Exploring the Yarlung Valley, Tibet

Yarlung Valley, Tibet

High in the Himalayas I clamber through a dark cavern deep into the mountains heart in search of the Guru Rinpoche’s path to enlightenment in the Yarlung Valley the cradle of Tibetan civilization. The cave opening is barely wide enough for me to squeeze through. A weathered old leather rope was placed here hundreds of years ago by pilgrims to help assist in pulling yourself to the other side, this is not for those who are claustrophobic. Finally, I reach the heart of the mountain. Wafts of juniper incense and the heat from the butter lamps make the air heavy. In the distance you can see Tibetans gathered around a large gold statue murmuring mantras.

For Tibetans a pilgrimage should be a difficult and dangerous event, this way when you finally complete the journey the sense of reward is there. In Tibet’s Yarlung Valley there are many of these karma boosting journeys taking place. Those who make it to the Yarlung Valley will find one of Tibet’s oldest and culturally rewarding experiences.

Getting to the Yarlung Valley

The Yarlung Valley is very close to Lhasa making it very easy to get here. Since you must be on an organized tour to visit Tibet you can easily visit parts of the valley on a day trip, but it’s much better to consider spending a few days here exploring the valleys cultural treasures.

The absolute best way to reach the Yarlung Valley is to do what pilgrims have done for centuries, walk from Ganden Monastery to Samye.

Ganden to Samye Hike

Hiking from Ganden to Samye is one of Tibet’s classic hikes. The three to four-day journey will take you through several different climate zones, and over a couple of Tibet’s extreme high altitude passes.

Apart from some of Tibet’s most stunning natural wonders you will also get the chance to interact with Tibet’s Drokpa Nomadic minority. They call the valleys in between Ganden and Samye home for the summer months of the year due to their animal grazing patterns.

Exploring the Yarlung Valley, Tibet
Hiking to Yarlung from Ganden

If you’re planning on coming to the Yarlung Valley do it right, hike from Ganden to Samye!

Exploring the Yarlung Valley, Tibet
Samye Monastery

Sights of the Yarlung Valley

Yarlung Valley’s Incredible Landscapes

Crossing Tibet, you will be dumbfounded by how spectacular the scenery is, The Yarlung Valley has some of the most beautiful scenery I saw in all of Tibet! Shimmering golden sand dunes, lush green barley fields and stark jagged mountains. The contrast of Yarlung Valley’s scenery will make you wonder why more people don’t make it here!

Exploring the Yarlung Valley, Tibet

Samye Monastery

Samye is riddled with folklore history and was the first Buddhist Monastery in Tibet. Visiting Samye you immediately notice the temples age with its ancient murals and unique architecture. Samye does not see a lot of tourists so most of the time you will have the entire monastery to yourself.

The inner halls are adorned in hundreds of murals and shrines of angry deities are found everywhere. There is no photography inside and if you try the monks will fine you! Outside the main hall Samye has a large garden which is pleasant to walk around. Her you will also see countless pilgrims preforming kora’s around the main hall and outer shrines.

Exploring the Yarlung Valley, Tibet
Samye Monastery

Chimpuk Meditation Center

This was the most exhilarating and interesting sight in the whole of the Yarlung Valley for me. Starting in a remote valley located west of Samye a path leads straight up to the mountain top. The climb is very steep and takes the better part of the day so be sure to be in good health before undertaking this climb.

Nearing the top, the views get more spectacular before you reach the Chimpuk Hermitage cave entrance. It is said that Guru Rinpoche himself came here to meditate. The next stop is where the fun begins! Entering the cave, you first crawl up a set of stairs before you must squeeze through a tiny crack in the mountain. It’s a long 100m tunnel that you must pull yourself through with an old leather rope. Do not attempt if you are even slightly claustrophobic. Reaching the centre of the mountain it opens to a large Smokey cavity with a giant Guru Rinpoche Shrine. The resident nuns take care of the area and you can be blessed by one of them at the shrine.

Yungbulakang Palace

The Yungbulakang Palace is the most iconic landmark in the Yarlung Valley. This small picturesque fort has guarded the entrance to the Yarlung for centuries. These days it has been converted into a small museum in commemoration.

The real draw to coming here is to climb the prayer flag covered hill behind the palace for epic views over the valley. The lush green barley fields below the towering fortress with rugged mountains in the distance make for an amazing picture.

Exploring the Yarlung Valley, Tibet
Yungbulakang Palace overlooking Yarlung Valley

Yarlung Valley, Tibet Travel Information

Location: Yarlung Valley, Tibet 

Recommended Tour Operator: Tibetan Highland Tours 

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Stephen Gollan

Uncharted Backpacker is a glimpse at the past eleven years of globetrotting I have done. Now at over ninety countries I share my travel knowledge for you so you too can travel the world and see what wonders it has to offer.

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