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Tibet - Off the beaten track


Panoramic view over Dumo-tso Lake from Samding Monastery near Nangartse, Western Tibet

Gyantse

Gyantse, some 200km (124mi) southwest of Lhasa, is one of the least Chinese-influenced towns in Tibet and is worth a visit for this reason alone. The Palkhor Monastery here was built in 1427 and is notable for its superb Kumbum (10,000 images) stupa. The dzong (old fort) that towers above the village offers a fine view over the valley. Gyantse is a four-hour bus ride from Shigatse.

Mt Everest

The Tibetan approach to Mt Everest, or Qomolangma (8848m/29,021ft), provides far better vistas of the world's highest peak than those on the Nepal side. Some 27,000 sq km (10,422 sq mi) around Everest's Tibetan face have been designated as the Qomolangma Nature Preserve, aiming to protect the environment and the cultural traditions of the local people. For foreign travellers, the Everest Base Camp has become the most popular trekking destination in Tibet, but this does not mean that the region is exactly swarming with hikers. The two access points are Shegar and Tingri, along the Friendship Highway to Nepal, but be warned that neither trek is an easy three- or four-day stroll. Take your time getting acclimatised and be prepared for a strenuous climb. If it all sounds too much, 4WD vehicles can lurch all the way to Base Camp along the Shegar track.

Sakya

Sakya is 152km (94mi) west of Shigatse and about 25km (15.5mi) south of the main road. The huge brooding monastery here was Tibet's most powerful 700 years ago. The monastery probably contains the finest collection of Tibetan religious relics remaining in Tibet, although the monks may restrict you to viewing only a couple of halls. There's an unreliable bus from Shigatse, but most people arrange to see Sakya on their way to the Nepali border or the Everest Base Camp.



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