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Samye Monastery - The First Monastery in Tibet

Samye Monastery was built in 762 when the great Tibetan emperor Trisong Detsen ruled Tibet. With the basic terms of Buddhism – Buddha, scriptures and monks, it is the first official Buddhist monastery in Tibet. For over 1,200 years of history, it is one of most influential monastery in Tibet. In this monastery, there was a famous debating about Buddhism between the ancient Indian Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism. Sitting on the north facing southward, and covers more than 25,000 square meters with a shape of a big oval, this monastery was built according to the description of universe in Buddhism scriptures. Being famous for its featured architectural structure which combines features of Tibetan, Chinese and Indian, Samye Monastery symbolizes the center of the universe for tourists to explore the ancient heart of Tibetan Buddhist world.

Samye Monastery Facts

Ratings:

#20 of 34 Attractions in Tibet

Season:
Summer & Autumn
Type:
Religious Site, Historical Architecture
Altitudes:
3,700 meters
Location:
Zharang County, Shannan Area
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How to Get to Samye Monastery

Samye Monastery is located at the foot of Mt. Hepo Ri, on the north bank of Yarlung Tsanpo River, with a distance of 38 km from Tsedang County, the transport hub of Shannan Area. Taking the public transportation to Samye Monastery is painstaking by taking long time and several tranfers. The best way to go there is to take the private car which is offered for free in our tours. For independent travelers, here is the bus transfer information.

Bus from Lhasa to Samye Monastery: (1) there are several buses running from Jokhang Temple Square in the early morning at 6:00 and 7:00 to Samye Monastery in the noon, which will stops at the gate of the monastery. (2) take long distance bus from Lhasa West Suburban Bus Station to Shannan and stop by the Samye Dock for 3 hours, then take the ferry boat to the bank and transfer truck or other local vehicles to the gate of Samye Monastery.

Samye Monastery Entrance
Samye Monastery Entrance

Samye Monastery History

Samye Monastery means “unexpected and full of surprise” in Tibetan and its construction history is quite legendary. In the late 8th century, Trisong Detsen presided over a debate at Samye between Indian Buddhists and Chinese Zen Buddhists concerning which type of Buddhism should prevail in Tibet. The Indians won.

And in 762, Trisong Detsen built this monastery by person and took 12 years to complete in 775. During the construction period, he was eager to know the layout of this monastery, later the Padma Sambhava showed him the image from the palm, Trisong was so surprised about the grandiose building and shouted out the word “samye”, which was the origin of Samye Monastery and it was the first monastery in Tibet. Since then, the monastery has come under the influence of various sects, such as the Nyingma, Sakya, and Gelug traditions.

Facing south, Samye Moanstery was built according to the Mandala design in Tibetan Buddhist Culture, in the layout of the central temple symbolizes the legendary Mount Meru, center of the universe. Although, it was rebuilt for many times of destructions, the construction pattern still kept the beginning style, which can be reflected by the main 3-storey Wuzi Hall.

Samye Monastery
Panoramic View of Samye Monastery Layout

Samye Monastery Highlights

Historical Architecture

Wuzi Hall represents the center of universe Sumeru Mountain. Around the Wuzi Hall, there are four other halls which represent four oceans on which there are 12 continents. There are also two halls referring the moon and sun. There are also four special pagodas with colors of red, green, black and white to suppress devils. Walls stand for the mountains which surround the universe. Wuzi Hall is the heart of Samye Monastery. It includes three floors. The first floor was built by local Tibetan style. The middle floor learned from Chinese architecture. The top floor was constructed by Indian style. Because of its combined architectural styles, Samye Monastery is also called as “Three-Style Monastery”.

Precious Murals

A large number of grandiose murals have been kept well in Samye Monastery. The murals in monasteries are always themed by ancient famous story of Tibetan Buddhism and historical events of monasteries, such as the “Painted Historical Records”, “Historical Records of Samye Monastery” on the first and second floors of Wuzi Hall and “Biography of Padmasambhava” on its second floor.

Trekking around Samye

Trekking from Ganden Monastery to Samye Monastery for over 80 km, which will take 4 days, is one of the most popular trekking routes in Tibet. As one of the famous pilgrimage road as well, you can encounter many pilgrims do the kowtow. Besides, along the way, you will enjoy fascinating plateau landscape and authentic Tibetan traditional culture. You can check the detailed tour itineray in our recommended tours. >>Check 11 Days Lhasa to Tsetang (Ganden to Samye)Trekking Tour Itinerary.

Samye Wuzi Hall
Samye Wuzi Hall

Samye Monastery red stupa
Unique Red Stupa in Samye Monastery

Useful Travel Tips

Before you go, here are some detailed visit notices for you prepare: the opening hours are 09:00-16:00 daily; after entering the temple, you must walk clockwise from left to right; when visiting the monastery, bring a flashlight as it is quite dark in the halls; take photos in most part of the monastery is premited, but it is better to ask for permission before taking photos in the halls or with monks and do not use flash lamp as it may damage the murals. With more travel tips, read below:

● The top of Mt. Hepo Ri (facing the Monastery) is the best place to photograph a panoramic view of the monastery. Normally it will take 30 minutes to reach the top. If you can't climb to the top, you can also go to the temple on the middle way to take photos of the whole monastery.

● When you are taking the local ferry to the monastery, keep your cameras and bags from being wet by waves.

● There are four different stupas around the main hall with the colors of red, green, white and black, which are quite special from other stupas. Do not miss out during your visit.

● For dining and accommodation, the monastery includes a restaurant and guest house. Alternatively there are other restaurants outside the Eastern Gate and guest houses in the nearby village.

● In the northeast of Samye Monastery about 15 km, there is a Qingpu Hermitage, like a village with quiet environment to experience how those monks and nuns cultivate themselves and do their practices.

Samye Monastery Local Ferry
Tourists Take A Local Ferry to Samye Monastery

Recommended Tour Packages

Escorted by a skilled private drivers and companied by a professional local tour guide to organize all the activities, all you have to do is to enjoy your fantastic Tibet journey. Time can never be wasted waiting for a group, hopping on and off buses or negotiating unfamiliar destinations.

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