The drive from Samye to Gyantse saw us backtrack to the Friendship Highway (which runs from Lhasa to Nepal), and then head south west over a 5,000m pass, through some villages and past Yamdrok Lake.
Yamdrok Tso lake at 4,441m is one of four holy lakes in Tibet, it the largest lake in Tibet and is Tibet’s largest fishery. The lake is an amazing turquoise blue and is surrounded by snow-capped peaks. Pilgrims and tourist visit the lake year round as it is possible to visit the lake in a day trip from Lhasa.
After a short stop we were on our way again and we passed a manmade dam later that morning that has a ruined fort on what now is an island and then not long after a large glacier that straddles the valley.
The monastery is located in the Tibetan area of the town where the architecture is distinctly different to the Chinese quarter where multi –level dwellings dominate. The monastery was originally constructed between 1418 and 1428 and has been largely restored since the destruction and ransacking that took place during the Cultural Revolution. In 1959 there were over 1500 monks while today there is less than 80 due to the Chinese occupation. When we visited the monastery was filled with pilgrims that had travelled there from all over Tibet, many had come all the way from Amdo.
The Kumbum Chorten which is located in the monastery grounds is the largest chorten (Stupa) in Tibet. It has 108 shrines which line walls on the nine level structure, although the chorten made it through the cultural revolutions largely unscathed, many of the relics in the shrines were destroyed by have since been replaced with clay figures. As I approached the top levels of the chorten it started to get quite packed given the countless pilgrims, the monks who were trying to guide people up the stairs were literally yanking people up the steep staircases as it reminded me of a mosh pit. Despite the cramped, slow moving conditions there were no arguments and everyone there was just happy to have the opportunity to visit and make the pilgrimage.
We spent a few hours here and then continued our journey towards Nepal with our next stop Sakya.