Shelled by the Chinese army during the peaceful liberation of Tibet and further damaged during the Cultural Revolution, the most significant monastery of the Geluk School is slowly undergoing a revival. Dramatically perched on a mountain east of Lhasa, to the south of the Kyi Chu, it was built in 1409 by Tsongkapa. Drawing on support from monks of the older schools, as well as laypeople, the school rapidly expanded, with disciples opening Drepung and Sera monasteries in 1416 and 1419 respectively. Mongol support during the 17th century eventually assured their status as the preeminent school of Tibetan Buddhism, and more than 3,000 monks lived here prior to 1950.
Food and lodging at Ganden are basic, and both are provided by the guesthouse to the left (west) of the parking lot. In front of this decaying two-story building, peddlers hawk yak butter and fragrant grass (sang) to pilgrims. The Meditation Hall (Ngachokhang), to the right (east) of the path beyond the bus stop, is atmospheric. Tsongkapa instructed his first disciples here. Chanting and the creation of torma (butter sculptures) take place throughout the day. Inside, to the left, is one of several dark and gruesome protector deity shrines that are off-limits to women. Other notable buildings are the Assembly Hall, behind and to the right of a prominent white chorten, where a jolly monk is likely to thwack you on the head with the shoes and hat of Tsongkapa. On the opposite side of a courtyard is a printing house, and above it stands Tsongkapa's Reliquary (Serdung Lhakang), which was devastated during the Cultural Revolution. Tsongkapa's tooth remains. Pilgrims waste little time in undertaking a spectacular lingkhor (pilgrimage circuit). The pilgrimage path commences from a tangle of tar-choks (prayer flags) to the left of the monastery. Allow at least an hour -- you are above 4,000m (13,120 ft.). For the fit and acclimatized, the peak to the west offers spectacular views of the lush surrounding countryside.