Gyantse: A Historic Gem in the Heart of Tibet
Nestled amidst the breathtaking landscapes of Tibet, Gyantse is a city that holds a unique place in the hearts of travellers. This historic town is a must-visit for anyone journeying through the region, and it offers a glimpse into Tibet’s rich cultural heritage and stunning natural beauty. Here’s a closer look at the charm and history of Gyantse.
Gyantse’s history dates back to 967 AD, when Beka Tsen, the grandson of Tsenpo Lang Drama, the last ruler of the Tubo Dynasty, constructed a castle-style building atop a hill in the Nianchu River Basin. The castle was named “Gyalkhartse,” meaning “the peak of victory, the top of the Dharma Palace” in Tibetan. Over time, it became known as Gyantse, signifying a place of great historical and cultural importance.
In the early 14th century, the mountain and castle were used as the seat of local clan governance, known as the “Gyantse clan mountain” and “Gyantse clan castle.” Today, these historic sites are a testament to Tibet’s diverse and storied past.
Gyantse’s appeal isn’t limited to its historical significance. The town is nestled in a picturesque valley near the convergence of the Nianchu River and Niruru Zangbo, which form the Chu River. This fertile plain is a striking contrast to the traditional image of Tibet, characterized by rich farmlands interwoven with highland barley fields. Known as Tibet’s “rice granary,” Gyantse is a hub of agricultural activity.
Gyantse’s climate is influenced by warm and humid air from the Indian Ocean, which flows through the Yadong Valley and Kangma Gorge, benefiting the Nianchu River Valley. This results in a wealth of water resources and fertile land, fostering a harmonious blend of agriculture and animal husbandry.
In this vast valley beneath the endless blue skies and fluffy white clouds, you’ll encounter sprawling farmlands, tall stacks of highland barley, and traditional Tibetan villages dotting the landscape. The seasons come to life here: spring sees farmers toiling in the fields; summer brings lush rapeseed blooms; autumn envelops Gyantse in golden hues; and winter drapes the surrounding mountains in pristine white snow.
While many travellers pass through Gyantse on their way to other destinations, a stopover in this historic city is highly recommended. Delve into its rich cultural heritage, visit its monuments, and absorb the serene beauty of the countryside. Don’t miss the opportunity to savour the atmosphere of Gyantse, where history and nature harmonize in a breathtaking symphony.
Gyantse’s unique character, lush landscapes, and historical treasures offer a glimpse into the authentic spirit of Tibet. As you travel through this incredible region, Gyantse reminds you of the rich tapestry of cultures and landscapes that make Tibet a place of wonder and enchantment.
Gyantse: Where History and Natural Beauty Meet
Nestled amidst the awe-inspiring landscapes of Tibet, the ancient city of Gyantse beckons travellers with a rich tapestry of history and a mesmerizing blend of nature. This city, perched atop Dzong Mountain, offers a captivating experience that shouldn’t be missed.
A City Rich in History Gyangtse Dzong
Gyantse has a history that spans millennia, its small size belying its historical significance. The city is demarcated by Gyantse Dzong and Martyr Square. The old city is situated in the northwest, while the new city lies in the southeast, with Dzong Dzong Fort standing as the epicentre of Gyantse County.
As one of Tibet’s primary trade routes throughout history, Gyantse has earned its place as the third most vital town, following Lhasa and Shigatse. The existing ancient city of Gyantse boasts a heritage dating back six centuries. The city’s meandering streets, etched with 600 years of growth rings, invite you to explore its alleys, touch its historical imprints, and listen to the echoes of time.
Rows of traditional Tibetan houses line the regular stone-paved streets. These well-preserved Tibetan-style homes, known as “Shiga,” typically consist of three stories: the ground floor is used for various purposes, the second floor serves as living quarters, and the third floor features Buddhist halls and terraces. The houses are constructed with earth and stone walls to withstand the region’s dry climate, providing warmth in winter and cooling relief in the summer.
Their exteriors are painted white, adorned with red and black eaves and windows or embellished with Tibetan copper in auspicious patterns. This symphony of colours creates a seamless transition from the grey and white houses to the golden and green fields, further on to the distant grey mountains and the boundless blue sky. Basking in the golden sunshine, Gyantse’s residents, with their sun-kissed faces, lead a tranquil, self-sustained life, infusing the city with an original plateau style.
Standing atop Dzong Mountain, one can catch a glimpse of Palkor Choede Temple, renowned for hosting Tibet’s most famous “One Hundred Thousand Buddha Pagoda.” This temple is also known as “Palkor Choede Chenmo” in Tibetan, meaning “Auspicious Dharma Wheel Temple.” Situated at Gyantse’s western end, not far from Dzong, Palkor Choede Temple is among Tibet’s most unique and emblematic places of worship.
What makes Palkor Choede Temple truly special is the harmonious coexistence of various Tibetan Buddhist sects within its walls, including Sakya, Gelug, Shalu, and Butun. This confluence of the four major Tibetan Buddhist sects is exceptional. The temple’s interiors house an abundance of statues, murals, and sculptures, not only in great number but also with extraordinary craftsmanship. Palkor Choede Temple is often referred to as the only religious art museum in China, seamlessly integrating architectural, painting, and sculptural art.
