Gyantse, altitude 3,950 meters, is about 210 kilometers from Lhasa and 95 kilometers from Shigatse. It was once Tibet’s third most important city, lying at the head of the Nyangchu Valley, astride the main routes from Nepal to Lhasa. In former times it was a fort, the center of Tibet’s wool trade and a gateway to the outside world. In recent years, other places in Tibet have grown more quickly, and in comparison it is now a fairly small town.
The town is strategically located in the Nyang Chu valley on the ancient trade routes from the Chumbi Valley, Yatung and Sikkim, which met here. From Gyantse, routes led to Shigatse downstream and also over the Karo La (Pass) to Central Tibet.
A high, rocky ridge topped by a ruined fortress runs through the middle of Gyantse, dividing it into two parts. On the west are a large monastery complex and part of the original city with a main market street. A newly built avenue leads around the outer edge right to the monastery. On the east is another section of the old town, including a rug factory and the principal approach to the citadel above. A few Chinese work units from a suburban ring around the Tibetan town.
Gyantse is a lovely place, with its friendly and relaxed fields and villages, climbing the fort, and just watching and meeting the people can fill several days. Crossing the lowest part of the small rocky ridge to the right of the monastery brings you into a concealed Tibetan residential area, with streets of beautiful old houses.