Lying on a historic trade route between India and Tibet, Gyantse (Jiāngzī) has long been a crucial link for traders and pilgrims journeying across the Himalayan plateau. It was once considered Tibet’s third city, behind Lhasa and Shigatse, but in recent decades has been eclipsed in size and importance by fast-growing Chinese-dominated towns like Bāyī and Tsetang. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as Gyantse has managed to hang onto its small-town charm and laid-back atmosphere.
Gyantse’s greatest sight is the Gyantse Kumbum, the largest chörten in Tibet and one of its architectural wonders. The white chörten contains a seemingly endless series of mural-filled chapels and offers outstanding views from its upper levels.
Those with more time can take some pleasant day trips to little-visited monasteries in the vicinity. But no matter what your schedule is, try to find a little time to wander the back streets of town: the mix of pilgrims, children, pop music, cows, motorcycles and mud is as true a picture of contemporary Tibetan life as you’ll find.
If you happen to be in Tibet 20–23 June, you can catch Gyantse's three-day Dhama Festival, featuring 19 local villages trying to outdo each other in horse races, yak races, wrestling and traditional dances. Accommodation is tight in Gyantse during the festival but you could easily commute from Shigatse, 90 minutes away.