When I was cycling west on a busy road with Chinese trucks, new cars and few cyclists, I wondered if I was really on the right way to Drepung monastery. After all, Drepung used to be the largest monastery of any religion in the world, larger than the other famous monasteries of Tibetan buddhism, Sera and Ganden. At its peak, it counted more than 15,000 monks in its walls. Soon after taking the turn-off to the right, the road started climbing, and I had to change gears to make it to the entrance of the monastery, on a nice road through trees.
I parked my bike and paid the entrance fee, and walked up. Soon after entering the monastery proper, I saw the first solar powered tea pot - I would see many more during my visit, and, as it later appeared, also in other monasteries. The monks have devised a clever system of using solar power to heat their water. Every courtyard has one or more silvery wings concentrating the light of the sun to a tea pot above it. Drepung monastery has clear signposting with big yellow arrows, which allows you a visit to the main assembly hall and colleges of the monastery. Actually, after it was founded in the early 15th century, over time Drepung monastery was divided into seven colleges. These colleges have been compared to the great universities in the West, each with their own specialties.
With only several hundred monks residing in Drepung now, the importance of the colleges has dwindled, although some have been re-established in India. While I walked further on to the main assembly hall, I felt like walking in a small village inhabited by monks - although the monastery is obivously not as busy as it used to be before the invasion, it does not give the impression of being almost abandoned and can appear lively in some parts. In the main assembly hall, I attended a prayer session - impressive enough, with the red-robed monks sitting under high thangkas, their yellow hats on their shoulders. From the roof, the view was perhaps even better - not just of the monks sitting in prayer on the ground floor, but also of the rest of the monastery.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Drepung monastery (China). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Drepung monastery. Read more about this site.