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China: Gyantse fortress

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Gyantse fortress | China | Asia

[Visited: April 2007]

When the valley of Nyang-chu opened itself before our eyes on approach from the east, I was immediately struck by the building on top of a steep hill towering above the plains. It seemed to lie right on top of the rocks like a sleeping snake, on the obvious place to build a fortification. In fact, I was looking at the Gyantse Dzong, or fortress, built in the 14th century. At that time, Gyantse was a major node in the trade routes between Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim and China. The famous Kumbum and the Pelkor Chöde monastery also date from that era.

Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): Gyantse fortress draped over the natural hill

As we got closer, the fortress was attracting me like a magnet and it was my first destination of the town. Fortunately, the altitude - some 4,000 metres - was no problem after having spent weeks at this altitude. The ticket office at street level was closed and apparently not in use, but when I arrived at the entrance to the fortress proper, a very unfriendly Tibetan tried to make me pay to enter without wanting to give a ticket, then offered a "discounted" entrance fee without ticket, or the official entrance fee with a ticket. I can only hope that buying the ticket will some day contribute to restoration works on the fortress. Highly necessary: after the fortress was partly destroyed during the Younghusband expedition in 1904, it was further damaged by the Chinese and now is in a sorry state.

Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): Building of the Gyantse fortress seen from below

I walked around the hill and then up to the top - and everywhere, I had amazing views of the surrouding area. With clouds floating in the sky, sunlight was working like a random spotlight, highlighting the Gyantse Kumbum, the surrounding mountains, the water in the fields below, the town itself. The view of the monastery below was especially good, and I could easily plan walking the kora around it by looking at the route from above. One of the reasons I wanted to visit the fortress was the Anti-British Imperialists Museum, but unfortunately, that had been closed, or was in the process of being renovated. I could only see the an old board with some introductory texts in a storage room.

Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): View of Gyantse fortress from the monastery
Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): Square at the foot of the Gyantse fortress with monument to People's heroes
Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): Early morning light falling over the Gyantse fortress
Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): Road leading up to the fortress
Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): Gyantse monastery, Tibetan area and surroundings seen from Gyantse fortress
Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): Gyantse fortress perched on a steep hill seen from below
Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): View over Gyantse fortress and Tibetan quarter from Gyantse monastery
Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): Old road leading up to Gyantse fortress
Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): Dubious sign leading the visitor to spot where Tibetan soldier jumped during British siege
Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): Cannons on the Gyantse fortress pointing to the Nyang-chu Valley
Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): Part of Gyantse fortress with clouds seen from below
Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): Looking over Nyang-chu valley from the top of Gyantse fort
Picture of Gyantse fortress (China): Modern part of Gyantse seen from Gyantse fortress

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