Tengboche Monastery: History and Travel Guide for Visitors

  • Ram Khadka
  • Apr 3, 2024

Table of Contents

Tengboche Monastery, also known as Thyangboche or Dawa Choling Gompa, is one of the sacred and famous Tibetan Buddhist monasteries that sits high in the Himalayas.

Trekkers on the Everest Trek and expedition groups to numerous Khumbu-region peaks visit the monastery to seek blessings for a successful journey. Precisely located in the Tengboche village in Khumjung, this monastery was built in 1916 by Lama Gulu, best known for his Buddhist teaching and meditation.

Despite facing destruction twice, once by an earthquake in 1934 and later by fire in 1989, the monastery has been rebuilt with the help of local and international support, and to date, is the largest monastery in the region.

This monastery also governs other smaller monasteries in the region. Moreover, the monastery also shares funding and donations with them.

Currently, Dawa Tshering Sherpa leads the monastery as its Administrative Head. Around 70 resident monks and 35 young students aged 9-15 call the monastery home. The monastery not only provides these children courses and mentoring on Buddhism but also gives education in subjects like Math, English, and Science as well as other fundamental courses necessary to thrive in life.

These students, taken in by the monastery, receive care and support similar to adoption. However, there is a decline in the number of young boys joining as monks, as they prefer employment in mountaineering or trekking-related activities.

Major Events and History of Tengboche Monastery

Tengboche Monastery has a rich history of establishment, destruction, and reconstruction.

The Khumbu Valley, including Tengboche, came under Buddhist influence around 350 years ago. Lama Sangwa Dorje, with his clairvoyant vision, prophesied the establishment of a monastery at Tengboche.

Ngawang Tenzin Norbu, the fifth incarnation of Sangwa Dorje, instructed Lama Gulu to found Tengboche Monastery in 1916. It became the first celibate monastery under the Nyingmapa lineage of Vajrayana Buddhism.

Three wealthy Sherpa individuals, including a wealthy tax collector called Karma, funded the construction of the monastery. It was built with the assistance of the local community and a skilled carpenter from Lhasa.

Tragically, the monastery was destroyed in the 1934 earthquake and subsequently rebuilt under Umze Gelden’s leadership with support from Ngawang Tenzin Norbu. The renowned artist Kappa Kalden painted its exclusive murals.

Inside view of Tengboche Monastery with two visiting trekkers.

In 1989, a fire caused by an electrical short circuit destroyed the monastery along with precious artifacts. It was completely rebuilt with donations from around the world, overseen by Nawang Tenzing Jangpo, considered the incarnation of Lama Gulu.

The monastery gained international attention after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953. Everest expeditions often visit the monastery seeking blessings for a safe climb.

The rebuilt monastery was formally consecrated in 1993. The religious room of Guru Rimpoche was fully restored in 2008 with support from various organizations including the Greater Himalayas Foundation.

Structure and Architecture of Tengboche Monastery

Tengboche Monastery combines Tibetan and Nepalese architectural styles found in many Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. The monastery is built with stone masonry. It has sturdy stone walls and a spacious courtyard where monks pray and perform other rituals. Its outer walls are painted white and have detailed wooden carvings.

Inside, there’s a special prayer hall called Dokhang, where there’s a huge statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. Next to him are statues of Manjushri, the deity of wisdom, and Maitreya, the future Buddha. They keep important Buddhist scriptures, the original teachings of the Buddha translated into Tibetan there too.

Tengboche Monastery Courtyard View

Outside, you’ll see many flat stones inscribed with the sacred mantra "Om Mane Padme Hum," and colorful flags blowing in the wind.

The paintings inside the monastery are ancient and hold special meanings and values. Even though the original paintings are from the 14th century, the current collection is from the 20th century. You'll find murals, Thangka artworks, and sculptures so intricately designed and crafted that they will leave you in awe.

Even everyday objects like utensils and furniture are pretty cool, with their exaggerated shapes and intricate designs. For example, Tibetan teapots are something else. They're bulging, short-necked, and have high-domed lids, which makes them look pretty different from other teapots you might have seen.

