ABOUT GUGE KINGDOM
The kingdom stood at the intersection of trading routes and was a political and religious center of the region. Unfortunately, after a series of unsuccessful wars with nearby Ladakh (present day India), Guge lost its power, many people left the region. The magnificent structures in Tsaparang were left to decay. Few monks still live in Tholing, far from its old-days glory.
The two monasteries and ancient ruins are the highlights of the region. Tsaparang is located about 20km to the East from Zanda. Tholing monastery is in the center of Zanda.
The landscape of the region is also impressive. There is a magnificent valley around the Sutlej River, with deep canyons and barren mountains.
Present day capital of the province is a small town Zanda, also spelled Tsada, Zanda, or Zhada.
HIGHLIGHTS OF GUGE
Rinchen Zangpo founded Tholing Monastery sometime between 996 to 1025 during the rule of King Yeshe O. The monastery is famous for its beautiful murals. Nowadays, three out of six original buildings are still standing: Main Assembly Hall (Dukhang), Lhakhang Karpo, and Chapel of Yeshe O mandala.
Tsaparang was established after Tholing and Guge Kings moved the capital to Tsaparang. There was a settlement at the bottom of the mountain. The King’s citadel stands on top of the hill.
Although some of the buildings are in ruins, it is fascinating to explore them, along with winding paths, tunnels, and ancient murals. The surrounding landscape is also incredible. It is best to reserve at least one full day to explore Tsaparang.
ZANDA EARTH FOREST
The powerful winds at the Sutlej River valley formed incredible shapes on the mountain slopes. Zanda National Geopark stretches over 100 km. The mountain ranges are between 3,750 and over 4,400 meters high.
TIRTHAPURI MONASTERY AND HOT SPRING
The Tirthapuri monastery and hotsprings are located on the way between Mount Kailash and Guge Kingdom. If you are traveling to Ngari, Western Tibet from Darchen, you can make a stop by the hotsprings.
The hotspring is associated with Padma Sambhava. In the Tirthapuri Monastery you can see footprints of Padma Sambhava and his consort Yeshe Tsogyel. Also, you can visit the meditation cave.
GARUDA VALLEY/ KHYUNGLUNG CAVES
The Garuda Valley is Nepalese/ Indian name of the area, while Tibetans call it Khyunglung. The site is located about 30km to the West from Tirthapuri monastery. It is a beautiful complex of caves. There are many caves on the mountain slopes. Most of them are small. One of the highlights is the Bon monastery Garugem.
There is very little information about the history of the site. The land is not suitable for comfortable living: water sources are far and soil is not good for agriculture. Some scientists believe that Bon practitioners used caves for some rituals but didn’t stay there for a long time. Hopefully, more archaeological research will uncover the history of Garuda Valley.
GURUGEM/ GURIGYAM BON MONASTERY
Bon is the ancient religion that was wide-spread in Tibet before the Buddhism. To the present day some Tibetans believe in Bon religion. It is mostly popular in the Eastern Tibet.
Gurugem (also spelled Gurigyam) is one of the few Bon monasteries in Western Tibet. Nowadays you can see ruins of this monastery perched on the mountain slope.
The complex of caves is located about 40 km to the North of Zanda. One of the most famous caves is Dungkar (Dongkar) associated with the daughter of Yeshe O. Wonderful ancient murals decorate the walls of the cave. These murals are some of the oldest in Western Tibet. Some decoration elements are similar to the paintings in the caves along the silk road in China.
The mountain by the Piyang village has many of the meditation caves and monastery ruins.
ZANDA/ TADA/ THOLING MONASTERY
Altitude: 3650 meters
Zanda is a small town on the South bank of Sutlej River. The Old Tibetan Quarter is at the heart of Zanda. Tholing Monastery is located in the center of Zanda.
WHERE TO STAY IN ZANDA
WHERE TO EAT IN ZANDA
There are mostly local Tibetan restaurants and Chinese restaurants with limited options. In most Tibetan places you can order egg or vegetable fried rice, deep fried vegetables, French fries , steam rice and potatoes with yak meat curry.
HISTORY OF GUGE KINGDOM
Although the landscape is barren and the elevation in Ngari is high, Guge developed a famous civilization. The Kingdom lied on the trading route between Central Tibet and India, and the Silk Road approaching from the North. Some of the Guge ruins date back to the 9th century.
