The Songzanlin Monastery often called Ganden Sumtseling Monastery or Guihua Monastery is located at the foot of Foping Mountain near Shangri-La County in Yunnan Province. Originally built in 1679, construction took two years. The monastery has been rebuilt and remodeled many times in its long history but has always maintained its traditional Tibetan architecture style. The monastery is built on a hillside and looks like an ancient fort. There are two lamaseries in the Songzanlin Monastery, the Zhacang, and the Jikang Lamaseries.
The Songzanlin Monastery is often called the little Potala Palace because of its traditional Tibetan architectural style. In 1679 the fifth Dalai Lama chose the monastery’s location by divination and it quickly became the most important Tibetan Buddhist temple in Yunnan.
The two main halls of the monastery are magnificent and feature colorful frescos depicting Buddhist stories on the interior walls. The roofs of the Monastery are gilded copper and can be seen for miles away shining in the sun. The exterior walls are painted in a variety of colors including white, red, and tan making the entire complex appear even more magnificent. The monastery is home to the largest prayer wheel in the world. It takes many people working together to turn it. The Songzanlin Monastery houses many treasured works of art from many Chinese Dynasties. On November 29th of the lunar calendar, the monastery becomes abuzz with Buddhist believers and pilgrims for the annual Gedong Festival. The Gedong Festival has many mask dancing performances and the colorful masks, dancing, and chanting are quite mesmerizing. Many pilgrims prostrate themselves every two steps and walk long distances for many months, to arrive at the Songzanlin Monastery to pray.
The best time to visit the Songzanlin Monastery is in spring and summer because the weather is very comfortable. In the winter the area is covered in snow, making the monastery look particularly beautiful, but the weather is quite frigid.
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