China // Tibet //

Zhalu Monastery and Gyankhor Lhakhang

An accessible enough day-trip or side-trip, Zhalu Monastery (夏鲁寺, xìalŭsì) is around 22km from Shigatse, 75km from Gyantse and 4km south of the village of Tsungdu between kilometre-markers 18 and 19 on the Gyantse–Shigatse road. Originally built in the eleventh century, Zhalu has a finely colonnaded courtyard decorated with luck symbols, but is most remarkable for the green-glazed tiles that line the roof. It rose to prominence as the seat of the Bu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism founded by Buton Rinchendrub in the fourteenth century. Buton’s claim to fame is as the scholar who collected, organized and copied the Tengyur commentaries by hand into a coherent whole, comprising 227 thick volumes in all. However, his original work and pen were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Although there were once about 3500 monks living here, the tradition never had as many followers as the other schools. It did, however, have a fair degree of influence: Tsongkhapa, among others, was inspired by Buton’s teachings. Major renovations are ongoing and chapels have been closed and rearranged, but the monks are friendly and the village is a quiet and pleasant place. For the energetic, it’s a one- to two-hour walk up in the hills southwest of Zhalu to the hermitage of Riphuk, where Atisha is supposed to have meditated. You’ll need directions or a guide from Zhalu, as you can’t see it from the monastery.

About 1km north of Zhalu, Gyankor Lhakhang dates from 997. Sakya Pandita, who established the relationship between the Mongol Khans and the Sakya hierarchy in the thirteenth century (see Some history), was ordained here as a monk, and the stone bowl over which he shaved his head prior to ordination is in the courtyard. Just inside the entrance is a conch shell, said to date from the time of Buton Rinchendrub and reputedly able to sound without human assistance.