A fine, tapering finger of a structure that sprouts from a craggy ridge overlooking the patchwork fields of the Yarlung Tsangpo Valley, Yumbulagang is considered the oldest building in Tibet. Most of what can be seen today dates from 1982. It is still a remarkably impressive sight, with a lovely setting.
The founding of Yumbulagang stretches back into legend and myth. The standard line is that is was built for King Nyentri Tsenpo, a historic figure who has long since blurred into mythology. Legend has him descending from the heavens and being received as a king by the people of hte Yarlung Tsangpo Valley. More than 400 Buddhist holy texts are said to have fallen from the heavens at Yumbulagang in the 5th century. Murals at Yumbulagang depict the magical arrival of the texts.
There has been no conclusive dating of the original Yumbulagang , although some accounts indicate that the foundations may have been laid more than 2000 years ago. It is more likely that is dates from the 7th century, when Tibet first came under the rule of Songtsen Gampo.
The plan of Yumbulagang indicates that it was originally a fortress and much larger than the present structure. Today it serves as a chapel and is inhabited by around 8 monks who double as guards-- in 1999 some 30 statues were stolen from the main chapel. Its most impressive feature is its tower, and the prominence of Yumbulagang on the Yarlung skyline belies the fact that this tower is only 11 meters tall.
The ground-floor chapel is consecrated to the ancient kings of Tibet. A central buddha image is flanked by Nyentri Tswnpo on the left and Songtsen Gampo on the right. Other kings and ministers line the side walls. There is another chapel on the upper floor with an image of Chenresig, similar to the one found in the Potala Palace. There are some excellent frescoes by the door that depict, among other things, Nyentri Tsenpo descending from heaven, Trandruk Monastery, and Gelug Rinpoche arriving at the Sheldrak meditation cave.
Across the valley from Yumbulagang is an incredibly fertile and verdant crop field known as zortang, said to be the 1st cultivated field in Tibet. Farmers who visit the valley will often scoop up a handful of earth to sprinkle on their own fields when they return home, thereby ensuring a good crop.
Yumbulagang is only 6 km from Trandruk Monastery.