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Tsetang Travel Guide

Tsetang is considered to be the cradle of Tibetan civilization, in that the Zodang Gongpori caves above the town are said to be the place where the Tibetan race originated. Forther south in the Yarlung valley kingship and agriculture were first introduced.

The first palace is at Yumbu Lagang and the first Buddhist temple at Tradruk. Samye, Tibet's first monastery, is located 30 km from Tsedang and was founded in 779 by King Trisong Detsen.The town supposedly dates back to the founding of the Tsetang Gompa in 1351 which became an important centre of learning.

Major Attractions

Samye Monastery

Picture of Samye Monastery

Located in the quiet piedmont area of the Shannan Region, the Samye Monastery is the first temple to be built in Tibet and the first complete with the three Buddhist jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. With these unique features, this splendid temple has become an attraction for visitors from near and far. The temple was built by the Trisong Detsen (reigned 742-798) of the Tubo Kingdom and was presided over by the Buddhist master Padmasambhava. The Detsen contributed a lot to the project.

First, it was said the name (meaning surprise in Tibetan) originated from an exclamation he made. When the temple was completed, Detsen took part in the foundation ceremony and then ordained seven descendants of blue blood to cultivate in the temple. They became the first group of monks to live at the temple and later the so-called 'Seven Enlighten Disciples of Samye'. Since then, Buddhism had become widespread within Tibet and forms a branch of splendid culture. It replicates the universe described in the sutras exactly.

The central world Mount Meru is represented by the majestic Wuzi Hall. The Sun and Moon chapels stand in the north and south as the sun and moon in the universe. Four larger halls and eight smaller halls are distributed around all sides of the central hall, symbolizing the four large continents and eight small ones. In the four corners lie the Red, White, Black and Green Pagodas guarding the Dharma like the Heavenly Kings. A circular wall surrounds the temple as if marking the periphery of the world. The layout of Samye Monastery resembles the Mandala in the Esoteric Buddhism


Picture of Yambulakhang

There's a saying that you can't claim to have been to Shannan without having visited Yambulakhang and Trandruk monasteries. Yambulakhang in Tibetan means a palace on the leg of a doe. It is perched dramatically on a pinnacle above the valley. And the mountain where the palace situates looks like a doe. Yambulakhang Monastery was the summer palace of Songtsen Gompa and his wife before Norbulinka was completed. It's the oldest known building in Tibet, and the first fort in Tibet. When the monarchy ended, the palace became a monastery.


It is one of the earliest Buddhist Monasteries in Tibet, a significant stop for Tibetan pilgrims. Dating back to the 7th century reign of Songtsen Gampo, it is one of the "Demoness Subduing" temples of Tibet. Trandruk Monastery is famous for its "Pearl Thangka" which is the image of Compassion Buddha made up of almost 30,000 pearls and much other jewelry.

lhamo la tso

Picture of Lhamolha Tso

One of the most important pilgrimage destinations, Lhamo La-tso is around 115km northeast of Tsetang. The la of La-tso is a Tibetan word that means "soul" or "life spirit". La resides in both animate and inanimte forms, including lakes, mountains and trees. The two may sometimes be connected, as in the Tibetan custom of planting a tree at the birth of a child-such a tree is known as a la-shining. In the case of Lhamo La-tso, "la" is identified with the spirit of Tibet itself.The Dalai Lamas have traditionally made pilgriamages to Lhamo La-tso to seek visions that appear on the surface of the oracle lake. The lake is also considered the home of Palden Lhamo.

Tombs of Ancient Tibetan Kings

An hour to the southwest of Tsetang, in Qiongjie County, lie the tombs of twenty-one ancient Tibetan kings. It's the largest tomb group of Tibetan kings in existence today. The tombs are all located on the south bank of the Brahmaputra River. It's said that both the tombs of Songtsen Gampo and his wife are located in the tomb group, which is believed to be the final resting place of kings who ruled during the seventh to the ninth centuries. Above the tomb of Songtsen Gampo is his temple. Since today is the last day of the half-month-long Sagadawa Festival, many Tibetans have come to the temple to pay respect to the ancient kings.

Chim-Puk Hermitage

Picture of Chim Puk Hermitage

It is a warren of caves that was once a retreat for Guru Rinpoche and other high ranking lamas. Chim-Puk Hermitage is to the north-east of Samye. After crossing through desert-like territory for a couple of hours, the path ascends into the surprisingly lush area in which the caves are found. It's an ideal route for day hike. It is said that there are 108 meditation caves, 108 spring mouths and 108 sky burial grounds.

Minzholing Monastery

The monastery was built in the late 10th century and had its current name when it was rebuilt in 1677. It is one of the three great monasteries of the Rnyingma Sect. The monastery has paid attention to the research of Buddhist classics, astronomical calendar, calligraphy rhetoric and Tibetan medicines and is famous for its achievements in these fields. Over the years the recommendation of the Chronology of the Tibetan Calendar has been formulated by the monastery, and it is famous as the first academy of Lamaism in Tibet.

How to Get in?


Road from Lhasa to Tsetang is paved very well. One way distance is 220km, and will cost you 3hrs around.

Best Time to Come

The altitude in Tsetang is lower than Lhasa, only 3551m. Even in winter, the temperature here is higher than that in Lhasa. You can come all year round. But the best time is from July to September as the sceneries are the best in summer.

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