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Tengboche Monastery: The holiest place in Everest

Tengboche Monastery

Tengboche monastery is the largest and most famous monastery in the Everest Region. Alternately known as Thyangboche Monastery and Dawa Choling Gompa, this monastery is famous for its stunning setting and beautiful interior. If you plan to go here, make sure you separate at least 1 hour to explore this gompa. Here are some fun facts about this monastery:

Significance of Tengboche Monastery

Tengboche Monastery

Established in 1919, the Tengboche Monastery is a relative newcomer to the monastic scene in the Everest Region. Sherpas first settled in the Khumbu Region around the 1530s. The first monasteries were built around a hundred years later, first in Pangboche and immediately after in Thame and Rimijung (Gumela).

However, Tengboche Monastery is now the center of Nyingmapa Buddhism in Khumbu. The reason is relatively straightforward. Tengboche not only lies along the trail to Everest Base Camp but is also a very popular night stop. Its ridge-top location with stunning 360 mountain views surely doesn’t hurt the monastery’s prospects either.

Monk at Tengboche Monastery

As such, Tengboche Monastery is a bridge between the religious life of the Sherpas and the rest of the world. Blessings and compassion flow out of the monastery, while goodwill and dollars flow in. As such, Tengboche Monastery has been able to rise from the ashes time and again. The first instance was in 1919 when it was destroyed by an earthquake. The second instance was in 1989 when it was destroyed by fire.

Here is a short history of religion in the Khumbu Region as presented in Ortner’s 1989 book, High Religion: Cultural and Political History of Sherpa Buddhism.

1480 – Sherpas leave Kham and settle in south-central Tibet
1533 – Sherpas cross into Nepal and settle in Khumbu
1553 – Settlement of Solu
1667 – Founding of Pangboche temple 
1667- 77 – Founding of temple in Thame and Rimijung (Gumela village above Phakding)
1720 – Founding of Zhung temple (Junbesi)
1831 – Founding of Khumjung Temple 
1850 – Birth of Karma, the senior founder of Tengboche Monastery
1856 – Birth of Sangye, Karma’s younger brother and the sole founder of Chiwang Monastery
1885 – Birth of Kusang, a Tengboche sponsor
1905 – Founding of Nauje temple (Namche)
1916 – Founding of Tengboche Monastery
1923 – Founding of Chiwong Monastery
1925 – Founding of Devuche nunnery, near Tengboche
1952 – Transformation of Thami non-ceilbate temple to a celibate monastery

Lama Sanga Dorje 

No discussion of religion and monasteries in the Everest Region is complete without a reference to Lama Sangwa Dorje. Mythology has it that he had supernatural powers which allowed him to fly from village to village and summon faraway gods. However, on an earthly plane, he is attributed to establishing the first monastery in the Khumbu Region, thus institutionalizing Buddhism. 

Actually, one of his first choices for starting a monastery was Tengboche. But apparently, he decided against it after he slipped on a rock. Instead, he established the first monastery in Pangboche. However, when he slipped, he left his footprints in the rock here. You can still see the rock inside the monastery.

Regardless of the slip, Lama Sanga Dorje is the most legendary figure of the Sherpa community and is considered the sixth reincarnation of Changna Dorje (Vajrapani). All the other reincarnations of Changna Dorje were born in Tibet. Lama Sanga Dorje, on the other hand, was the only incarnation born in Khumbu. He is said to have been born to a high lama at Mong. Regardless of the veracity of the legend, Mong is still a lovely and peaceful place. You should consider visiting when you are in the Everest Region. It is around 3.5 hours from Namche on the trail leading to Gokyo.

Mani Rimdu at Tengboche

Tengboche Monastery is famous for the colorful festival of Mani Rimdu. It is the largest and most elaborate of the Sherpas’ festivals and features masked dances and comical skits. The overall festival lasts around 19 days, of which only the last three days are open to the public.

In addition to Tengboche, this festival is performed at Chiwong and Thame. Each venue has a particular flavor of this tradition, which started initially at the Mindroling Monastery in Tibet. Traditionally held on the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar, both the Chiwong and Tengboche versions now happen on the ninth Tibetan month. It is indeed fortunate that the new dates coincide with the high season for trekking in the Everest Region.

Year Dates for Tengboche / Chiwong Dates for Thame
2021 October 20/21/22 May 21/22/23
2022 November 8/9/10 June 9/10/11
2023 October 28/29/30 May 30 / 31 and June 1
2024 November 15/16/17 May 18/19/20
2025 November 5/6/7 June 5/6/7
2026 October 26/27/28 May 26/27/28
2027 November 14/15/16 June 14/15/16

The entire festival can be broken down into creative and destructive parts. A word of caution about the word ‘destructive’ is due here. While we carnal beings see creation and destruction as mutually exclusive, diagonally opposite even, under Tibetan Buddhism, this duality is seen as complementary. As such, the word ‘destructive’ has no negative connotation as destruction is central to creation.

The creative part is set to coincide with the waxing moon. It includes such events as a construction of the symbol of the universe (the colorful Sand Mandala), spiritual medicine (Mani Rilwu), and butter offerings (Torma). The monks also recite prayers for the well-being of the universe during this period. The creative period comes to a climax during the full moon when the monastery’s gate is opened to the public to receive blessings (Wong).

The next day is the most anticipated part of the festival. Various dances are performed on this day, with each one more extravagant than the other. Most of the performances symbolize the destruction of opposing forces. There are also numerous comical interludes in between. The day after the masked dances, there is a fire ritual (Jinsak) in which evil is destroyed symbolically. The meticulously created mandala is also destroyed during this day.

Mountains seen from Tengboche

While in Tengboche, all visitors are influenced and fascinated by the grandeur of the surrounding Himalayas. From here, one can see the might Mount Everest (8,848.86 m), Lhotse (8,516 m), Nuptse (7,861 m), Ama Dablam (6,856 m), Khumbila (5,761 m), Taboche (6,542 m), Kongde (6,187 m), Kangtega (6,685 m), and Thamserku (6,608 m).

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HoneyGuide Staff

This post was created by an internal staff writer.

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