Tashilhunpo Monastery & Kumbum

Tashilhunpo (or Tashi Lhunpo) Monastery in Shigatse (Zhigatse, Xigaze) is the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, the second highest spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism (after the Dalai Lama). The monastery was founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama.

Panchen Lama X, a sharp critic of Chinese rule who was once imprisoned for his resistance, died at Tashilhunpo unexpectedly in 1989. His succession touched off a dispute between the Chinese and supporters of the exiled Dalai Lama. The child chosen through traditional means to be the next Panchen Lama by followers of the Dalai Lama has been imprisoned by the Chinese who, through "friendly" monks, have chosen a successor that is more to their liking.

Several hours from Shigatse, in the town of Gyantse, stands the magnificent Kumbum, a nine-story chorten (stupa) that contains 75 inner chapels and a rich collection of Tibetan Buddhist art (the chapels, unfortunately, were too dark for photography and so only the exterior is shown here).