Located in the famous Shangrila county of Yunnan Province, the Songzanlin Monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and the largest of its kind in Yunnan. It is also the most important Tibetan Buddhist monastry in South West China and the most spectacular tourist attraction in Shangrila.
The Songzanlin Monastery is also known as the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery and as Sungtseling so don’t be confused by these names.
History & Background
The Songzanlin Monastery was built in 1679 by the Fifth Dalai Lama under the patronage of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty. The monastery was relatively untouched by the outside world until the 1930’s when it supported Communist General He Long against the Kuomintang. Despite this support, the monastery was bombed and severely damaged by the PLA during the liberation (invasion) of Tibet in 1959. The monastery was not fully rebuilt and restored until 1983.
Buildings & Grounds
The monastery together with the Lamuyuan Cuo Lake and several villages is a part of the Songzanlin scenic park. The main part of the monastery is on the top of a small hill in the northern end of the park and consists of three main buildings, The Main Assembly Hall, the Sakyamuni Temple and the Tsongkhapa Temple.
Main Assembly Hall – This building was under restoration when I visited and there was no access to the hall. The hall is normally used for monks to gather and chant Buddhist scriptures and houses a 9 meter tall statue of Sakyamuni Buddha.
You can check at your hotel to see if the Main Assembly Hall is open but even closed, the Songzanlin Monastery is well worth seeing.
Sakyamuni Temple – This is the smaller building to the right of the Main Assembly Hall and the inside of the building is a three story atrium. The second and third floors are galleries over looking the atrium and the first floor holds an enormous seated statue. Colorful paintings cover all of the walls on the first floor.
Tsongkhapa Temple – This is the smaller building to the left of the Main Assembly Hall and has the same three story atrium structure on the inside as the Sakyamuni Temple. The building is dominated on the inside by a large statue on a raised platform in the center of the room with a wide alter at the front of the statue.
Unlike the Sakyamuni Temple, this temple was used by monks for prayer and monks give blessings to tourists in return for donations. Prayer benches sheltered by drapes were laid out on both sides of the temple entrance.
The three main buildings use a combination of Tibetan and Han architecture and the smaller side buildings are dominated by Han architecture.
White Stupa- On the top of the hill to the left and behind the main buildings is a white relgious monument called a Stupa circled in Tibetan prayer flags. The stupa is a fascinating and attractive structure, great to see and the walk only takes a few minutes.
The Songzanlin Monastery is 5 kilmeters out of Shangrila township with basically no traffic on the roads so catching a taxi would be cheap. You can also catch the number 3 public bus from the center of the Shangrila township to the Songzanlin Monastery.
Tickets & Opening Times
The ticket to the Songzanlin scenic park that includes the Songzanlin Monastery is 85rmb. The park is open from 8:30am to 5:00pm and the hours do change so check the times if you plan on going early or leaving late.
Songzanlin Monastery Trivia
The Songzanlin Monastery has very strict rules for entering the temple and has a list of 14 that include no sunglasses, no taking photos and walk clockwise
The Songzanlin Monastery is at an altitude of 3,880
There are 146 steps from the foot of the hill to the entrance of the Main Assembly Hall