As I did research on Pelkor Chode (Palcho Monastery), I was surprised to find how vibrant the city’s past has been. Often, my impressions of Tibet had been of an area that was remote and isolated from China. Although this is somewhat true, it doesn’t take into account how central Gyantse was to trade among Nepal, Bhutan, India, and China. This central location helped to create a fairly cosmopolitan community that reflected its location as a trade center and influenced its importance in Tibetan Buddhism. Gyantse’s history and resilience was its great appeal before we got to the city.
As we entered the city, I was, frankly, a bit disappointed. Gyantse was Tibet’s third largest city and I expected to see a larger city. The city has been outpaced by larger, more significant cities now and has the appearance of a much smaller regional city. Although it doesn’t have the crowds of Lhasa and Shigatse, it’s actually more appealing because of the slower pace and smaller crowds. This city felt much less of a tourist draw than some of the other cities we visited. As people went about their daily activities, it felt like we had a pretty fair idea of day-to-day life. For example, the local market was close to the hotel and provided an interesting view of the market and diet of the people.
One of the highlights of the first evening in Gyantse was the lighting of the old fort, or Dzong. The history of the fort and its significance in the power struggle between Great Britain and Russia at the beginning of the 20th century was especially appealing after teaching World Cultures for close to 20 years. Researching the city before the trip, I was fascinated by the attack on the fort by the British Colonel Younghusband. Often, my impression of the Tibetan people is that they were fairly peaceful, nomads and not really known for their military exploits. The history of this city, and especially this battle, shows that the Tibetans were fierce fighters willing to battle to the death for their homeland. Seeing the fort at night, especially, gave me a tremendous sense of respect and admiration for the soldiers that had died to protect the fort and the city.
The irony of the battle and seeing the fort is that the Chinese have used this story for their own version of revisionist history. As they use this part of Gyantse’s history to highlight British imperialism, they glorify the success of the Tibetan army in resisting the British. They have nicknamed the city and the area as the Heroic City to highlight the Tibetans’ resistance, yet seem to not appreciate how that same resilience has been used against them. Here in Gyantse, the Chinese army did not seem to have the same pervasive presence that we had seen in larger cities. A welcome relief!
Pelkor Chode and Kumbum are the highlights of tours of the city. The monastery is known for different sects sharing space here. This seems a reflection of its earlier history at the crossroads of trade from the 1500s. The monastery was appealing because it was the first place that it felt as if monks were involved in their daily rituals. As we watched, the yellow hat monks practiced morning prayers. This was an excellent backdrop to the murals that filled the walls and the ever-present statuary.
One of the best features in the assembly hall was the back hallway. These contained massive murals that had survived the Cultural Revolution. During the Chinese attacks on monasteries during the Cultural Revolution, the murals were hidden since the hallways were used as storage areas and the Chinese didn’t realize what was on the walls. Seeing the murals requires a flashlight, but they provide a great sense of satisfaction of the small victories that the Tibetans have experienced over the Chinese.
The Great Kumbum is the striking centerpiece of the town and has multiple levels to circle. Each level has multiple temples that visitors may visit or at least view from the outside. The views of the surrounding countryside are some of the most appealing sights.
Perhaps my favorite part of Gyantse was the old part of town. This section showed some of the challenges of modern infrastructure in the town. Some homes had cow dung drying on the outside wall, some had the cows themselves, and others had the certificate of water on the front door. This was also where we visited one of the local weaver’s home and enjoyed Tibetan hospitality. It was fascinating not only to see her workshop in the first level, but also her living quarters on the second floor. Her practicality in collecting rainwater and using solar energy to heat water caused twinges for me as I silently compared my waste in water and energy usage at home. Her willingness to share her home and buttered tea with us was quite humbling.
Located in the northern suburbs of Lhasa, Sera Monastery is one of the three great schools of Tibetan Buddhism dedicated to the Gelugpa, Yellow Hat Sect. Its name 'sera' derives from a Tibetan word for the wild roses that were blooming on the hillsides when the monastery was built. The complex is large, covering 28 acres and prior to 1959 was home to over 5,000 monks. Sera had been home to three colleges, each one with their own temple. Sera Me and Sera Je colleges focused on the fundamental precepts of Buddhism while the third college Ngaka was dedicated to tantric teachings. Sadly today, the number of monks at Sera Monastery is in the hundreds and the Ngaka school no longer exists.
