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278km (172 miles) W of Lhasa, 91km (56 miles) NW of Gyantse. Altitude: 3,900m (12,792 ft.)

Set to the south of the confluence of the Brahmaputra River and the Nyang Chu, the second-largest town in Tibet is considerably smaller than Lhasa, its ancient rival for political power. For a period between the 16th and 17th centuries, Shigatse was the capital of Tibet, and even after the capital shifted to Lhasa, it maintained influence both as the center of the Tsang region and as the home of the Panchen Lama, who traditionally resides in Tashilhunpo Monastery. Chinese-style development has taken over much of the town, and this will only increase when the train line reaches here in 2012, but the area around the monastery still bustles with pilgrims.