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A Journey to Qomolangmo (V):

Southeastern Route

BY AN CAINDAIN

 

 Located south of Kangdese and Nyainqentanglha Mountains, Shannan lies on the lower and middle reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River. It connects with Lhasa in the north, abuts Nyingchi Prefecture in the east, neighbors Xigaze in the west, and borders Bhutan and India across the Himalayas.

     The prefectures measures 420 km from east to west, and 329 km from north to south, covering a total area of 80,000 square km. Home to Tibetan, Han, Hui, Moinba, Lhoba and other ethnic groups, it has a population of over 290,000; 98 percent of these are Tibetan. Zetang is the prefectural capital with jurisdiction over 12 counties.

     Shannan boasts State-class scenic areas--Yarlung River Scenic Area, the Holy Lake Scenic Area, and Samye Scenic Area. Blessed with good climate, it is the major agricultural area in Tibet. On mountains flanking the river valley are pastures and forests, along with many rivers, lakes and hot springs.

     As a major cradle of the ancient civilization in Tibet, the prefecture historically has many "firsts'': first plot of farmland reclaimed, first palace built, first monastery complete with statues of Buddha and lamas, first Tibetan opera performance held....

     It was in Shannan that the Tubo Kingdom first emerged, and also where the Pagmo Zhuba regime was founded to rule Tibet for some 100 years.

     In this part of the world, there are tombs of Tubo kings, Samye Monastery and Qamzhub Monastery, plus holy lakes, including Yamzhog Yumco and Lhamo La Co.

 

Choice Routes

     Yarlung River Scenic Area, Samye Scenic Area and Holy Lake Scenic Area spread out from the Quxu River Bridge to Nyingchi Highway. Yamcog Yumco Lake Scenic Area and are visited generally after visits to Gyangze, Lhasa or Shannan. Quxu, Zetang, Qoingyi, Gonggar and Nanggarze are towns visited during the visit to Shannan.

     Hot Spring Route: Hot springs in Shannan are located mainly in Oiga in Sangri and Chigu Lake in Comai, while lava caves are found mainly in Chanang and Lhunzi Counties.

     There are many ferries along the Chanang route for visitors to cross Yarlung Zangbo River. Yak hide rafts and ferryboats are the chief transport means.

    Three River Route: Going along Yarlung Zangbo River to Zetang from Gonggar Airport, one may reach Bayi Town in Nyingchi via Mainling and Nyang River. Crossing Milha Mountain, which serves as the demarcation line between Nyang River and Lhasa River, one goes down Lhasa River to Lhasa.

 

Dorje Zha Monastery

     Moving 36 km eastward from the Quxu River Bridge, or leaving Donggar Airport and walking 10 km eastward, one arrives at Gyixung, seat of Gonggar County. Gonggar Airport is located at Gyizhuling Town of the county.

     Gonggar County covers 2,288 square km, with a total population of 44,000. The county is famous for its Dorje Zha Monastery of the Nyingma Sect and Gyaideshiu, "town of Bamdian aprons''.

Dorje Zha Monastery. The monastery was razed to the ground in 1717, when Zungar troops invaded this area, and was rebuilt in 1718.

Gyaideshiu Town. Located 16 km east of the county seat, it sits by the highway leading to Zetang. It is famous for the Bamdian apron much loved by Tibetan women. The Gyaideshiu Bamdian apron is famous for the materials adopted, the weaving method, the patterns it bears, and its durability. It also enjoys good sales in Nepal, India, Bhutan and Western Europe.

 

Samye Scenic Area

     Moving 24 km eastward from Gyaideshiu along the southern bank of Yarlung Zangbo River, one reaches Zhatang, seat of Chanang County, at an elevation of 3,556 meters.

     Chanang County covers an area of 0.2 square km and is the famous hometown of Polu woolen fabrics. Almost every family is engaged in making such woolen fabrics, and the county produces some 300,000 meters of the product.

     Located here are Samye Monastery, Minzhuling Monastery, Qingpu Scenic Area and Namsailing Manor. The Yarlung Zangbo River bisects the county, with the northern part home to Samye Scenic Area.

     Samye Scenic Area. It comprises places of historical interest in the three towns of Samyi, Songka and Ngazha in Chanang County. Major spots include Samye Monastery, Habori Mountain, Nyimalung Holy Cave, Qingpo Mediation Cave and Zhayang Zong Lava Cave. The daily temperature averages 8.4 degrees Centigrade, with the highest reaching 31 degrees Centigrade and the lowest 13.2 degrees Centigrade. June, July and August are ideal months to visit.

