Published: December 29th 2009December 8th 2009
We begin the next day with a short drive to Gyantse, a smaller Tibetan town with another important monastery, Palcho. The monastery was founded in 1418, and is perhaps best known for the Kumbum Chorten, the largest chorten in Tibet which was built in 1477. Kumbum means '100,000 images', and in its 6 or so levels are chapels and alcoves containing the numerous icons. Gyantse is dominated by a fort perched impressively on top of a rocky pinnacle with the monastery tucked inside a fairly forbidding wall near the base. After grabbing some lunch in town, and admiring the solar water heaters (reflective dishes with a kettle in the middle... which I thought were satellite dishes when I first saw them! doh), we walked over to the monastery through an old part of town... past a pile of goat heads (what else) and some beautifully decorated, traditional Tibetan buildings.
The monastery had the same basic ingredients as Tashi Lun Po, but what set this one apart was the store of manuscripts... Buddha's teachings, written in gold on paper many hundreds of years old. All the scripts are rolled and sealed, and stacked in boxes decorated with red and gold artistry.
Boxes of ancient manuscripts inside the monastery
In the darkness of the monastery, they make an impressive sight and represent a hugely valuable stock of thought and wisdom. Other rooms within the monastery house religious statues, shrines and plenty of the ubiquitous yak butter lamps... the smell of which normally fills the air in any religious place. The Kumbum Chorten is of course the other draw... 32 metres high with 6 levels, we climbed up through a series of narrow staircases to view the paintings and statues on each level, and gain impressive views over the monastery complex and Gyantse below.
I hate to say, however, that many people's highlight of Gyantse weren't the cultural or architectural delights of the monastery, but a litter of puppies which accosted us as we walked back to the hotel through the old town! We walked along a street set back from the main road, where people's front doors were piled high with cow dung (there goes my obsession with shit again!) and the occasional bovine sat chewing grass on the street. A taste of Tibet centuries ago, when each family owned their own livestock. The puppies were difficult to shake off (they did that irresistible puppy thing of sitting
The impressive Kumbum Chorten
in the middle of the road, watching you walk away with big, playful eyes!), but we eventually did so and made our way back into town for dinner... a round of yak cheeseburgers, which were pretty bloody good (if too small!).
The next day we set off on the last drive of our trip, from Gyantse to the capital, Lhasa. En route, we stopped off at the beautiful Yamdrok Tso (Turqouise Lake) and the impressive Karo La glacier, crossing two high passes (Karo La and Kambo La) and yet more stunning (if a bit dulled by familiarity) scenery on the way. One undoubted highlight of our time in the jeeps was when our Tibetan guide joined us in the back seat. He told us stories of his experiences and those of his friends since occupation... and in particular during the riots in March 2008 when many Tibetans were killed and the country was closed to foreign visitors. Facebook was still inaccessible for us in Gyantse, and many blogging sites were also banned by the Chinese authorities - a sign of their fear of foreign visitors' ability of free speech. While in Nepal I met a Mexican who told me
I'm mauled by a ferocious animal
that once he'd visited Tibet, he vowed never to set foot in China or buy any Chinese goods. After just a few days in the country, I was beginning to think I'd end up at that point too.
There are more photos below