Theme Week Tibet – Lhasa

Saturday, 26 October 2019 - 12:00 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, UNESCO World Heritage

Potala Palace © flickr.com - Christopher Michel/cc-by-2.0

Potala Palace © flickr.com – Christopher Michel/cc-by-2.0

Lhasa is a prefecture-level city, formerly a prefecture until 7 January 1960, one of the main administrative divisions of the Tibet Autonomous Region. It covers an area of 29,274 square kilometres (11,303 sq mi) of rugged and sparsely populated terrain. The consolidated prefecture-level city is divided into five mostly rural counties and three partially urban districts Chengguan District, Doilungdêqên District, and Dagzê District, which contain the main urban area of Lhasa.

The prefecture-level city roughly corresponds to the basin of the Lhasa River, a major tributary of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. It lies on the Lhasa terrane, the last unit of crust to accrete to the Eurasian plate before the continent of India collided with Asia about 50 million years ago and pushed up the Himalayas. The terrane is high, contains a complex pattern of faults and is tectonically active. The temperature is generally warm in summer and rises above freezing on sunny days in winter. Most of the rain falls in summer. The upland areas and northern grasslands are used for grazing yaks, sheep and goats, while the river valleys support agriculture with crops such as barley, wheat and vegetables. Wildlife is not abundant, but includes the rare snow leopard and black-necked crane. Mining has caused some environmental problems.

The prefecture-level city is traversed by two major highways and by the Qinghai–Tibet Railway, which terminates in the city of Lhasa. Two large dams on the Lhasa River deliver hydroelectric power, as do many smaller dams and the Yangbajain Geothermal Station. The population is well-served by primary schools and basic medical facilities, although more advanced facilities are lacking. Tibetan Buddhism and monastic life have been dominant aspects of the local culture since the 7th century. Most of the monasteries were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but since then many have been restored and serve as tourist attractions.

Buddhism was adopted as the official religion of Tibet by king Songtsän Gampo (died 649) at a time when the rise of Hinduism was sweeping away Buddhism in India, the land of its birth. Over the next two centuries Buddhism became established in Tibet, now the center of the religion. Tibetan Buddhism would become a pervasive influence on the lives of the people. The first monastery, Samyé, was founded by Trisong Detsen (740–798). Its buildings were arranged in a mandala pattern after the Odantapuri monastery in Bihar. The three-story monastery was completed in 766 and consecrated in 767. Seven Tibetans took monastic vows in a ceremony that marked the start of the long Tibetan tradition of monastic Buddhism.

Chengguan District seen from Potala Palace © Kelberul/cc-by-sa-3.0 Jokhang Temple © onwardtibet.org/cc-by-sa-2.0 Potala Palace © Coolmanjackey/cc-by-sa-3.0 Potala Palace © flickr.com - Christopher Michel/cc-by-2.0 Ramoche Temple © Dieter Schuh/cc-by-sa-3.0 The Barkhor, both a place for walking, meditation and shopping © Nathan Freitas - onwardtibet.org/cc-by-sa-2.0
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The Barkhor, both a place for walking, meditation and shopping © Nathan Freitas - onwardtibet.org/cc-by-sa-2.0
Yerpa, on a hillside in Dagze County, is known for its meditation cave connected with Songtsän Gampo. The cliffs contain some of the earliest known meditation sites in Tibet, some dating back to pre-Buddhist times. There are a number of small temples, shrines and hermitages. Songtsän Gampo’s queen, Monza Triucham, founded the Dra Yerpa temple here. Jokhang in Chengguan District is the most sacred temple in Tibet, built in the 7th century when Songtsän Gampo transferred his capital to Lhasa. It was designed to house an image of Buddha that the Nepalese queen Tritsun had brought. Later rulers and Dalai Lamas enlarged and elaborated the temple. Ramoche Temple to the north of Jokhang is considered the most important temple in Lhasa after Jokhang, and was completed about the same time. Muru Nyingba Monastery is a small monastery located between the larger Jokhang temple and Barkhor in the city of Lhasa. It was the Lhasa seat of the former State Oracle who had his main residence at Nechung Monastery. It was destroyed during the persecution of Buddhism under Langdarma (838–841) but rebuilt by Atiśa (980–1054). The monastery was part of the Sakya sect at one time. but became Gelug under Sonam Gyatso, the 3rd Dalai Lama (1543–89).

