Those on the group flight will be transferred to our central hotel. Those not flying with the group from London will join us at the hotel.
Today there is a half-day sightseeing tour visiting the temples of Bodnath and Pashupatinath. Bodnath is one of the largest Buddhist Stupas in the world and home to a large Tibetan population, whilst Pashupatinath is the most important Hindu temple in the country. The tour will end at lunchtime and there will be time in the afternoon for individual exploration of the Durbar Square area of Kathmandu or Swayambunath, the Monkey Temple, with it's all seeing eyes of Buddha overlooking the whole valley. There will also be a trip briefing today.
Early morning transfer to the airport, and board the plane for the flight over the Himalaya to Lhasa. If the weather is clear there is a wonderful view of Everest, Kanchenjunga and other peaks en route. On arrival at Gonggar airport (which is 60 km. from Lhasa), we meet our vehicle and drive east along the broad Yarlung Tsangpo valley to Tsedang (3400m). After checking in to our hotel, we drive to what is reputedly the oldest building in Tibet, the Yumbu Lakhang, a beautiful castle-like dwelling and monastery, dramatically perched on a spur looking out over the fertile valley below. (Today's drive is a total of approximately 130 km).
A short drive along the Tsangpo valley brings us to the ferry that will take us across the river to Samye Monastery. The ferry journey may take an hour or more, as the boatman has to negotiate the sometimes-tricky currents and sandbanks. Once on land again, we travel in an old bus or the back of a truck (or similar basic transport) the few kilometres to Samye, Tibet's very first monastery, founded by Trisong Detsen in 779 AD. Very badly damaged in the Cultural Revolution, it has now been completely rebuilt, and although the new work is not as fine as the old, this is a magnificent example of Tibetan religious architecture, with wonderful painted wooden roof beams, and typical gilded roofs. Around the main building is a fine cloister, and there is now a substantial body of monks living and studying here. We return across the river, and then travel up the Lhasa valley, where we soon see the great bulk of the Potala looming over the city. (Today's drive is a total of approximately 210 km). Please note that occasionally it is not possible to go by boat to Samye. In this case we will go by road.
Day 5 - 6
These two days are spent in Lhasa, the religious, cultural and economic centre of Tibet. One of the highlights is the visit to the symbol of Tibet; the Potala Palace set high on Red Hill, the winter home of the Dalai Lama until 1959. The most sacred temple in Lhasa is the Jokhang, where people come from all over Tibet to visit and pray in this spiritual heart of the country. It was used as a military kitchen during the Cultural Revolution but has now been beautifully restored, with many priceless statues adorning the chapels, and magnificent gilded roofs. You will probably want to spend a morning or afternoon wandering around the Barkhor, the old city, in company with the pilgrims. Around the Barkhor there are numerous stalls selling all sorts of handicrafts: brightly coloured boots and fur-lined hats, silver and turquoise jewellery, rosaries, prayer flags and charms, as well as beautiful Tibetan carpets, and all manner of ordinary household ware. (Please note that the order in which we do the sightseeing depends on when we get tickets to visit the Potala. Since 2006 Potala visiting times have been restricted due to the large number of tourists and only a limited number of tickets are issued each day. Outside the Potala and walking up to and down from the palace we can take as much time as we like but all tourists are now only allowed 1hour actually inside the Potala).
Day 7 We leave Lhasa, heading northwest past the geothermal power station at Yangpachen. We are now on the Friendship Highway (northern route), which we follow to Damxung. We stay in a guest house in Damxung for the next two nights. (Today's drive is a total of approximately 217km).
Day 8 We drive to Namtso (55km), where we spend the whole day. A short drive brings us to the top of the Laken La (5190m.), one of the passes which crosses the Nyenchen Tanglha range, from where we get our first breathtaking view of the great Nam Tso, Tibet's largest lake, some 80 kilometres long and at an altitude of nearly 4718m. The Nyenchen Tanglha (Tangula) range, with peaks over 7000m. towers over the lake – it was over these mountains that Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschneiter crossed on their incredible journey to Lhasa. Dropping down towards the lake, considered one of the holiest in Tibet, we spend a day exploring this extraordinary wilderness. Much of this exploration can be done on foot, but there is no compulsion to do a great deal of walking if you do not wish to. At most times of year there are many Tibetan pilgrims here, who take several weeks to circumnavigate the entire lake on horseback or on foot, visiting the various holy places around the lake, including some remarkable rock shrines. In the late afternoon we drive back to our hotel in Damxung. (Today's drive is a total of approximately 110km).
Day 9 We drive back to Lhasa. If there is time we can visit some of the nomads whose yak hair tents dot the landscape. We can also visit the geo-thermal hot springs where there are both indoor and outdoor pools (take your swimming costume if you fancy a dip!). We arrive back in Lhasa late afternoon.
Day 10 Today we will visit both Sera and Drepung monasteries; two of the great monasteries of the Gelukpa (yellow hat) sect, just outside Lhasa. There is also time to explore Lhasa on your own, perhaps visiting the Ramoche temple (one of the oldest religious buildings in Tibet), a nunnery or the Palaluphuk Temple. Another great treasure is the Norbulingka – the wonderful old summer palace of the Dalai Lama. Or you may prefer to just sit in the Barkhor and watch the pilgrims circumambulate the Jokhang.
