|Day 1||Arrival in Lhasa and transfer to Hotel Yak Deluxe (4 Nights)|
|Day 2||Visit Jokhang Temple and Ani Tsankhung Nunnery|
|Day 3||Visit Potala, Norbulinka and Sera Monastery|
|Day 4||Lhasa Free Day|
|Day 5||Drive from Lhasa to Shigatse|
|Day 6||Day 1: Shigatse – Saga (450 km, 9 hours) Overnight at Saga Hotel|
|Day 7||Day 2: Saga – Paryang – Darchen (520 km, 11 hours)|
|Day 8||Day 3: Kailash kora: trek to Driraphug (camping)|
|Day 9||Day 4. Trek to Dolma la (5636 m), then continue to Zutrulphug (4810 m, camping)|
|Day 10||Day 5: Visit of Chiu Gompa, Lake Manasarovar and Rakshas Tal|
|Day 11||Day 6: Holy Lake Manasarovar – Paryang – Saga.|
|Day 12||Day 7: Saga – Shigatse.|
Royal Mountain Travel is a Nepal-based sustainable tourism operator. We specialize in curating once-in-a-lifetime experiences to showcase indigenous and community based tourism projects. We work with travel agents and tourism companies to help plan travel experiences that highlight authentic, local lifestyles throughout some of the most unique landscapes on earth.
Arrival in Lhasa and transfer to Hotel Yak Deluxe (4 Nights)
The flight to Lhasa is spectacular. From Gongkar airport it is about 1½ hours’ drive to Lhasa, first along the Yarlung Tsangpo then into the Kyi Chu Valley.
Visit Jokhang Temple and Ani Tsankhung Nunnery
The Jokhang Temple was founded in the 642 AD by Tibet’s first Buddhist king with the help of his Chinese and Nepali wives. Many Tibetans still use its original name, Tsuglagkhang, which means ‘House of Sciences’ (religious sciences like astrology, divination and geomancy). It is the center of the Tibetan mandala housing the oldest and most sacred Buddha statue, the Jowo. Although some parts of the temple has been rebuilt during the last centuries, original elements remain: the wooden beams and rafters have been shown by carbon dating to be original; the Newari door frames and columns date from the 7th and 8th centuries. From the rooftop you get a stunning view of the main square and the Potala. The temple is surrounded by the Barkhor, the “middle circle”, a traditional circumambulation path filled with traditional shops, old shrines, and Tibetan pilgrims walking around especially after sunrise and before sunset.
Ani Tsankhung Nunnery, In this nunnery of Lhasa more than one hundred Buddhist nuns live today. It was built on a site used for meditation by Tibet’s first Buddhist king, Songtsen Gampo. The nunnery was originally built in the 15th century and later enlarged in the 20th century. The nuns try to make a humble living by making handicrafts and printing religious texts in the old traditional fashion with wooden blocks. They also run an open air restaurant for pilgrims where you can try thugpa (noodle soup), momo (dumpling) and cha ngarmo (sweet tea) if you are adventurous enough.
Overnight at Yak Hotel
Visit Potala, Norbulinka and Sera Monastery
The Potala Palace, the seat of the Dalai Lamas for centuries is the most well-known landmark of Tibet. It is situated on the Marpori, the Red Hill, and after climbing its impressing stairway, you will see audience halls and living quarters of the Dalai Lamas, some exceptional relics, stupas, three dimensional mandalas, numberless beautiful statues, and even the meditation cave of Songtsen Gampo, the first Buddhist king of Tibet. As the Dalai Lamas are considered to be emanations of Chenrezi, the bodhisattva of compassion and protector of Tibet, their residence is called Potala, the heavenly abode of the bodhisattva of compassion. In its present form it was built by the great 5thDalai Lama, who was a famous polymath of the 17th century. The White Palace was built first in 1649 as a residence for the Dalai Lama and his government. The Red Palace was added for religious studies after the 5th Dalai Lama`s passed away, and his personal monastery, the Namgyal also moved there. In 1994 the Potala Palace was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Today the Potala is a museum.
When you visit, please, bring your passport and make sure that you don’t carry any water, cream, liquid, lipstick, matches, lighters, knife in your bag, when you enter. You can buy water and other drinks inside the palace.
