Gyantse has played a key role in several phases of Tibet's complex history, both in its modern and medieval epochs. Gyantse's two primary attractions, in fact, stand on one hand as monuments to Tibet's difficult and violent passage into the modern world, and on the other, its long periods of relative isolation. And as part of an itinerary running between Lhasa and Mount Everest, it's a great place to stop off for at least a day.
The first of Gyantse's famed pair of attractions is the 14th century Gyantse Dzong (Gyantse Fortress). It was there in 1904 that Tibetan forces mounted stiff resistance against the British Expeditionary Force led by Francis Younghusband, only to lose out to superior firepower. The British marched on to Lhasa, where they extracted onerous concessions from a Tibetan government in shambles—the 13th Dalai Lama had fled, the Tibetans were ignoring the dictates of the Qing Dynasty Chinese advisor known as the amban, and Tibet's tenuous isolation from Great Power geopolitical maneuvering was no more.
Gyantse Kumbum and the surrounding Pelkor Chöde Monestary complex comprise Gyantse's other major attraction. The largest chörten (stupa) in Tibet, the 15th century structure takes the the form of a massive three-dimensional Buddhist mandala. Today, the Kumbum is at the heart of a monastic community numbering about 80, a far cry from the thousand-plus monks who resided on the site in its heyda. And though a number of the statues and murals housed in the Kumbum's 77 chapels are post-Cultural Revolution replicas, it remains one of Tibet's finest examples of Tibetan Buddhist architecture.
Aside from Gyantse Dzong and Pelkor Chöde (including the Guru Lhakhang chapel), Gyantse attractions worth visiting include the Rabse Nunnery, located on the other side of the hill rising between Palkor and the Dzong, the Tsechen Monastery ruins, and the more disant Tsi Nesar Monestary, some 25 kilometers outside of town.
Once the third largest Tibetan city after Lhasa and Shigatse, Gyantse today is home to only 8,000 or so residents, offering basic accommodations and dining options. Gyantse's Old Town clusters in the space between Pelkor to the north and the Dzong to the south, while the newer largely Han Chinese district lies to the south of the Dzong on its rocky promontory. If you stay overnight in Gyantse, you'll almost certainly stay in the new district where all of the hotels and and restauarants catering to tourists are to be found.