Day 11 We set off down the Lhasa valley and climb steeply to the first of the many passes to be crossed en route to Nepal. The Kamba La (4794m) is traditionally the divide between 'front' and 'back' Tibet. At the top is a splendid panorama with the Yarlung Tsangpo, the great river of Tibet, behind us, while in front is a superb vista of the stunning scorpion-shaped turquoise lake of Yamdrok Tso and the peaks along Tibet's southern border. The road quickly drops down to the lake, and then follows the shore. A short climb brings us to the Karo La (5010m) passing close to a magnificent hanging glacier near the summit. This was the site of the highest of Younghusband's battles in 1904. We then climb to our third pass of the day, the Simi La, before descending to Gyantse, an important market town and trading crossroads. Gyantse is an attractive town dominated by the great fortress captured and destroyed by the British during their incursion into Tibet in the early years of last century. Apart from the fort, there are two particular points of interest in Gyantse - the Pelke Chode Monastery and the Kumbum Stupa. The stupa is reckoned the finest in Tibet and is filled with innumerable manifestations of Buddha, some of which are incredibly old. (Today's drive is at total of approximately 261 km).
Day 12 We spend part of the morning visiting the Pelke Chode Monastery and Kumbum Stupa in Gyantse before driving through a landscape of fields and low hills to Shigatse, Tibet's second largest town at 3,900 m. Shigatse is situated near the junction of the Ngang and Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) rivers, with many traditional low ceiling, flat roofed, mud brick Tibetan houses, but quite a lot of ugly modern Chinese buildings as well. It is home of the Tashillunpo monastery, traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, and one of the great centres of Tibetan Buddhism. Unlike most religious buildings in Tibet, the Tashillunpo monastery was largely untouched during the Cultural Revolution, and contains numerous impressive chapels and prayer halls. Don't miss the giant statue of the Maitreya Buddha that contains 280 kg. of gold. (Today's drive is a total of approximately 90 km).
Day 13 Leaving Shigatse we climb steadily to the top of the Tsuo La (4500m.). We then follow valleys containing a few small villages before turning off the main road to drive to Sakya. In the 13th century Sakya was the effective capital of Tibet because of its close links with the Mongols, the most important power in eastern Asia at this time. The monastery is best known for its magnificent statues, as well as several fine silver stupas and some superb wall paintings. After visiting the monastery we drive towards Lhatse. Another climb through virtually unpopulated high altitude moorland brings us to the summit of the Gyatso La (5,220m). After a long descent we arrive at Xegar (or New Tingri) where we stay tonight.
Day 14 After a few more kilometres on the Friendship Highway we leave the main road head off towards Rongbuk. Soon we drive through a small village where we get our permits checked for the Everest National Park. It is about a four hour drive to Rongbuk (85 km). This road is not tarmaced in places, so this can be quite a slow section. However, the scenery is breathtaking as we pass through small villages and then climb to a pass, the Pang La at 5,120m, from where, on a clear day, we have a magnificent panorama of Everest, Cho Oyu, Lhotse, Gyachung Kang and Makalu. Dropping down we pass through Tashi dzom (or Chu dzom) and then the road snakes around hillsides until finally the north face of Everest comes into view. We stay in a very basic guesthouse close to the monastery. At 4,900m Rongbuk is a cold desolate place but the views are stunning. Straight ahead is the north face of Everest and the changing colours of the sunset on the mountain are not to be missed. Monks and nuns from Nyingma sect live at Rongbuk; some speak English, learnt through contact with foreigners, and are generally very friendly. There is time in the afternoon to explore the area and visit the monastery. Please note: the accommodation at Rongbuk is very basic, with multi bedded rooms, very basic common toilets and no running water. No single rooms are available in Rongbuk and usually there are 4 beds per room.
Day 15 There is the option this morning to walk the 9kms to Everest Base Camp (or you can go by jeep and bus). At Everest Base Camp there is a small hill decorated with hundreds of colourful prayer flags and amazing close up views of Everest. From here we can see the whole of the massive North face of Everest and we can pick out the route that Mallory and Irvine climbed in 1924. There is a memorial to Mallory and Irvine just near the prayer flags. We return to Rongbuk for lunch and then leave in the afternoon. If road conditions and river levels permit we drive back to the main road a different way avoiding the Pang La. This is a spectacular and remote road that crosses a 5000m. pass and takes us through picturesque villages and rolling hills to Old Tingri. On a clear day we have excellent sunset views of many Himalayan giants from Old Tingri. (If the rivers are high and the road impassable we have to leave Rongbuk a bit earlier and return to the main road the same way we came over the Pang La). We stay tonight in Old Tingri. Please note that Chinese rules and regulations change quickly in this area. In 2010 if you did not want to walk to base camp you could go halfway by jeep and the rest of the way by bus.
Day 16 After watching the sunrise over the Himalaya we head towards the Nepalese border. Scenically this is one of the most spectacular days of the trip. Leaving Old Tingri the Himalaya are very much in view to the south and we should get magnificent views of the north face of Everest as we cross barren plains. As Everest recedes from view we climb steadily to the Lalung La (5000 m.). Ahead we have the most amazing panoramic views of the Himalaya. A little further on we reach the summit of the Tong La (5100 m.). Here we get some of the most spectacular views of the whole trip; to our right is a splendid panorama of Shishapangma, the only 8000m. peak entirely in Tibet and to the north is a vast open landscape with range upon range of mountains beyond, while ahead of us the road drops into a gorge between the magnificent snow-capped peaks of the main Himalayan range. A long and sometimes steep descent brings us down to Nyalam. We continue on down the gorge until we arrive at Zhangmu and our stay for the final the final night in Tibet. (Today's drive is a total of approximately 180 km).
Day 17 After completing the Chinese border formalities. we cross the Friendship Bridge. Once across the bridge, we are in Nepal, and as soon as the formalities are complete we pick up our bus which will take us to Kathmandu. The road follows the Bhote Kosi valley down to its junction with the Sun Kosi at Barabise. We continue past rice terraces, small villages and scrub woodland to Dolalghat where we leave the river and complete our journey to Kathmandu. (Today's drive is a total of approximately 130 km).
Day 18 After breakfast depart transfer to airport.