Moreover, Palkor Choede Temple is characterized by its remarkable coexistence of a temple and a pagoda, naturally complementing each other. It’s a rare instance of a Tibetan Buddhist temple that marries pagodas and temple elements. The temple’s “Ten Thousand Buddhas Pagoda” is celebrated throughout Tibet.
The nine-story Kubum Pagoda, an architectural masterpiece, comprises nearly a hundred Buddhist halls stacked one upon the other. As you ascend, each level showcases lifelike, elegant Buddha statues and intricately carved sculptures. With a sense of grandeur and breathtaking beauty, it resembles an opulent art palace.
Gyantse’s Scenic Surroundings
Gyantse is strategically positioned at the crossroads of several key transportation routes. These roads extend westward to Panam, eastward to Langkazi and Lhasa, and southward to Kangma and Yadong(Dromo). Gyantse is also renowned for being close to the sacred Naiqin Kangsang Snow Mountain, situated at the intersection of Gyantse County and Langkazi (Nakartse) County along National Highway 349 to the east.
Rising to an impressive 7,191 meters above sea level, this majestic mountain is shrouded in perpetual white clouds and features a sharp, snow-covered peak. The Karola Glacier, also found nearby, is China’s glacier nearest to a road. Its meltwater is one of the sources of the Nianchu River. The glacial meltwater cascades from the mountains to the valleys, ultimately merging into the Chu River, nurturing Tibetan communities along the way.
The Karola Glacier gained notoriety when a real avalanche scene for the movie “Red River Valley” was filmed here. Regrettably, the use of explosives to create this dramatic scene resulted in permanent damage to the glacier.
Standing on Dzong Mountain and gazing upon Gyantse’s surroundings, one can marvel at the intersection of ancient history, natural beauty, and Tibetan culture. This unique blend of elements forms a captivating tapestry that defines Gyantse and beckons travellers to explore its multifaceted allure.
Gyantse: A Testament to Heroism and History
Standing on the vantage point of Dzong Mountain, one cannot help but be overwhelmed by the indomitable spirit of Gyantse’s martyrs. Here, amid the picturesque purity of Shigatse and the towering snow-clad peaks, a landscape of great historical significance unfolds.
Dzong Mountain, though modest in height at just over 100 meters, reigns supreme over the surrounding plains of Gyantse. In this fertile and vivid tapestry of colours, an ocher-yellow stone mountain emerges suddenly, on which stands a remarkable fortress with white walls and a red roof, radiating an aura of majesty.
Gyantse Dzong, the nucleus of the Gyantse Dzong government, epitomizes the well-preserved architectural heritage of Tibet’s ancient Dzong governments. Perched at an elevation of 4,187 meters, it encompasses 193 rooms, both large and small, within 7,064 square meters of ancient edifices.
In Tibetan nomenclature, a “Dzong” was equivalent to a county, and a “Dzong” was the county government’s seat. In ancient Tibet, politics and religion were inextricably linked. County governments served as both administrative bodies and monasteries, bearing a distinct religious character.
Gyantse Dzong might aptly be described as a palace-style monastery. Comprising forts, bunkers, city walls, palaces, assembly halls, official residences, warehouses, stables, and numerous bedrooms, the Dzong’s structures faithfully preserve the atmosphere of the feudal era.
Gyantse Dzong predates Samdrupse Dzong and, due to its larger hillside location, its main buildings and associated structures sprawl along the mountain’s contours, ascending from the base to the summit. During the summer, the distant sight of Dzong Castle rises above the canola fields, while in autumn, it stands beside the golden barley fields, amplifying the joy of bountiful harvests.
The Heroic Defense of Gyantse
This is not just an ordinary castle; it is Gyantse Hero Fort, and it is where Gyantse’s courageous resistance against the British transpired. In 1904, the three-month-long battle to defend Gyantse marked the largest, most tragic, and heroic confrontation in Tibet’s modern history against foreign invaders. Tibetan defenders, armed mainly with traditional weapons and unwavering resolve, battled an enemy equipped with machine guns and cannons.
The battle, culminating in Gyantse’s last stand, bore witness to the unwavering determination of its soldiers and citizens who chose to leap from the cliffs rather than face captivity. The sacrifice of Gyantse’s defenders resonates through time, and the city earned the moniker “City of Heroes” in remembrance of this tragic episode.
The Gyantse Dzong Heroes Monument uplifts honour and sacrifice to the heavens, evoking profound pride in the legacy of its heroic forebears. The castle’s ancient walls and majestic presence beneath the cerulean sky command respect, while visits to the Matyr fort on the castle’s summit and homage at the cliffside where brave defenders made the ultimate sacrifice facilitate a deeper connection with the spirit of those who gave their all.
The Dzong Matyr forts, an anti-British exhibition hall, and the sites where warriors leapt off the cliffs vividly reflect the spirit of Tibetan soldiers and citizens who, unyielding in the face of adversity, defended their homeland with their lives.
