Tsurpu Monastery


School of Buddhism: Karma Kagyu
Founded in 1187 by the First Karmapa
Location: approximately 65 km to North-West from Lhasa, 1-1.5 hours of driving
Altitude: 4,300 meters/ feet


Tsurphu monastery is located about 1-1,5 hours away from Lhasa. On the way to Tsurphu, you will travel through Drowolung valley following the stream. In summer, there are many tents of nomads in the area as well as tents for picnics.  

Tsurphu monastery is the seat of Karmapa, the leader of Karma Kagyu, the black hat school of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery was completely destroyed in 1960. Starting from the 1980’s the monastery was rebuilt and the reconstruction is still going on. 


God of wealth in the Protectors chapel of Tsurpu
Inside one of the Protectors chapel

Originally, Tsurphu was founded in 1187 by the First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa. The location is on the ruins of the earlier temple, where he had a vision of mandala. 

Dusum Khyenpa is from the Kham region in Eastern Tibet. He first visited the site in 1159, where he made offerings to protectors and decided to found the monastery. After that he returned to Kham. Only at the end of his life he traveled back to Tsurphu where he established the seat of Karma Kagyu order

He predicted his reincarnation, and it started the tradition of Tulku.

Karma Pakshi, the second Karmapa (the first reincarnation of Karmapa) built the main temple in 1263.

During the rule of Mongolian Empire and Tsang dynasty in Tibet in 16 – early 17th century, Tsurphu grew into an important religious center. The Karma Kagyu school became the most influential in Tibet. 

At its heyday over a thousand monks lived in the monastery complex. 

After the 5th Dalai Lama established Gelug school in Lhasa that became dominant in Tibet, Tsurphu started losing its political influence, although it still remained an important religious center. 


Statues of founders of Kagyu sect of Buddhism in Tsurpu
Statues of founders of Kagyu sect of Buddhism in Tsurphu

The three founders of the sect are Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa. In monasteries of the Karma Kagyu school you can often see statues of the three founders. Another principal figure is the first Karpama. 

The First Karmapa, born in Eastern Tibet province of Kham, was the follower of Gampopa. The First Karmapa established the tradition of tulku – reincarnation of lamas. Starting from the next Karpama, all of them came from the unbroken lineage of reincarnations. 

Karma Kagyu sect has monastery centers in Sikkim, India and a large network of centers worldwide. 


Kublai Khan presented the black hat to the second Karmapa in the 13th century. The hat is made of hair with gold decorations. The tradition of wearing the black hat gave the name to Kagyu order. Nowadays the original Black Hat is located in Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim.


Main Chapel/Assembly Hall

The main building of the complex is a large Assembly hall. The hall has impressive 4 meters thick walls. Inside you can see a tomb stupa of 16th Karmapa holding his relics. In the center there is Karmapa Throne.

Protectors Chapel

The long building has five Protector’s chapels in it. The passage to the entrance doors is decorated with different stuffed animals and heads. 

The important statue there is made of meteoric iron. The Eight Karmapa created the protector’s image. 

The chapels are dedicated to powerful protectors: Mahakala, Shridevi, Hayagriva, Vajrasadhu, Dorje Phurba – protector of Kagyu order.

Jamyang Lhakhang Chenmo

This chapel was a massive building displaying one of the most important statues in Tsurphu – the 13th century 20 meter high bronze statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. This statue was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. The new statue made of copper was erected in the reconstructed chapel recently. Unfortunately, the quality is inferior to the previous statue. It is said that the original statue had relics of Shakyamuni. It was the largest sculpture constructed from 1 mold.

Karmapa Labrang/ Palace

Bedroom of 17th Karmapa in Tsurpu Monastery
Bedroom of 17th Karmapa in Tsurpu

The Karmapa Palace is to the East from Zhipa Tratsang (Protectors Chapel). On the first floor there is a throne room.

Upstairs you can see the living quarters of Karmapa and the Audience hall. You can walk into Karmapa’s bedroom and even look at his books in a bookshelf. Notice, as with other high lamas there is no bed in the bedroom, only small couch for meditation.

The Thomb Stupa Chapel

In the rare of the complex there is a chapel with stupas and statues of all 16 Karmapas. Inside you can also see old photos of Tsurphu before the damage as well as photos of ruins. 

As the chapel name suggests, inside are tomb stupas. The first Karmapa asked his disciples to build a stupa before his death. Inside the chapel you can see tomb stupas of the First and Second Karmapas.


Tsurpu Monastery complex in Tibet

You can walk around the monastery. The walk is called the kora, and it is around 4 km long stretching around and above the complex. Monks stay for meditation retreats on the mountain slope Jampa Ri above Tsurphu. There are many meditation retreats of Buddhist practitioners. Among others, there are retreat hermitages of the Second and Third Karmapas.

Start walking from the West side of the monastery complex to the North above the monastery. You will pass piles of mani stones with carved mantras and the summer residence of Karmapa. After you reach the highest point on the kora, descent. On the way you will see the shrine of Palden Lhamo.


You can visit Tsurphu monastery year round. Although the best time to visit it is during the Saga Dawa festival held on the 4th month of Tibetan Lunar Calendar.

During the celebration, monks perform Cham Dance. The religious dance is famous for its spectacular costumes. 






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