Name in Tibetan: རྒྱལ་རྩེ
Name in Chinese: 江孜镇
Altitude: 3950 meters
Location: Gyantse County, Shigatse Prefecture in Tibet Autonomous Region
Gyantse was the third largest city in Tibet after Lhasa and Shigatse. In recent years, many people migrated to Tibet and new towns grew at a faster rate than Gyantse. It is located on the trade routes, connecting Lhasa on the East, Shigatse on the West, and India on the South. That’s why it became the main center for Tibet’s wool and timber trade with India, Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim.
The Old Town consists of whitewashed houses perching on the narrow winding streets. Along the western side of town there is a new road leading to the main entrance of the Pelkor Chode monastery complex.
Gyantse is located in the Nyang Chu valley, 260 km to the South-West from Lhasa and 90 km to the South-East from Shigatse. It is located at the foot of the mountain forming a natural amphitheater. Vast valley with various farms surrounds the town. If you climb up the mountain ridge, you can get a nice view on the town.
HISTORY OF GYANTSE
The early history of Gyantse goes back to at least the 9th century. According to the writings on the Kumbum Stupa murals, in the 9th century king Langdarma’s nephew Pelkhor Tsen established a castle on a mountain range above the city. Unfortunately little is known about the early years of the region.
Gyantse gained a prominent position in the 15th century. At that time both Pelkor Chode monastery and Kumbum stupa were built. During the later history, it remained an important trade center.
In the 1950’s Gyantse saw a powerful flood that destroyed many of the buildings. Some were later restored.
Throughout history nine major monasteries were built near Gyantse. Interesting fact, that monasteries of different schools of Tibetan Buddhism: Sakya, Gelug and Shalu coexisted in Gyantse. Pelkor Chode Monastery and Kumbum stupa remain some of the great examples of architecture and Tibetan art.
PELKOR CHODE MONASTERY
Pelkor Chode or Palcho Monastery is a large and old monastery complex dominating the Gyantse scene. It stands on the hillside and you can see it from a distance. Pelkor Chode was originally constructed between 14 and 15 centuries and developed throughout history.
Interesting fact about Pelkor Chode is that it houses colleges of three different schools of Buddhism at the same time. There are schools of Gelug, Sakya and Kadam orders of Tibetan Buddhism. The Assembly hall of the monastery has many old interesting statues and ancient murals on its walls.
The Highlight of the monastery complex is impressive Stupa to the left from the Assembly Hall.
Kumbum is the largest stupa in Tibet. It is 35 meters high with 9 floors. There are 77 chapels and 108 doors, the number important in Buddhist religion. Inside the chapels you will see Hundred Thousand images on various murals inside the stupa, as well as statues. There is a large terrace overlooking Pelkor Chode monastery and Old town with a panoramic view on the walls of the old fort.
GYANTSE DZONG/ FORT
High mountain range stretches around Gyantse and dominates the landscape. Along the ridge of the peak you can see the walls of the Dzong, or fort.
The fort was constructed in the 14th century to protect Lhasa from the South. Original wall was built earlier, and was approximately 3 km long.
It played a central role during the British invasion in 1904, where several battles took place. The British expedition with Colonel Younghusband approached Gyantse following the trade route from India. British soldiers having superior guns were successful at the battle. They stayed in the Gyantse fort for about a month waiting for Tibetan officials before heading to Lhasa. Finally, they signed an agreement.
The fort is currently under renovation. We can climb up the ridge close to the fort and enjoy the view of Gyantse and Pelkor Chode monastery.
GYANTSE OLD TOWN
At the foot of the Pelkor Chode monastery there is a small quarter of well preserved old houses. The area is very quiet and very scenic. You can take a stroll along the old streets and take photos of cute houses with flowers on the porch and cows tied to almost all of the houses.
HORSE RACING AND ARCHERY FESTIVAL
You can watch the annual horse racing festival in the 4th month of Tibetan Lunar calendar that often falls on mid-July. The festival has a history of over 600 years. Aside from horse racing, you can see traditional singing and dancing. The festival also includes the archery competition. Many Tibetans set up picnics in the area and enjoy the day outdoors. There are usually some sellers with souvenirs and religious items.
BEST TIME TO VISIT GYANTSE
Day and night time temperatures in Gyantse are very different. While it is usually pleasant during the day and even hot during the summer months with a strong sunshine, the temperature drops dramatically at night. The best time to travel to Gyantse is between April to November. However, you can also visit in winter. While it is a lot colder in winter, it is also less crowded with tourists. In addition, the weather is often clear in winter. It makes winter a good time for photographers.
The soil around Gyantse is fertile. No surprise that large farming fields surround the town. At the end of summer, blooming rapeseed fields color the landscape in bright yellow, with the mountain ranges and Gyantse fort in the background.
HOW TO VISIT GYANTSE
Gyantse is located between two largest cities in Tibet – Lhasa and Shigatse. Most visitors arrive in Lhasa by air or train and spend a few days exploring the capital of Tibet and acclimatizing to plateau’s high altitude. After that, you can travel to Gyantse following the branch of the Friendship Highway going further to Nepal.
