Samye Monastery is about half a days drive from Lhasa, once off the main highway the road follows the Yarlung Tsangpo river east through arid valleys and some small villages. On the way we stopped at Dorje Drak, a Nyingma monastery. It is built on the shore of the Yarlung Tsangpo river set against rocky desolate mountains, Dorje Drak is an important Nyingma monastery currently home to fourty-two monks, it was originally built in 1632 (at its current location) and over its life has been rebuilt twice, once after it was attacked by Dzungar Mongols in 1717 and then again more recently after the Cultural Revolution. After exploring the monastery we continued on arriving at the small town next to Samye Monastery in time for lunch.
After lunch we explored Samye Monastery which is credited as being the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery. Its construction was in the late 700’s and was built to represent a mandala with the main temple at the centre representing Mt Meru, the surrounding buildings as the continents and four entrances at the cardinal points. It also suffered at the hands of the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution but has since been rebuilt largely supported by the 10th Panchen Lama. It is quite a large complex and the main temple has a huge golden satute whose face we being repainted with golden paint during our visit. A couple of the roofs were being repaired while we were there with the local workers sing happily as they worked. This monastery is also known for the great debate that was held here just before the turn of the 9th century between Kamalasila and Moheyan which essentially decided the path that Tibetan Buddhism has followed. Kamalasila was an Indian Buddhist who had studied at the great Buddhist university of Nalanda while Moheyan was a Chinese Buddhist, when Moheyan lost he had to leave Tibet and all of his related teachings were destroyed thus cementing the Nalanda Buddhist tradition with Tibetan Buddhism.
That afternoon we climbed the neighbouring hill which is a scared Padmasambhava site. The top of the hill offered stunning views down onto the monastery below and it was from here that you could see the Mandala that the monastery is. There was also a small gompa on the top of the hill that was open but no one else was around.
The following day we travelled out to Chimpu Nunnery and retreat caves which was a couple of hours drive from Samye. There are eighty-two nuns at the nunnery which is located at the foot of the hill, we arrived to the sounds of symbols, drums and horns as they were in the middle of a puja. This is a very special pilgrimage and retreat site as Padmasambhava gave one of his first teachings here. Most monks are on 3 years 3 months and 3 day retreats and are from the Nyingma tradition. There are 175 hermitages across the hillside and some of the monks have their wife and children with them which is permitted in the Nyingma traditions. Our guide took us into one of the small (empty) retreat hut which held a self arisen Guru Rinpoche. We spent about half a day here before heading back to Samye for the night, the following day we would be back on the road heading to Gayntse.