The wild roses had long since bloomed on the hot and sunny day we visited. Knowing the damage done to the monastery and tragic loss of life as a result of the Chinese invasion and subsequent Cultural Revolution, I was interested to see what Sera looked like today and gain a sense of the spiritual activity there. When we arrived it was apparent that much had been physically restored and refurbished. Outside the monastery there were nicely paved sidewalks with parking areas for cars and buses. As we walked up to the entrance, I had a feeling of being on a 'boardwalk' (minus the ocean of course and probably due to the excessive heat) as there were numerous vendors lined up selling all sorts of food, hats and clothing, jewelry, and trinkets for children . . . a bit touristy. Once we entered through the colorful entryway though, the outside world was gone.
The first thing we passed was a row of brightly polished prayer wheels that surrounded a large stupa on two sides. We then made our way to the Great (Coqen) Assembly Hall, a gathering place for all the monks which was used for various rituals. The Great Hall with its many chapels as well as the other temples, is a delightful overload for the senses! The gold, brass, and jewel studded statues; the colorful silks, paintings and stunning Thangkas; the scent of incense and yak butter candles are something one must personally experience because it is simply too difficult to explain in words.
The highlight of our visit was the daily debates that take place in a lovely tree-shaded courtyard. The monks gather between 3 and 5 in the afternoon to quiz one another about Buddhist teachings. These are lively, boisterous gatherings with one monk shouting questions at another. The monk asking the questions slaps his right hand (palm up or down) against his left palm to indicate a correct or incorrect answer. It's very entertaining!
I'm glad Sera Monastery was the first one we visited on our trip as had it been the last, I think I would have felt a letdown. While I was happy to see the site maintained and active, it is difficult not to compare the experiences we had at other monasteries with that at Sera. As I write this, I do not in any way mean to diminish the faith and dedication of the devout monks at Sera, I simply feel it is now a 'showpiece' and at what cost? The day of our visit it appeared there were more tourists there than devotees practicing their faith while other monasteries we visited were bustling with people prostrating themselves and walking the kora. It saddens me to think of what Sera 'once was' and what it 'is now.'
With all sincerity, 'Happy 600th Birthday' in 2019 Sera Monastery . . . may the wild roses keep blooming and the faithful embrace your teachings!
• 1768 – the Gorkha family establishes a kingdom which will become the modern Kingdom of Nepal. The Gorkha rulers were anti-British and often
fought off influence and the presence of the British East India Company.
• September 14, 1946 – Kot Massacre – brought to power the Rana family who were pro-British. From this pro-British stance came European
influence into the city’s art, architecture, technology and education.
• Kathmandu reflected the changes in Nepal through the influence of the newly independent India in 1947 and the Chinese Communist takeover of
Tibet in the 1950s.
• Today Nepal is a Parliamentary Republic.
• April 25, 2015 – Nepal is hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake and Kathmandu suffers quite a bit of damage. Many historical and tourist sites we
affected by the earthquake and not all are completely rebuilt.
I felt that my opinions of Kathmandu changed several times before, during and after the trip. I've divided up my reflection below.
Before the trip I had read the Lonely Planet guide, I had put together a Kathmandu city guide, and I done a few Google searches. I envisioned Kathmandu as a busy, capital city that most likely had heavy traffic and a "developing" country feel, but also many beautiful temples and gardens. I was excited to travel, for the first time, to South Asia, and I was equally as excited to gain some additional knowledge of Hinduism.
Once I arrived in Kathmandu, I immediately noticed the traffic and the wild driving (which I expected) and also poor quality of the roads. Kathmandu was much grittier than I expected and the earthquake damage was far beyond what I could have imagined. I try to be an optimist when I travel and I want to really like everywhere I go, but, at first, I wasn't so sure that I liked Kathmandu. It wasn't particularly clean, the roads were a mess, it was chaotic, and filled with pigeons. I was expecting a lot of this, but I was not prepared to see trash at the temples. I thought the sacred spaces would have been kept neater. I struggled to see past the exterior for most of the three days we were there. I was however, impressed with the amount of English being spoken and I really enjoyed the Sisterhood of the Survivors project. None of this is to say I left Kathmandu disappointed...I just felt differently about it than I thought I would. My feelings would drastically change over the course of the trip.
