Gyantse to Shigatse

Trip Start Sep 01, 2006
Trip End Aug 31, 2007

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Friday, November 3, 2006

Gyantse is supposed to be the least Chinese influenced town in Tibet. If this is the case then Tibet has no chance. This place is as Tibetan as New York City. The two main streets are four lanes wide and support modern multistory concrete buildings.

Before we left the town we wanted to check out the Pelkhor Chode Monastery. We explained this to the driver, pointed it out to him on the map and even showed him a picture of it. He still drove right past it and we had to direct him back.

Thankfully the area around the monastery did provide an escape from the Chinese colonisation of the town. This was obviously where the old Tibetan town was based. The houses were of the Tibetan mud-brick style and this part of the town had much more of the traditional Tibetan village feel.

The monastery was pretty impressive and as it was built on a steep hill it gave us our first real taste of the effects of altitude. Luckily we'd had no symptoms so far except for some minor headaches in Zhongdian (but we had been out to some of the local pubs the night before so the headaches weren't conclusive proof of altitude sickness). I did manage to upset a monk when I refused to hand over my camera rather than paying the huge fee to take it in. I think he got his revenge when I opened one door and a huge dog jumped up and came at me with his fags at the ready (I just stepped back and closed the door. I figured that the dog didn't have a key and I could find another way out).

The other big attraction in Gyantse is the Dzong (Old Fort). This is known locally as the British Fort because it was used to fight the British in 1904. I've no idea why we were fighting the Tibetan's back then but I'm sure it was for some daft reason.

We did have some huge argument with the hotel staff before we left. They seemed to want us to give them the room key a 8am in the morning but we said we'd wait until we were ready to check out. I couldn't work out why they were making such a fuss but Kai did find the second room key in his bag two weeks later. Whoops.

The next stop was Shigatse. This is the second biggest town in Tibet and once again the Han-Chinese invasion has made it look just like a mid-sized Chinese town. The big draw here is the Tashilhunpo Monastery, the seat of the Panchen Lama. It once housed over 4,000 monks but only 600 remain today. It's a pretty big place and once again we got told off for going into some restricted areas.

There's also a rather large fortress but this was covered in scaffolding and didn't look very interesting. We also found a rather tacky 16 foot high model of the Himalayas along with some plastic Yaks. I'm guessing this is for people to pose for photographs. Probably not the biggest attraction in town.

I hit the sack early as I had the flu which was making breathing at high altitude even harder. The others went out and made it back at 3am in a hyped up state. Apparently the restaurant had tried to over charge them by 2,000% and they'd ended up standing toe to toe with sixteen local bouncers and waiters who had barracked them inside the restaurant and were threatening them with sticks. I seem to miss all the fun stuff ;-).
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