Monasteries in Mount Kailash

Source: གངས་དཀར་ཏི་སིའི་གནས་ཀྱི་དུས་ཆེན་རྟ་ལོ་འཁོར་ཆེན་ལ་རྟེན་འབྲེལ་ཞུ། བོད་ལྗོངས་ནང་བསྟན། 1990 (Published by Buddhist Association of Tibet Autonomous Region in 1990 on the occasion of the Year of Horse Mount Kailash Pilgrimage)

The Legend of Mount Kailash & Lake Manasarovar

Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar are the only two places in the whole of Tibet that were visited by Lord Buddha, accompanied by five hundred Arhats. During the turning of the Three Wheels of the Dharma, Buddha Shakyamuni extensively explained the merits of building images. So Indra (the king of gods) offered precious articles of the gods, Ananda (the king of Serpents or Nagas) offered precious articles of the Nagas and Bimbisara (the king of Magadh) offered gold and silver, etc. to the Buddha and requested him to have three images of the Buddha made, as a means of generating merit for the sentient beings in the future.

On the instructions of the Buddha, the master craftsman Viswakarma made three images of the Buddha that were blessed by Buddha Shakyamuni. A fifteen-foot image was taken to realm of the gods, a ten-foot image was taken to the realm of the Nagas and a two-foot image of the Buddha was kept at Magadh, in order for the devotees to make offerings and pay homage.

One day, Mahakala miraculously took the image of the Buddha from Magadh to his palace at Lake Lanka, located at the foot of Mount Kailash, and made offerings. Then he thought a special place was needed to keep such a sacred statue and attempted to carry Mount Kailash on his back to the realm of the Nagas in Lake Lanka (also known as Lake Rakshastal).

Satellite view of Lakes Rakshastal (left) and Manasarovar with Mount Kailash in the background

Buddha Shakyamuni and the 500 Arhats flew from Bodhgaya to Mount Kailash and landed on the rock known as Kyil Khor Teng, or 'Ganachakra Basin of Arhats', on the western face of Mount Kailash. Buddha left his footprint on four corners of Mount Kailash and prevented Mahakala from carrying Mount Kailash to the realm of the Nagas. These four footprints of the Buddha are known as the 'Four Nails Holding Mount Kailash', because they prevented Mahakala from carrying the mountain away. Then Buddha sat on the rock in front of Mount Kailash and gave teachings to the Nagas residing in Lake Manasarovar and Lake Lanka. Today, Buddhist pilgrims call this rock the 'Throne of the Buddha'.

Mount Kailash is the only holy place in the world that is regarded as equally sacred by Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Bonpos. To the Theravadan Buddhists, it is the abode of Sthavira Angaja, with an assembly of 1,300 Arhats; and to the Vajrayana practitioners it is the mandala or palace of Chakrasamvara. The sacred nature of Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar is mentioned in the Sutras. To the Hindus it is the abode of Lord Shiva. Mount Kailash is sacred to the followers of Jainism because their first saint or Tirthankar, Bhagwan Rishabdevji, attained Moksha (liberation) after meditating here. To the Bonpos it is the sacred place where Miwo Shenrab, the founder of the Bonpo faith, landed from heaven. For the Bonpos, Mount Kailash is the 'life mountain' and Lake Manasarovar is the 'life lake' of earth.

The four great rivers of the Indian sub-continent: Karnali (which feeds into the Ganges), Indus, Sutlej and Brahmaputra all originate from Mount Kailash. The average altitude of the region is 4,700 meters above sea level. The altitude of Mount Kailash is 6,714 meters above sea level. To the west of Mount Kailash is the Karakorum range, to the north is the Kunlun range, to the east is Magyal Pomra range and to the south is the Himalayan range.

The distance between Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash is approximately 26km and the distance between Lake Manasarovar and Lake Lanka is about 5km. Lake Manasarovar has a radius of 84km and generally a complete circumambulation of the lake can be finished in four days.

The Drikung and Drukpa Practitioners at Mount Kailash

In the 8th century CE, Guru Padmasambhava meditated at Mount Kailash and the cave where he meditated was known as "Sangag Chophug". In the 11th century CE, the great translator, sent his famous disciple Milarepa to meditate at Mount Kailash. Later, Milarepa's disciple, Gampopa, instructed Phagmo Drupa to send practitioners to meditate at Tsari, Lachi and Mount Kailash, but the coincidence of cause and effect did not work out appropriately for the latter to carry out the instructions of Gampopa.

Nevertheless, Phagmo Drupa explained the importance of meditating and sending meditators to these three places to his disciples Drikung Kyobpa Jigten Gonpo and Lingchen Repa Pema Dorje.

Drikung Kyobpa Jigten Gonpo sent three batches of disciples to meditate at Mount Kailash. Lingchen Repa instructed his disciple Tsangpa Gyare, the first Gyalwang Drukpa, to meditate at Mount Kailash. The latter not only meditated at Tsari and Lachi, but also visited almost all the sacred places around Mount Kailash and spread the Drukpa lineage teachings.

The first Gyalwang Drukpa gathered so many disciples that the following became a popular folk saying in Tibet,

Half the population is Drukpa

half the Drukpas are begging mendicants

and half the begging mendicants are enlightened beings.

