The Sacred Passage to the Center of the Universe – 21 Days. Hotels, Guesthouses & Tented Camps
Pre-tour Briefing: HE Office (Kathmandu Guest House) 3 pm on day prior to Day 1. Full attendance necessary for briefing with emphasis on visa, flight ticket and individual equipment checks.
Mount Kailash, which is believed to have been formed 30 million years ago when the Himalayas were in their early formative stage, is one of the most revered places in the Himalayas. At 6,714 m, and also known as Tise, Kailasa and Kang Rinpoche (Jewel of the Snows), it has since time immemorial been celebrated in many Eastern cosmologies. And, as the supposed centre of the physical and metaphysical universe, Mount Kailash is sacred to Buddhist, Jains, Hindus and Bonpos alike. Ancient cosmography identifies Kailash with the mighty mountain Sumeru, the central peck of the world. To Buddhist, the ‘Father Mountain’ represents the means to enlightenment; Lake Mansarovar, the ‘Mother Principle’, represents transcendental consciousness. Hindus consider Kailash to be the throne of Lord Shiva, one of the three principle gods of the Hindu pantheon, whose long, dreadlocked hair forms the holy Ganges River. Kailash embodies the age-old concept of the ‘navel of the earth’, the ‘world pillar’, the ‘first of the mountains’, the ‘still point in a turning world’, and ‘rooted in the seventh hell, piercing through to the highest heaven’. Consequently, the religious importance of Mount Kailash and its immediate hinterland of Lake Manasarovar are multifaceted. The region is venerated by various religions and ages in different ways. All the myths and legends surrounding the region at least suggest one thing: the essential unity of many the religions.
An expedition to Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar is a journey into a remote and secluded land; it’s an unforgettable journey.
DAY TO DAY PLAN –
Days 1-3: Kathmandu
Arrive Kathmandu. Time in Kathmandu to allow for Tibet visa processing, and to explore or relax - see ‘First 48’ Dossier for pre-trip services.
Day 4: Fly Kathmandu to Lhasa
Depart on a morning flight (90 minutes). Arrive at Lhasa Airport (3,700m) after probably the most dramatic International flight anywhere, flying over Everest, Kanchenjunga, Makalu and the southern Tibetan Plateau. Entry formalities then a 90 minute drive to Lhasa.
Please note well: during the first few days at this altitude it pays to greatly moderate activity, take short rest periods and keep fluid intake up.
Explore Lhasa's Old Quarter. Here is the interesting pilgrimage kora (circuit) of Barkhor; watch as pilgrims perform their ritual prostration. Here too is a classic Tibetan market with hundreds of merchants, traders and craftsmen, all with something to sell to Lhasa’s inhabitants, to innumerable pilgrims and to the likes of you and me. (B)
Day 5: Sightseeing in Lhasa
If you're imagining Tibet, chances are you're picturing the Potala Palace. It remains a symbol of Tibetan autonomy and seat of the government in-exile of the Dalai Lama. It's also a treasure trove of traditional culture, an amazing architectural marvel and a World Heritage Site. Climb through some of its 13 levels, housing 1000 rooms. Later, there is an opportunity to gain an insight into the world of ancient Tibetan holistic healing at the Metzekhang medicine centre.
In the late afternoon, visit the Jorkhang Temple, the spiritual centre of the region. Founded in the mid-7th century, today it hums with pilgrims murmuring chants and spinning prayer wheels amidst a myriad of flickering yak butter lamps. Also attend an evening prayer recital in the temple. (B)
Day 6: Lhasa and Environs
In the morning travel north of central Lhasa to one of two great Gelugpa monasteries. Founded in 1419, Sera Monastery became famous for its Tantric teachings. At Sera, the monks perform a clapping ritual which is good-natured, boisterous and fun, and visitors are welcome to join in. Just outside Lhasa lies the Drepung Monastery, once the largest in the world. Within the periphery of the monastery lies the Ganden Palace which was the home of the Dalai Lamas from the time it was founded by the 2nd Dalai Lama until the 5th built the Potala.
The Dalai Lama's erstwhile Summer Palace, Norbulingka, is a shady retreat out of town and a pleasant place at which to consider spending an afternoon. (B)
Day 7: To Gyantse (7hrs approx)
The route to Gyantse (3,950m) crosses the Kampa-La (4,794m), from where you can get the first glimpse of the stunning beauty of Yamdrok-tso (Turquoise) lake, one of the four holy lakes of Tibet, and Karo-La (5,010m). (B)
Day 8: To Xigatse (2hrs approx)
In Gyantse, visit the massive fortress, Kumbum, and Pelkor Chode Monastery. The monastery has a particular influence, for here there is rare unity of Gelugpa, Sakyapa and Bhuton, three sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The centre-piece of Phalkhor and the pride of the city is Kumbum, the largest stupa in Tibet. It is a fine example of 15th century Newari art which speaks of strong Himalayan ties with Nepal.
A short drive away is the second largest town in Tibet, Xigatse (3,900m). The foremost attraction in Xigatse is the Tashilhunpo Monastery. It has three main buildings that are worth exploring at length - these include the Chapel of Maitreya, which is home to an 85 foot tall Buddha coated in 275 kgs of gold, and the Palace of the Panchen Lama. For photogenic views of the monastery (or for those wanting to earn some karma), do a kora of Tashilhunpo, but be mindful of your pilgrimage being in a clockwise direction, as the world turns, so as to not offend the Buddhist ethos.
An option today is to drive 19 km south of Shigatse to the 11th century Shalu Monastery. Of particular interest are the 14th century murals in the monastery, clearly influenced and inspired by Chinese, Mongol and Newari genres. (B)
Day 9: To Sakya (3-4 hrs approx)
Our journey now takes us to the monastic town of Sakya (4,280 m), reached after crossing two passes: Tropu La (4,950 m) and Lhakpa La (5,200 m). Clearly now the Himalayas stand ahead of us on the horizon of the plateau, like icebergs in a sea of sand. The highlights of Sakya are its two monasteries, located on either side of the Trum-chu River. Sakya, which takes its name directly from the Buddha’s original Indian name, rather oddly suffered little from the familiar dismemberment of Tibetan Culture and intrusive influence of the modern Chinese state. (Perhaps the dollar-signs of tourism saved it!) However, perhaps somewhere named ‘Sakya’ may not be such a bad place to consider, in the interest of balance, that modern changes do include tremendous improvements in medical facilities, infrastructure – not least communications, roads and the new railway - and also in profane education. (B)
Day 10: To Saga (8hrs approx)
An early start is required for a long day’s drive. Nevertheless, it all seems worthwhile just for the visual feast witnessed en route. The drive is over the Gyatchu La pass (5,220m) and along the route are views of Everest and other giant peaks. The route now turns west off the Friendship Highway and tails the canyon of Raka Tsangpo. Over a few more passes and thence to Saga (4,450m). Overnight Camping (B, D)