LHASA TO GYANTSE
Gyantse is located 260 km from Lhasa and it takes about 6 hours to drive there, but can take a lot longer with sightseeing stops along the way. The road from Lhasa to Gyantse is very scenic. On the way you will see Yamdrok Lake, one of the sacred lakes in Tibet. We first make a stop at Kamba La pass to enjoy the stunning view on the Yamdrok Lake. After that we will head down to the lakeshore. As we continue driving towards Gyantse, we will make another stop at the magnificent Karola Glaciers. The ice and snow-capped mountains are over 7,000 meters tall. The water from the melting glaciers feeds small streams carrying their waters to the Yamdrok Lake. Gyantse will be a short drive from the glaciers.
SHIGATSE TO GYANTSE
The second way to reach Gyantse is to travel from Shigatse. The two cities are about 90 km apart and it takes 2 hours to drive to Gyantse. We usually take this route when traveling from Nepal border to Lhasa on the overland tour connecting the two Himalayan countries.
HOTELS IN GYANTSE
Although Gyantse was the third largest city in Tibet in the past, it is now surpassed by several other cities. There are several good hotels in Gyantse. However, no luxurious 5-star hotels.
One of the most popular hotels in Gyantse is Yeti hotel. Gyantse Yeti is a nice Tibetan owned hotel with all necessary amenities. Your private room will offer a private shower and toilet, hot water, free Wi-Fi, tea kettle in the room. In the morning, the hotel serves breakfast.
The hotel is located within a walking distance to the Pelkor Chode monastery and Kumbum stupa. You can also climb up the mountain ridge from there to enjoy a great view on Gyantse and surrounding valleys.
PERMITS TO VISIT GYANTSE
In addition to the Tibet travel permit, all foreigners required to have an Alien Permit to visit Gyantse. When you are traveling to Gyantse from Lhasa, your guide will stop in Gyantse to take care of all necessary paperwork. As always, when traveling in Tibet, you don’t need to worry about any permits because your travel agency and your guide will take care of it.
PLACES TO VISIT IN GYANTSE
The Stupa (or Chorten as Tibetans call it) is located within the monastery walls and it is difficult to miss. The 32 meters/ 105 ft high structure is the highest stupa in Tibet. It contains 108 cells with various wall paintings and statues. From the higher levels of the Kumbum Stupa, you will get a fantastic view of the monastery, surrounding fort (Dzong), and Gyantse town.
The old fort of Gyantse (called Dzong in Tibetan) surrounds Pelkor Choede monastery complex and Gyantse town. The original fort is from the 13th century, it was further renovated and reconstructed later.
The gorgeous turquoise-colored lake is located about 90 km away from Gyantse. The lake attracts thousands of tourists. It is a sacred lake for Tibetans, they don’t catch fish in the lake, and they don’t swim in it. And you can enjoy it’s beauty from the height of the mountain pass or come down to the lakeshore.
Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet. In Shigatse, you can visit Tashi Lhunpo monastery. It is one of the main monasteries of Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism and the seat of Panchen Lama. If you are staying in Shigatse, you can spend more time exploring the monastery area, walk the kora around it and enjoy the view on Shigatse Old Town and a fort overlooking the city.
POPUAR TOURS VISITING GYANTSE
8 DAYS LHASA TO EVEREST TOUR
A beautiful and exciting journey, starting in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet and going to the Everest Base Camp. The tour visits Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Sera, Drepung and Tashilhunpo monasteries, Kumbum Stupa, Yamdrok Lake and Karola glaciers.
10 DAYS EASY ACCLIMATIZING EVEREST TOUR
This slow-paced private tour takes you from Lhasa to Gyantse and Shigatse, where we spend the first few days acclimatizing. We will visit many of the historical and religious places, such as Potala Palace, Jokhang temple, Gyantse monastery, and Kumbum Stupa.
We will make stops by the most beautiful natural spots: Yamdrok Lake, Karola glaciers and many of the high mountain passes and viewpoints. Finally, we will reach Everest Base Camp, where we stay for the night.
7 DAYS LHASA TO NEPAL BORDER
This tour starts in Lhasa. We will stay there for 2 days to explore the capital and acclimatize. After that, we will head to the center of attraction in Himalayas – Mount Everest. We will spend a night by the highest mountain on a planet and continue driving through majestic mountain ranges, alongside rivers and waterfalls to the border between Tibet and Nepal.
6 DAYS CENTRAL TIBET HIGHLIGHTS
This private tour starts in Lhasa, where we spend the first three days acclimatizing. While in Lhasa, we visit UNESCO World Heritage sites: Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple, and two main monasteries in Lhasa: Sera and Drepung. After that, we will drive on the scenic road visiting Yamdrok Lake, Karola glaciers and Gyantse monastery, before reaching Shigatse in the evening.
On the next day we visit Tashi Lhunpo monastery before returning back to Lhasa.