Yarlung valley lies in the Southern part of Tibet Autonomous Region shaped by the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra River). It is a part of Nedong County of the Shannan Prefecture with the capital city Tsedang, 4th largest city in Tibet. Tsedang is about 180 km away from Lhasa.
The valley is only 72 km wide, formed by the Yarlung Tsangpo and Chongye rivers. The climate here is milder and altitude is lower than in most other regions of Tibet. That’s why there are good agricultural fields in the valley. The Yarlung valley became the center of Tibetan culture and is undoubtedly the cradle of Tibetan civilization.
The early history of Tibet started here, and you can see many of these places nowadays.
To this day many of the early religious and cultural objects from the 7-9th centuries survived in Yarlung. Tibetan pilgrims visit them to walk several day’s long circuit around all the most important places.
First Tibetans appeared there, and first kings unified different tribes to form the country. The oldest building in Tibet – Yumbulakhang is still standing in the valley as a reminder of these legendary times.
Tsedang is a very important town for Tibetan history. According to the legends, Tibetans were first born on the Gangpo Ri mountain near the town. Tsedang is located in the Yarlung valley, and it is usually the first stop on the way to explore the valley.
The city has a small Tibetan quarter with a few hotels and tea houses. The main attractions are the Tradruk monastery and the Yumbulakhang.
Gangpo Ri Mountain (4130 m)
Ganpo Ri is the sacred mountain in Tibet. According to the legends, Tibetans first appeared on the Gangpo Ri mountain. In the cave of the mountain, Avalokiteshvara in the shape of a monkey conceived the first six Tibetans with an ogress. Their six descendants started six clans in Tibet.
The main cave is a little below the top of the mountain (about 4,060 meters high). Ther is a naturally appeared image of the monkey, many carved mani stones, rock paintings, and prayer flags.
Sheldrak is the first meditation cave of Padma Sambhava, one of the major figures in Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan King Trisong Detsen invited Indian master Padma Sambhava (Tibetan name Guru Rinpoche) to help him build Samye, the first Buddhist monastery. Padma Sambhava meditated in this cave upon arrival in Tibet.
The cave is high up on the mountain and it is quite difficult to hike there.
Yumbulagang was originally a fortress, and it is the first building in Tibet. With the first Tibetan king, Yumbulagang became the first palace in the 2nd century. Since then, The first kings used it to execute control over central Tibet. In the 5th century, according to the legends, the Buddhist scriptures fell on the roof of the palace. Only in the 7th century during the time of Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo when Buddhism started spreading in Tibet, these the religious texts were understood. The king moved the capital to Lhasa and Yumbulakhang became a temple.
The area around Tsedang was perfect for agriculture. The soil is fertile, there are many small springs carrying freshwater, and the weather in summer is warm and sunny with some rains in July-August. That’s why the first farmers cultivated fields in Yarlung valley.
The fields below Yumbulagang are the first cultivated agricultural fields in Tibet. You can see these carefully arranged patches of land from Yumbulagang. Even today farmers collect some soil from these fields to sprinkle on their own for a better harvest.
King Songtsen Gampo founded the Tradruk monastery about 7 km South of Tsetang in the 7th century. The name Tradruk explains the history of the monastery. King Songtsen Gampo took a form of falcon (tra) to subdue the divine dragon (druk), enabling the construction of the monastery.
Later, the monastery was enlarged by first the Fifth, and later the Seventh Dalai Lamas. It was severely damaged during the cultural revolution. However, it is almost fully restored now.
On the ground floor, there are a series of chapels surrounding the Assembly Hall. The layout of the ground floor is similar to the Jokhang Temple. The most important chapel is the one with the statues of the Tara (Dolma Sheshema) accompanied by the Five Dhyani Buddhas.
On the upper floor, the most important chapel is Drubtob Lhakhang. It houses fine thangka of Tara (Chenresig) made of 29,000 pearls and an ancient applique thangka of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Mindrolling is the largest Nyingmapa monastery in Central Tibet, one of the 6 main Nyingma monasteries. The complex is one of the most beautiful in Tibet. Upon approaching the complex, you see the tall white stupa on the West side of the complex dominating the landscape. The main chapel is built of brown stone with fine details.
Mindrolling Monastery is located above Mondrup Shang village, 8km to the South from Drachi valley off the Lhasa – Tsedang road. You can visit it on the way to Tsedang when you are traveling to Yarlung Valley.
DORJE DRAK MONASTERY
Dorje Drak and the nearby Mindrolling Monastery are the two mother monasteries of Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism. Originally, Dorje Drak was founded by the first Rigdzin (Godemchen) in Tsang. Godemchen discovered a set of texts (terma) that became a foundation of the Buddhist teaching in Dorje Drak.
At the time of the Third Rigdzin, Dorje Drak moved to its present day location at the Northern Bank of Brahmaputra (Yarlung Tsangpo) River. There is a rock in a shape of a dorje (thunderbolt) that gave the name to the monastery complex.
