Sunday was an 8am start followed by a 10 hour drive from Lhasa southwest to a little town called Gyantse. The scenery was spectacular (I took way too many photos) but I did doze off for a bit of it... The road itself was in startlingly good condition and it was a very smooth drive. The the top of the mountain pass it was over 5000m above sea level and absolutely freezing! I had so many layers on I lost count, I even got in my sleeping bag as well on the bus.
We have a new local guide and driver for the rest of the trip and now the same bus for the next week. Its great there are about 3 times as many seats as there are people so I can spread out. If only there was a heater though...
Gyantse was once a major wool-trading cente on the routes between India, Bhutan, Tibet and China and the town is dominated by its imposing hill fortress, Gyantse Dzongn and it is the site of.....you guessed it, a MONASTERY! The Pekor Chode Monastery was founded in 1418 and has the usual Buddha and related paraphernalia that I have come to expect.
Gyantse has one other claim to fame; the unique Gyantse Kumbum (meaning 100,000 images). This monument was designed in layers as a 3D mandala (model of the Buddhist universe), with its 5 stories representing the 5 steps to enlightenment. The circuit up the 15th century stupa is a dizzying journey that winds up and around increasingly narrow passages, leading into an endless series of tiny chapels and full technicolour Buddhist images. I'm off to see that tomorrow.
Other than that Gyantse is a very ordinary little down, very dusty and with nothing much to attract anyone to linger longer. Fortunately I am only here one night.