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Tsongkhapa Chapel in Pabongka monastery

ABOUT PABONKA HERMITAGE

Pabonka Hermitage is one of the oldest monasteries in Lhasa, dating back to the 7 century. Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo meditated there before the construction of Jokhang temple. However, it is lesser known and tourists rarely visit it. It makes it a great off the beaten path destination in Lhasa. Pabongka Hermitage will be interesting for meditators and people curious about Tibetan history and Buddhism.

Visiting monastery can make a great day trip outside of Lhasa. You can combine it with visiting a nearby nunnery. It will be a good trekking practice if you are going on a longer trek afterward.

LOCATION OF PABONKA

View on Lhasa and Potala Palace from Pabongka
View on Lhasa and Potala Palace from Pabongka

It is located in a serene place, in Nyang Bran valley, approximately 8km away from the city center. From the hill you can see a view on Lhasa city, Historically, Pabongka was an independent monastery. Nowadays it is a part of Sera monastery hermitage.

HISTORY OF PABONKA

7 century monastery complex Pabongka
7-century monastery complex Pabongka

Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo established Pabongka Monastery in 643 A.D. At the same time, he established more famous Jokhang and Ramoche temples in the center of Lhasa Old Town. However,  the style of Pabongka was very different.

The main building had nine floors. The King also used a strong iron chain on all four directions of the building to stabilize it. When construction of Pabongka was finished, King Songtsen Gampo and his ministers meditated for three years in the main building. The king and Thonmi Sambhota invented the Tibetan alphabet in the same building. 

During the 8th century, Tibetan King Trisong Detsen, Indian master Guru Rinpoche and Tibet’s first seven monks meditated in the main building where King Songtsen Gampo meditated a century before them. At that time, Pabongka belonged to the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. 

Stupa by Pabongka monastery in Lhasa
Kids sliding down from the stupa by Pabongka

Unfortunately, nowadays, we cannot see the original impressive building. It was destroyed in 841 A.D. by the Anti-Buddhist king Langdharma. Pabongka was rebuild in the 11th century, but only two floors remained in the main building. During that time, Tibetan Buddhist Kadam sect was very popular in Tibet and Pabongka became a part of Kadam tradition.

In the 17th century, Fifth Dalai Lama unified Tibet. He restored Pabongka and added one more floor to the main building. Pabongka became a part of Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) order and remains a Gelug monastery up to this day. 

It suffered some damage during the Cultural Revolution. In recent years it was repaired. Monks from Sera monastery helped to repair Pabongka and restored ancient artifacts. You can see all the most important objects in the monastery. Since that time, Pabonga belongs to the Sera monastery Hermitage.

IMPORTANT ARTIFACTS

Meditation cave in Pabongka
Meditation cave in Pabongka

Inside the main chapel, you can see the most important three Buddha statues. Tibetans called this trinity Rigsum Gompo. These three statues are self-arising carvings depicting Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara), Jampelyang (Manjushri) and Chana Dorjee (Vajrapani). 

To the left from the entrance, look for a carved mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum“. It is one of the most important relics in the monastery. Tibetan alphabet was invented in Pabongka. Before inventing the Tibetan alphabet, Thonmi Sambhota wrote this mantra as an offering. 

Monk walking in the chapel in Pabongka

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