Travelling to Tibet is the opportunity of a lifetime, rating high on most travellers’ wish lists. It is often called the Roof of the World, due to its elevation; set atop a high plateau to the north of the towering Himalayan range. For centuries it was nearly impossible for foreigners to enter, which created the lingering mysterious image of Tibet and its unique culture. This trip takes you on a memorable adventure, offering the opportunity to experience the natural beauty of Tibet, the serenity and wisdom of its Buddhist culture and the chance to see how rural Tibetan people – nomads and farmers – manage to make a living in this harsh environment. Whether you are planning a spiritual journey, a pilgrimage or a cultural tour, this trip has it all.
Arrival in Lhasa.
Today is arrival day and no activities are planned. You will be met by a local guide on arrival at Lhasa airport or train station and transferred to your hotel. They will have all the documents for your smooth check-in and will discuss all the logistics of the trip with you and answer any questions.
To facilitate your choice of arrival by air or train from any city in China or from Kathmandu the transfer cost is not included in the trip price. This will be calculated and added once your arrival plans are confirmed.
Acclimatization day in Lhasa.
You are already at 3658 m and most people can feel the effects of the lower oxygen content of the air. In order to acclimatize, today is easy and relaxed. We recommend you walk around the market and Barkhor areas, enjoying the atmosphere. The Barkhor is the pilgrim circumambulation route around the Jokhang and a fascinating part of traditional Lhasa. Wander slowly, drink plenty of water, join locals in a tea house and take an afternoon rest in the hotel when the sun is at its most intense. Remember you are not allowed to enter any temples or monasteries without your guide.
Lhasa sightseeing: Visit Jokhang Temple and Ani Tshamkhung Nunnery
The Jokhang Temple, founded in 642 by Tibet’s first Buddhist king with the help of his Chinese and Nepali wives, is the most sacred in Tibet. It is the centre of the mandala that is the Tibetan landscape and houses the sacred Buddha statue, the Jowo Buddha; hence Jo (Jowo Buddha) khang (chapel). Many Tibetans still use its original name Tsuglakhang, which means ‘House of Sciences’ (religious sciences of astrology, divination and geomancy).
More than 100 Buddhist nuns live in the Ani Tshamkhung. Originally constructed in the C15th on a meditation site of Tibet’s first Buddhist king, Songsten Gampo, it was later enlarged. The nuns make and sell handicrafts and print religious texts in the old traditional fashion, with wooden blocks. They also run an open-air restaurant for pilgrims where you can try thukpa (noodle soup), momo (dumpling) and cha ngarmo (sweet tea)
Visit the Potala, Norbulinkha, Summer Palace and Sera Monastery.
A full day exploring Lhasa’s most important sights.
The Potala Palace, seat of the Dalai Lamas for centuries, is the most well-known landmark of Tibet. After climbing its impressive stairway, you will see audience halls and the living quarters of the Dalai Lamas, some exceptional relics, stupas, three dimensional mandalas, numerous statues and the meditation cave of Songtsen Gampo which is part of the original C7th structure.
The summer palace of the Dalai Lamas, Norbulingka (or Treasure Garden) is a quiet and beautiful manor house. It proudly boasts a great display of high-altitude flora and is a popular summer picnic ground.
Sera is a huge and famous monastic university built on the hillside north of the city in the C15th. Pilgrims flock to shrine of the tantric deity Hayagriva, the remover of obstacles. Blessings here are said to heal headaches and altitude sickness! Close by is the debating courtyard where every afternoon the monks test their knowledge of Buddhist philosophy in a spectacular way.
Drive from Lhasa to Gyantse via Yamdrok Tso lake.
Today’s drive is only just over 250kms but will take most of the day as there are numerous spectacular photo stops. This is one of the most scenic routes in Tibet. Passing out of the Lhasa Valley, the road climbs up to the Kamba La pass (4750m) from where you get a stunning view of Yamdrok Tso, the soul lake of Tibet.
Gyantse was a once important trading town between Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet and still retains the charm of old Tibet. Walking around in its backstreets you will soon feel teleported into medieval times; or climb up to the impressive hilltop fortress (dzong) where, in 1904, locals held out against the vastly superior forces of the invading British army for almost six months.
Visit Pelkhor Choede followed by drive to Shigatse.
This morning, you visit Gyantse’s central monastery, Pelkhor Choede. The main temple was built 1418-1425 by the prince of Gyantse. It was an eclectic academy with 16 dratsang (colleges) belonging to various Buddhist schools, including Sakya, Butonpa, Geluk and Kagyu.
It is a short (two hour) drive along the valley through farming villages to Shigatse.
Visit Tashilumpo – drive to Sakya & visit Gompa
Make an early morning visit to Tashilumpo Monastery, the main seat of the Panchen Lamas, an important reincarnation lineage of the Gelukpa School. Between the 17th and the 20th centuries the Panchen Lama ranked second highest amongst Tibetan Lamas, and he had the right to approve the recognition of reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.
The architecture and colouring of both Sakya town and gompa are distinctive. The name ‘Sakya’ means “light coloured earth” and it comes from the white patch on the hillside opposite the main temple complex.
Return to Lhasa
Today drive back to Lhasa. It is a full day’s drive, but a scenic one following the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) much of the way and using the new highway between Shigatse and Lhasa.
Note: It is also an option to continue to Nepal with an overnight stop at Lower Kyirong. It is 2 very long days’ drive to Kathmandu.
Today is your last day in Lhasa. Depending upon your departure time you may manage to fit in some last-minute shopping before your transfer to the airport or station.