Festivals at Tengboche Monastery

Tengboche Monastery celebrates several festivals throughout the year. Some of the biggest festivals are Mani Rimdu Festival and Dumje Festival.

Mani Rimdu Festival

Monks in Tengboche Monastery performing the Mani Rimdu Festival

The Mani Rimdu Festival is a huge celebration that is held every year in the Tengboche Monastery. The festival gets its name from two important things: "Mani," which are prayer flags in Tibetan, and "Rimdu," which is a traditional dance among the Sherpa people.

Mani Rimdu follows the Tibetan lunar calendar, and it usually happens in October or November when there's a full moon and lasts for three days. It's a time for the Sherpa people to celebrate their culture, traditions, and spirituality, all under the bright light of the full moon.

This festival is very important to the Sherpa people because it showcases their rich culture and religion.

During Mani Rimdu, the monasteries in Tengboche, Thame, and Chiwong put on amazing shows. There are thirteen different parts to the festival, including prayers, dances, and dramas. Lots of monks and Sherpa people come together at the monastery to join in and have fun. They wear special masks and costumes, dance, pray, and enjoy feasts together.

The most exciting part of the festival is the "Chham" dance, where monks wear special masks and perform to show the battle between good and evil. This dance is a way of asking the gods for their blessings and keeping away bad spirits.

Throughout the three days of the festival, there are lots of rituals, including making and then destroying a sand mandala. This special design made of colored sand represents the universe, and destroying it shows that everything in life is temporary.

One special part of the festival is choosing the next spiritual leader, called the Rinpoche. The current Rinpoche's successor is found through a special process involving tests and rituals.

This festival has been around for a long time and started in Tibet. The origins of Mani Rimdu trace back to the early 1900s at Rongpuk Monastery in Tibet, under the visionary guidance of Ngawang Tenzin Norbu.

Taking inspiration from the traditions of Mindroling Monastery, the customs of Mani Rimdu spread to Sherpa and Tibetan monasteries in the Solu Khumbu District. Over time, it grew into the biggest yearly event for the Sherpa community in the Khumbu region.

It's a big deal for the Sherpa community, and it's the most important event of the year for them.

Sublime Trails offers a unique trekking package called the Everest Mani Rimdu Festival Trek, designed specifically to center around the Mani Rimdu Festival. Don’t forget to check it out!

Dumje Festival

Wide panoramic view of Tengboche Monastery and surroundings

Dumje or Dumji festival is another big celebration held annually in Tengboche Monastery, Namche Bazar, Khumjung, and Pangboche usually in July. It's a special time for the Sherpa people to honor Khumbila, their important deity who they believe keeps them safe and blessed.

Lama Sangwa Dorji introduced the Dumji festival in Pangboche approximately 365 years ago. He initiated this festival to align with the birth anniversary of Guru Rinpoche.

The festival begins with a prayer ceremony led by the monks in the monastery. They pray and do rituals to show respect to Khumbila and ask for good things for everyone. They also play traditional instruments like long horns and cymbals to make the ceremony even more special.

One of the magical parts of the festival is when people light thousands of butter lamps all around the monastery. It's very dreamy and it's believed to bring good luck and happiness to everyone there.

During the festival, the monks perform traditional dances called Cham Dances. These dances tell stories and are colorful and exciting to watch. They're accompanied by music and chanting that adds to the whole experience.

Aside from the spiritual stuff, there are also fun activities like archery and horse racing. These games are a big part of the festival and everyone, including tourists, gets to join in the fun. The horse races are especially thrilling because they happen on rough, hilly terrain, making it quite a spectacle.

In a nutshell, the Dumje Festival is a time for the Sherpa community to come together, pray, celebrate, and have a good time. It's a colorful, lively event that highlights their culture and traditions for everyone to enjoy.

What To Know Before Entering The Monastery?

