Rongbuk Monastery, also known as Dzarongpu or Dzarong, is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Nyingma sect in Basum Township, Dingri County.
The Monastery lies near the base of the north side of Mount Everest at 4,980 metres (16,340 ft) above sea level, at the end of the Dzakar Chu valley. Rongbuk is claimed to be the highest monastery in the world. For Sherpas living on the south slopes of Everest in the Khumbu region of Nepal, Rongbuk Monastery was an important pilgrimage site, accessed in a few days travel across the Himalaya through the Nangpa La. The monastery was also regularly visited by the early expeditions to Mount Everest in the 1920s and 1930s after a five weeks journey from Darjeeling in the Indian foothills of the Himalaya. Most past and current expeditions attempting Mount Everest from the north Tibetan side do establish their Base Camp near the tongue of the Rongbuk Glacier about 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) south of the Monastery.
Nowadays, the monastery is accessible by road in a two- to three-hour drive from the Friendship Highway from either Shelkar (New Tingri) or Old Tingri. From Rongbuk monastery, there are dramatic views on the north face of Mount Everest, and one of the first British explorers to see it, John Noel, described it: "Some colossal architect, who built with peaks and valleys, seemed here to have wrought a dramatic prodigy—a hall of grandeur that led to the mountain."
History, religious and cultural significance
Rongbuk Monastery itself was founded in 1902 by the Nyingmapa Lama Ngawang Tenzin Norbu in an area of meditation huts and caves that had been in use by communities of nuns since the 18th century. Hermitage meditation caves dot the cliff walls all around the monastery complex and up and down the valley. Mani stones walls, carved with sacred syllables and prayers, line the paths.
The founding Rongbuk Lama, also known as the Zatul Rinpoche, was much respected by the Tibetans. Even though the Rongbuk Lama viewed the early climbers as "heretics," he gave them his protection and supplied them with meat and tea while also praying for their conversion. It was the Rongbuk Lama who gave Namgyal Wangdi the name Ngawang Tenzin Norbu, or Tenzing Norgay, as a young child.
In previous times, the Monastery became very active with the teachings at certain times of the year. It was, and is, the destination of special Buddhist pilgrimages where annual ceremonies are held for spectators coming from as far as Nepal and Mongolia. These ceremonies were shared with the satellite monasteries across the Himalaya also founded by the Rongbuk Lama. The ceremonies continue to this day, notably at the Sherpa Monastery at Tengboche.
The Rongbuk monastery was completely destroyed by 1974, and were left to ruin several years, as shown by photo journalist Galen Rowell in 1981.
The Monastery's vast treasury of books and costumes, which had been taken for safekeeping to Tengboche, were lost in a 1989 fire.
Since 1983 renovation works have been carried out and some of the new murals are reportedly excellent. There is a basic guesthouse and small but cosy restaurant.
According to Michael Palin, it now houses thirty Buddhist monks and thirty nuns, but another source reports that locals say there are only about 20 nuns and 10 monks, although previously there were about 500 monks and nuns living here.
In 2011, Rongbuk Monastery was ranked on the top of CNN's 'Great Places to be a Recluse'.