the route to Mount Kailash, he reached Drong Lung. He saw the peaks behind as the palace of 1,000 Buddhas and wanted to check if the circumambulation path covered the peaks. He went northward and suddenly a Drong Dri (a female wild yak) appeared in front of him. Thus the place came to be called Drong Lung. Gotsangpa realised that the Drong Dri was the emanation of the Lion-Faced Dakini and had been sent by his guru to show him the path. The Dri went eastward and he followed her and the Dri disappeared below the present day cave. He looked around and saw footprints of the Dri on the rock and prints of her horn on a rock in the cave to indicate that she had disappeared into the rock of the cave. He understood that it was a message for him to meditate in this cave. Hence the cave came to be called Dri Thim Dri-ra Phug, meaning, 'the cave where the Drong disappeared and left the print of her horn'.

After meditating at this cave for a long time, Gotsangpa thought it was time for him to leave, since the climate was cold and food was scarce. So he touched the rock of the cave with his head and prayed that whatever creature (whether human, animal or insect) came to his cave would be reborn in the higher realm. He left the impression of his hat on the rock. On the stone in front of the cave he left his footprint. Practitioners continued to meditate at this cave till 1965. A monastery was built at the cave, but was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. However, the monastery was rebuilt in 1986. Dri-ra Phug monastery, (at the time of publication in 1990) managed by Dra Dingpo Che Dhondup Thongmon Gompa of the Drukpa Lineage, is the main holy place of Sengye Dongma or the Lion-Faced Dakini.

A recent photo of Dri-ra Phug which has been forcibly converted to Karma Kagyu (photo taken in September 2014)

The Dri-ra Phug cave where Gyalwa Gotsangpa meditated has a slanted roof with statues of Gyalwa Gotsangpa (left), Milarepa (center) and Buddha Shakyamuni (right) on the seat where Gotsangpa meditated for many years (photo taken in 2010)

A large portrait of His Holiness Karmapa Ugyen Thinley Dorjee on the main throne, in the main temple of Drira Phug (photo taken in 2010)

Jarog Dron-khang

A little further up from Dri-ra Phug is Jarog Dron-khang. During his meditation the Land Spirit of Lhalung Phu rendered great service to Gotsangpa and as an expression of gratitude Gotsangpa made an offering of Torma. A raven carried away the Torma and he followed the raven and saw it sit on a rock. When he went closer, the raven merged into the rock, leaving its imprint on the rock. He realized that the raven was an emanation of Mahakala.

Drolma La or Tara Pass

After the raven disappeared Gotsangpa didn't know where to go and wondered which way he should follow. Suddenly 21 wolves appeared. He realised that they were emanations of the 21 Taras that had come to show him the road and followed them. Reaching the top of the pass, the 21 wolves merged into one and that too merged into a rock on the pass. Since then, the pass came to be called Drolma La or Tara Pass. Impressions of a wolf and a self-born image of Avalokitesvara can be seen on the rock near the pass. There is also a footprint of Milarepa on the pass. Before reaching the Palace of Tara, there is a footprint of Yonge Rigdzin, a yogi of Khampagar of the Drukpa lineage.

A footprint of Thrinley Shinta, the seventh Gyalwang Drukpa, is also clearly visible on the right side of the road, below the lake known as the 'Bathing Pool of Dakinis' behind Drolma La.

Vajra Varahi Cave

On the river bank, near the ridge opposite the yellow and blue coloured rock known as the palace of the yellow and black Jambhala, is the meditation cave of Gotsangpa and the shrine of Mahakala. A little further down is the Vajra Varahi cave. Dordrak Lama Chonyi Sangpo of the Nyingma School built this cave. He didn't have disciples who could look after it; Druk Sangag Choeling Monastery then managed it. Later it was offered to Taktsang Repa of Ladakh (the 1st Taktsang Repa was one of the most accomplished disciples of the 5th Gyalwang Drukpa Pagsam Wangpo and the 1st Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche Lhatsewa Ngawang Zangpo) and some of the reincarnations of Taktsang Repa visited the monastery housing the cave. Langna Tulku was given charge of the monastery. In 1941, when the Hasaks invaded Ngari, the monastery was destroyed and Langna Tulku passed away. The Tibetan Government of the time decided to rebuild it. Spiti Lama Yeshi Palden financed the reconstruction and the management of the monastery was handed over to Purang Shephel Ling Monastery of the Gelugpa tradition. However, the lineage of the monastery remained Drukpa (at the time of publication in 1990).

Dzu-thrul Phug

Whilst Milarepa and Naro Bonchung were meeting at Drong Lung, in southern Mount Kailash, it rained and Milarepa said to Naro Bonchung, "We should make a shelter from the rain. Do you want to build the wall or the roof?" Naro Bonchung said he would build the wall and cut the rocks through miraculous power. Then, through his powers of miracle, Milarepa cut a huge rock and made the roof with one slab. He went below and said that the roof was too low and raised it a bit, leaving the impression of his head and hands. Then, he said it was a bit high and pressed it down with his feet, leaving his footprints, which are still visible today. Hence this place is called Dzu-thrul Phug, or the Miracle Cave. Later a monastery was built around the cave and named Dzu-thrul Gompa. Practitioners continued to meditate here till 1960. It was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and rebuilt in 1985. This monastery is managed by the Drukpa Lineage of Bhutan (at the time of publication in 1990).

Gyangdrak Gompa

A little further up from Darchen is Gyangdrak Gompa. It was founded by Dordzin Guya Gangpa on the instructions of Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon (founder of the Drikung Lineage). It is one of the oldest monasteries in the region. It was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and was rebuilt in 1986. It belongs to the Drikung Lineage (at the time of publication in 1990).

Serlung Gompa

Serlung is a small monastery built by Dordzin Drubthob Buchung of the Drikung Lineage. It is located behind Lhadar Gang pass. In 1987 Dordzin Gegye Wangthang Dorje built a small retreat centre there. Serlung Gompa belongs to the Drikung Lineage (at the time of publication in 1990).

Serlung Gompa (picture of the entrance ticket obtained in September 2014)

In the temple of Serlung Gompa, where photo of His Holiness Karmapa Ugyen Thinlay Dorjee is enshrined (photo taken in September 2014)

In the main temple of Serlung Gompa (photo taken in September 2014)