The Nyethang Drolma Temple is southwest of Lhasa, 36 kilometres (22 mi) from the county seat and 33 kilometres (21 mi) from Lhasa. It is in Nyétang, Qüxü County. Some sources say that Atiśa (980–1054) built the monastery, which was expanded after his death by his pupil Dromtön (1004–64). Another version says that Dromtön raised funds to build the temple to commemorate his old friend. Dromtön built Reting Monastery in Lhünzhub County in 1056. It was the earliest monastery of the Gedain sect, and the patriarchal seat of that sect. In 1240 a Mongol force sacked Reting monastery and killed 500 people. The gompa was rebuilt. When the Gedain sect joined the Gelug sect in the 16th century the monastery adopted the reincarnation system. Tsurphu Monastery in Doilungdêqên District was built in 1189 and is treated as a regional cultural relic reserve. The monastery was founded by Düsum Khyenpa, 1st Karmapa Lama, founder of Karma Kagyu school. It is the main Kagyu temple. The Drigung Monastery of the Kagyu Sect was founded in 1179 in Maizhokunggar County. It is the home of the Drikhung Kagyu School of the Kagyu sect. At one time Drigung was highly influential in both the political and religious spheres. It was destroyed in 1290 by Mongols led by a general from the rival Sakya sect, and although rebuilt was never able to regain its power. Yangpachen Monastery in Yangbajain, Damxung County was historically the seat of the Shamarpas of Karma Kagyu. It is the main monastery of the Red Hat school of the Karma Kagyu sect. It was built in 1490, and through extensive repairs and additions grew into a major architectural complex that contained a large collection of cultural relics. The Red Hat school of Karma Kagyu died out in 1791. Other monasteries founded outside the Gelug tradition include Taklung Monastery of the Kagyu school, founded in 1180 in Lhünzhub County, and Nyêmo Chekar monastery of the Bodongpa school, founded in the 16th century in Nyêmo County.

Ganden Monastery was built after 1409 at the initiative of Je Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug sect, and is the most important of this sect. It is 57 kilometres (35 mi) from Lhasa on the slopes of Wangbori Mountain at an elevation of 3,800 metres (12,500 ft), on the south bank of the Lhasa River in Dagze County. The mountain is said to have the shape of a reclining elephant. The monastery includes Buddha halls, palace residences, Buddhist colleges and other buildings. Drepung Monastery in Chengguan District was founded in 1416 by Jamyang Choge Tashi Palden (1397–1449), one of Tsongkhapa‘s main disciples. It was named after the sacred abode in South India of Shridhanyakataka. At one time Drepung Monastery, with up to 10,000 resident monks, was the largest in the world. Sera Monastery was not much smaller. Sera Monastery, about 2 miles (3.2 km) north of Lhasa, was founded in 1419 by Jamchen Chöjé Shakya Yeshé (1354–1435), a close disciple of Tsongkhapa. Ganden, Drepung and Sera are called the great “Three Seats of Learning” of the Gulugpa school. The Nechung Monastery, former home of the Nechung Oracle, is located in Naiquong township, also in Duilongdeqing County. Nechung was built by the 5th Dalai Lama (1617–82). Other Gelug foundations include Sanga Monastery (1419, Dagzê County), Ani Tsankhung Nunnery (15th century, Chengguan District), Kundeling Monastery (1663, Chengguan District), and Tsomon Ling (17th century, Chengguan District).

Most of the monasteries in the prefecture-level city suffered damage, and many were destroyed, before and during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). Jokhang was used as a military barracks and a slaughterhouse during the Cultural Revolution, and then as a hotel for Chinese officials. Many of the statues were taken, or were damaged or destroyed, so most of the present statues are recent copies. Jokhang was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Ramoche Temple was badly damaged during the Cultural Revolution but has been restored with assistance from the Swiss. The Nyethang Drolma Temple survived the Cultural Revolution without much damage, and was able to preserve most of its valuable artifacts, due to the intervention of Premier Zhou Enlai at the request of the government of what is now Bangladesh. Reting Monastery was devastated by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, and has only been partially restored. Tsurphu monastery was reduced to rubble, but the huge temples and chanting halls have been rebuilt. Before and during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) Drigung Monastery was looted of almost all its collection of statues, stupas, thangkas, manuscripts and other objects apart from a few small statues that the monks managed to hide. The buildings were severely damaged. Reconstruction began in 1983 and seven of the fifteen temples were rebuilt. Yangpachen Monastery was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but later was rebuilt. Ganden Monastery was completely destroyed during the rebellion of 1959. In 1966 it was severely shelled by Red Guard artillery, and monks had to dismantle the remains. The buildings were reduced to rubble using dynamite during the Cultural Revolution. Re-building has continued since the 1980s. Nechung was almost completely destroyed but has been largely restored. There is a huge new statue of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) on the second floor. Nine sites in the Lhasa valley were listed in 1985 by the TAR Cultural Relics Authority as “regionally protected buildings”. These were Tsangkung Nunnery, Meru Monastery and Great Kashmiri Mosque in the old city, and the Karmashar Temple, Meru Nyingba Monastery and Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western Rigsum Temples elsewhere in the former prefecture.

Here you can find the complete Overview of all Theme Weeks.

Read more on Lhasa, Tibetan culture, Tibetan cuisine, Tibetan Buddhism, Wikivoyage Lhasa and Wikipedia Lhasa. Learn more about the use of photos. To inform you about latest news most of the city, town or tourism websites offer a newsletter service and/or operate Facebook pages/Twitter accounts. In addition more and more destinations, tourist organizations and cultural institutions offer Apps for your Smart Phone or Tablet, to provide you with a mobile tourist guide (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com). If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.








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