Day 1: Arrive at Tribhuvan International Airport, meet our staff after customs and immigration formalities. Transfer right away to our comfortable hotel to refresh from a long journey. From the airport it's just twenty minutes to the Durbar Marg where our five-star hotel offers its warm hospitality (and has won accolades from climbers such as Sir Edmund Hillary). Enjoy very comfortable deluxe rooms with en-suite bathrooms (and that means good hot showers), telephone, wireless, room service, laundry service, free safety deposit box and luggage storage. Overnight at hotel. Enjoy a special welcome dinner.
Day 2: Enjoy your day in Kathmandu. In the morning, a guided tour of the Hindu site at Pashupatinath and the Buddhist site of Bodhanath. Your afternoon is at leisure to explore Kathmandu's narrow, bustling streets lined with small shops and restaurants. We return to our hotel overnight.
Day 3: Enjoy a second free day in Kathmandu. We return to our hotel overnight. Get plenty of sleep tonight for tomorrow's flight to Tibet!
Day 4: Flight to Lhasa. This morning we fly to Lhasa's Gongkar International Airport. In a little over one hour, our Kathmandu - Lhasa flight covers rugged terrain that once took trade caravans months to cross. The views are spectacular, and on a clear day, as many as eight of the world's 14 highest peaks - including Everest - lie before us. As we cross the backbone of the Himalaya, the landscape beneath us dramatically changes from Nepal's green–terraced and sloping hillsides to become the seemingly–barren high, dry plains of Tibet. Nearing our approach, we soar over the deep-blue Yamdrok Lake. At the airport we are met by our Tibetan guide who takes us to Tsedang, a small country town for a relaxing afternoon adjusting to our "breath taking" altitude! We overnight at our comfortable hotel.
Day 5: Yumbulagang. This morning we visit Yumbulagang, said to be the oldest palace in Tibet. Although the original building was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution it was replaced by a replica. The current building is used as a chapel and perches on the spur of a ridge overlooking the entire valley. The shrines, thangkas (painted scrolls), statues and murals are a first introduction to Tibet's rich artistic heritage. A short afternoon drive takes us to the "Valley of the Kings" - so named because it is the chosen burial site for the early Tibetan kings. Their tombs (dating from 617 C.E. to 950 C.E.) resemble dirt mounds, but they actually contain small chapels. The ruins of the Chingwa Tagtse Castle overlook this valley amid a spectacular setting. We return to our hotel for the evening.
Day 6: Samye. Today, we reach the ferry docks and hop onboard our boat to cross the Yarlung Tsangpo (or Brahmaputra River) for Samye. Said to be the oldest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the world, Samye was established in 767 C.E. by the Indian teacher and mystic Padmasambhava, a founder of the Buddhist faith in Tibet. Samye was built in the Mandala form, which reflects the cosmic view of Tibetan Buddhism. Crossing to the south shore of the river, we continue our journey to Lhasa. The golden roof of the Potala beckons. Overnight at the former home of the late senior tutor to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama - now a comfortable hotel for our rest.
Day 7: A day of Palaces and Monasteries. We make a morning visit four miles west of city center to Norbulingka Palace, the former summer residence of the 14th Dalai Lama. Although the 7th Dalai Lama began construction in the 1700s, most of the palace buildings of "Jewel Park" were constructed during this century by the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas. Completed in 1926, many rooms of the palace have never been used, since it was from the palace that the 14th Dalai Lama fled for India in 1959, thus far not to return.
In the afternoon we visit Drepung Monastery, built in 1416 C.E. by a pupil of Tsongkhapa. For 500 years, Drepung was a major political headquarters for the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Drepung was the residence of the Dalai Lamas until the Potala was constructed in 1645. Before 1959, Drepung housed more than 10,000 monks. Numerous prayer halls are inside, decorated with ornate thangkas - iconographic painted scrolls. The frescoes are said to represent a synthesis of the Indian and Central Asian styles. Dating back to 1081, it was severely damaged during China's Cultural Revolution. Return to our hotel for overnight.
Day 8: Chokpuri and Sera. This morning we enjoy the ambiance of Chokpuri, a large hill in Lhasa's center, the former site of the Tibetan Medical School. Before scaling this 500–foot hill for a commanding view of the city and Potala Palace, we pause at Palhalupuk Temple near the base of the hill. Delightfully alive with Buddhist pilgrims, this grotto surrounds a score of statues carved into the cave's subterranean walls. Time permitting, we'll stop by the Men-Tsee-Khang, the traditional Tibetan medical center. In the afternoon, we are stimulated by the ambiance of Sera Monastery. Sera was a center of learning and monastic training like its sister monasteries at Drepung and Ganden. Until recently, 300 monks lived here and were renowned for lively debates about Buddhism's major theological tenants. Return to our hotel for overnight.
Day 9: Potala Palace and Barkhor. We tour the Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama's former winter residence. Thirteen stories high, the palace includes chapels, assembly halls, meditation halls, mausoleums, 10,000 shrines and 200,000 statues. It is built entirely of wood, earth and stone. Its most splendid and valuable feature is the crypt of the 5th Dalai Lama, 48 feet high and adorned with almost four tons of gold, diamonds and turquoise. For many years it was the world's tallest building, constructed in 1645 by the Great 5th Dalai Lama. Visit Jokhang Temple, the holiest temple in all of greater Tibet. Successive temples have stood on this site since the 7th century. The present temple houses a gold Buddha, a gift from the Chinese princess Wen Cheng in 641 C. E. This Buddha, called "Jowo," is the temple's namesake. Pilgrims walk hundreds of miles to be here and prostrate themselves full-length in front of the temple doors in religious devotion. It is a truly moving experience to join them in dark hallways filled with the sound of low chanting and lit only by Yak–butter lamps.
