The town of TSETANG (泽当, zédāng), southeast of Lhasa and just south of the Tsangpo River, and the nearby valleys of Yarlung and Chongye, are steeped in ancient history. Legend claims the first Tibetans originated on the slopes of Gongpo Ri to the east of Tsetang, and that the Yarlung Valley was where the first king of Tibet descended from the heavens to earth upon a sky-cord. This king then fathered the first royal dynasty, many members of which are buried in the nearby Chongye Valley. The Yarlung Valley was also where, in the fourth century, the first Buddhist scriptures fell from the sky upon the first king’s palace at Yumbulakhang.
Tsetang is the base for a trip to Lhamo Lhatso, a sacred lake 115km to the northeast, where it’s reputed that visions appearing on the surface of the water contain prophecies. Regents searching for the next incarnations of high lamas come here for clues, and Dalai Lamas have traditionally visited for hints about the future. From the nearest town, Gyatsa, it’s a five-hour walk up to the lake, so you’ll have to negotiate with your guide whether to camp or make the long return journey in a single day.Read More
The Yarlung Valley
The Yarlung Valley
Though the Yarlung Valley (雅鲁鲁流域, yălŭlŭliúyù) is renowned as the seat of the first Tibetan kings, these days it is the dramatically sited and picturesque Yumbulakhang, the first Tibetan palace, which draws visitors to the area. From afar, the fortress temple of Yumbulakhang (雍布拉康, yōngbùlākāng), 12km south of Tsetang, appears dwarfed by the scale of the Yarlung Valley. But once you get close and make the thirty-minute climb up the spur on which it is perched, the drama of the position and the airiness of the site are apparent. Widely regarded as the work of the first king of Tibet, Nyatri Tsenpo, when he arrived in Yarlung, the original Yumbulakhang would have been over two thousand years old and the oldest building in Tibet when it was almost totally destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. The present building is a 1982 reconstruction in two parts, with a small, two-storey chapel and an 11m-high tower. The lower floor of the chapel is dedicated to the early Tibetan kings: Nyatri Tsenpo is to the left and Songtsen Gampo to the right of the central Buddha statue. The delightful and unusual upper-storey chapel, with Chenresi as the central image, is built on a balcony. Some of the modern murals up here show legendary events in Tibetan history; look out on the left for Nyatri Tsenpo and for the Buddhist scriptures descending from heaven. The energetic can ascend by ladders almost to the top of the tower where King Nyatri Tsenpo supposedly meditated. The deep, slit windows at knee level mean the views aren’t that wonderful, however; for the best scenery, take a walk up to the ridge behind the temple.
The Chongye Valley
The Chongye Valley
From Tsetang it’s a bumpy 27km south along unsurfaced roads through the attractive Chongye Valley to the village of CHONGYE (阱结, jĭngyiē), a sleepy little place but expanding with plenty of new buildings. There are a couple of restaurants and a basic guesthouse here, which you’ll need to ask to find. On the way, you’ll pass the Tangboche Monastery. However, the target for most visitors, the Tombs of the Kings, is around a kilometre farther south from Chongye. The entire valley is an agricultural development area and the patchwork of fields is interspersed with irrigation work. Be warned, though, that there’s no public transport out here from Tsetang, and very little traffic either.
One kilometre south of Chongye, the Tombs of the Kings are scattered over a vast area on and around the slopes of Mura Ri. Some are huge, up to 200m in length and 30m high. The body of each king was buried along with statues, precious objects and, some sources suggest, live servants. Some of the greatest kings of the Yarlung dynasty were interred here, although there is disagreement over the precise number of tombs – some sources claim it’s 21, but far fewer are visible, and there is uncertainty about which tomb belongs to which king.