Friday, August 31, 2007

Itinerary. Gyantse, Tibet, China

According to the tour itinerary, we leave Lhasa after a 4 day stay and our trek into the remote wilderness of Tibet begins!!

Our first road stop is Gyantse. Along the way we will skirt Yamdrok Tso, a mountain lake a located about 100 km southwest of Lhasa. Yamdrok' in Tibetan means 'upper pasture' and 'Tso' refers to 'lake'. Yamdrok Tso has no perennial source of water and not outlet -it's essentially a "dead" lake. The lake is currently the subject of controversy as the Chinese government has plans to drop the level of the lake by nearly 900m - leveraging the gravitational drop of the water to harness hydroelectric power. Protesting this plan are the Tibetan Bhuddists who consider Yamdrok Tso to be sacred.

Gyantse is the third largest town in Tibet and was the scene in 1904 of a major battle between Tibetans and British troops under Colonel Francis Younghusband as the British invaded Tibet. Despite previous brushes with British firepower, the Tibetans didn't really seem to know what they were up against - they believed that a charm marked with the seal of the Dalai Lama would protect them from British bullets. Firing began with a false alarm and in what has been described by some as one of the most one-sided battles in history, 700 Tibetans were killed in just 4 minutes.

I've read thad that the Gyantse still has the feel of a frontier town -with horses and yaks on the main streets. Horses and yaks on the main streets?? Should be interesting!

The major sights in Gyantse are the Kumbum (pictured above), the Pelkor Chöde monastery which is just adjacent to the Kumbum and the Gyantse Dzong - an imposing hill fortress.

The Gyantse Kumbum is the largest chörten in Tibet and was commissioned in 1440. It rises over four symmetrical floors plus two upper floors and is capped with a gold dome. Approximately 70 chapels are housed in the Kumbum. The word "kumbum" (which means 100,000 images) refers to the numerous murals that line the walls and floors of the chapels.

Immediately adjoining the Kumbum is the Pelkor Chöde monastery. Apparently, there's not much to impress on the outside but lots going on inside the monestary complex as there are still monks in residence.
The Dzong also houses chapels but there's little to see. According to Lonely Planet, the main reason to endure the (steep) climb to the entrance of the fortress is to enjoy the view of Gyantse below. Gyantse is at an elevation of 3950m (or just about 13,000 feet). A steep climb which could require a lot of gasping for air along the way and after all that, not much to see but a view of the town below. ....hmmm. I'll have to see if it's worth the attempt. On the other hand, I think I will enjoy wandering through the Kumbum!