The Kumbum is the main attraction at Pelkor Chode. Kumbum means 0ne hundred thousand holy images. Not quite that many but there a lot. The Kumbum is arranged like a mandala, especially if you were to view it from directly over head. As you ascend, in a clockwise direction, there are small chapels along the way. Each chapel has statues of deities as well as Tibetan Buddhist prayers and deities painted on the walls.
Definitely a highlight of the visit.
Gyantse is small enough to take some time to explore the back streets a bit. It is safe and you can meet some unique individuals along the way. Several have an amazing backdrop of the Gyantse dzord. A good route is to work your way towards the dzord. Pelkor Chode is to the left. Makes for a good side trip excursion if you are walking to the monastery. Along the way you will come across cows and donkeys as well as Monks, making their way to town for supplies.
Simi La is the third and last pass you go through just before reaching Gyantse if you take the old road from Lhasa. There are some local Tibetans selling some items on make shift tables. There is also a restroom that is in poor shape. But if you have to go and need the privacy, this will do. Simi La overlooks a small lake that makes for a nice setting. It is not as high as other passes on this route at only 4330 meters. Worth a stop when near Gyantse.
Pelkor Chode is the largest and main monastery in Gyantse. The entrance is unique as it is a walkway lined with prayer wheels that lead directly to an extremely large prayer wheel that is housed inside a dedicated building. To the left is the main attraction, the Kumbum. This is a large three dimensional mandala which surrounds a stupa. There is a walkway that winds to the top. Along the way are rooms which are homes to deity statues, paintings and thangkas. There is not much light in these rooms and makes it difficult if you want to take pictures. I found that the local pilgrims do not appreciate taking pictures inside the rooms.
This monastery is the main reason of visiting Gyantse. You’ll enter Palcho Monastery by walking between two lines of prayer wheels. Inside, in front of you, stands still the main building of the monastery. And on the left there is Kumbum, the biggest stupa of Tibet.
The monastery was built between 1418 and 1428 by the second prince of Gyantse. It is surrounded by strong walls.
The first Kumbum was built in 1428. The word means “one hundred thousand holy images”. Kumbum is a building in a form of a stupa and also a three dimensional mandala.Stupas do not have rooms or floors actually but Kumbum has nine levels and 4 floors. There are 77 (or 75 according to our guide) chapels in Kumbum. Since it was heavily damaged during Cultural Revolution, it is said that the decorations and statues does not have the same artistic value as their predecessors. It is possible to enter Kumbum and visit the chapels but visiting all of them takes a while. Be careful, the inner stairs can be so dark and narrow. And being used in centuries, they are loosed their shape. You may slip from a stair in dark.
when in gyangze, it is very possible to get so overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of both the kumbum and the dzong that one might overlook the rabse nunnery.
it is quaint when compared to the aforementioned landmarks but just as interesting. it's a small complex of structures with stupas and prayer wheels everywhere. at the time of my visit (aug, 06), there were 32 resident nuns and i was the only outsider there.
i arrived as the sun was setting, it was nice just walking around because the atmosphere of the place was so quiet and serene, very good for the soul!
it also was nice to see nuns instead of monks for a change but don't expect a huge difference in appearance, their robes are practically the same (and so are their haircuts, actually). it's a good thing there were no monks there because i wouldn't have been able to tell them apart!
it's located along the rise just north of pelkor chode monastery, about five minutes from the kumbum by 4x4. make sure you visit!
The Gyantse Dzong (old fort) towers above the village and offers a fine view over the valley although now much in the way of sights inside. The walls of the current structure were reputedly built in 1268 as a reaction to the rise of Sakya power.
The palatial castle was built in 1365 by which time the price had acquired influence at the Sakya and Zhalu courts.
Much of the Dzrong is unfortunately closed at the moment - the wall murals are spectacular - but there is a small museum documenting the 1904 British invasion lef by Francis Younghusband.
The Kumbum ("10000 images") stupa is Tibet's largest and probably most magnificant stupa. Filled with numerous chapels, statues, frescoes and paintings it is well worth a visit.
Located next to the monastery it is open from 9.30am but the monks seem to open and close the temples at will.
To the north, if you walk along the road that takes you around the fort, you'll come to the Pelkhor Chode Monastery. The Tsuklakhang was built in 1418-25 by a prince with affiliations to both the Sakyapa and Zhalupa schools. Beside this temple the Kumbum stupa was completed in 1427.
