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.
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