Ganden Sumtseling Monastery – Ticket, Opening Hours, Location, and Highlights

Ganden Sumtseling Monastery

Ganden Sumtseling Monastery (噶丹松赞林寺, Songzanlin Temple), also known as Guihua Monastery (归化寺), is situated 5 kilometers north of Shangri-La, nestled at the foot of Foping Mountain and behind the Lamu Yangcuo Lake. This grand monastery was constructed in 1679 by the decree of the Fifth Dalai Lama and Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, and it was completed in 1681. The Fifth Dalai Lama personally bestowed upon it the name “Ganden Sumtseling.”

As the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan Province and one of the most renowned monasteries in the Kham region, Ganden Sumtseling Monastery serves as a significant center for the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism in the Sichuan-Yunnan area. Its architectural splendor and cultural importance have earned it the nickname “Little Potala Palace.” Resembling an ancient fortress, the monastery is a masterpiece of Tibetan architectural artistry. Inside, it houses a vast collection of religious artifacts and valuable cultural relics, making it a veritable “Museum of Tibetan Art.”

Every year on the 29th day of the 11th month of the lunar calendar, local Tibetans gather at the monastery to celebrate the Gedong Festival. The festival features the ritual Cham dance, or “mask dance,” creating an atmosphere that is both mysterious and vibrant. The monastery’s rich cultural heritage and its pivotal role in the region’s religious life make it an essential destination for those interested in Tibetan Buddhism and its traditions.

Table of Contents

Basic Information

Estimated Length of Tour2 hours
Ticket Price55 RMB
Shuttle BusOne-way: 10 RMB
Round: 20 RMB
Opening Hours8.00 – 18.00; Last admission: 17.30
Telephone Number0086-0887-8229411

Location and Transportation

Ganden Sumtseling Monastery is located in the town of Jiantang, at 3 Niwang Road, Shangri-La City, in the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan Province. The monastery is approximately 5 kilometers north of the center of Shangri-La County (formerly known as Zhongdian). To get there from Shangri-La County, you have several convenient options:

  1. Bus: There are direct buses from the county town to the monastery. The bus fare is 2 yuan, making it an affordable choice for travelers.
  2. Public Transportation: You can take bus number 3, which goes directly to the monastery. The bus stop is located right across from the monastery entrance.
  3. Taxi: A taxi ride from Shangri-La County to the monastery costs about 10 yuan, offering a quick and comfortable way to get there.

Highlights of Ganden Sumtseling Monastery

Layout of the Monastery

layout of ganden sumtseling monastery

Ganden Sumtseling Monastery is an architectural marvel that blends Tibetan and Han Chinese styles. Surrounded by an elliptical fortress wall, the monastery’s imposing structure commands attention from afar. The main hall is both majestic and opulent, adorned with vibrant frescoes that depict historical events and Buddhist teachings with intricate detail.

The monastery’s layout is hierarchical, with the two primary assembly halls, Zhacang and Jikang, perched at the highest central point. These main buildings are constructed in a five-story Tibetan style, facing south. The upper levels of the main hall are adorned with gilded copper tiles, while the corners of the roof feature animal figures in a nod to traditional Han Chinese temple architecture. The lower hall, supported by 108 columns, represents an auspicious number in Buddhism and can accommodate up to 1,600 monks.

Inside, the walls are lined with “myriad scroll cabinets” filled with scriptures. At the forefront of the main hall stands a bronze statue of the Fifth Dalai Lama, surrounded by stupas containing the relics of eminent lamas. The top floor houses a sacred chapel with statues of the Fifth and Seventh Dalai Lamas, alongside ancient palm-leaf manuscripts, thangkas (Tibetan Buddhist paintings), and other sacred objects.

Zhacang (The Monastic College)

zhacang of ganden sumtseling monastery

In keeping with traditional Tibetan monastic design, Zhacang and Jikang rise prominently in the center, surrounded by eight smaller halls and monk quarters. This arrangement creates a multi-layered, tiered structure that accentuates the grandeur of the central buildings. Zhacang, meaning “monastic college” in Tibetan, serves as the primary place for monks to study and practice the teachings of Buddhism. The rear hall enshrines statues of Tsongkhapa, Maitreya, and a bronze statue of the Seventh Dalai Lama, standing over three meters tall and extending through to the upper levels.

