As the second
largest city in Tibet, Shigatse,
also known as Xigatse, is the home to
the famous Tashillhunpo Monastery.
Shigatse literally means "fertile land".
Built in 1147 this is the seat of the very
important Panchen Lamas. A Tibetan adventure wouldn't be
complete without getting to know a monk or two. Have your
guide engage a monk in conversation. They are always very
friendly and quite enjoy knowing where their visitors are
from. Feel free to ask them questions about their monastery
or religion, remembering to be sensitive to subjects they
are not allowed to discuss. Nuns too are a bright note to
any Tibetan holiday. There is a wonderful nunnery in
Nature Reserve in the Qinghai province and I'm sure many
others to welcome you.
As the second largest city in
Tibet, Shigatse is the home to the famous Tashillhunpo
Monastery. This huge and magnificent monastery is the biggest monastery
of Gelugpa or yellow hat sect in Tibet. Build in 1147 this is
the seat of the very important Panchen Lamas.
To the south of this
region are the borders of Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan. The
region of Shigatse is a vast land mass located in the
southern portion of Tibet. This are is called Tsang by
Tibetans. It covers an area of 182,000 square kilometers
(around 4,497,319 acres - pretty darn huge!)
main city is Shigatse City, a great mid-size city with lots
to see and do. Leave an afternoon for shopping and checking
out the cool tourist cafes near the monastery. In Shigatse
region there are seventeen provinces, including Gyantse,
Sakya, Tingri and the port of Zhangmu/Khasa.
Shigatse has a population of over 80,000, of which 97% are
Tibetan, making it very interesting.
The city sits at a junction of
the Yarlung Tsangpo River and the Nyangchu River. After the
first Dalai Lama built the Tashilhunpo monastery in 1477,
the city became the political, religious, economic and
cultural center of Tibet.
Besides the Tashilhunpo
Monastery, be sure to visit Palkhor Monastery, Shalu
Monastery and Sakya Monastery nearby, if you have the time.
The monastery is famous for it's unique architecture and the 'Bodhi
Stupa' or 'Kumbum'. Built in the year 1427, the monastery has
gained the position as the Lord of Tibetan Stupas. The Palkhor
monastery is a classical example of age old Tibetan monasteries
as it houses both, a temple and a Stupa. What you would find
most interesting can be the mural paintings on the wall that
depicts stories of Buddha. You will notice that the painting
style in this monastery is quite different from paintings that
one seen in other monasteries. Visit the monastery on 15th of
April according to Tibetan calendar Saka Dawa festival is
celebrated, the birthday of Sakyamuni. An absolute gala, to say
the least. The monastery is open from 9 in the morning till 4 in
The monastery of Shalu was founded by Chetsun Sherab Jungnay
in the region of Nyangro near the present day town of
Shigatse. In the early fourteenth century it became the most
important centre of learning under Butön Rinpoche (1290-1364
), one of Tibet's greatest scholars. There he brought
together the one hundred and eight volumes of the
fundamental texts of Buddhism, the Kanjur, and the two
hundred volumes of "treaties and commentaries", the Tenjur.
the same time he supervised the execution of 499 tantric
mandalas, a few of which can be still seen in two chapels on
the first floor. In 1305, Butön Rinpoche advised Prince
Drakpa Gyaltsen to extend the monastery, following which
Shalu was decorated by Tibetan and Nepalese artists who had
been trained in the Mongol imperial workshops under the
famous Newari master, Arniko (1245-1306). Due to Butön's
activity, the monastery became one of the most important
centers of study in Tibet, continuing on as an influential,
non-sectarian monastery for centuries to come. The
association has adopted the name of Shalu, as an exceptional
repository of Tibetan religious art, and in memory of this
great Buddhist teacher.
Sakya Monastery is the first monastery of Sakyapa Sect. Like
other monasteries, this one is also famous for its uniqueness.
The monastery is more than 900 years old and has the collection
of few of the most valuable pieces of Tibetan history. Most
important of all are the handwritten sutras of about 3000 in
number. The main attraction of the monastery is the central hall
called Lakhang Chenmo Hall. The name of the monastery means
'Grey Soil' because of its surroundings heavily dominated by
grey color. The monastery is open from 9 AM to 12 noon and
reopens at 2 PM till 6.30 PM
The Tashilhunpo is huge and
will take a good day to see it properly. If you have to
choose one, this would be it. Bring your camera!
The national handicraft
industry produces items very unique in style and quality.
You can also find locally made carpets, traditional wears,
Tibetan knives, gold and silver ware, silk covers for
cushions, traditional bracelets, and very unique unique
Nearby is Gyantse.
pass this quaint little city (old trade route) between Lhasa
Gyantse is often referred to as the "Hero City". It was a place
of a major battle between Tibetans and British troops. During
the expedition of British Colonel Younghusband in 1904, the 500
soldiers of the Gyantse fort resisted in a siege of several
weeks, before they were overcome by the superior equipment of
the British. The town still has the feel of a frontier town,
with horses and yaks on the main streets. It was nearly
destroyed in 1954 and was largely emptied of people by the
Chinese in 1959.
The skyline is dominated by the
somewhat dilapidated 14th century fortress (Dzong) and long
snake of fortress walls, but it sure does offer fantastic
views of the town and the famous Kumbum and lush green
valleys. Enjoy watching the "traffic", carts, buggies, yaks,
animal-pulled wagons, a constant flow of people getting
their jobs done. Enjoy a stroll and take particular interest
in the arches and architecture, the colors of the shops, and
stop by the park under the fortress.
Kumbum Stupa is one of the most distinctive temples in the
world. It is an unusual architectural masterpiece with its
nine levels rise in the manner of a step pyramid. Its
construction started in 1418 and it was completed in 1427.
It is designed in classic stupa or pagoda style. The
word Kumbum literally means
10,000 images and according to its name Kumbum stupa contains
10,000 murals some of which are dates back to 15 century and
still in tact. These images include Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Vajras, Dharma Kings, Arhats,
Disciples, great adepts of different orders in Tibetan Buddhist
history, and outstanding figures in Tibetan history such as
Songtsen Gampo and Trisong Detsen. It was an important centre of
the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism and still considered as one
of the most outstanding and sacred places of Tibet. This amazing
structure is 35 meters in height, octagonal in shape, has a
9 storey terraced exterior, 108 chapels, and superb murals
(wall paintings). It raises over four symmetrical floors
plus two upper floors and is capped with a gold dome. The
four floors contain 108 chapels which the pilgrims visit.
Pelkor Chöde monastery is well worth half a day or more.
Allow extra time for hiking up to the fortress. The views
are well worth the effort! Especially grand is sunset!
With its rich cultural
tradition, majestic monasteries, breath-taking scenery and
convenient location, Shigatse has become on of the most
popular tourist destination in Tibet. Don't miss it!
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