In the 1930s the Drepung Monastery ranked among the largest monasteries is the world with between 7,000 and 10,000 monks from various countries living on its grounds at any given time. Its colorful halls were once divided into four schools for monks from Mongolia, Khampas and two other nearby regions. And while the number of monks has dropped to approximately 2,000, Drepung is now divided into seven colleges where men venture to learn about lineage, religion and geography.
In 2008, Chinese authorities shut Drepung down after monks led what became a violent protest against Chinese rule. After that, it didn't open to the public until 2013. Now travelers can explore the caves and temples around the grounds and step inside the iconic white pagodas tucked amid the hillside. Ganden Potrang, one of the most popular sites of Drepung Monastery, originally served as a residence for the second, third, fourth and fifth Dalai Lamas, before becoming a political and religious meeting place. While travelers agree the monastery’s buildings are certainly impressive, it’s the vast courtyards and dense forests that make this famous destination a perfect place for finding peaceful reflection.
Covering an area of 250,000 square meters, Drepung Monastery is located in the foothills of the Gambo Utse Mountain, five kilometers from Lhasa. Its name means “collecting rice” in the Tibetan language, and travelers say its buildings appear like a pile of rice when seen from afar. The monastery is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and admission is CNY 55 per person. A taxi to the site costs approximately CNY 20.