-John Eickert

South of the now paved road, linking Shigatse with Lhasa in central Tibet is the small tourist and farming village of Gyantse. Approaching Gyantse, the eye locates the old fort resting atop a dry brown hill in the center of town. This fort, dzong in Tibetan, once guarded the valley from raiders who used to swoop in from the north. Now, Gyantse Dzong catches the suns first rays and watches as tourists arrive from the north, most auspicious as they say in Tibet.

There is another attraction in Gyantse, the Gyantse Kumbum. The Kumbum, described as one of the world’s most unique architectural buildings, rests hard against an arid south-facing slope on the edge of town. Kumbum means 100,000 images and there are many within the four-story structure. There are 77 chapels, which one views by walking a tantric inspired clockwise path up the four floors then into a fifth floor inside the summit dome and the sixth floor on the roof. Each chapel contains paintings with a distinctive style, a blend of Newari (Nepal) and Chinese methods creating a unique Tibetan form. As one ascends, the way becomes narrower and the ceilings lower forcing the chorten guest to remain on an ever-tightening path. The two ladders leading to the fifth and sixth floors are very constricted and steep. The architects and builders of the Kumbum designed the building to emulate the path of life. Open, and flat, and easy in the beginning with much to see, the path within the Kumbum becomes more difficult. The chapel paintings become more detailed. At the top, the scene opens up with everything below.

 I sat within the walls of the compound between the Assembly Hall and the Gyantse Kumbum. Near me, along the wall where I sat waiting for Elizabeth to come down, were two thin trees with no leaves. The courtyard for the Assembly Hall is elevated and there are four stone steps leading down to the courtyard in front of the Kumbum. A pack of dogs with a red-gold longhaired leader prowled the upper courtyard. The pack in the lower courtyard in front of the towering Kumbum was the domain of a thin wiry black dog with a broken tail. The dog packs made a game of invading each other’s courtyard and at times, the invader was repelled in an aggressive manner causing any passing monk to cry out warnings. The time passed as I waited and the territoriality displayed by the dogs fascinated me. I think this is how it has always been in this valley, one wild pack invading another for the sheer delight in doing so. The tourist invasion, those visiting to fulfill their own delights, is checked by the short summer season on the Tibetan plateau, the high altitude winter providing a no less aggressive manner of repelling the modern invader.

China is a close neighbor to India and Tibet is worth seeing, maybe some of you will travel there this year. Cheers.

 (Photograph of ‘kumbum’ by Carsten Nebel from


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