One of the most controversial regions in the world, Tibet is known today for its constant border disputes. Having been annexed by China in 1959, the region has been plagued by recurrent bouts of political unrest. More importantly, the region is known for its historical association with the Buddhist religion, which is exemplified by the wealth of monasteries still standing today. Equally important to the Hindu, Jain and Bon religions, Tibet is also one of the most naturally beautiful countries in the world with its jaw-dropping mountains a spectacular sight to behold.
One of Tibet’st most notable peaks, Mount Kailash is of huge cultural significance to a number of different religions. According to Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and Bon tradition, Mount Kailash is a site of sacred importance. In Buddhism in particular, the mountain is an essential holy site. As a result, Mount Kailash is a major pilgrimage site, with thousands making the journey to the mountain’s summit every year. A 32 mile trek, it is often completed over the course of an arduous single day.
A site of major cultural and historical significance to Tibet, the Petal Palace is the former residence of the Dalai Lama-Buddhism’s most important figure. Built in 1645 under the instruction of the 5th Dalai Lama, the palace functioned as the residence for over 300 years until the Tibetan Uprising of 1959. In addition to its huge historical and cultural significance, the palace is known for its distinct architecture, which was very influential.
Located high in the mountains near Mount Kailash, Lake Manbasarovar is another hugely significant holy site across Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and the Bon religion. A beautiful, serene place, there are a number of monasteries located nearby due to its religious significance. One of the most culturally and naturally important parts of Tibet.
One of Tibet’s most iconic landmarks, the Jokhang Monastery is located in the region’s capital city of Lhasa. First built in 652, the temple has been added to in the intervening centuries. Established under the decree of King Songsten Gampo, it was of significant importance to the Buddhist religion for several centuries. It is known for its distinct architectural design, a synthesis of Tibetan, Nepalese and Vihara styles. The monastery was raided during the Cultural Revolution and remained empty for a few years before returning to a position of importance.
One of Tibet’s most important monasteries, and the largest. The Drepung Monastery is located at the base of Mount Gephel and is known for its importance to the Gelug sect of Buddhism. Built in 1416 by Jamming Choge Palden, a disciple of the iconic Buddhist figure Tsongkhapa, the monastery has remained a significant institution ever since. Although it was closed for five years by Chinese authorities due to its association with political protests, it remains open in the present day.
Tashi Lhunpo Monastery
One of the most historically significant Buddhist monasteries in the world, the Tasha Lhunpo Monastery was founded by the First Dalai Lama in 1447. It has been the site of considerable conflict over the course of its lifetime, notably sacked in 1791 by the Gorkha Kingdom. It also sustained considerable damage during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, although restoration efforts have ensured it remains intact.
A major glacier in the Himalayan mountain range, the Rongbuk glacier is located in the country’s southern region and functions as a major route to Mount Everest. Threatened by environmental deterioration caused by climate change, the glacier is one of the most naturally spectacular parts of the country and is well worth seeing in person, nbefore it disappears for good.
One of the most dazzling and famous monasteries in Tibet, the Palcho Monastery, otherwise known as the Shekar Gyantse is located in the Gyantse region of the country. A vast and impressive complex of temples, the monastery is known for housing 108 separate chapels over a number of different floors. It is known for its distinct design, which combines Tibetan, Nepalese and Han styles, which is particularly personified by its Kumbum. Established in the 15th Century, the Monastery has remained a focal point of the region ever since and remains the hub of a number of religious festivals.
One of the oldest monasteries still standing in Tibet, the Sakya Monastery was established nearly 1000 years ago in 1073 by Konchock Gyelpo. It remained a major hub of power during the heyday of the Tibetan Empire, peaking during the 13th and 14th Centuries. It is known for its distinct architecture, which exhibits clear Mongolian influences. In recent years, a massive library of 84,000 ancient scrolls were discovered within it, encompassing a range of different fields, including philosophy, astronomy and history.
Tomb of Tsongkhapa
Located in the Garden monastery is the resting place of one of the most significant figures in Tibet’s history. The founder of the Gelug sect of Buddhism, Tsongkhapa is a figure critical to both the history of the Tibetan nation and the Buddhist religion. While his original resting place was destroyed along with his remains, small fragments of his skull were recovered and buried in a newly-built mausoleum in the beautiful Garden monastery, which he himself founded.
main image: image courtesy of Göran Höglund, Flickr Creative Commons