The once-mighty temple complex of Gyantse (ca. 1418) used to house several different orders under the one roof. While restoration is ongoing, only the main temple, a huge thangka wall, and Gyantse Kumbum stand intact. Many of the chapels in the main temple are locked; if you persist, one of the 30 remaining monks may open them. The different orders bequeathed different artistic styles, shown in the chapels of the second floor. To the right (east) is the bizarre Neten Lhakhang, decorated in Chinese style with leaping tigers and dragons, floating clouds, and pagodas, representing Manjusri's Pure Land in Wutai Shan.
The nine-story Kumbum, the largest chorten in Tibet, towers to a height of 42m (140 ft.). The first five floors are four-sided, while the upper floors are circular, forming a huge three-dimensional mandala. Kumbum means "the hundred thousand images," and while the actual number of Buddhist images is around one-third of that estimate, even the most dedicated pilgrim won't have time to properly inspect all the chapels. They house the finest art preserved in Tibet. Vibrant color and a lively, naturalistic style characterize the murals, while the broad faces of the statues point to Chinese influence. The mandalas of the upper levels are exquisite, though an extra fee may be required to gain access to the seventh through ninth floors. Bring a flashlight.
Cost: Admission ¥30 ($3.90/£1.95). Photography ¥10 ($1.30/65p)