Norbu Lingka: The Norbu Linka or Treasure Garden is the summer palace of the Dalai Lamas, a quiet and beautiful gardenin the western part of Lhasa. Its construction was started by the 7th Dalai Lama in 1755, and finished during the reign of the 13thand 14th Dalai Lamas in the 20th century. It is a huge well-kept garden, where you can walk around and enjoy the beauty of high altitude flora, and visit three palaces. The most interesting is the 14th Dalai Lama’s palace, where the murals of the audience hall depict events of Tibetan history, and his living quarters show his fascination with Western inventions. He escaped from this palace to India on March 10, 1959.
Sera Monastery is a famous monastic university of Tibet belonging to the Gelukpa school founded in the early 15thcentury, about 5 km away from the center of Lhasa. Among its many buildings it is worth to visit the impressive assembly hall where the monks do their daily rituals, and its Hayagriva shrine, as this Tantric deity is the remover of obstacles and its blessing heals headache and altitude sickness. Next to this building is a fenced debating courtyard, where every afternoon the monks test their knowledge of Buddhist philosophy in a spectacular way between 3 and 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
Overnight at Yak Hotel
Lhasa Free Day
With a relaxed pace to allow for the effects of altitude, explore this fantastic city on the roof of the world. The spiritual heart of Tibet is the Jokhang Temple and every morning is full of life as pilgrims bring offerings of butter and barley flour. The Potala Palace rises above the city and, more than any other sight, symbolizes the history and culture of Tibet. Nearby are the huge monastic universities of Drepung and Sera – still active institutions.
Drive from Lhasa to Shigatse
Day 1: Shigatse – Saga (450 km, 9 hours) Overnight at Saga Hotel
Day 2: Saga – Paryang – Darchen (520 km, 11 hours)
Day 3: Kailash kora: trek to Driraphug (camping)
Start in the morning after an early breakfast, latest at 8 am from Darchen, from the southern side of Mt. Kailash. Leave your big bags in Darchen at the guesthouse, and prepare a small bag with enough warm clothes and a sleeping bag for the next two nights to put on yaks. Put at least 4 liters of water/person and everyone’s bags on yaks. Carry only the most necessary things with you like sun cream, sunglasses, hat, some money to buy drinks and food on the way, and water for a day. Put on layers, T-shirt, polar, windproof jacket, and have comfortable boots on.
Go to Darpoche by jeep. Start the khora (circumambulating Mt. Kailash) from there. Darpoche or ‘Great Prayer Flagpole’ is taken down and redecorated every year on the fullmoon day of the 5th Tibetan month. Tibetans follow a lunar calendar, and because of this the day of this festival falls on a different day every year in the Western calendar, usually in April or May. Hundreds of Tibetans come for this event. It marks the beginning of the pilgrimage season since the Dolma pass is blocked by snow until April. You will follow a small footpath with Kailash on your right (west side of Kailash). The trail continues up the valley. The path is not steep but but climbs steadily. After some time you pass the Three Pinnacles of Longevity above the opposite cliff face. They represent the three deities of longevity: Amitayus, White Tara and Vijaya. After some hours more one comes upon a grassy flat populated by marmots. Rivulets of pure sweet water cross the trail. It takes about 5-7 hours to get to Driraphug. There is a tent halfway to Driraphug selling pot noodle soup, snacks and drinks where you can stop for lunch and enjoy a well-deserved rest.
Mt. Kailash: Mount Kailash, or Gang Rinpoche (Gangs rin po che) in Tibetan, is often identified with Mt. Meru, the axis mundi or center of the universe. Four major rivers – the Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, and Karnali – originate in the four cardinal directions nearby. As such, it is a sacred mountain, destination for pilgrimage and circumambulation for Tibetan Buddhists, Bonpos, Hindus, and Jains. Tibetan Buddhists see the mountain as the palace of a Tantric deity, Cakrasamvara (Demchog in Tibetan) and for Hindus it is the abode of Lord Shiva. For Jains, it is the place where the first Tirthankara attained enlightenment, and for Bonpos, Mt. Kailash is a nine-story swastika mountain. The symmetrical cone-shaped mountain is 6638 m, and the outer circumambulation path is 52 km. There is also an inner path which is a lot more dangerous, and it can be entered according to religious customs only after one has completed the outer khora thirteen times. The main year of pilgrimage is the year of the Horse (for instance 2014 and 2026) for Kailash, and the main season every year is the time of the Saga Dawa festival (it will be June 9 in 2017), the celebration of Buddha’s enlightenment, first teaching and passing away. During other times of the year there are less pilgrims, which makes it a beautiful, quiet place for trekking and contemplation.