The middle level of the main hall contains eight smaller chapels, each dedicated to various deities, protective gods, the abbot’s chamber, meditation rooms, and dining facilities. The front hall is used for hosting distinguished guests and for viewing the ritual Cham dance, performed during significant festivals. The top floor’s sacred chapel, apart from housing statues of the Fifth and Seventh Dalai Lamas, also contains palm-leaf manuscripts, thangkas, and other revered artifacts.

Adjacent to the main structures, the bell and drum tower stands tall to the south. It marks time by sounding the bell and drum at dawn, noon, and dusk, its resonant tones audible for miles around.

Origin of Its Name

origin of the name of ganden sumtseling monastery

The origin of the name “Ganden Sumtseling Monastery” is steeped in legend and spiritual significance. According to local lore, the location for the monastery was chosen through an oracle performed by the Dalai Lama. The prophecy indicated a site where “a clear spring flows amid dense woods, and golden snipes descend from the heavens to play.” Visitors to the monastery often encounter a perennial spring and may see a pair of golden snipes, reinforcing the legend.

The name “Ganden Sumtseling” was bestowed by the Fifth Dalai Lama. “Ganden” refers to the Ganden Monastery established by Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, symbolizing the continuity of this religious tradition. “Sumtseling” combines “Sum,” referring to the three deities—Indra, Brahma, and Vishnu—and “ling,” meaning “monastery” in Tibetan. Together, the name can be interpreted as: “A monastery built to ensure that the pure teachings, both exoteric and esoteric, continue to benefit all beings.”

Ganden Sumtseling Monastery has since become the highest institution of the theocratic system in the region, serving as a significant center for the three jewels of Buddhism: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Pilgrims from across Tibet, Sichuan, and Yunnan visit the monastery year-round, making it a vibrant hub of religious activity and devotion.

Legend about the Monastery

legend about ganden sumtseling monastery

According to historical records, Ganden Sumtseling Monastery shares a profound connection with the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelzang Gyatso. After the “ascension” of the Sixth Dalai Lama, the search for his reincarnation led to the discovery of a young boy identified by the prayers of the monks from the three great monasteries in Lhasa. This boy, the future Seventh Dalai Lama, faced persecution from Lhazang Khan of the Mongolian Khoshut tribe.

To protect the young reincarnate, monks escorted him to Ganden Sumtseling Monastery for refuge. During his time at the monastery, the young Dalai Lama performed a prayer ritual, offering milk to the water source and praying for it to nurture all beings. This water source thus became known as the “Milk River” due to its nourishing properties.

Later, the young Dalai Lama was taken to Kumbum Monastery in Qinghai for further protection and support. Eventually, Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty recognized and supported him, bestowing upon him the title of “Enlightened One Who Spreads the Dharma to All.” In gratitude and recognition of his refuge at Ganden Sumtseling, the Seventh Dalai Lama continuously supported the monastery’s expansion.

Treasures in the Monastery

treasures in the sumtseling monastery

Ganden Sumtseling Monastery houses numerous historical treasures that span centuries. Among its most prized possessions are eight gilded statues of Shakyamuni Buddha from the periods of the Fifth and Seventh Dalai Lamas. These statues are exquisite examples of Buddhist artistry and devotion.

The monastery also holds precious palm-leaf manuscripts, intricately painted thangkas using five-colored ink, and golden lamps. Particularly noteworthy is the collection of the “Tanjur” (a significant Tibetan Buddhist canon) in ten volumes, with two volumes handwritten in gold ink. Additionally, the monastery boasts a variety of exquisite gilded or silver incense burners and perpetual lamps.

On the third floor of the main assembly hall, near the study room of the resident lama, is a remarkable photograph titled “Sun and Moon Shining Together” of Mount Meili. This photograph is a subject of much fascination; some say it resembles a butter lamp, while others believe it looks like the sun, moon, and stars atop a Tibetan stupa. The story behind this photo is intriguing: He Jinwu, a devoted photographer, made three unsuccessful trips to capture this scene. On his fourth attempt, he visited Ganden Sumtseling Monastery first and received a blessing from the resident lama, Kesi. This blessing is believed to have enabled him to capture the extraordinary image.

Attractions near Ganden Sumtseling Monastery

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