In 1961, the Dzong Matyr Site was designated as a national key cultural relic protection site by the State Council. Furthermore, it serves as a national and autonomous region-level patriotic education demonstration base and a national defence education demonstration base.
The Gyantse anti-British resistance’s significance transcends its historical confines, as it symbolizes the tenacity and unwavering spirit of the Tibetan people in the face of adversity.
The Heroic Defense of Gyantse: Tibet’s Bravery Against the British Invasion
In the annals of history, few events are as emblematic of bravery and resilience as the heroic defense of Gyantse, a small town in Tibet, against the invading British forces in 1904. Gyantse stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit of the Tibetan people and their unwavering commitment to protect their homeland.
Defying British Ultimatums
After the fall of the Naining and Zijin monasteries, the Tibetan troops stationed in Gyantse faced an imminent threat. They knew that their town was next on the British invasion’s target list. In a stirring display of determination, they appealed to Yutuo Kalon, the commander-in-chief of the Tibetan local government stationed in Rinbu, expressing their commitment to defend Gyantse at all costs.
Talks with the British
Amid the escalating tension, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama dispatched Yuthok Kalon, Drungyik Chenmo, and other officials to engage in negotiations with the British. These talks, initiated on July 1, 1904, were a desperate attempt to prevent further conflict through diplomacy. The Tibetan side hoped that reason and dialogue would prevail.
However, on July 3, 1904, the British issued an ultimatum that was anything but diplomatic. They demanded that the Tibetan troops withdraw from Gyantse within a strict timeframe. The ultimatum was accompanied by stringent conditions: the dismantling of the Dzong fort, the removal of earthen guns, and the evacuation of the town by July 5.
The Heroic Battle of Gyantse
In response to the British ultimatum, the Tibetan defenders chose defiance over surrender. The stage was set for a battle of epic proportions that unfolded from July 5 to 6, 1904. Over the course of 37 gruelling hours, 5,000 Tibetan troops and militiamen engaged in an extraordinary display of courage.
British Strategies Unfold
The British army unleashed various tactics, including heavy artillery fire and infantry charges. However, the Tibetan forces, armed mainly with traditional weapons and unwavering resolve, mounted a fierce defence using native arms. Despite their inferior equipment, they fiercely resisted seven British assaults.
The Fall of Gyantse
As the battle raged on, the British army’s relentless efforts eventually led to a breakthrough. The defenders were depleted, running out of ammunition and supplies. On the afternoon of July 6, 1904, the British army launched a final assault, breaching the town’s defences.
The Aftermath of the Gyantse Battle
In the wake of Gyantse’s fall, Yuthok Kalon assumed command of the remaining Tibetan troops and endeavoured to establish defences in various regions, including Karola, Nangkazi, Nyonsola, and Gambala. However, the relentless resistance had taken its toll, and the Tibetan forces were greatly weakened.
British Advancement to Lhasa
The British forces, having secured Gyantse, embarked on a formidable march towards Lhasa. This journey, commencing on July 14, 1904, required navigating challenging terrain and crossing numerous obstacles. The British forces, led by Francis Younghusband and Colonel Macdonald, arrived in Lhasa on August 3, 1904, but the city’s occupation proved tumultuous.
Tumultuous Occupation of Lhasa
Upon entering Lhasa, the British army unleashed widespread destruction, violence, and looting. The occupiers, however, quickly realized the daunting task of governing the fiercely resistant Tibetan capital. The Tibetan people’s strong character and resistance posed significant challenges to British rule.
The Treaty of Lhasa
Faced with stubborn local resistance and international pressure, Younghusband and his forces signed the Treaty of Lhasa on September 7, 1904. This marked the end of the British invasion, albeit with controversial implications.
Gyantse: Where Heroism, History, and Tranquility Intersect
In 1904, the Tibetan people etched an epic of valour and resistance against British aggression and in defence of their national sovereignty in the hallowed grounds of Gyantse. Today, the remnants of Gyantse Castle still bear witness to that indomitable spirit. The brown-red rocks surrounding the Matyr fort stand tall and proud as if echoing the heroic past. Monuments like the Dzong Hero Monument and the Matyr Memorial Square serve as poignant reminders of this tragic history.
A Testament to Heroism
Perched on the heights of Dzong Castle and gazing into the distance, one is greeted by breathtaking scenery, a testament to the sacrifice of heroes. Gyantse City has undergone remarkable transformations over the years. The juxtaposition of the old and new cities is striking. Nearby, Palkor Choede Temple stands encircled by rugged, red-hued mountains, and the Nianchu River meanders serenely through the southwestern part of the city, its banks adorned with trees and crisscrossed farmlands.
Towering mountains in the distance disappear into the clouds, while fertile grasslands, farmlands, and grand estates define the landscape. Quiet streets wind their way to ancient temples. In this setting, the city of Gyantse exudes an aura of calm and tranquillity. Here, the grand tapestry of history, the pristine beauty of nature, and the authenticity of folk customs converge, attracting countless visitors eager to pay their respects to the past and present.