Rongwu Monastery and town
Rongwu Monastery was initially established as a three temple site in 1341 in by Rongwu Samten Rinpoche. Samten’s younger brother was the architect and designer of the temples. The first temple built was the Temple of 3 Buddhas and then the Golden Temple and other temples. Shartsang Kaldan Gyatso (1607-1677) is recognized as the 1st re-incarnation of Rongwu Samten Rinpoche and is the founder of the monastery at the temple sites. The 8th re-incarnation was recognized in October 1991. Yarba Chogyi built the prayer hall, the Victory Stupa and the Stupas at the 4 corners of the monastery, he had the sayings of Buddha written in gold and commissioned the statues of Tsong Kapa. Shartsang Gyatso established the 1st monastic college, Tsennyi Tratsang, in which Buddhist dialectics is taught in 1630. Following re-incarnations until the 7th incarnation of Shartsang, Lobsang Trinley Longtok Gyatso, gradually expanded the colleges to the present: the Tsennyi Tratsang, the Gyamat Tratsang (Lower tantric College or study/reading of the scriptures) and the Duikor Tratsang, a monastic college of the wheel of time also known as the college of Kalachakra, the 10 syllable mantra.
The monastery occupies 400 Mu (a traditional unit of area, currently called Shimu, equaling 0.0667 hectare or 1/6 acre. There are a total of 31 temples, 43 Labrangs (residence of a Lama) and 303 Trashak (monks’ residential compounds). In 2006 there were approximately 2300 monks in residence at Rongwu. It sits on a man made plateau above the older section of Rongwu on the west side of the valley and river with a grand view of the valley extending north. As with all monasteries (noted by the assembly hall) the local Tibetan Buddhist frequents the many temples on the grounds. The area of the town to the north has been built since 1950 and has a mixture of communist drab buildings and the newer more brightly colored apartments and businesses. The monastery is undergoing a massive reconstruction, some of which is a restoration, using traditional techniques, while the eastern section is being constructed to present a tourist friendly wall with shops, a grand golden statue of 3 Buddhas in a large parking lot: this constuction of the gold statues has brought many gold seekers picking up the gold filings on the ground below the statue. Just below the stone retaining wall of the plateau adjacent to the paved walkway leading to the older section of town is the remnants of a watch tower. The watch tower is constructed of the compacted earth; it features crenellations at the top and beveled openings for shooting arrows from all 4 sides.
Rongwu is divided into two parts; the old section that is below Rongwu Monastery and the newer section that starts just north of the monastery. The older section is watched over by the monastery which sits upon a supported bluff and an ancient brick and earthen watch tower complete with arrow slots in the turret. There are some buildings in the old section that date to the late 1930's when this area was a safe haven from the Japanese occupation. One of these buildings houses the Rebgong Cultural Foundation that maintains a free private library and offers scholarships to the daughters of Tibetan nomads. The newer section of town is marked by lots of construction; older apartment buildings showing the communist drab architecture and newer bright apartments and athletic fields. There is one multi-story department store, however an open market still exists. Most of the resturaunts are muslim owned,as are all of the butcher shops. None of the local businesses, whether a restaurant or retail store have a restroom. So one has to hold your breath and use the restroom at the bus station or walk into one of the hotels like you are a registered guest and use one of the communal restrooms on the upper floors. There is one hotel in town that does have restrooms in each room on the upper floors. In town you can find the traditional Tibetan Pharmacy with all of the herbs and traditional treatments.