Back in 2008 when we were living in London, we watched a five-episode documentary on BBC Four called “A Year in Tibet.” Director Sun Shuyun followed and filmed the lives of a shaman and his family, monks at Gyantse Monastery, a rickshaw driver, a Communist party worker, a builder, a doctor, and a hotel manager in the city of Gyantse for a year. In the film, Tibet’s third largest city appears to be peaceful and spiritual, while her inhabitants lead relatively simple, religious and traditional lives. Director Sun spent a year to understand individual lives in and around Gyantse. We, on the other hand, had only two hours to stop by Gyantse to see its iconic Kumbum (multi-level chorten with stacked Buddhist chapels) of Palcho Monastery.
The sleepy Gyantse had its heyday between 14th and 15th century, when the city was an important stop in the trade route between India and Tibet. The striking Kumbum was also completed in the 15th century. Being the largest chorten in Tibet, the Kumbum is 32m high, consisted of 9 tiers (5 square and 4 circular) with 108 small chapels, and approximately 100,000 Buddhist figures in murals and statues. The Kumbum belongs to Palcho Monastery, which also includes other monastery buildings, such as the Tsulaklakang Monastery main assembly hall.
After a long day of car journey, we finally arrived in Gyantse 15 minutes before 5pm. We came just in time to have a quick tour of the magnificent Kumdum..
Inside the complex of Palcho Monastery, we first walk by the main assembly hall of Tsulaklakang Monastery. Since the time was late, we skipped the main assembly hall and went straight to the Kumbum.
The first look of the Kumbum was stunning.
Five tiers of square layout and four circular, the Kumbumis a three dimensional representation of the Buddhist mandala.
In clockwise direction, we circled the building veranda and checked out the small chapels on each level.
Despite many statues were damaged during the Cultural Revolution, fortunately many murals survived to the present day.
Each chapel is dark and small, similar to a small cave, with an altar on one end and Buddhist murals on all walls.
Sitting on a lotus platform, Achala or Chandamaharoshana is a wrathful deity that helps a person to turn negative aspects into compassion and wisdom.
Like most Tibetan monastery, there is a tall pole of prayer flags in front of the Kumbum.
At the back side, we could see other monastery buildings as well as the red monastery wall on the rocky ridge.
To the south lies the prominent Gyantse Dzong (江孜宗山城堡) and the old city of Gyantse.
Built in the 14th century, the Gyantse Dzong (江孜宗山城堡) is celebrated today for the heroic history of the Tibetans who fought to the last breathe against the British invasion in 1903-1904.
After reaching the 5th floor (Bumpa), we checked out the four last chapels. The way up to the roof was locked. After we returned to the ground level, it was time to bid farewell to this wonderful piece of architecture.
A final look at the detail of the circular top, including the level with the eyes painted on the walls.
Most tourists were gone as we exited the monastery complex. We returned to where Sangzhu dropped us off and continued our last 90 minutes of journey to Shigatse.
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More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet