Songzanlin is the largest Tibetan Buddhism monastery in Yunnan Province. Covering an area of 30 hectares, it looks like a mini Kumbum (Ta'er) Monastery. It is located on a mountain slope 5km from the county town of Shangri-la.
Since the 5th Dalai Lama chose the site through divination in 1679, the monastery has grown into the most important community of its kind in Yunnan. Naturally, throughout its history spanning 325 years there have been ups and downs -the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), for instance, saw the lamasery almost completely destroyed -but the strong faith of the people in Shangri-La has always prevailed, and today Songzanlin once again houses more than 700 monks and lamas.
Built in the style of Potala Palace in Lhasa, the magnificent monastery complex resides on top of a hill and consists of the two Zhacang and Jikang lamaseries -which take on the form of five-story Tibetan watchtowers -five gates, numerous sub-lamaseries and hundreds of rooms for the monks. Walking up the 146 steps that lead to the main prayer hall is a tiring exercise at 3,300m above sea level, but it allows you to trace mentally the pilgrimage route that generations of devout Buddhists living on the plateau take on their knees and foreheads every year.
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