Once we were in Tibet I saw the clean, smooth roads that I wished for in Kathmandu, but I quickly realized that cleanliness did not equate to happiness or freedom. While Tibet was relatively clean (ok, bathrooms excluded!) and lacking in chaos, it was restricted and controlled. I reflected back on Kathmandu and realized that the absence of organized structure was a city that was enjoying freedom from strict government control.
Upon returning to Kathmandu from Tibet, I found myself far less critical of the conditions and more appreciative of the bumpy roads, but fun little shops,and more excited to explore without the shadow of large posters of previous and current leaders.
Coming home from this trip was definitely the most difficult "re-entry" I've had (and I was only gone for two weeks!). I later told my husband that it was like being on this 14 day academic high and then plummeting down to discussing mindless Real Housewives episodes... I came home after two long flights to two excited toddlers and a mother who was anxious to see my travel pictures. I was jet lagged and tired, and since I know my mother well, I knew the pictures would not be a success. To my mom, travel is a pretty vacation with lots of color and flowers and shopping. My trip was not any of those things and the first pictures I had were of Kathmandu. She was immediately appalled and wondered why I would leave my family to travel to such a place. In my exhausted state, I bit my tongue, and fiercely defended Kathmandu to my husband later. How could she not see the cremation platform at Pashupatinath temple and wonder about burial ritual? And the Stupa at Bodhnath surrounded by prayer flags (which she later thought were discarded plastic bags...)? And intricate architecture on the buildings in Durbar Square? Once jet lag, and a mild case of pink eye, wore off, I forgave her negativity and recognized that I had seen Kathmandu initially the way she did: only the exterior.
So, if my mother wasn't impressed, and my husband was politely listening to my stories, what was I going to say to my students? I knew I had to somehow show then Kathmandu beyond the grit, dust, and trash. I had learned so much in the four days that I was there, but could anyone else see things from my perspective? Should I photoshop my pictures (well...not seriously, because I don't really know how...)? Instead, when I teach South Asia this semester (sometime in November), I will show them my souvenirs and pictures and explain that Nepal is a country that is newly experiencing democracy and modernization. Kathmandu is the capital city that is working out the kinks of infrastructure and while it may not look "pretty" it is chaotic, yet vibrant. This is the picture of a culture that is advancing while retaining customs, but also struggling to rebuild from a natural disaster. I suspect I will be defending Kathmandu in front of my students, but I believe my challenge, as a teacher, is to encourage them to look beyond the exterior and see what life is like across the globe.
Just on the other side of Lhasa past the Potola Palace is the summer residence of the Dalai Lama, Norbulingka. Imagine being a young boy, forced to move away from home and live in an old, run down palace surrounded by older men whose only form of entertainment seemed to be lecturing you on history and religion. For months at a time, this was the reality for the 14th Dalai Lama. He spent much of his days at Potola palace looking forward to the warmer weather, when he would be moving to his summer residence: Norbulingka. This word literally means “jewel park” in Tibetan – you can imagine how it earned such a nickname. Leaving behind the Potola Palace, the Dalai Lama would relocate to this beautiful park on the western edge of Lhasa. As a young Dalai Lama in training, the summer palace offered welcome distractions to the course of study he was used to pursuing at Potola. Norbulingka offered gardens of roses, petunias, marigolds, herbs, and bamboo, along with wildlife like peacocks and ducks. The procession of the Dalai Lama from his time in the Potola to his summer months in Norbulingka became a grand procession attended by Tibetans as a highlight of the year until the 14th Dalai Lama was forced into exile. It is sometimes referred to as the world’s most well-preserved ancient garden, or the world’s highest oxygen bar.
