Although these days it is home to only 80 monks, the once-mighty temple complex of Gyantse (ca. 1418) still houses three different orders under the one roof. Following recent renovations the monastery stands resplendent and all shrines are open to visitors, although the requirement to pay a new photography charge for each different shrine is a little frustrating.
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. Bring a flashlight. 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.