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)

Circling Lake Manasarovar

Map of Lake Manasarovar (click image for larger size map)

(click image for larger size map)

There are eight monasteries around Lake Manasarovar: Sewa Lung in the east; Nye-go in the southeast; Thrue-go in the south; Go-tsug in the southwest; Jiwu in the west; Ja-kyib in the northwest, Bon Ri in the northeast; and Lang-na in the north. Sewa Lung Gompa belongs to the Drikung lineage, Nye-go Gompa to the Sakya lineage, and Bon-Ri to the Gelugpa tradition, the remainder were established by the Drukpa Lineage.

Sewa Lung Gompa

Sera Lung Monastery is located to the east of Manosarovar Lake. It was built by Dordzin Konchok Gyudzin following the prophesy of Konchok Thinley Sangpo, the 2nd Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang. It was destroyed during and Cultural Revolution and Hortoe Khenpo Konchok Chophel financed its reconstruction in 1984.

Nye-Go Gompa

To the south-east is Nye-go monastery belong to the Sakya tradition. Ngorchen Kunga Lhundup built the monastery at the site where he had a vision of Guru Padmasambhava.

Thrue-go Gompa

A Drukpa yogi called Gyiwa built Thrue-go Gompa. Initially it was a small temple that could house only a couple of people. Later, a descendant of Ra Lotsawa built a four-pillar guesthouse with shrines around. During the time of Kalsang Gyatso (the seventh Dalai Lama), the monastery was transferred to Shephel Ling and the ownership of Dzu-thrul Phug to the Drukpas.

Bon Ri Gompa

To the north-east is Bon Ri Monastery belongs to the Gelugpa tradion. It was founded by Gugewa Khedup Lobsang Norbu who came from Sera Thekchen Choling to meditate in Mount Kailash. It was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Today only ruins of the monastery remain.

Jiwu Gompa

Jiwu Gompa, also known as the western ablution gate, is located on a heart-shaped rock and has the structures resembling Sangdok Palri (Copper Colour Mountain). Guru Padmasambhava spent seven days at this cave on his way to subdue the demons in the south western region in 876 AD and left his footprint there. It was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and rebuilt in 1983. This monastery is managed by Dra Dingpo Che Dhondup Thongmon Gompa, a monastery of the Drukpa Lineage.

Go Tsug Gompa

Go-Tsug Gompa was the place where Atisha stayed for seven days when he visited the Lake. Later, when Gotsangpa came to open the route to Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, he meditated for three months at the cave in the antechamber of the present monastery. Since the spread of the Drukpa Lineage in the Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar region started from here, it acquired the name Go-Tsug, meaning the "Starting Point". During the time of Tsulthrim Gyatso (the Tenth Dalai Lama), it was turned into a monastery of the Gelugpa School.

Jakyib Gompa

In the North-west is Jakyib monastery. Drikung Chennga Lingpa with a retinue of 500 meditators stayed here for many years and remained under the Drikung Lineage. When Tsangnyon Heruka, one of the mad yogi disciple of the 2nd Gyalwang Drukpa Je Kunga Paljor, came and set up retreat centre that flourished. Later during Hasak invasion all the caves fell into the lake and the retreat centre became defunct. At present there are 4 to 5 main caves. The temple built by Drukpa Lineage from Bhutan, who managed the monastery, was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. It has not been rebuilt.

Lang-na Gompa

Lang-na Gompa is located on a hillock resembling the trunk of an elephant. Hence it got the name Lang-na, meaning 'Elephant's trunk'. It was built by Nyemowa Samten Phuntsok, belonging to the Middle Drukpa lineage, after spending many years in retreat in Mount Kailash. Later his reincarnation Kunga Lodo Nyingpo built the monastery modelled on Drikung Yangri Gar Gompa. Lang-na Gompa was partially rebuilt in 1986, following its destruction during the Cultural Revolution.


Satellite map showing Tirthapuri Gompa as "Zhida Burisi", the transliteration of the monastery's Chinese name (click image for larger size map)

In the Mount Kailash region, 60km from Mount Kailash is the famous Tirthapuri (Prithapuri, known locally as "Tathapri Monastery"). Terthapuri is the Chakrasamvara Palace, equal to Mount Kailash in importance, and the main sacred place is the spring where the white droplet flows. On the top is the Guru Padmasambhava’s cave, in the middle is Gyalwa Gotshangpa’s cave and below is the Vajra Varahi Cave. The rocks surrounding the are self-arisen images. The monastery was originally founded by Dordrak Lama Chonyi Sangpo but he didn’t have any successor. The monastery was managed by Druk Sangak Choling monastery. Later it was offered to Taktsang Repa of Ladakh. Tetapuri monastery was destroyed and plundered by Hasak invaders in 1941 when it was being managed by Langna Tulku who was then looking after Korzok monastery of Ladakh, Terthapuri and Langna monasteries in Kailash. The monastery belongs to the Drukpa Lineage.

Tirthapuri (Prithapuri, known locally as "Tathapri Monastery"), in present state, forcibly converted to Karma Kagyu (photo taken in September 2014)

External of Tirthapuri (Tathapuri) decorated by the emblem designed by His Holiness Karmapa Ugyen Thinley Dorjee based on the Dream Flag drawn by His Holiness the late 16th Karmapa (photo taken in September 2014)