Southern China and Tibet – Day 8: Lhasa to Gyantse

0830: It’s day 8 of out 12 day trip across Southern China and Tibet. It is a relatively early start. Today, we are leaving Lhasa for Gyanstse, the 4th largest city in Tibet.  We are travelling on the Friendship highway connecting Kathmandu to Lhasa, and we were soon leaving Potala Palace behind.

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Potala Palace, seen from the Friendship Highway

1000: Short stop by the banks of the Brahmaputra river. For about an hour from Lhasa, the river runs parallel to the road, on its way to the Bay of Bengal.

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By the banks of the Brahmaputra River

Soon after, we leave the plateau surrounding Lhasa behind, and begin the steep ascent to the Kambala pass, at a height of 4280 meters. (Lhasa is at a height of 3600 meters).

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View from Kambala Pass

1045:  At the Kambala pass. There is a plaque to mark the location and the height. From here, you can have great views of the road and the mountains.

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Plaque at Kambala Pass

This stop on the Kambala pass has developed itself into something of a tourist attraction. You can buy souvenirs, or have you photo taken with Tibetan Mastiffs…

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Tibetian Mastiffs at Kambala Pass – waiting for their photo opportunity

…OR Toy Goats.

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Toy goats at Kambala Pass

1130: At Yamdrok lake. Another highlight of our trip, this is one of the largest lakes in Tibet. At 72km long, it is one of the longest lakes in Tibet as well. The icy blue lake, against backdrop of white peaks is stunning.

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Yamdrok Lake

1145: After a quick stop at the top of the mountain to take in the scenery, we go down to the shores of the lake. More photo opportunities with dressed up Yaks and Tibetan Mastiffs here. The water is so incredibly blue, clear and clean, and ice cold. The lake is freshwater and we were told it is purely from underground springs.

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By the shored of Yamdrok Lake

Although it felt like we went downhill, we were surprised to discover that at 4400 meters, we were actually still above Kambala pass.

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Yamdrok is one of the three great lakes of Tibet (the other two being lake Namsto and Manasaovar).  The largest lake in southern Tibet, it is said that if Yamdrok’s waters dry, Tibet will no longer be habitable. Being a holy lake, fishing or any kind of water sport is not permitted on the lake. Only boats allowed on the lake are for crossing the lake to provide transport to the remote villages located on the opposite shores of the lake.

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Shores of Yamdrok Lake

1300: After stopping for lunch at a local restaurant, we continued towards Gyantse. Still by the shores of the lakes. On the way, we were able to see herds of Yak,

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Herds of Yaks on the shores of Yamdrok lake

…and mountain goats.

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Mountain Goats

Soon we left the lake behind and started climbing again, and hit the snowline before long.

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1430: We had arrived at the highest point of our trip; the Kangsang Peak at 5020 meters.  By this point ,we had climbed 1400 meters from Lhasa. The AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) I had been suffering for the past few day was starting to feel worse.  (If you want to know more about my experience with AMS read about Day 5 and Day 6). But after the Kangsang Peak, the road was going downhill, and this improved the condition somewhat.

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Kangsang Peak

1530: Stop at hydro electric dam. Tibet has an incredible record when it comes to renewable energy. 80% of Tibet’s electric needs are met by hydro electricity and the rest by solar power.

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Hydro electric dam

Like most places of interest in Tibet, the viewpoint for the dam was decorated with colourful prayer flags.

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1630: Arrived in Gyantse. This is Tibet’s fourth largest city, at an altitude of 3,977 meters.  Historically, Gyantse has guarded the southern approaches to the Tsangpo Valley and Lhasa. The city was ransacked by the British in 1904 and the Chinese in 1954 and 1959.

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Gyantse Dzong

We had a brief stop in the centre of town, where we were able to see the Gyantse Dzong, or fortress. This is the highest point in the city.  The 500 soldiers of the fort held the British force of Younghusband out for 4 days in 1904 and since then Gyantse has often been referred to as “Hero City.”   We passed up on the opportunity to climb the fortress as we were keen to get to the Pelkhor Choede monastery.

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Gyantse high street

1630: At the The Pelkor Chode Monastery. This is a sprawling complex containing many paintings and statues. The monastery is also home to the 35 meter high tiered “Kumbum”, the largest of its kind in Tibet.

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Pelkor Chode Monastery

We visited the temple complex first. Inside, you are allowed to take photographs, in exchange for a small donation.

The temple is illustrated with thousands of murals, dating back to the 15th century. Many of them show a strong Nepali influence and are said to be the last such original paintings in Tibet.

Whilst the paintings were very interesting, what I found astonishing were the statues. All the statues inside were made of clay. However, their detailing and finishing was so remarkable, your would swear they were made of wood or stone, unless told otherwise.

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Statues inside Pelkor Chode Monastery
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Statues inside Pelkor Chode Monastery

In the main shrine room, we also found this astonishing offerings, made of yak butter.

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Yak butter offerings

The temple also houses a large collection of original Buddhist scriptures.

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Buddhist scripture books

Some of them, written in gold.

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Buddhism scriptures written in gold

After the temple, we headed outside to see the Kumbum.  Kumbum is a multi-story aggregate of Buddhist chapels in Tibetan Buddhism. The Kumbum has 77 chapels spread across six floors. The Kumbum was commissioned in early 15th century by a Prince of Gyantse. Although it was damaged during the incursions of the 20th century, it has largely been restored today.

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Pelkor Chode Kumbum
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One of the many chapels of the Pelkor Chode Kumbum

1830: Finally arrived at our home for the night, the Gyanstse Hotel. This was easily the most colourful hotel we had seen on the trip so far, and I couldn’t help taking some pictures. And with that, we called it a day.

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Gyantse Hotel lobby

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Gyantse Hotel – Bedroom

and tomorrow, we head to Shigatse.

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