The surrounding colleges numbered 18 by the early 19th Century representing Sakyapa, Zhalupa, Karma Kagyu, Drukpa and Gelukpa schools. All bar 2 of these buildings have been destroyed. The Gonkhang within the Tsukakhang is the earliest surviving such protector chapel in Central Tibet. In the Tathagata chapel the gold inscribed copy of the Prajnaparamita on the central altar of the Sarvavid Vairocana is an object of particular veneration.
i woke up very early to watch the the first rays of the morning sun hitting the majestic walls of the gyangze dzong. it was surreal!
if you're up to it, do the same. it's a beautiful sight!
there's a plaza just south of the mount from where you can just sit and watch it all unfold. enjoy!
if you ask me, the best way to climb the kumbum is to take the outside way up and then the inside way down - or the other way around. the point is, to see everything inside as well as all the great views outside.
what i did was take the external route up, circling the outer ledge of each level before taking the stairs up to the next. this way, i was able to see panoramic views (360 degrees!) of the surroundings - the wall and temples of pelkor chode, the dzong, the town, and the fields of gyangze. views vary at each level so it's not a repetitive process at all. just be careful and make sure you don't fall of the ledges!
after enjoying the great views at the top, i made my way all the way down through the interior so i also got to experience its rich murals and statues - best of both worlds!
the Y10 price for taking your camera up is a bargain. take lots of pictures!
if you like the charming man (the local, not me) in this photo, then stop by the fields surrounding gyangze proper. there, you'll get up close to the locals as they go about their work. this is a really good way of understanding what life in a tibetan farming village is all about (as a referrence point, the gyangze dzong is in the background of the photo).
most go straight to gyangze proper and miss this chance. in my case, the main passage to town was under repair so we had to take a side road that skirted the mountain and a village west of the dzong. it was near this village that i came across the field workers so immediately asked my driver to stop. i got off and politely asked if i could meet them, exchanged pleasantries with my guide translating, and one agreed to record the meeting with a photograph (pls. ask first before taking any pictures).
when in gyangze, you might want to check out pala manor, the former residence of a famous upper class tibetan family. it may be considered a mansion as it is rather expansive compared to typical tibetan houses of the time (and tibetan houses of the present, actually)
there are mannequins inside some of the rooms that depict domestic tibetan life - don't expect it to be a proper museum but there are still some good insights to be gained.
there might be somewhat of a slant against the former social class system but worth a visit just the same, it'll only take about thirty minutes to see everything anyway.
At the northeast corner of Gyangze is one of China's most beautiful temples. The Kumbum inside Pelkor Chode Monastery (Bai Ju Si) is a unique attraction with its octagon pyramid-like shape. It is 107 feet tall and has 108 doors, most of which lead to small shrines. You can go up to the top level by level using the inside stairs and ladders.
There are literally thousands of different Buddhist images inside the Kumbum, including both murals and statues. I would say that basically the higher you go, the more interesting images you'll find. (See additional photos)
From the top you can get close to the pretty eyes that look out from each of the four directions (north, south, east, and west). You will also enjoy spectacular views of Gyangze.
I spent nearly an hour at the top, just relaxing and enjoying the surrounding scenery after taking several photos. This was one of the main reasons I came to Gyangze, and I think it's definitely worth the tedious trip from Lhasa.
There seems to be a nice kinship among tourists and pilgrims who make it all the way to the top. Since few people make the effort to go up all those stairs, the highest terrace becomes a kind of "Kumbum Club". Only three other folks joined me up top during my visit, so it felt sort of like an exclusive membership.
There is a fee for taking photos inside the Kumbum, (10 yuan in September 2006) and you will definitely take more than 10 photos so I consider it a bargain. Go inside the shrine behind the ticket gate and you will see pictures of the previous and current Panchen Lamas.
Pelkor Chode is a small active monastery located to the right of the Kumbum. You will see some monks chanting sutras and it may be possible to watch a few of them working on sand mandala art. On the ridge at the back of the compound is what looks like a red Great Wall which surrounds the monastery's perimeter.
When you arrive in Gyangze, one of the first sights you'll notice is this big old fortress on a hill at the east side of town. The foundations date back to the mid 14th century but the fort sustained considerable damage in 1904 when the British military demonstrated the use of advanced artillery on it during the Younghusband mission to Lhasa from India. Prior to 1904 the fort served as the area's adminstrative center and housed the governor of Gyangze.
After negotiating a treaty in Lhasa, Younghusband returned to England and received an honorary doctorate from Cambridge while Tibet was finally opened up to international tourism.
Gyangze remained a British trading post for 40 years and a small garrison of Indian troops was stationed at the fort.
There are some historical displays regarding 1904 near the main entrance showing Tibetan soldiers in heroic poses with their primitive weapons. The fortress is a set of stacked buildings connected by a winding path. You can climb the steep steps to the top of the fortress for splendid views of Tibet's third largest city (Gyangze is really not very big) and the surrounding countryside. When finished, you will be standing at an altitude of approximately 4200 meters.
Admission: 30 yuan