It was from Norbulingka that the 14th Dalai Lama escaped into exile in 1959, dressed as a Tibetan soldier. Once the Chinese military descended upon the palace grounds, they took care to destroy many of the relics that had existed within the buildings and grounds since the 7th Dalai Lama began spending summers there and initiated its construction in 1755. Many Tibetans protested at the palace in 1959 in outrage, but little was prevented until 2003, when much of the grounds and buildings were rebuilt and restored by the Chinese government and opened to the public for tours. You can tour the remains of the palace built between 1954 and 1956 by the current Dalai Lama and view his former residence. This consists of a mediation chamber, bedroom, and bathroom. Most of this reflects traditional Buddhist images, but there are some surprises: western style indoor plumbing, a Soviet radio, and the former location of a movie theater built by the Dalai Lama with help from the German climber, Henreich Herrer. The palace also contains an assembly hall and audience chamber where the Dalai Lama would address heads of state. The audience chamber features the history of Tibet in mural form – notice the imagery of bodhisattvas and a monkey in a cave – this symbolizes the beginnings of the Tibetan people – along with the depiction of the first field in Tibet, a representation of agriculture. At the back of the assembly hall, tours take you into the Dalai Lama’s mother’s suites – you might even see her bathroom sink overflowing with one-mao note offerings. Outside, you can tour the artificial lake commissioned by the 8th Dalai Lama. This was most often used as a retreat by the 13th Dalai Lama who built a library in the pavilion to enjoy a calm reading nook near the duck pond. Next to the new summer palace, the Kelsang Palace still stands. This was the summer palace built by the 13th Dalai Lama. It is smaller, and is no longer open to the public. In many ways, the grounds and palace at Norbulingka are intended to bring your attention to nature and the beauty of the earth, whereas Potola palace brings to mind the achievements of manmade architecture. This dichotomy reflects the dual role of the Dalai Lama as a spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people.
Also on the grounds of the summer palace is a zoo. In nearly every book, website, and trip review I read, this was referred to as the “awful zoo.” Avoid at all costs - unless you’re in the mood to view depressed animals in littered, small cages. While this palace has been known for its gardens – sometimes being called the world’s highest preserved ancient garden, or the world’s highest oxygen bar – many of the recent reviews indicate the gardens have not been well maintained over the years.
Though this was not taking place while we are in Tibet, the summer months also bring the Sho Dun festival to the grounds of Norbulingka. This festival marks the end of Tibetan monks’ traditional 100 day summer retreat. Norbulingka hosts a traditional Tibetan opera – considered a UNESCO symbol of intangible heritage - and surrounding grounds are also host to horsemanship demonstrations and yak racing. In 2001, the entire grounds and palace at Norbulingka was added to the UNESCO world heritage site list as an extension of the site at Potola Palace.
Visiting the actual Norbulingka was truly indescribable. The grounds were beautiful, and it happened to be the 14th Dalai Lama's 83rd birthday. While no one could express this out loud, we noticed a considerable amount of Tibetans enjoying a picnic on the grounds - something our Tibetan tour guide, MingMa, pointed out might be due to the 'special day' no one could mention. Inside the 14th Dalai Lama's personal palace, we witnessed a land lose in time. With artifacts from various western countries such as an Indian and Soviet radio, a European painting, a British clock along with 1950s-era western furniture, it seemed like just yesterday the Dalai Lama had gotten up and walked away from this place without a trace of packing or intention. Our Nepalese tour guide, BK, pointed out that he had an audience with the Dalai Lama once (color me jealous!!!) and the Dalai Lama asked about the condition of his beloved summer palace. When BK described what is on display, the Dalai Lama chuckled, sighed, and told him that wasn't how he had left it. I suppose our experience has been drastically changed from the original conditions in 1959.
I plan to use our photos and experience at Norbulingka in conjunction with our visit to the Potola to illustrate to my students the dichotomy of the political and spiritual responsibilities and powers of the Dalai Lamas that was reinstated with the 7th Dalai Lama. This unification of church and state in Tibet could be compared to other leaders with similar autonomy, such as Henry VIII, Byzantine emporers, or Mansa Musa and contrasted with Enlightenment ideals of the separation of church and state in the 18th century.
Rising majestically and imposingly over the Lhasa Valley, the architecture of the Potala Palace communicates strength, power, and importance. It is a spectacular and awe-inspiring building. However, the Chinese flag flying high on top of the palace and the monument constructed across the road remind the viewer of the contested meaning of this Tibetan seat of power.
The Potala Palace, originally built in the 7th century by the famed Tibetan King Songsten Gampo, and expanded by the 5th Dalai Lama in the 17th century, has long been the centerpiece of political power in the Tibetan state. The palace contains over 1000 rooms and was used as the Winter Palace of the Dalai Lamas until the Chinese takeover in 1959. On the tour, one walks past giant mandalas, gilded Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, ornate and impressive tombs, watchful monks, and other symbols of religious and political power.
