This vast monastery of the Geluk School was established by the first Dalai Lama in 1447. The monastery gained standing when Panchen Lama IV, head abbot of Tashilhunpo and teacher of Dalai Lama V, was accepted as the personification of Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of Longevity, thus becoming the "number two" lama in Tibet. The Mongols, Han, and British have exploited this division to good effect. Due to the size of the complex, start early in the morning, as all the temples are locked at midday. In the afternoon, you are more likely to enjoy chanting in the ancient Assembly Hall (Dukhang).
The pilgrimage circuit begins at Jamkhang Chenmo, at the west end of the complex, which houses a massive 26m (85-ft.) Maitreya (ca. 1914), a mass of gold around a wood and metal core. It was built by hand; around 900 artisans dedicated 4 years of their lives to it. But from an artistic perspective, Tashilhunpo is mediocre. As Tucci noted, "Everything was new and garish here. The collected composure of the primitives had been succeeded by baroque pomposity." Some composure remains in the gorgeous murals of Tsongkapa and his disciples that surround the reliquary stupa of Panchen Lama IV (Kundung Lhakhang), in the narrow cobblestone paths, and in the Assembly Hall, erected around an ancient sky-burial slab. The adjacent courtyard, with its striking flagpole, is the heart of the temple and the focus of religious dances.
A small new museum has opened on the grounds of Tashilhunpo, but houses little more than a few black-and-white photos taken at the monastery and a small display of thangkas and costumes. Admission to the museum is ¥5 (65¢/35p).
Cost: Admission ¥55 ($7.15/£3.60)