Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet, is an important city for Tibetan history and tourism. This ancient city is 273 kilometers west of Lhasa and Mount Everest’s North Base Camp is located in Tingri County, Shigatse Prefecture at an altitude of 5200 meters. The city is located in the alluvial plain at the confluence of the Brahmaputra and the Nianchu River, (Shigatse means “the fertile land”). The city has some of the most important monasteries in Tibet and is also an important gateway to Everest Base Camp, which is one of must-see tourist attractions for Tibet tour.
Many bus and bike tours have a leg in the city which is also an important supply point. The city has a history going back to 600 years and it is rich with many historic sites. The city is also on the Friendship Highway, 800-kilometer (500 mi) scenic route connecting the capital of Tibet, Lhasa, with the Chinese/Nepalese border. Also, you don’t want to overlook the wonderful festivals in Tibet.
Top Attractions in Shigatse
Tashilhunpo Monastery is one of the most culturally and historically significant monasteries in Tibet. The monastery, which was the seat of successive Panchen Lamas (the second highest ranking Tulku lineage in the Gelugpa tradition), was founded in 1447 by the 1st Dalai Lama. The successive Lamas extended the structure in the following centuries but the current structure is actually one-third of the original monastery since the rest was destroyed during Cultural Revolution. But fortunately, the remaining part is the main monastery and today, it is a significant cultural as well as spiritual center.
Tashilhunpo Monastery is located on a hill in the center of Shigatse. The monastery is an important spiritual center in Tibet and attracts thousands of pilgrims every year from China and abroad. Pilgrims circumambulate the monastery on the sacred path (called lingkhor) outside the walls. There is an important festival here every year called The Sunning of the Buddha Festival. During the festival, three giant thangkas are displayed each day and tens of thousands of people congregate around these giant thangkas with the images of Buddha.
The tallest building in the monastery complex is Jamba Chyenmu (The Maitreya Temple) which was erected in 1914. The building houses a giant, 26 meters (85 ft) tall statue of Maitreya Buddha which is the largest of its kind in entire China.
While visiting the monastery, you may find some chapels locked but you can show your ticket to Lamas and politely ask them to open the chapel. The exception is the white chapel the dorm of generations of Panchen Lamas.
Sakya Monastery is 148 km away from Shigatse and is the center of the Sakya Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery is known as ‘Second Dunhuang’ because it has a giant collection of numerous Tibetan Buddhist scriptures, murals and Thangkas. No one knows the exact size of the collection but some estimates say there are 40,000 volumes of scriptures in the monastery.
Sakya Monastery is composed of two monasteries divided by the Zhongqu River. Northern Monastery sits along the Bonbori Hill and today it is nothing more than ruins. The Southern Monastery was built like a fortress in 1288 by Drogon Chogyal Pagba, 5th Sakya Throne Holder and lies in the valley.
When in Sakya Monastery, the Main Chanting Hall (Lakhang Chenmo) is a must see. This 5,800 square meters area can hold ten thousand monks chanting sutras together. There are 3 Buddha enshrines here in the hall; Dipamkarara, Sakyamuni and Maitreya, and five Sakyapa ancestors. Don’t miss the well-preserved murals of mandalas on the second floor of the hall.
When in Sakya County, there are some nice Sichuan Restaurants to try delicious Sichuan cuisine. You may opt to stay guesthouses of monastery and hotels in Sakya County but the conditions are very basic. If you want to take photos, the Northern Monastery is the ideal.
Rongbuk monastery lies near the base of the north side of Mount Everest at 4,980 meters and is claimed to be the highest monastery in the world. If the weather is good, you can catch incredible views of the north face of Mount Everest. The monastery can be accessed by road detaching from the Friendship Highway.
The monastery is an excellent stop for the visitors of the Everest Base Camp. There is a very basic guesthouse and a small restaurant here (the prices are a little high here so you may want to bring your own food). You can take a service bus or a relatively short trek to Everest Base Camp which is just 8 km from the monastery. Staying in or around the monastery will give you an excellent opportunity to see sunrise and sunset with Mount Everest view and in a clear sky with moon, you will also have a fantastic Mount Everest view in the night.
The monastery itself is also worth a visit. It was built in 1899 and once there were 500 monks and nuns lived here. Today, only a small portion of the monastery is left. The monastery is the only building in the area and offers a fantastic background along with the Mt. Everest for your Tibet photos. There is a place called Everest Observatory Deck in the monastery with a white stupa. Don’t forget to visit here and take a photo of the gigantic pyramid of Everest with the white stupa in the foreground.
Everest Base Camp
Tour in Tibet cannot be completed without visiting Mount Everest. Mount Everest is the highest peak of the world with an elevation of 8,848 meters. There are in fact two Everest Base Camps; one is in Nepal and the other one is in Tibet, located in the north of the Himalayas. The Northern wall of Everest looking towards Tibet has a gentler slope than the Southern wall so Everest Base Camp in Tibet is more popular.
Driving from Shigatse to Mount Everest takes 8 hours but the views along the road are just breath-taking. In a clear day, you will not only see Mount Everest but also view some 8000 meters plus peaks like Makalu, Lhotse, Gyachung and Cho Oyu in this central Himalayan Range.
Everest Base Camp was first used by the 1924 British Everest expedition. Walking the last 4 km to Everest Base Camp is quite easy as the slope is gentle and the altitude gain is less than 200 m. The camp itself is a small flat piece of land in front of the north face of Mount Everest at an altitude of 5200m. You can rent a tent in the tent camp if you want to stay overnight here.
When visiting Everest Base Camp, bring a warm and thick coat for low temperature. This is the highest altitude you will experience in Tibet (if you are not a mountaineer so beware of altitude sickness. To not experience it, avoid strenuous activity such as climbing a hill fast or even standing up fast after squatting for a photo.
Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet, offers some grand monasteries, natural beauties and great scenery for its visitors. Since the opening of the railroad from Lhasa, it is more accessible now. If for nothing, you should visit Everest on your trip and also stay in Shigatse for its majestic monasteries.