Gyantse is a remarkable place that has escaped much of the Chinese influence evident in other major Tibetan towns. It is dominated by the ancient fort that was besieged by British forces in 1904 during the famous Younghusband Expedition. We also visit the remarkable octagonal chorten, the Kumbum (or Pango Chorten) – built in 1444 on a series of four levels, each of which contains separate chapels. In the afternoon we drive to Shigatse.
In Shigatse we visit the famous Tashilhunpo Monastery, founded in 1447 by the 1st Dalai Lama. Since the time of the 5th Dalai Lama in 1642, the abbot of Tashilhunpo has been known as the Panchen Lama (literally the 'Great Scholar'). Over the generations, the Panchen Lama became established as the chief spiritual and temporal adviser of the huge western portion of Tibet known as Tsang, and at times was even considered a rival to the Dalai Lama. During the Cultural Revolution much of the Tashilhunpo and the nearby fort were destroyed, and what we see today is a huge complex in various stages of rebuilding. Of particular interest are the huge temple to the Maitreya Buddha (the 'Buddha to Be'); the tomb of the 10th Panchen Lama (who died in 1989), which is said to be encased with over 300kg of gold; the Palace of the Panchen Lama; and the tomb of the 5th to 9th Panchen Lamas. The latter, recently reconstructed, contains the remains of the former Panchen Lamas that were retrieved after their separate tombs were demolished by Chinese troops in 1966. Also of interest is the main Assembly Hall, adjacent to many of the important chapels that are in everyday use.