Explore the historic sights of central Tibet.
This loop takes in the most important sites of central Tibet - historic, religious and cultural - as well as some of the most spectacular scenery that the Tibetan Plateau has to offer.
Days 1-2 : Flying into Kathmandu is an unforgettable experience with the Himalaya spread out before you. You will be met at the airport on arrival and transferred to your hotel. In the morning of day 2 a half-day city tour will introduce you to some of the highlights of Kathmandu.
Day 3: The flight from Kathmandu 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.
Days 4-6 : 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.
Day 7: A long, yet scenic day's drive across the Khamba La (4750) and Kora La (passes), along the shores of Lake Yamdrok Tso to Gyantse. Once an important trading town, Gyantse retains a feel of ‘old' Tibet.
Day 8: In the morning visit Gyantse's monastery – Pelkor Choede – and the justifiably famous Kumbum, within the same complex. After lunch it is a short (2-3 hour) drive along the valley to Shigatse.
Day 9: Tashilhunpo is the seat of the Panchen Lama, second only in importance to the Dalai Lama. Its numerous halls contain a 21.6-meter wooden statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha and elaborate, jewel encrusted reliquary chorten. In the afternoon drive back along the Yarlung Tsangpo for a final night in Lhasa.
Day 10: It is an early start for the drive back to Gongkar airport for the return flight to Kathmandu.
Days 1-8 : as above
Day 9: Tashilhunpo is the seat of the Panchen Lama, second only in importance to the Dalai Lama. Its numerous halls contain a 21.6-meter wooden statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha and elaborate, jewel encrusted reliquary chorten. The afternoon is free to explore the old market, or perhaps visit the carpet factory where hand-woven carpets are made to traditional designs.
Day 10 : Drive along the Yarlung Tsangpo, crossing the river by open barge – a fantastic experience, as you must weave your way between the many sandbanks; the colors of the river and mountains are incredible and there is usually a variety of bird life to be seen, as well as fellow pilgrims on the barge. It is then about 20 minutes to the monastery by whatever form of transport has come to meet the ‘ferry' – open truck, tractor or minibus.
Day 11 : Samye is Tibet's first monastic institution. Constructed in 769 in the shape of a mandala, it is also one of the most attractive as it combines Indian, Tibetan, Khotanese and Chinese artistic traditions and has been affiliated with different traditions of Tibetan Buddhism throughout its history.
There is also the option of taking a day-trek into the Chimphu valley to visit the tiny nunnery and the many hermitage caves that scatter the hillside.
Day 12 : The Yarlung Valley is considered the cradle of the Tibetan people. It was from here that the Yarlung King Songsten Gampo unified central Tibet in the 7 th century. The fortress-palace of Yambulakhang is dramatically situated on a hill above the valley, its founding dating back to a time of myth and legend. The Yarlung kings, including Songsten Gampo, were buried at Chongye, the tombs showing evidence of the pre-Buddhist Bon religion.
Day 13 : An early start for the drive to the airport for the return flight to Kathmandu.