Tibet’s second largest town Shigatse sits at a slightly higher altitude than Lhasa at 3,840m above sea level. In recent years modern Chinese development has overshadowed the small Tibetan Old Town, but despite this Shigatse is a city of great historical importance and a launch pad for trips further to the west of Tibet. As the base of the Gelupa order and seat of the Panchen Lama, Shigatse has been Lhasa’s most bitter political rival over the years as the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama have manoeuvred for political control of the country. Shigatse is home to the Tashilhunpo Monastery from where the Panchen Lama presided over affairs and which was once home to 5000 monks. The number of monks has dwindled since its heyday but the monastery is still famous for the massive statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha, which is 85 feet high. Each morning thousands of pilgrims in traditional dress descend on the Tashilhunpo Monastery, and embark on the hour long walk (kora) circumnavigating the complex, a sight not to be missed.

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