Situated at the foot of the Mountain Gambo Utse, the Drepung Monastery is known as the most important monastery in Tibetan Buddhism. Seen from afar, its grand, white construction gives the appearance of a heap of rice. As such, it was given the name “Drepung”, which, in the Tibetan language, means “Collecting Rice”.
You probably understand that Lhasa, Tibet, is a pretty mountainous region, and the Drepung Monastery is situated high up in the mountains, which requires a very steep ascent. This climb is not for the faint-hearted, although I wouldn’t call it anywhere near as difficult as the one to get to the Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan. However, a trip to Lhasa would not be complete without checking out the main monastery in the city (country?), and I was glad to get the opportunity (albeit after a carbs-loaded breakfast of yak meat and toast!).
The grounds of the monastery are organised on the caves and temples for Jamyang Qoigyi, together with two magnificent white pagodas. The buildings here then are centred on these pagodas, The major buildings are Ganden Potrang, Coqen Hall, the four Zhacangs (or Tantric colleges), and Kamcuns.
The Ganden Potrang, in the southwest corner, was built under the supervision of the second Dalai Lama and became the residence of the second, third, fourth, and fifth Dalai Lamas. After the fifth Dalai Lama moved to the Potala Palace, it was served as the meeting place for the local regime for both politics and religion. Nowadays, tourists can still see Tibetan monks hanging around inside the monastery, working, learning, and even indulging in some playful banter with other.
There were many grand halls and bronze Buddha states here at Drepung Monastery. Of particular note was the Sutra Hall, which is supposedly supported by 183 pillars, and contains many colourful decorations, as well as more vivid statues of Buddha. You can easily tell why this place is so important to Tibetan people; it is worshiped by the disciples of Buddhism.
There are also several courtyards in the dense forest that surrounds the monastery here up in the mountains, and they are used for monks to debate (although I did see a football or two…). Tourism here is pretty sparse, but Drepung Monastery is one of the main sights in Lhasa for international tourists, so it should always be included on your itinerary. Who knows, you may even get involved in a game of footy with the monks while you’re here? Robes for goalposts?