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The Yumbu Lakang


Yumbu Lakang is the oldest-known dwelling in Tibet, its construction surrounded by various myths and legends associated with the founding of the Tibetan civilization. One such myth tells that King Nyatri Tsenpo descended from heaven in the 2nd century BCE to build the castle. Another legend claims that the 28th King of Tibet, Lha Totori Nyentsen, resided here late in the 4th century.

Although some archaeologists support the claim that the foundations of the building date back two millennia, a larger historical consensus dates the structure to the reign of King Songtsen Gampo (r. 608-650 CE). As well as enlarging the structure that may have pre-existed to a size far exceeding today's castle, he also set up the two-story chapel here, investing the castle with a secondary monastic function. Subsequent kings expanded the castle-monastery; the Fifth Dalai (1617-82), declaring King Songsten Gampo to be an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara gilded its roof.

Unfortunately, during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), Yumbu Lakang was severely damaged. Much of the outer walls were destroyed and its interiors were gutted. Consequently, much of the Indian inspired inner fittings have been lost. With the exception of the building's ancient foundations, much of the present structure dates to the reconstruction of 1982.

The Yumbu Lakang complex, positioned dramatically on the crest of a hill, consists of three components: the tower, the chapels and the monks' quarters. The three-storied tower, located at the east of the complex, contrary to its appearance is only 11 metres (approximately 33 feet) high. Each floor contains a small chapel located within its limited interior space. The main chapel building was also originally three stories high. However, only two of these storeys were rebuilt during reconstruction in 1982. Of these, the first is dedicated to the historical Kings of Tibet and the second to local Buddhist deities. The final component of the structure, the monks' quarters, are located to the south of the chapel building. The Nyingma sect monks, whose duty it was to upkeep the castle and chapel, were quartered on the first floor, while the second floor room, adjacent to the chapel's second floor, was reserved for the use of the Dalai Lama.

Not far from the ancient castle, is a plot of land shaped like a scythe (when viewed from the air), and enclosed by low walls. This is known as Zorthang, Scythe Plain, and is reputed to be the first cultivated field in Tibet. It is a tradition for pilgrims and farmers alike to collect soil from this place and to sprinkle it on their own plots to ensure a good harvest. Each year at sowing time the small community of monks, still at Yumbu Lakang, conduct rituals to propitiate its earth spirits.

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