Here’s what you must know before entering the monastery:

  • Dress modestly and appropriately, avoiding revealing outfits. (Also read: Nepal Travel Etiquette Guide)
  • Refrain from making physical contact with the monks such as hugging as it's considered taboo. Respect their personal space.
  • When you enter the monastery, don't stand still on the doorstep. Buddhists believe it's like stepping on Lord Buddha's shoulder, which is disrespectful.
  • Be polite and respectful when you're inside the monastery. Don't be loud or do anything disruptive.
  • While praying, do it with sincerity and respect. Show your reverence to Lord Buddha.
  • Some parts of the monastery may not allow photos or videos. Follow the guidance provided by your guide or local authorities.
  • When walking around the monastery, circumambulate in a clockwise direction as a sign of respect and reverence.

Permits for Tengboche Monastery

There are no specific permits for Tengboche Monastery. Located in the Khumbu region, you will need the usual Sagarmatha National Park Permit, TIMS Card, and Khumbu Rural Municipality Permit to get to Tengboche.

Most monastery visitors are trekkers on the Everest trekking trail who visit the monastery on their way. As such, you will already have the necessary permits to get to Tengboche Valley. Permits won't be checked at the monastery.

Trek Packages that allow you to explore Tengboche Monastery

Sublime Trails offers various trek packages designed for exploring Tengboche Monastery. One of the trek packages designed to explore Tengboche Monastery during its main festival is the Everest Mani Rimdu Festival Trek.

The highlight of this trek is spending three days at Tengboche Monastery during the Everest Mani Rimdu Festival. You'll witness mesmerizing mask dances and the traditional fire puja ceremony known as Cham and Jinsak.

Likewise, other trek packages include:

In this trek, you will trek to Everest Base Camp and then fly back to Kathmandu by helicopter from Gorakshep. On Day 5 of this trek, you’ll have the chance to visit the famous Tengboche Monastery.

Leaving Namche Bazaar on Day 5 of the trek, you'll begin with a 20-minute uphill walk, reaching a ridge overlooking Namche Bazaar. From there, a gentle descent leads you to Phungitenga (3,250m). Afterward, a two-hour uphill trek from Phungitenga will bring you to Thyangboche Monastery.

The Everest Three High Pass Trek is a thrilling 20-day trekking adventure through three high-altitude passes – Renjo La, Cho La, and Kongma La.

On the fifth day of the trek, you'll visit Tengboche Monastery. The trek starts with some easy ups and downs, then you'll cross a suspension bridge over the Dudh Koshi River. After that, you’ll have a four-hour uphill climb. Along the way, enjoy amazing views of Tawache, Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, and Thamserku.

The Everest View trekking itinerary starts with a trek from Lukla to Tengboche. On Day 4 of the trek, you'll visit Tengboche Monastery. After having breakfast at Namche, you'll make your way to Tengboche Monastery in Tengboche Village. Along the journey, you'll cross a suspension bridge over the Dudh Koshi River, enjoying stunning views of Mt. Amadablam, Lhotse, Thamserku, Khangtega, and glimpses of Mt. Everest. Passing through the Phunki Thanga village, you'll trek through a rhododendron forest before reaching Tengboche.

The Everest Base Camp Luxury Trek combines adventure with top-notch services in the challenging terrain of the Everest region.

On Day 6 of this trek, you'll trek to Debuche via Tengboche Monastery. After a meal at Tasinga, you'll visit Tengboche Monastery to learn about its history and culture while enjoying the stunning Himalayan views.

During the 12-day Everest Base Camp Trek, you'll trek along the classic 130 km route to reach Everest Base Camp in the beautiful Mahalangur Himalayan mountains. One of the best parts of this adventure is visiting Tengboche Monastery on the 4th day. Here, you'll enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the monastery, surrounded by the natural beauty of Sagarmatha National Park.

Interesting Facts of Tengboche Monastery

Tengboche Monastery has had a heavy influence on popular culture. The monastery is mentioned in one of the renowned artists Kate Bush’s songs, "Wild Man.”

Likewise, musician Brett Dennen has a song called, "Tengboche" on his album “Por Favor,” where he mentions the tranquility and spirituality of the place.

Additionally, Tengboche Monastery is featured  in the 2015 movie, “Everest.”


Ram Khadka

Ram Khadka

CEO and Managing Director at Sublime Trails Trekking, Ram has been leading adventure-hungry souls into the mountains of Nepal for over 15 years.