Overnight in Driraphug.
Day 4. Trek to Dolma la (5636 m), then continue to Zutrulphug (4810 m, camping)
This day is the climax of the pilgrimage or hike around Mt. Kailash. This is the most difficult as well as the most eventful day on the khora. The Dolma la lies 6.4 km ahead but 762 m above Driraphug. Physically it is the most arduous day. It takes 7-10 hours to get to Zutrulphug, so start as early as possible, the best to set off as the sun’s rays break over the ridges above. After the footbridge the trail rises up a rocky slope. Take this gently but steadily. It soon reaches a level walk, then up short staircases. At one point it passes by a broad pile of discarded clothes, personal items, hair and teeth. This is a symbolical place of death, the Silwutsel charnel ground, named after a famous cremation ground near Bodh Gaya, India. Tibetan pilgrims discard something there, which represents the renouncing of attachment to worldly objects and to this life. Without such understanding death remains a moment to fear. From here you climb up to a field of big stones, it is called the field of white and black stones, symbolizing the intermediate state or bardo. Pilgrims here try to squeeze through rocks or climb under them to experience the anxiety and fear characterizing the ‘bardo’, or intermediate state. Then there is a steep path up to Dolma la, the pass symbolizing liberation. Pilgrimage for the devoted is always a full cycle of life, death and rebirth. It is very difficult to walk up to 5723 m, do it slowly, step by step. Enjoy the view from the pass, marvel the large boulder depicting Tara (Dolma in Tibetan), the goddess of liberation, and start walking down, you will feel immediately better. Just below the pass is Lake Tujechenpo Dzingbu, or Gauri Kund, the ‘Pool of Great Compassion’. The descend is not easy, it is a rock-strewn path full of wobbly stones, walk carefully. The final steep descending staircase brings you to the valley floor. There is a tent to have a rest and snacks where you reach the river valley. From there it is another 3-5 hours walk to Zutrulphug in the wide river valley, stay on the right side of the river. The walk becomes very pleasant and relaxing, the path follows the gentle slopes of the valley over grassy fields before it narrows and turns further south to merge with another valley before reaching Zutrulphug, the ‘Miracle Cave of Milarepa’.
Day 5: Visit of Chiu Gompa, Lake Manasarovar and Rakshas Tal
Chiu Gonpa: Its name means ‘Sparrow Monastery’, sitting at the lake’s western gateway atop a conical outcrop. Inside is a small shrine and cave where Guru Rinpoche, the 8th century Indian master, who brought Tantric Buddhism to Tibet, meditated with his consort, Yeshe Tsogyal. There are granite rocks inside the cave with clear imprints of Guru Rinpoche’s hand and feet.
Lake Manasarovar and Rakshas Tal: Lake Manasarovar, the ‘Lake Conceived from the Mind of God’ lies at 4572 m, it is one of the highest bodies of pure water on the surface of the earth. It sustains a great richness of trout, carp and freshwater dolphins; migrating birds from Europe, Central Asia and Siberia resting here on their journey to the Indian subcontinent. A short distance down there is another lake called Rakshas Tal, some 15 m lower than Lake Manasarovar. Between them is the source of the Sutlej River, known as Ganga or Langchen Khabab, which at times links Lake Manasarovar with neighbouring Rakshas Tal. When the fortunes of Tibet are low, it is almost dry.
Day 6: Holy Lake Manasarovar – Paryang – Saga.
This is a long day of driving back. Stop in Paryang for lunch, and Palkhu Tso, the turquoise blue high altitude lake, and enjoy the ride.
Day 7: Saga – Shigatse.
Another long day of driving, but less remote, you will pass small farming villages on the way.