KING YESHE O
In the 10th century several thousand people lived there under the rule of the King Yeshe O (947 – 1024). Guge became a wealthy town. The king used the trading routes to exchange cultural achievements. He sent monks to India to study Buddhism. One of them, Rinchen Zangpo studied in India for 17 years before returning to Tibet.
King Yeshe O became a prisoner during one of the wars. When the enemies asked for a ransom, he asked his son not to pay for his life and use these money to invite Atisha.
Later, following the will of King Yeshe O, his son invited Atisha to help revive Buddhism in Tibet. Atisha, an important Indian master, arrived in Tholing in 1042, and spent 3 years in Tholing before traveling further to Central Tibet.
RINCHEN ZANGPO ESTABLISHES THOLING
Rinchen Zangpo became one of the key figures of Tibetan Buddhism. He translated many Sanskrit Buddhist texts to Tibetan. Also, Rinchen Zangpo built 108 monasteries in Western Tibet and Ladakh in Northern India. Skillful Indian Kashmere masters were invited to paint Tholing and Tsaparang monasteries. Some of these incredible murals you can see nowadays.
TSAPARANG BECOMES THE NEW CAPITAL
In the 15th century later Guge kings moved the capital of the region to Tsaparang. Still, Tholing remained an influential religious center. It is famous for establishing the Guge style of Tibetan art. However, the art forms are more refined in Tsaparang. In addition to the large monastery, kings established a citadel on the mountain.
LATE HISTORY OF GUGE
The Kingdom existed until around 1620’s, when it was destroyed by the invading army of Ladakhi king. Tsaparang was completely abandoned, while some monks stayed in Tholing monastery.
Under the leadership of the Fifth Dalai Lama at the end of the 17th century, Guge Kingdom was returned to Tibet.
In 1960, both Tholing and Tsaparang monasteries were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. They are now being rebuilt and reconstructed, some murals are cleaned.
TRAVELING TO ZANDA/GUGE KINGDOM
There are 2 main ways to reach Zanda: from Darchen and from Ali. Both roads are very scenic and go over several high passes. The journey on both roads starts with following the National Highway 219. Soon, the road winds off from the main highway to go to the Sutlej River Valley.
TRAVEL TO ZANDA FROM DARCHEN
Distance: 240 km
Highlights: Tirthapuri Hot Springs, Dungkar Caves, view of Mount Kailash, Dongpo Temple, Monam Temple
Most visitors travel from Darchen to Zanda in one day, although it is possible to make an overnight stop at Tirthapuri Hot Springs. You start the day following the Darchen to Ali road until you reach the small town Songsha. After that, you leave the main road to drive over the high pass and further down to the Sutlej Valley.
TRAVEL TO ZANDA FROM ALI
Distance: 200 km
Highlights: view of the Himalayas, Lalung-La pass (5175 meters), Mount Nanda Devi, Sutlej River Gorge and canyon
There is an airport in Ali. For travelers, who want to reach Western Tibet in the shortest time, it is possible to fly from Lhasa to Ali and then explore Ngari.
From Ali it takes 1 full day to reach Zanda. On the way you will cross three high passes: Lalung-La pass, Lawoche-La and Ayi La.
When you start traveling from Ali, you quickly leave the main road to travel through the mountain ranges. Enjoy the stunning view of Indian Himalayas and Ladakh in the distance. Finally, you will reach Sutlej River valley.
RECOMMENDED GUGE KINGDOM TOURS
17 DAYS MOUNT KAILASH AND GUGE KINGDOM FROM LHASA
A private tour taking you from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet to the most Western part of the country. The tour includes three days trekking around Mount Kailash and visiting the ruins of the Guge Kingdom on the West, in addition to Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse, and Everest Base Camp.
21 DAYS ULTIMATE TIBET TOUR
We will visit all the highlights of Lhasa and Central Tibet, spend a night by the Everest, complete three days trekking around Mount Kailash. After that we will head towards Ngari, the Western part of Tibet to visit the ancient Guge Kingdom. We will return to Lhasa via the scenic Northern route, traveling through vast grasslands, dozens of lakes, including the Namtso lake and nomad’s settlements.