About 250km southwest of Lhasa, or 90km northwest of Gyantse, lies Shigatse (Rikaze), Tibet’s second-largest town and the traditional capital of Tsang province. Shigatse is a sprawling place, with dusty, uneven streets humming with traffic (even the pedestrian-only lane). As you drive in across the plains, the site of the Potala-lookalike Shigatse Dzong, high on a hilltop overlooking the town, will probably fire up your imagination, but the fort is empty and most of what you see dates from a 2007 reconstruction. It is the Tashilhunpo Monastery, to the west of town, that is the real draw. Since the Mongol sponsorship of the Gelugpa order, Shigatse has been the seat of the Panchen Lama, and this seat was traditionally based in the monastery.
The town, formerly known as Samdruptse, has long been an important trading and administrative centre. The Tsang kings exercised their power from the dzong and the fort later became the residence of the governor of Tsang. The modern city is divided into a tiny old Tibetan town huddled at the foot of the fort, and a rapidly expanding modern Chinese town that has all the charm of, well, every other expanding modern Chinese town.
During the second week of the fifth lunar month (around June/July), Tashilhunpo Monastery becomes the scene of a three-day festival and a huge thangka is unveiled.
Shigatse destination guides
High Road to Lhasa
A stunning overland Tibetan journey from Lhasa to Kathmandu with a visit to Everest Base Camp
Mountains & Monasteries
Satisfy your sense of adventure and spiritual curiosity on this overland journey. From the great capital of China, travel across the vast Tibetan Plateau, through remote villages and into the mountain kingdom of Nepal.