Plan your Lhasa Tour? In addition to including such stereotyped visits covering Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Sera Temple, Norbulingka and so on, don’t forget to add an excursion to Drak Yerpa Monastery, which is located about 40km northeast to the city center of Lhasa.
There are two popular Tibetan verses in relation to Drak Yerpa. One verse says that “While Tibet‘s holy place is in Lhasa, Lhasa’s holy place in Drak Yerpa”. Another verse goes like that “Visiting Lhasa without going to Drak Yerpa is just like making a new clothe without adding the collar”. These two verses pinpoint the importance of Drak Yerpa in the hearts of the common Tibetan pilgrims.
I’ve done a little research about Drak Yerpa’s origin. The Drak Yerpa Monastery was first built as one of the meditation temples by Songtsen Gampo for his Nepalese Princess, Bhrikuti. The monastery was named after the valley where it was situated. Later many buddhist masters came here for meditation including the masters from India. Now Drak Yerpa has become one of the four meditation areas in Tibet.
Drak Yerpa Monastery is a hermitage built on a hillside of the mountain at the altitude of 4885 meters. The hermitage is composed of many meditation caves. Some say there are now still 80 meditation left on the hillside. Some houses were built to accommodate the caves, hence cave temples. So actually Drak Yerpa is a cave monastery. Many buddhist statues in the house or the temple were caved from natural rocks.
This morning we set off eastward at 9:30am from Lhasa city center along Nachan Road. It is a scenic drive with Lhasa River on our left side. Lhasa River is one of the important tributaries of Yalu Tsangpo, the mother river of Lhasa.
Since Drak Yerpa is located at the sea level of 4885 meters while the city of Lhasa at the altitude of 3600 meters, the big altitude difference means that we have to drive upward along the zigzag mountains. About half hour later we drive through the Nachanla Pass at the alititude of 4500 meters. The pass is decorated with numerous prayer flags.
Crossing the pass, we drive down to the Yerpa Village where we are going to turn to the northeast and drive in the Yerpa Valley up towards to Drak Yerpa Monastery. So at the Yerpa Village, we have to goodbye to Lhasa River running east to Lhasa.
This is the Yerpa Village, a Tibetan village, which is located along the Yerpa Valley. Later we are told that many monks are from Yerpa Village. The monks are fed by their families down in the village.
The main road forks at the Yerpa Village, we branch off the main road leading to Lindrup County, we turn left into the Yerpa Valley for another 15km mountain road drive to our destination – Drak Yerpa. There is a signboard at the fork indicating the direction to Drak Yerpa with distance and altitude information.
The 15km mountain road is divided into two sections – the first 5 km road built with asphalt while the rest 10km road is poorly paved with crushed stones, the macadam pavement. The 15km drive is accompanied by the stunning views on the both sides. We still see some village houses located in the valley sparsely.
The Drak Yerpa is in sight! It is located on the hillside of the mountain in the northeast side of the Yerpa Valley with the peaks covere by white clouds accompanied by huge number of prayer flags to its west.
We are closing in on the Drak Yerpa and high on the winding mountain road. I turn my head and catch a beautiful view of the valley we have just passed and the distant Lhasa River. The barley fields are formed in the beautiful terraces.
A mountain of five coloured prayer flags.
We are approaching the parking lot of Drak Yerpa. A signboard standing by the parking lot tells we are near our destination.
People begin to get off the bus and are amazed by the stunning views on the all directions.
I stand on the parking lot and take this picture. High on the hillside dotted by brilliant house temples and caves. Also we find lots of collapsed houses. People can imagine that in its prime period, there would be more caves and temples accommodating more monks in Drak Yerpa.
The temple houses are built on the hillside accommodating the caves.
More temple houses clung to the hillside.
A close look at a hillside temple
Due to high altitue and limted travel time, we decide to climb up to visit only one nearest temple. The entrance fee for Drak Yerpa is RMB30 per person. We start to climb the steps up to the temple, a few local Tibetan vendors waiting for us on the path selling prayer flags to be hung high up on the prayer area to the west of the dotted temple houses. They charge RMB 25 for a dozen of prayer flags. They will have the prayer flags hung people have just bought to the prayer flag area.
We are climbing on the steps leading to the first temple clung to the hillside. People have to walk slowly because of the high altitude.
People are turning the prayer wheels clockwise and walking toward the unknown temple.
People are entering the red and white temple house.
The visit to the unknown temple turns out to be a very good experience. The monk in charge of the small cave temple allows us to take photos inside and have a nice talk with all the people visiting his temple.
After finishing the visit to the temple, we start to enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains – Alpine meadows.
Alpine meadow on the mountain opposite the mountain where Drak Yerpa is located.
Before we walk down to the parking lot and finish our Drak Yerpa tour, we have a final look at the valley viewed from high on the hillside.
Drak Yerpa Travel Tips:
During tourism peak season in Lhasa, there are public buses going to Drak Yerpa with the bus terminal near the square of Jokhang Temple. If you visit Drak Yerpa in winter, you are able to enjoy the snow view on the mountains.