When one begins the 400+ step journey to the top, one cannot help but notice (between labored breaths) the plaza directly opposite the palace. An imposing monument, emblazoned with a message commemorating the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet,” faces directly towards the palace. Statues of smiling Tibetans, playing instruments and holding katas, welcome their Chinese saviors. At night, the mainly Chinese visitors to this plaza take selfies in front of the illuminated palace, frolic in the fountains, and walk around the newly constructed ponds and pagodas. Propaganda music plays from the speakers, and large posters of Xi Jinping and other Communist Party leaders smile down upon the visitors. In this setting, Potala Palace becomes a pleasant backdrop, no longer a symbol of Tibetan political power and autonomy, but instead another Chinese cultural wonder and tourism destination.
I plan to use the Potala Palace with Mount Rushmore and the Hagia Sophia as examples of architectural sites that have had their meanings written and rewritten by competing and conquering groups.
Located at 16,404 feet above sea level, the Everest North Base Camp is in the Qomolangma National Nature Reserve in Tibet. This "tourist base camp" is the last point which visitors may travel without a hiking permit obtained by the government. Past this point is the campsite used by expeditions climbing the north (China-side) of Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world 29,035 feet above sea level. Unlike the South Base Camp in Nepal it can be reached by road.
The road to the base camp, the Zhufeng is mostly paved up to the tourist camp and offers a winding mountain drive with sharp and blind curves and hairpin switchbacks. This road, paved and including guardrails, used to take hours and hours to climb when it was a gravel lane less than a year and a half ago. Visitors can stay at the Rongbuk Monastery and we enjoyed the simple restaurant, heated by yak dung and equipped with wi-fi. The sleeping accommodations were simple but the heated blankets were a treat. There was also a tent camp option for very rustic accommodations about a half mile before the tourist base camp, these tents are set up by local Tibetans and provide shelter for travelers and some local crafts to purchase.
From the Rongbuk Monastery the hike to the tourist base camp is about 3 miles. The hike, although at high altitude, is relatively easy and mostly on a paved road. This base camp is simple, basically a gravel pull-off with no bathroom facilities. Facing the mountain it offers on a clear day an amazing view of Mt. Everest while to the right is a glacier river, created as the water runs off the mountain. The base camp is a magical rock field with many cairns "simple pyramid like rock piles" created by visitors to record their time at the foot of the mountain. The camp is clean and without liter with the exception of some prayer flags that have broken free from a line on the surrounding mountains. While our group was at the camp the mountain was hidden completely in thick clouds. However, to our delight, on the walk back to the Monastery, the summit began to break through the clouds and we watched for hours from the road at first, than from the Rongbuk Restaurant and finally the Monastery hill as the top of the mountain came into view as the clouds continued to move. This was a magical time for me and it brought me to tears as I have always wanted to view this mountain that I have admired and obsessed over through literature and tales of those who have climbed it for years. This experience was a highlight of our trip and fulfilled my expectations.
In closing, I feel fortunate to have traveled to the camp now as there may be changes in the future as access to the view becomes more accessible because of the road improvements and the new and seemingly luxurious hotel that the Chinese government is building a few miles from the site. Mt. Evereste is known as "Qomolangma" meaning mother goddess of the universe, by the Tibetan people and it certainly lives up to that name.
The scent of burning juniper fills the air, and the soft swirling of prayer wheels meshes with shuffling of feet and the quiet hum of pilgrims uttering their mantras, as devoted Tibetans make their clockwise kora through the streets of the Barkhor, encircling the Jokhang Temple. Joining in stream of pilgrims, one witnesses the fascinating practices of devout Tibetan Buddhists.
The Barkhor Square is the name given to the narrow alleys around the Jokhang Temple, the most revered religious site in Tibet, which is utilized for spiritual and secular purposes. The street was built over 1300 years in conjunction with the temple and has been at the center of life in Lhasa. The Barkhor is comprised of 35 major and smaller streets. Within the Old Town of Lhasa (aka Barkhor Historic Area) is the Barkhor’s kora, the one kilometer route used by pilgrims for clockwise circumambulation and prostration. The kora route is marked with four large incense burners. The Barkhor has been the main shopping district of the city from its earliest times.