Outside in Lhasa's main Tibetan neighborhood, the Barkhor, we experience the lively market and bazaar. The Barkhor has been the center of the Tibetan capital's trade for centuries - the Silk Road at its zenith held caravans from as far west as the Balkans; from as far north as Yarkand, Kashgar, Samarkand and Bukhara; from as far south as Kathmandu and India; and from as far east as Shanghai, Xi'an and Beijing. Night and day Tibetans walk clockwise around this ring–shaped marketplace, earning religious merit as they shop, people–watch and chat with friends. The Barkhor is on the pilgrimage route for the devout who continually prostrate themselves en route to the Jokhang Temple. Return to our hotel for overnight.
Day 10: Tsurphu. After breakfast, we journey to Tsurphu Monastery, about two hours northwest of Lhasa. In the 8th century, the Buddhist mystic Padmasambhava foretold that Tsurphu would be the center of activity for a series of Karmapas - religious leaders who would liberate inconceivable numbers of sentient beings. Tsurphu, founded in 1189, is the proto-monastery of the Karma Kagyu order, one of Tibetan Buddhism's four major sects. The present 17th Karmapa - Urgyen Trinley Dorje - lived at Tsurphu until he left in December 1999 and went to Dharamsala, India. (The 16th Karmapa left Tsurphu and fled for India in 1959 with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.) We return to our hotel in Lhasa for the night.
Day 11: To Gyantse. Departing Lhasa early, we drive past the turquoise–blue lake, Yamdrok Tso on our way to the ancient trading center of Gyantse. The sacred lake is revered in the Tibetan nation. It is said that if its waters dry up, Tibet will become uninhabitable. After our visit to this beautiful lake, we continue on the Friendship Highway passing through the "Grand Canyon" of the river, Yarlong Tsangpo. Before Shigatse, we detour through a high desert of giant sand dunes to reach Gyantse. We overnight at a comfortable Gyantse hotel.
Day 12: To Shigatse. This morning we tour the remarkable Pelkhor Chode and its towering Kumbum Pagoda. The complex has survived since the 14th century and is one of the most amazing architectural works in Tibet. It contains over 70 interlocking chapels with about 100,000 religious images. Its fortress or dzong dominates the landscape for miles around. After lunch, we continue to Shigatse, about three-hours further. With a population of 50,000, Shigatse is Tibet's second largest city. We visit Tashilumpo Monastery, founded in 1447 by a pupil of Tsongkhapa. The most important building in the complex is the red stone Maitreya Chapel housing the 86-foot Maitreya statue of Buddha - the "Buddha of the Future" - constructed in 1914 by the 9th Panchen Lama. We overnight at a comfortable Shigatse hotel.
Day 13: Chomolungma. After breakfast, we'll visit Chomolungma National Park. Along the way, we pass through small Tibetan villages and small, family farms. Gray, gold and red strips on the houses indicate each family's devotion to the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. Upon arrival at the national park, our staff will set up camp and prepare dinner for us. Overnight tent camping under the stars.
Days 14-15: Exploring Everest Base Camp. From our Rongbuk camp site, we'll have two days of day hikes to explore this fascinating region by trail. Everest Base Camp is literally one of the high points of our journey — now within reach by foot, or a 30-minute drive by vehicle. Everest Base Camp (16,900 feet) is a fascinating, primitive tent city, yet is also equipped with the latest high-tech gear and electronic equipment. International in flavor, you will see flags representing countries and visitors from every continent. We return to our camp for an inviting wilderness dinner and another peaceful alpine evening.
Day 16: To Zhangmu. Starting from our camp at Rongbuk (16,350 feet), we descend 8,800 feet through the Himalaya to reach Zangmu (7,545 feet) at the Nepalese border. We'll pass Mount Shishapangma (26,286 feet) on the way and cross two major passes - the Lalung La (16,811 feet) and the Nyalam Ton La, also known as the "pass to hell at 17,060 feet and our last stop along the Tibetan Plateau. Pilgrims pause here to raise prayer flags, burn incense, cast "wind-horse" paper inscriptions and build cairns.
This is a dramatic gorge with dozens of cascading waterfalls and our road is a thoroughfare for commerce - the only overland route between the two nations of China and India. Below Nyalam, the road descends steeply into the river valley of the Bhote Kosi. The flourishing border town of Zhangmu (or Dram) clings to the mountainside with the highway crisscrossing between homes and storefronts. We stay near Zhangmu for a last night of camping.
Day 17: Borderlands. Below Zhangmu, we pass Chinese Emigration and Customs formalities. From here, it's another 1,000-foot descent to reach the Friendship Bridge where we bid farewell to our Tibetan staff and walk across the arched span to leave Tibet and reenter Nepal. This is Tibet's main border crossing to the outside world. Warm moist air from the subcontinent prevails as we descend in altitude. In four hours, we'll be back where our journey began - in Kathmandu. Once back in the city, you'll enjoy free time in the afternoon for some well–deserved rest or some relaxing pool–time after we return to our comfortable hotel.
Day 18: Depart Kathmandu. Following breakfast and packing, we will transfer to Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport to depart Nepal... or continue in Nepal with some optional visits around Kathmandu Valley or for Elephant rides and the natural history of Chitwan Park. There are many other nearby adventures both in Nepal and India that you can explore to make the most of your journey.
Price Excludes: travel to the starting point of Kathmandu.
Also see tour packages in:
Asia Nepal Tibet Outdoor: Land Rambler Hiking & Trekking Archeology/History