Lying 65kms from the town of Sharnda in Nangchen county in Yushu Tibet Autonomous Prefecture is the small town of Surmang (ཟུར་མང་). Surmang sits at 3900m in the Kham region of Tibet in far southern Qinghai province. Historically, Surmang was not just a town, but a large region within Kham. The traditional region of Surmang covered territory not only in Nangchen county, but also in adjacent Yushu, Jomda and Chamdo counties. Today, Surmang is separated into two main regions. Surmang Namgyaltse, or Maozhuang in Chinese, is found in Nangchen county while Surmang Dutsitil (Xiao Suomang in Chinese) is found 60kms away in Yushu county. Though these two main areas of Surmang now lie in different counties, they very much remain united in the 21st century.
Surmang Namgyaltse Monastery belongs to the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded in the 15th century by a disciple of the 5th Karmapa. The word "Surmang" means "many cornered" and refers to an oddly shaped meditation hut (and perhaps more than one) that was originally built at the location. Today the monastery is home to around 325 monks, though in the past the monastery has had well over 1000 monks. Surmang Namgyaltse has been destroyed several times throughout its 600 year history. The central government of Lhasa destroyed the monastery in the 1930's for failing to pay taxes. The monastery was destroyed again during the Cultural Revolution. Since the late 1980's, the monastery has undergone massive restoration. The restoration continues to this day.
Not many people travel to the Surmang region. It is not listed in many guidebooks on Tibet and isn't the easiest place to get to. There are no public buses that go to the area. The cheapest way to reach the area is to take the overnight sleeper bus from Xining to Nangchen. There are daily buses from Xining. The bus takes anywhere from 20 to 25 hours to cover the 1000kms. From Sharnda, the county capital of Nangchen, you will have to hire a private vehicle or taxi to take you to remaining 60kms to Surmang Namgyaltse. The road from Sharnda is a fairly good dirt road that passes over the 5000m Ya La pass. Along the way, you pass through rich nomadic pasturelands. In the summer, the nomads in this area live in yak wool tents while herding their yaks and sheep. I didn't see any accommodations in the area, though it may be possible to rent a room at the monastery for a few nights. Camping would be another option. The town and monastery sit in a valley with 4500m mountains all around. There are several small restaurants and several small stores to stock up on supplies.
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