The Sacred Passage to The Centre of The World –
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.
DAY TO DAY PLAN –
Day 1-3: Kathmandu
Arrive Kathmandu & Time in Kathmandu to allow for Tibet visa processing - See ‘First 48’ Dossier for pre-trip services.
Day 4: Fly Kathmandu to Lhasa
Depart on a morning flight . Arrive at Lhasa Airport (3,700m) after a one hour fifteen minute flight, probably the most dramatic International flight anywhere, flying over Everest, Kanchenjunga, Makalu and the southern Tibetan Plateau. Entry formalities then a one hour 30 minute drive to Lhasa.
Especially during the first few days at this altitude it pays to moderate activity and take short breaks. And after the first of these, we'll explore Lhasa's Old Quarter.
We'll find the interesting pilgrimage kora (circuit) of Barkhor and watch as pilgrims perform their ritual prostration. Here too is a classic Tibetan market; 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’ve pictured Tibet at all, chances are you‘ve pictured the Potala Palace, the most potent symbol for the Tibetan Community worldwide. It's a treasure trove of traditional culture, an architectural marvel and it’s World Heritage-listed site. Stroll through its 13 storeys, housing 1,000 rooms.
In the late afternoon, we'll visit the Jorkhang Temple, the spiritual heart of Tibetan beliefs. It literally hums with pilgrims murmuring chants and spinning prayer wheels amidst the myriad flickering of yak butter lamps. We'll also attend the evening prayer recital in the temple. Later, take the opportunity for an insight into the world of ancient Tibetan holistic healing at the Metzekhang medicine centre. (B)
Day 6: Lhasa & Environs
In the morning, travel 5 km north to one of the great monasteries of the Gelugpa, yellow hat, order. Founded in 1419, Sera Monastery became famous for its Tantric teachings. At Sera, the monks perform a clapping ritual which is good-natured, boisterous fun, and visitors can also partake. Also just outside Lhasa stands Drepung, once the largest of all monasteries. Within the periphery lies the Ganden Palace, home to 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 at a short distance from the town and a pleasant place to spend an afternoon. (B)
Day 7: To Gyantse
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 Shigatse
Visit the massive fortress, Kumbum, and Pelkor Chode Monastery at Gyantse. The monastery has a particular influence, for here there is rare unity of Gelugpa, Sakyapa and Bhuton, the three sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The center-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, Shigatse (3,900m).. The foremost attraction in Shigatse, Tashilhunpo Monastery, 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 bemindful 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 eagerly inspired by Chinese, Mongol and Newari genres. (B)
Day 9: To Sakya
Our journey now takes us to the monastic town of Sakya (4,280 m), reached after crossing two passes; the Tropu La (4,950 m) and the Lhakpa La (5,200 m). Clearly now, The Himalaya stands 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
An early start is required for an exhausting whole day’s drive. Nevertheless, it all seems worthy just for the visual fiesta you’ll be bestowed with. The drive takes you over the Gyatchu La pass (5220m) and along the route with views of Everest & other surrounding mountains to the highway town of Lhatse. Our drive now turns off the Friendship Highway towards west Tibet tailing the canyon of Raka Tsangpo. Over few more passes and there you’re in Saga (4450m). Overnight - Camping (B, D)
Day 11: To Paryang
Another long drive will take you to Paryang (4750m) in the heart of western Tibet, where the four great rivers of South Asia diverge from their glacial sources around Mount Kailash. En route you will pass through the village of Zhongba. From Saga to Zhongba, the road is on a 145 km stretch. The road is good & the trip can be completed in 4-5 hrs. Dargyeling Monastery at the western end of town on a hill is worth a stop. From Zhongba onwards the southern road to Paryang (110 kms) deteriorates. But this section of the road has panoramic views of mountains on either side of the road. Overnight - Camping (B, L, D)
Day 12: To Darchen
The drive passes through open territory with a view of distant mountains still keeping you engrossed. Driving again through rugged terrain past a small town of Hor Qu (4560 m), past several river crossings & Mayun la pass (5216 m) to a drab little town of Darchen (4560 m), the main gateway to Kailash & start and end point of the walk around the Kailash Circuit. Mount Kailash reveals itself about 90 km after the pass. The landscape is stunningly gorgeous with views of Manasarovar lake & Himalayas en route. Overnight - Camping (B, L, D)
Day 13: To Astapath then Trek to Dirapuk
Your holy walk of a lifetime starts today. The Kailash circuit covers 52kms, which will take up the next three days of our tour. Leaving the town behind, drive westward in clockwise direction to Astapath, that's as far as any vehicle can go. From here on, we tread on foot as the trail climbs up to a cairn at 4730 m from where the southern face of Mt. Kailash comes to view. Overnight - Camping (B, L, D)
Day 14: Trek to Zutulpuk
The day begins, in anticipation of the hardest part of the journey, with a kora that takes us to the much higher side of the holy path just beneath Mt. Kailash. You will leave the Lha-chu valley and enter the Dolma Chu valley, heading up towards a high pass of Drolma la (5630 m) above Gaurikund lake (the bathing pool of Compassion) which is one of the highest lakes in the world. Hindu pilgrims’ are supposed to take a ritual bath here. We pause for rest and refreshments at the top before starting a steep descent to the gradual field towards Zutulpuk (4790 m). Overnight - Camping (B, L, D)
Day 15: Trek to Darchen; Drive to Lake Manasarovar
The finale of the parikrama is an easy 3 hrs walk down to where the river emerges on to the Barga plain. We complete the 3 day circuit trek of Mt. Kailash in Darchen where our ride will be waiting for us to take us to Lake Manasarovar.
