As group members will arrive at different times there are no arranged activities on Day 1 until our group meeting at 18:00hrs followed by an optional dinner. Please see the notice board in the hotel foyer for details of this meeting.
Travel to the north of the city to visit the Great Wall at Mutianyu. An incredible piece of engineering stretching 6000km westwards along the mountain ridges north of Beijing, it was originally constructed to protect the Chinese empires from the Mongolian 'barbarians' of the north. Spend the morning of Day 3 exploring the vast Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City while still leaving free time to shop in the various markets scattered throughout the city, take a tour of the ancient alleyways (hutongs) in Beijing's Old city or visit the Tibetan Monastery. Transfer to the station for our train to Lhasa in the evening. (Train # T27 departs from Beijing West station @ 20:09hours and the journey is approx. 46 hours)
The train trip is a long yet rewarding journey through the heart of northern China then south across the Tibetan Plateau. Comfortable sleeper compartments contain 6 berths, all bedding provided, and the dining car serves a variety of meals and drinks. Boiling water for tea and coffee is available. Due to popular demand we try to get the best sleeping berths in the cabin but during the summer season we can not guarantee which beds will be available. But the spectacular scenery make this a once in lifetime train journey.
Arrive in Lhasa in the evening of Day 5 and transfer to the hotel. This historic city is situated in a small valley, 3700m above sea level. Lhasa rose to take an important role in the administration of the country over 1300 years ago. At this time, the grand temples of Ramoche and Jokhang were built to house the Buddha images and religious artifacts brought into Tibet as dowries from China and Nepal. Although little of the 7th-Century Lhasa survives, the 1600s saw a second stage of renovation and development, which included the building of the Potala Palace. Perched on Red Hill overlooking the town, this massive structure dominates the landscape with grace and dignity - a true architectural wonder. The Jokhang Temple is the spiritual heart of Tibet and also the most active. Prostrating pilgrims circle the temple endlessly, day and night, some of them traversing the extremes of the Tibetan landscape by foot to celebrate and express their faith. Nearby are the huge monastic universities of Drepung and Sera are still active institutions. Begin with a tour of the Jokhang and make a kora (circumambulation) of the Barkhor, the holiest devotional circuit, which surrounds the Jokhang and houses a market bazaar where people bargain for Buddha images, yak skulls with ruby eyes, woodcarvings, carpets, prayer wheels and the odd goat's head. Visit the Potala Palace and either the Sera or Drepung Monastery leaving plenty of time for your own explorations of this wonderful city.
The drive to Gyantse is a spectacular one, crossing three passes over 5000 meters and skirting the shores of the beautiful turquoise lake, Yamdrok Tso. Once of major importance as a wool trading centre on the routes between India, Sikkim, Bhutan, Tibet and China, Gyantse retain the feel of old Tibet. The imposing hill fortress, Gyantse Dzong, dominates views of the town and is a great place for sunset views over the town. Visit Pelkor Chode Monastery, founded in 1418, and the unique Gyantse Kumbum (meaning 100,000 images) which forms a 3-dimensional mandala containing a seemingly endless series of tiny chapels full of Buddhist images – Buddhas, demons, protectors and saints.
The drive to Shigatse is a spectacular one, crossing three passes over 5000 meters and skirting the shores of the beautiful turquoise lake, Yamdrok Tso. We stop in Gyantse on route to visit Pelkor Chode Monastery, founded in 1418, and the unique Gyantse Kumbum (meaning 100,000 images) which forms a 3-dimensional mandala containing a seemingly endless series of tiny chapels full of Buddhist images – Buddhas, demons, protectors and saints. Shigatse is Tibet's second-largest town, and the seat of the Panchen Lama who ranks second in importance to the Dalai Lama. The huge complex of Tashilhunpo is visited daily by hundreds of devotees, armed with yak butter to fuel the lamps, who prostrate themselves around the stupas or walk up to the chapel that houses the 26m-high, gold-plated statue of the future Buddha. Perhaps we will join the pilgrims on their evening kora (circumambulation) around the perimeter of the monastery. Shigatse bazaar also buzzes with life. Stalls selling everything from slabs of yak butter to yak wool, prayer wheels and rosaries, line the streets while Tibetans vie with each other to win a sale. Be tempted by the antiques, jewelry and fur hats with elaborate gold brocade designs or perhaps visit the carpet factory where hand-woven carpets are made showcasing traditional designs.
An exhilarating drive brings us to Rombuk Monastery (5000m) - a mere 7km below Everest Base Camp. The view from here is utterly spectacular! Rombuk is certainly the highest monastery in the world and the views that surround are breathtaking. The monastery here was first built in 1902 by the Nyingma Lama and originally housed more than 500 monks. Today, only about 50 monks and nuns remain, sharing the same prayer hall but with separate residences. The energetic can make the 7km hike to Base Camp for a closer view of this magnificent mountain and for the rest - the bus is a go.
These are two predominantly driving days across the Tibetan grasslands and a number of high passes. The scenery is fantastic and, depending on the time of year, you may see nomadic herders and their livestock. Accommodation in Darchen can be quite basic – shared toilets, no running water and often only multi-share rooms available. All part of the adventure!
Arriving after a long and scenic drive up from Saga, the Kailash kora is physically demanding due to altitude. The highest point, the Drolma Pass is 5630 meters and most people will find this tough going. However we take it slowly, taking 2.5 days to complete the 53km circuit while most Tibetans will complete the kora in a single day. If you are unable to participate in the kora it is possible to remain in Darchen with our drivers. The second day of the kora is particularly long, but is within the capabilities of any reasonably healthy person. Completing the kora we drive to Lake Manasarovar, spending the night in the guest house of one of the lakeside monasteries. Accommodation on the kora is extremely basic and food options are limited in their variety. It is a good idea to bring snacks (chocolate, muesli bars etc.). Of incredible geomantic power, Kailash (Sanskrit) or Kang Rinpoche (Tibetan) marks the center of the Earth for Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Bon. To Buddhists it is the abode of Demchok, the wrathful manifestation of Buddha Sakyamuni. To Hindus it is the dwelling of Shiva, the destroyer. According to the Sanskrit tradition of Vishnu Purana, it is a representation of Mount Meru, the cosmic mountain at the center of the universe. It is the place where the founder of Bon descended to Earth and where the founder of the Jain faith was spiritually awakened. Kailash is also the geographical watershed of South Asia; here its great rivers are born - the Indus, the Sutlej, the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) and the Karnali / Ganges. At its foot lies the most venerated of Tibet's lakes, Manasarovar. The ‘Lake Conceived from the Mind of God’ is a brilliant turquoise expanse of water, pure beyond conventional scientific confirmation.
Today we will retrace the route south, reflecting on the magical mountain, body of water, and devout pilgrims we just had the opportunity to witness.
The road down to the highway (approx 4 hours) is a rough one – but spectacular views adequately compensate – both Qomolangma (Mt Everest) and Cho Oyo are visible for much of the way. Another 5 hours to Zhangmu crosses one of the most spectacular of passes – topped with prayer flags and wind-driven prayer wheels. You truly feel on top of the world.
A very short drive this morning brings us to the border. After completing Chinese immigration we drive down to the bridge where we say goodbye to our Tibetan guide and drivers. Completing Nepal immigration it is only 132kms to Kathmandu, but it can be a slow trip – the first section of the road is narrow and winding as it continues down the ravine and occasionally blocked by landslides. Arrive,in Kathmandu hopefully in the early afternoon with time for shopping and sightseeing before a final dinner together. You may depart at any time on Day 21.