Namseling Manor is a multi-storied family-owned building. It is located about 25 km from Tsedang and surrounded by a beautiful valley. The main building is a great example of traditional Tibetan architecture in noble family houses. It is 22 meters high and the wall around it is 10 meters high. Nowadays it is the oldest surviving multi-storied building in Tibet. The complex needs reconstruction before we can visit it.
The Samye Valley is one of the most popular destinations in Central Tibet. The landscape is splendid with mountains, beautiful Brahmaputra River, and sandy valleys. The central attraction is the Samye monastery. However, if you have 2-3 extra days, the valley has a lot more to offer. You can visit Chimpu nunnery and meditation caves complex or Yemalung nunnery complex (both described below). The region’s history is closely connected with Padma Sambhava, 8th-century Indian master who played an important role in establishing Buddhism in Tibet.
Samye is the oldest monastery in Tibet. It was established around 760-770’s. The monastery complex is constructed in the form of a mandala, representing the Buddhist Universe. The central building of the complex – Utse represents Mount Meru. It had three floors and each floor has a distinct architectural style. The four large surrounding temples represent continents, and another eight smaller temples of the complex represent subcontinents. On four corners of the complex you will see four large stupas of different colors.
There is a courtyard where monks debate on religious topics. After visiting the monastery, you can walk around it walking along the wall decorated with small stupas. To appreciate the beauty of the Samye complex structure, hike to the nearby Hepo Ri mountain to see the entire monastery from above.
In the 8th century, Tibetan king Trisong Detsen initiated the construction of Samye, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet. However, he couldn’t complete the construction because every night the demons were destroying it. To fight the demons, king invited Indian master Padma Sambhava, who subdued demons and obliged them to protect dharma.
Hepo Ri is the hill to the East of the Samye Monastery, where Padma Sambhava (Guru Rinpoche) subdued the demons, allowing the construction of the monastery. Those who climb the hill are rewarded by the splendid panoramic view of the Samye complex, Brahmaputra river, and the valley.
There is a small temple on top of the Hepo Ri, where you can rest enjoying the view.
On the way down, you can find an impressive rock painting of the Buddha of Longevity with a wheel of dharma above it.
CHIMPU NUNNERY AND MEDITATION CAVES
The Chimpu nunnery is located within a short drive from Samye. On the mountain above the nunnery is a famous and popular complex of meditation caves. Some of these caves Padma Sambhava used for his retreats. Many of the hermits are meditating in the caves. You can visit the original Sambhava’s meditation cave. It is located in a small temple built around it. From the temple, you will get an amazing view of the complex, the valley below, and Hepo Ri in the background.
If you wish to visit the entire complex, plan at least half a day tour and start early before it gets too hot to climb up. There are stairs and pathways leading to the top of the mountain connecting temples of the complex. At Chimpu nunnery, nuns run a restaurant run by nuns, where you can rest and recharge after the climb.
The Yamalung Heritage site is often visited on the trek from Ganden to Samye. Although, you can visit it from Samye, since it is about 20 km away from it. To visit the heritage site, first, you will cross the bridge over the mountain river. After that, you will have to climb up the mountain. There are stairs leading almost all the way up. You might be accompanied by goats and donkeys, that are grazing on the hills.
The scenery here is very different from that of Central Tibet. Mountains are covered with rich vegetation, and you can smell flowers in the air.
Padma Sambhava (Guru Rinpoche) meditated in the caves of Yamalung. You can visit the monastery built around the cave. There are several small temples run by nuns.
TOURS VISITING YARLUNG VALLEY
6 DAYS TIBETAN CULTURAL HERITAGE TOUR
This private tour takes you from Lhasa to Yarlung Valley and Samye Monastery. Yarlung valley is the birthplace of Tibetan civilization. You can see Yumbulakhang, an ancient fort and the first surviving building in Tibet. After that you will visit Samye, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
7 DAYS CRADLE OF TIBETAN CIVILIZATION TOUR
This tour will take you to the birthplace of Tibetan culture. From these places Tibetan civilization as we know it emerged. You will visit Lhasa first and explore Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Drepung, Sera, and Ganden monastery. After that, we will drive to Yarlung valley. First, we will visit Tradruk Monastery and Yumbulakhang. After that, we will continue journey to Samye monastery.
10 DAYS MEDITATION TOUR
On this tour you will experience Tibetan culture, visit incredible landmarks and see the natural beauty of Tibet. At the same time, we will travel to the most peaceful and special places where the greatest Buddhist Lamas have been meditating for years.
We will spend time in the meditation caves, away from the busy world, make stops by the most impressive natural sightseeing spots, and, of course, visit the most important monastic centers, including Samye, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
10 DAYS GANDEN TO SAMYE TREKKING TOUR
This trek goes along an incredibly beautiful route in Tibet. We start in Lhasa, where we visit the most important historical places and acclimatize before the trek.
During our trek, we will walk through high mountain passes (up to 5,250 meters), rocky mountains, vast green valleys, cross mountain rivers, and finally reach dense forest area.
We complete our trek at the Samye monastery, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
For those who feel adventurous, there are some one-day trekking options available near Samye. They can be added to your tour.