Yumbulagang Palace, also known as Yumbu Lakhang or Yungbulakang Palace, is an ancient palace in the district of Nêdong County, nearby Tsetang in Shannan Area. It is the first palace in Tibetan history and is one of the oldest buildings in Tibet, with a history of more than 2,000 years.
“Yumbu” means female deer, named after the shape of the Jormo Zhaxi Ceri Mountain which looks like a female deer. “lagang” means sacred palace. Yumbulagang means “palace of mother and son” in Tibetan dialect. Perched on the summit of the Jormo Zhaxi Ceri Mountain, on the east bank of the Yarlung River, the towering and outstanding Yumbulagang looks like a blockhouse.
Yumbulagang Palace was built for Nyatri Tsanpo, the first Tibetan King by Bon believers in the 2nd century BC. There is a folktale about the construction of Yumbulagang. It’s said that the first Tsanpo who was the Heavenly son descended to Tsantang Plains by heavenly ladder one day and was seen by 12 Bon herdsmen and they made him king of the tribe. Because he was brought down to the tribe seated on the shoulders of the herdsmen, the name Nyatri Tsanpo which means “the King Seated on the Throne Neck” was given to him. People of the Yarlung tribe built Yumbulagang as the palace for Nyatri Tsanpo. Then it became the summer palace of Songtsan Gampo and Princess. In the 7th century AD, Songtsan Gampo moved the capital to Lhasa and Yumbulagang gradually became a Buddhist palace, and then the 5th Dalai Lama changed it as the monastery of Old-Yellow Hat Sect (Kadamspa).
Yumbulagang is mainly divided into two parts: the front part is multi-layer palace, while the back part is a square watchtower of a high blockhouse connected with the front part. The original palace is of medium size and it was enlarged by the 5th Dalai Lama. Presently, besides the rooms for the monks, there is a bedroom for Dalai Lamas who come here to do religious service.
The ground floor is the palace of ancient Tibetan Kings. In the middle you would see a statue of Buddha with Nyatri Tsanpo’s statue on the left and Songtsan Gampo’s to the right. Along the walls on both sides are statues of Tibetan rulers and Songtsan Gampo’s capable ministers. The first floor is an elaborate hall enshrined the statues of Avalokitesvara and Sakyamuni. It’s said the statue of Avalokitesvara in Yumbulagang is as ancient as that in Potala Palace. The walls are painted with beautiful murals which tell the early history of Tibet. The most famous one of those is the first one on the left which tells the story of the first Tibetan King Nyatri Tsanpo.
The highest point of Yumbulagang is a watchtower. It’s said that Princess Wencheng lived here for her first summer in Tibet. Locals climb to the top of the palace, lighting butter lights in the hope for good luck. Standing on the top and looking around, you can enjoy the excellent panoramic view of the valley: fields, Tibetan villages, and mountains extending to the horizon.
The Jormo Zhaxi Ceri means “auspicious mountain” in Tibetan dialect. About 400 meters in the northeast from the mountain, there is an ever-flowing spring called “Geer spring”. It’s said that the spring can cure any diseases, so most people who come to Yumbulagang to worship will go there to have a drink and take a bath.
Yumbulagang Palace is a worthwhile visit for those Tibetan history fans. If you want to take a ritual walk with prayer wheels around the palace, remember to walk clockwise to respect the local customs.
Yumbulagang Palace is about 192 km southeast of Lhasa, and 9km south of Tsetang. The most convenient way to Yumbulagang is to rent a motor tricycle for a round-trip. On the way back to Tsetang, you could drop at Trandruk Monastery, which is one of the earliest Buddhist monasteries in Tibet and is famous for the pearl Thangka.