On the slope of the Gambo Utse Mountain, 5 kilometers northwest of Lhasa, the Drepung Monastery was built in 1416 by a disciple of Tsongkhapa. Covering an area of 250,000 square meters, it is the largest of the monasteries of the Gelug Sect and considered one of the “Three Great Monasteries in Lhasa”, along with the Ganden Monastery and the Sera Monastery.
Drepung means “rice heap” in Tibetan, a reference to the white buildings dotting the hillside. The Drepung Monastery houses plenty of historical and cultural relics and Buddhist classics. In its heyday, it had more than 10,000 monks. The buildings of the monastery have two spectacular pagodas as their centre. Important amongst these buildings are Ganden Phodrang, Coqen Hall, the four Zhacangs (or Tantric colleges), and Kamcuns.
The Ganden Phodrang occupies the southwest corner of the monastery. It was the residence of the Dalai Lamas until the Fifth Dalai Lama constructed the Potala Palace. The tomb stupa of the second, third and fourth Dalai Lamas are housed in the Coqen Hall, the monastery’s most important building.
The Coqen Hall, situated in the centre of the monastery, has a large square in front of it. The stone steps lead up to grand Entrance Hall, passing through which you will reach the main Assembly Hall. This hall is the highlight of Drepung, with its roof supported by 183 columns, and a space of awesome size and scale, occupying an area of about 1,800 square meters. Amongst the colorful decorations, there are fine and vivid statues of Buddha.
The second story houses collections of precious sutras. A set of Gangyur Tripitaka written in gold powder and woodcarving sutras of the Qing Dynasty will make your visit interesting. On the third story is enshrined a huge bronze statues of Qiangba Buddha, which is said to be the future appearance of the Qiangba Buddha in his 8th year.
Drepung Monastery is famous for the high standards of its academic study; it has trained a large group of talents for Tibetan Buddhism. Besides, Drepung Monastery is especially known as the site of the annual Shoton Festival. “Sunning the Buddha” held by the monastery during the exciting Shoton Festival has been one of the most magnificent religious activities in Tibet.
The best way to visit the monastery is to follow the pilgrim groups or the yellow signs. One thing to make sure to go is to go up on the roofs, where the views are splendid.
You can get to the foot of the mountain by taxi, which will cost you around 20yuan, then climb up the mountain to the monastery.