Lake Manasarovar, an expanse of sparkling sapphire water sprawling over 320-sq-kms & penetrating deep down through the earth to 90 m, is believed to be the seat of Brahma (the Creator of Universe). This mind born lake contains the essence of all the Vedas. This is the place for holy ceremonial bath: oblations to the ancestors are offered here. The holy scriptures reiterate that that who take the holy dip at Manasarovar and carry out the Parikrama (circumambulation) around Kailash are absolved of their sins through generations and is ab¬sorbed into the Supreme Finality. It looks unbelievably fascinating on moonlit nights when an ethereal ambience pervades the atmosphere. Overnight - Camping (B, L, D)
Day 16: To Paryang
Ride Back to Paryang on the same axis. Overnight - Camping (B, L, D)
Day 17: To Saga
Fall back on the same axis as we ascended uphill to the destination of Manasarovar Lake. Overnight - Camping (B, L, D)
Day 18: To Rongphu
Leaving Saga, we take the auxiliary road that ultimately connects to the Friendship highway at Tingri. Soon afterwards, our journey again leads us away from the highway onto the rugged passage through photogenic villages with Himalayan vistas to Rongphu in about 3 hrs.
Surely one absolute highlight of a journey in Tibet is sight of the world's tallest mountain. Locally known as Qomolangma, Everest soars above the Rongphu Monastery (4,980m); highest monastery in the world. Rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight – Basic Guesthouse (B)
Day 19: To Everest Base Camp & Old Tingri
In the morning, a two hour hike up to Everest Base Camp provides an unobstructed view of the peak; and from Camp the enormity of the mountain is utterly overwhelming.
Although Base Camp itself is nothing more than a small, rocky, glacial basin the view of the mountain’s enormity is stunning. During peak climbing months, Base Camp is a village of tents and climbers, but out of season there is only ghostly emptiness; for it is from here that the epic that is the story of Everest begins – with the Mallory/Irvine fateful expedition as long ago as June 1924.
After hiking back down from Base Camp to the road, prepare to travel back to Old Tingri (4,390m). Overnight – Guesthouse (B)
Day 20: To Zhangmu Border and Kathmandu
- Next day, through the dust that coats Tingri, the breathtaking sight to the South is the vast, white obstruction consisting of famous North Faces; the north faces of Everest, Cho-Oyu, Lhotse and Makalu. Here too there are numerous ruined reminders of an18th century Nepalese invasion, including the fort of Tingri Dzong, which also played reluctant host to the British Younghusband military incursion of 1906.
The journey has saved one of the very best bits until last, for now comes one of Nature’s most dramatic transformations. On account of the rapid descent from frozen plateau to sub-tropical climes, everything changes; from scrub to forest canopies, from predominant browns to lush greens. From parched plain to cascading waters. This is especially so in the monsoon and post-monsoon period (July-November).
After Chinese Immigration and Customs in Zhangmu (2,300 m) is the short walk downhill to the ‘Friendship Bridge’, the border between China and Nepal.
After Nepalese Immigration and Customs the road winds through gloriously colourful pastoral scenes before climbing to Dhulikhel. Here we can look back north to see the serrated skyline of The Himalaya from their southern side. Kathmandu is just a two-hour drive away. End of Expedition. (B)
Day 21: Departure
MEAL CODES: (B=breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)