     Minzhuling Monastery. Located east of Chanang River, the monastery was first built in the 1676 according to an instruction from the 5th Dalai Lama. It was held as the resident monastery of the Nyingma Sect. The inheritance method features the son or son-in-law taking over the mantle of the previous holder. It was destroyed in 1718, and was rebuilt later.

The monastery sets great store by Tibetan calligraphy, calendaring and Tibetan medicine. Its calligraphy was so famous that the local government of Tibet asked its lamas to write official documents for it.

Tibetan incense produced by Minzhuling Monastery has medicinal effect. It was supplied mainly to the nobles and lamas. Nowadays, it makes its way into ordinary families. Minzhuling brand incense, produced with support from Tibetan government department concerned, is highly likely to be exported to foreign countries.

Namsailing Manor. This is one of the best-preserved manors formerly owned by serf owners in Tibet. Built during the Ming Dynasty, it is a cultural relic unit subject to special protection in Shannan. Located in Channang Township, Channang County, it faces Samye Monastery across a river, and is 25 km from Zetang Town. With seven stories, it is complete with flat houses, shelters for horses, a mill, a dyeing workshop, a weaving workshop, a pillbox and a jail.

Samye Monastery. Located on Habori Mountain on the northern bank of Yarlung Zangbo River, it faces Minzhuling Monastery across a river, and is 38 km from Zetang. It is one of the State-class scenic spots in the Yarlung River Scenic Area. It was built in the mid-8th century in a place chosen by Padmasambahava from India. Tubo King Trisong Detsan presided over the stone laying ceremony and served as its first abbot. Upon its construction, the Tubo king invited eminent monks from Chinas hinterland, India and Yutian to lecture on Buddhism in the monastery, and ordered seven children of noble families to be tonsured as monks. This made the monastery the first of its kind in Tibetan history.

The monastery features the Tibetan, Chinese and Indian architectural styles. With Woze Hall as the main hall, it covers an area of more than 8.6 hectares. The central monastery of the Nyingma Sect suffered from fires repeatedly, and fell into disrepair for prolonged period of time.

In the second half of the 14th century, the monastery received due repair under the aegis of Soinam Gyamcain, an eminent monk with the Sagya Sect.

In the ensuing years, the monastery was under the care of the Sagya Sect, with its abbot designated by Sagya Monastery. The Nyingma Sect owned only a Buddhist Guardian Hall.

 After 1981, the Central Government earmarked some 12 million Yuan and about 50,000 grams of gold for the reconstruction of the monastery, with the repaired part covering an area of 90,000 square meters.

Habori Mountain. It is located east of Samye Monastery. Legend has it that when Samye Monastery was built, the area was haunted by devils. Padmasambhava from India used a giant rock to subdue them, ensuring the smooth construction of Samye Monastery. Another legend has it that Trisong Detsan and Padmamsambhava came here for selection of the construction site. East of the mountain are holy stupas for three master translators and noted monks.

Ruins of Zamasang Palace. Located in a small mountain north of Samye Monastery, it was built in the 8th century as one of the palaces for Tride Zotsan and Princess Jincheng. Legend has it that it was where Trison Detsan was born. When he died, it was destroyed by noble forces promoting the rise of the Bon religion and prohibition of Buddhism. A small temple was later built on the ruins to enshrine the statues of Tride Zotsan and Princess Jincheng.

Nyimalung Holy Cave. This was where Padmasambhava meditated and practiced Buddhism. In front of the cave is a small temple. Legend has it that the Indian monk and the 5th Dalai Lama recited Longevity Sutra in the cave.

Qingpo Mediation Cave. Located on slopes of Narui Mountain 15 km northeast of Samye Monastery, it has an elevation of 4,300 meters. Surrounded on three sides by mountains, it has the Yarlung Zangbo River to the south. It was where Buddhist masters including Padmasambhava and Trison Detsan practiced Buddhism. It is as famous as Samye Monastery. Many classic sutras were buried here. Holy spots include 108 meditation caves (some 40 in existence today), 108 celestial burial chambers and rock paintings carved by eminent monks of Nyingma Sect in the 14th century. Cool in summer and warm in winter, this area has become a must-visit place.

Zhayang Zong Lava Cave. Located in Zayangzong Mountain in Channang County, the cave has three southern exposures, with two connected. The largest cave is 13 meters deep, 11 meters wide, 15 meters wide. It is complete with a Buddha hall and a sutra hall. Outside the cave are monk dorms. One carved into a cliff west of the large cave is where Padmasambhava practiced Buddhism. It has a corridor to connect it with the large cave. Ten meters further west is the third cave, 55 meters deep and home to various shaped stones.

 

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