In the morning I took another shower and even shaved. The drive today was pretty boring, but it only took a little over two hours to get to Gyangtse. We checked in to our hotel - the nicest yet! I joined the others for lunch - it was a great lunch, but we had to wait nearly two hours for our food! After lunch I set out to explore. I walked to and around the old part of town. The city is dominated by some fabulous castle-like ruins of an old fort (the Gyangtse Dzong) - it's visible up on it's hill from any direction. There are also lots of the funky Tibetan houses that I love. I walked towards the monastery looking at shops and street stalls, and then explored the fruit and vegetable market (there was also a meat section, but it was pretty nasty so I turned around). The vegetables and fruit actually looked amazingly good - I can't imagine how they grow them here.
At three I met up with the entire group to go to the giant monastery complex. It was not nearly as impressive looking as yesterday's, but there are only a few surviving buildings and in their isolation they were a lot more impressive - the Tashilhunpo Monastery (yesterday's) was a solid mass of ornate building that were impossible to see individually. The Pelkhor Chöde Monastery had some amazing images and mandalas painted on the walls. More impressive to me were the several rooms full of 500 to a thousand year old books.
The highlight of the day was definitely the Gyangtse Kumbum, also in the monastery complex. It's a large gold roofed stupa with six levels, 108 rooms, and 10,000 images! I spent several hours exploring - the hike to the top was very difficult, but well worth the fantastic views. Since we could walk back to the hotel I didn't need to stick with the group so I took a lot more time to explore the Kumbum. On the way down I stopped at each level and tried to at least look into every room but 13 were closed so I only got to see 93 of the 108. Every room was covered in intricate wall paintings and had at least one giant statue - I can't even imagine how much work was put into the construction.
Afterwards I went back to the Pelkhor Chöde Monastery since I'd noticed that they had opened the roof. I really enjoyed being able to wander without worrying about where the group was! On the ground floor I went into a very scary protector chapel with heads (masks) hanging all over the roof - they looked like slaughtered animal and I found it very disturbing as it was completely unexpected. On the top floor there were a couple lavishly painted chapels and the roof was nice in a voyeuristic way to sit and watch the monastery go about it's business.
When the monastery complex closed at six I set off with Tai (the Malaysian guy on our trip) to see if we could hike up to the Dzong. On the way I ended up doing some shopping and bought a knife, a chunk of turquoise (starting price 90 Yuan - I ended up paying 5!), and a couple cow bells (I love noise makers). We got most of the way up to the Dzong before getting stopped by a guard. Given the late hour we decided we didn't want to pay the admission charge and headed back down. Back in the room I went through the day's digital photos (it took hours the other night so I had swore to myself to deal with them daily). I went to diner with the girls - it was fantastic (sweet and sour chicken, chili chicken, apples in caramelized sugar) - I hadn't planned on eating much but ended up gorging myself. I was back in the room just after ten and I went pretty much straight to bed.