Having the privilege to visit the Barkhor early in the morning, midday, and in the evening, allowed for me to experience the diverse activities surrounding the area. Upon entrance to the Barkhor Square, we had to pass through a screening area manned by Chinese officials, regardless of time of day. There was a larger security presence in place during the midday and evening hours. Not surprising, the early morning before sunrise, was quiet and meditative. Many carried prayer wheels and everyone had prayer beads at hand. Most shops along the route were not yet open for business. Pilgrims were more introspective and less engaged with those around them as they participated in the kora. Some did prostrations for the entire route, most walked. A few stopped to add juniper to one of the four large incense burners or to take their turn in spinning the larger prayer wheels along the route. There were students dressed in school uniforms, monks and nuns in their crimson robes, people walking their pet dogs, and those in professional attire, likely on the way to work. During my midday and evening visits, the area was busier and we saw more tourists like ourselves. The shops were open for business, and owners actively tried to entice potential consumers to purchase their Tibetan prayer beads, colorful prayer flags, amulets, singing bowls, and thangka paintings. The front of the Jokhang Temple was full of prostrating pilgrims. Upon entering the inner sanctum of the Jokhang Temple you can not miss the strong smell of incense and the heavy odor of melting yak butter, which the devoted continuously add to large urns from their personal thermoses. Offerings of fruit, money, katas, and prayer flags were heaped at many alters. The temple was extremely busy, full of Tibetan pilgrims wanting to see the Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha.
For more details on the history, significance, and images of the Barkhor and Jokhang Temple, please visit:
Nature is considered sacred to Tibetans. Yamdrok Tso is considered one of the four most sacred lakes and is thought to encompass the spirit of Tibet. Tibetan belief is that if the lake dries up, Tibetan culture will die. In addition, circumambulating the lake in seven days is believed to wash away one’s sins. Further, Yamdrok Tso is where senior monks go to meditate, chant mantras, and pray after important living Buddhas (like the Dalai Lama) die. It is here at the lake that they wait for a vision or some sign as to where the reincarnation has been reborn.
Once I finally saw the lake I couldn’t wait to actually get to it so I could put my feet in it! Alas, the locals did not appreciate my running to the waters edge to immerse my feet in its crystal-clear depths. Apparently, one could put their hands in it but not one's feet. (Though a yak was taking a bath in it two hundred feet away. Yaks are cleaner than human feet?). The water did indeed change colors from shades of blue to turquois to green depending on the suns reflection. We were actually able to see Yamdrok Tso twice – once on the way to Gyantse as scheduled and then again the long way back to Lhasa since landslides prevented us from taking the most direct route. This was a treat for me as both days were sunny and views of the lake and surrounding mountains were beautiful. A negative aspect of seeing the lake, however, was that you could actually see that the lake was shrinking as reported on various websites. Environmental damage is no doubt occurring due to interference with its fragile ecosystem.
I will be including aspects of my original prepared PowerPoint into my World Geography class. Now that I’ve been there I will update the PowerPoint to incorporate some actual photos of time spent at and around the lake.
While the Monastery is beautiful and the nearby fort is lit up at night, the relevance of this site is mainly historical, and definitely, political as well as religious. Touring the Monastery gave us all a chance to observe, once again, a variant iteration of Tibetan Buddhism. There are many buildings and chapels which affirmed the nature of this as an amalgam of temples. There were beautiful statues and paintings and it was actually fun/challenging to circle to the top on our own personal journey to enlightenment (even if it really only meant that we were still in shape, physically). This Monastery, in its design, represents the "universe" in Buddhist terms-a circle inside of a square.
Yet, the relevance to me was more political and historic. Gyantse was built by a Prince who was obviously (given the fort) attempting to show spirituality as well as power. IN 1427 when it was built, the Tibetans considered themselves to be at least on an equal footing politically to China, especially after the 200+ years of Mongol rule. The Tibetan version of this varies from current Chinese accounts of the history, but the fact that the Kundum was built at all attests to the probability that the Tibetans did wield some power or at least brokered power against the Mongols giving them leverage with the Ming Dynasty.
The Monastery also has relevance in that it represents the cross-regional aspects of Buddhism. Patrick Hughes shared a lecture with us on the variations of the practice of Buddhism. Historically, Gyantse also represents an intersection of Tibetan and Nepalese forms of Buddhism. The Prince who built the Kundum may have been of the belief that he could reach the highest level of enlightenment in one lifetime. The Monastery, in its way, illustrates this concept as well.
Finally, the Monastery illustrates the power of pilgrimage in the Buddhist faith. Many people shared this experience with us. And although the Chinese government has attempted to wrestle the history away from the Tibetans, claiming to have simultaneously saved Kundum from "western imperialism" and Tibetan underdevelopment, the Monastery appeared to be very popular with practicing Buddhists.