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Canyon of Sutlej river in Ngari, Western Tibet


Gurugyam Monastery in Garuda Valley, Western Tibet

Guge Kingdom is located in Ngari, Western Province of Tibet. The two ancient capitals of Guge are Tholing and Tsaparang

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. 



ruins of an ancient city in Tibet

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, The Ruins Of The Ancient Capital Of Guge Kingdom And

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.


Earth Forest Geopark in Zhada Western Tibet

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.


Tithapuri monastery in Ngari Western Tibet

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.


Khyunglung caves in the Garuda Valley.Tibet

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.


Gurugyam Monastery in Garuda Valley, Western Tibet

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.


Piyang Caves in Tibet

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 town in Ngari Western Tibet

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. 


  • Toling Monastery hotel. There are five western style rooms with attached bathrooms and basic Tibetan style rooms with public shared bathroom. 
  • Zanda Grand hotel: the best hotel in Zanda town but it is a little far from the center. Rooms are nicely decorated in Western style. 
  • Many local hotels have clean rooms with attached bathroom and decorated in Chinese style. 


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.


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. 


Tholing Monastery in the village of Sand Guge Kingdom
Tholing Monastery in Tada, the capital of Guge Kingdom

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 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, The Ruins Of The Ancient Capital Of Guge Kingdom And
Ancient Tsaparang fortress, the ruins of the ancient capital of Guge Kingdom

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. 


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.


Road view on the way from Lhasa to Ngari

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. 


Distance: 240 km
Highlights: Tirthapuri Hot Springs, Dungkar Caves, view of Mount Kailash, Dongpo Temple, Monam Temple

Tithapuri monastery in Ngari Western Tibet
Tirthapuri, Western Tibet

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. 


Distance: 200 km
Highlights: view of the Himalayas, Lalung-La pass (5175 meters), Mount Nanda Devi, Sutlej River Gorge and canyon

Ngari(Ali) scenery in Tibet- Zanda Earth forest. Taken on the way from Zanda(Toding town) to Shiquanhe, Ali(Ngari), Tibet.
Zanda Earth forest

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.


South face of Mount Kailash and stupa in Tibet


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.

Canyon of Sutlej river in Ngari, Western Tibet


 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.




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