Home>>>City Guide>>>>Attraction>>>>Tibet

Rongbuk Monastery

The Rongbuk Monastery, located on Mt. Everest, is the highest monastery in the world, with an elevation of about 5,200 meters, almost the same height as the base camp of Mt. Everest.

The monastery was built in 1899 by a Ningmapa lama. Once, the number of lamas reached 500, but now there are only about 50 in the monastery. A strange phenomenon is that the lamas live together with the nuns, some of them from Nepal. Mani stones, carved with sacred syllables and prayers, line the paths.

Although small, the Rongbuk Monastery has great significance for the pilgrims. It is the best place for watching and taking photos of Mt. Everest.

On the north side of the Himalaya sits the partially reconstructed Tibetan Buddhist monastery of Rongbuk, once the largest monastic center in the region. Rongbuk is the power place through which all seeking the highest peak via the North Face must pass. It is the sacred threshold to Mount Everest, with the most dramatic views in the world. 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." Often shrouded in clouds and mist, the great peak was alternately described as "a preposterous triangular lump" (by Mallory) and "a glittering spire of rock fluted with snow" (by Odell), with "an imposing head of granite and ice," (Noel) and it looms large over the Rongbuk glacier, shining white at its feet.

The Rongbuk monastery, situated half-way up the mile-wide, 20-mile long valley at 16,500 feet, is accessible today by vehicle over an obscure, rough track that crosses frozen streams and deep dry washes. In the days of Mallory and Irvine, it took a five-week walk from Darjeeling, in the Indian foothills of the Himalaya, to arrive at this spot. One gradually gains altitude on the high Tibetan plain and, on crossing the last pass, one's entire view is filled with a panorama of the mythically charged horizon: Shishipangma, Mount Everest, and Cho Oyu are among the great peaks that lie ahead.

Rongbuk Monastery was built by a local lama in about 1899. The altitude is 5, 000 m. (16, 404.2 ft.) more or less, which is the highest among all the temples in the world. It is a five-tier building, but only 2 floors are in use now. In the frontispiece of the main hall, were sacrificed the statues of Sakyamuni and Geru Rinpoche. And the mural paintings inside are especially worthy of appreciation.

At Rongbuk, there is a beautiful, large, round chorten, a reliquary with religious significance embedded in its terraced structure and crown of emblems of the sun and moon, symbolizing the light of Buddha's teaching. The chorten dramatically marks this last human dwelling place before one heads up the stark valley to Base Camp. In previous times, the Rongbuk Monastery became very active with the teachings at certain times of the year. It was a site of special pilgrimage during the annual ceremonies with masked dancers. Throngs of the faithful would come from far and wide—some from Nepal and Mongolia—and sit on every level of all the many-tiered flat roofs of the monastery to watch the masked dancers in the great open courtyard. Cymbals clanged amid the ceaselessly overlapping thunder of the long Tibetan trumpets played in relay to accompany the monk dancers in their ritual. These ceremonies were shared with the satellite monasteries across the Himalaya also founded by the Rongbuk Lama. The ceremonies survive to this day, notably at the Sherpa monastery at Tengboche. Rongbuk's vast treasury of books and costumes, which had been taken for safekeeping to Tengboche, were tragically lost in a 1989 fire.

Love of adventure and expression of the dauntless human spirit was less intelligible to the Rongbuk Lama than pilgrimage, so the early explorers told him they were on pilgrimage, couching the term to themselves as on a pilgrimage of adventure. But pilgrimage it becomes, up on this old glacial moraine so far from the norm of modern life. After receiving the blessing of the lama, your mind becomes more focused, perhaps channeled by the gods who dwell in the Abode of Snows. By the time Base Camp is reached, the land has become progressively more sterile, more elemental: rock, sky, ice, wind. Everest looms above, a sacred space with its own draw, its own inexorable pull on the human spirit.

Travel tips
Rongbuk Monastery is connected to Shigatse City and Lhasa by a road, so it is easy to get to those two beautiful cities from this location. Besides, travelers who decide to climb the Mt. Everest can also stay here at night. It is about 8 km. (4.97 mi.) to the Everest Base Camp and a good point to appreciate the scenery there at dawn and dark. In front of the monastery are a white pagoda and a Mani Stone pile, which are often selected as the foreground to take photographs of Mt. Everest. There is a guesthouse and a few hostels around the monastery. Each room can accommodate 4 – 5 people. There is also a small restaurant opened by a Tibetan, the prices there are a bit high, but we suggest you bargain with him with some simple English. Due to the disadvantaged location, you cannot expect too much from the conditions there.