Gyantse (rGyal rtse) also spelled Gyangtse; is a city located in Gyangzê County, Shigatse Prefecture. It is 3,977 metres (13,050 feet) above sea level, and is located on the Friendship Highway, which connects Kathmandu, Nepal to Lhasa, Tibet.

Gyantse (at an altitude of 3950 m or about 13000 ft) is 254 km southwest of Lhasa. The town still has the feel of a frontier town, with horses and yaks on the main streets.

The main site in Gyantse is the Kumbum and the Pelkor Chode monastery. The Kumbum was commissioned in 1440. It rises over four symmetrical floors plus two upper floors and is capped with a gold dome. Approximately 70 chapels are housed in the Kumbum. These are many murals -- the word "kumbum" means 10,000 image!

Gyantse is the fourth largest city in Tibet (after Lhasa, Sigatse and Chamdo). It is often referred to as the "Hero City" because during the British Younghusband expedition of 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.

Gyantse is notable for the Kumbum of the Palcho Monastery. Commissioned in 1440, this religious structure contains 108 chapels in its four floors, and is illustrated with over 10,000 murals, the last of its type in Tibet. Many of the new clay statues are of less artistry than the destroyed originals - but they are still spectacular.

Immediately adjoining the Kumbum is the Pelkor Chode monastery. While undistinguished from the outside, there was much of interest inside. The monks had just completed three large mandalas in honor of the 4th lunar month when Sakyamuni was born, achieved enlightenment, and nirvana. The mandalas represent "concentration" and the "unity of opposing forces." The sand mandalas were made from crushed stones, then dyed and arranged within four days. They are displayed for 15 days and then scattered into local rivers as blessings. (The photos below show on these these mandalas and a closeup of one portion. Click on each for a larger version.)