Rongbuk Monastery (Tibetan: རྫ་རོང་ཕུ་དགོན་, Wylie: rdza rong phu dgon; other spellings include Rongpu, Rongphu, Rongphuk and Rong sbug (Chinese: 絨布寺; pinyin: Róngbù Sì)), also known as Dzarongpu or Dzarong, is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Nyingma sect in Basum Township, Dingri County, in Shigatse Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region in China.
Rongbuk monastery lies near the base of the north side of Mount Everest at 4,980 metres (16,340 ft) above sea level, at the end of the Dzakar Chu valley. Rongbuk is claimed to be the highest monastery in the world. For Sherpas living on the south slopes of Everest in the Khumbu region of Nepal, Rongbuk Monastery was an important pilgrimage site, accessed in a few days' travel across the Himalaya through the Nangpa La. The monastery was also regularly visited by the early expeditions to Mount Everest in the 1920s and 1930s after a five-week journey from Darjeeling in the Indian foothills of the Himalaya. Most past and current expeditions attempting to summit Mount Everest from the north, Tibetan side establish their Base Camp near the tongue of Rongbuk Glacier about 8 km (5 mi) south of the Monastery.
Today, the monastery is accessible by road after a two- to three-hour drive from the Friendship Highway from either Shelkar (New Tingri) or Old Tingri. From Rongbuk Monastery, there are dramatic views of the north face of Mount Everest, and one of the first British explorers to see it, John Noel, described it: "Some colossal architect, who built with peaks and valleys, seemed here to have wrought a dramatic prodigy—a hall of grandeur that led to the mountain."
History, religious and cultural significance
Rongbuk Monastery was founded in 1902 by the Nyingmapa Lama Ngawang Tenzin Norbu in an area of meditation huts and caves that had been in use by communities of nuns since the 18th century. Hermitage meditation caves dot the cliff walls all around the monastery complex and up and down the valley. Mani stone walls, carved with sacred syllables and prayers, line the paths.
The founding Rongbuk Lama, also known as Zatul Rinpoche, was much respected by the Tibetans. Even though the Rongbuk Lama viewed the early climbers as "heretics," he gave them his protection and supplied them with meat and tea while also praying for their conversion. It was the Rongbuk Lama who gave Namgyal Wangdi the name Ngawang Tenzin Norbu, or Tenzing Norgay, as a young child.
In previous times, the Monastery became very active with Buddhist teachings at certain times of the year. It was, and is, the destination of special Buddhist pilgrimages where annual ceremonies are held for spectators coming from as far away as Nepal and Mongolia. These ceremonies were shared with satellite monasteries across the Himalaya also founded by the Rongbuk Lama. These ceremonies continue to this day, notably at the Sherpa Monastery at Tengboche.
Rongbuk Monastery was completely destroyed by the excesses of China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) by 1974, and was left in ruins for several years, as recorded by photo-journalist Galen Rowell in 1981.
The monastery's vast treasury of books and costumes, which had been taken for safekeeping to Tengboche, was lost in a 1989 fire.
Since 1983 renovation work has been carried out and some of the new murals are reportedly excellent. Adjacent to the monastery there is a basic guesthouse and small but cosy restaurant.
According to Michael Palin, it now houses thirty Buddhist monks and thirty nuns, but another source reports that locals say there are only about 20 nuns and 10 monks, although previously there were about 500 monks and nuns living here.
In 2011, Rongbuk Monastery was ranked at the top of CNN's 'Great Places to be a Recluse'.
Photo taken during the Everest Peace Project
- Tibetan in Wylie transliteration: dpa’ gsum; Chinese: Bāsōng Xiàng 巴松乡
- Dorje, Gyurme (1999). Tibet (3rd ed.). Bath, UK: Footprint. ISBN 1-903471-30-3.
- Chan, Victor (1994). Tibet Handbook: A Pilgrimage Guide. Moon Publications.
- Palin (2004), p. 145.
- Tenzing Norgay and James Ramsey Ullman, Man of Everest (1955, also published as Tiger of the Snows)
- Noel, J.B.L. Through Tibet to Everest, Hodder & Stoughton, 1927, 1989 edition, p. 136.
- Early 18th century according to Victor Chan or the late 18th century according to Gyurme Dorje
- Rongphuk Monastery and the Everest Region
- Mayhew, Bradley and Kohn, Michael. (2005). Tibet, p. 191. Lonely Planet Publications. ISBN 1-74059-523-8.
- Michael Palin (2004). Himalaya with Michael Palin (DVD) (Documentary). Britain: BBC.
- So, Winnie. "9 great places to be a recluse". CNN.
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