Tibet In Depth

Tibet is a complex land with a fascinating and often troubling history. To understand it and its people requires more than just a brief visit. This trip to the ‘Roof of the World’ offers a deep and comprehensive insight. We travel to little visited areas in search of authentic traditions and landscapes that will take your breath away.

We start first in the ‘forbidden city’ of Lhasa, out of bounds to westerners for centuries and still retaining its mystique. We visit the mighty Potala Palace and take in the key sights of the city before heading west.

Our journey takes us to the towns of Gyantse and Shigatse with their impressive monasteries, and then on to Rongbuk, to stand in awe of the world’s highest peak, Everest. Continuing our journey into Tibet’s western wilderness, we pass Mt Shisapama and Peikutso Lake before moving on to Manasarovar Lake, one of the holiest lakes in Tibet and a site of pilgrimage. We have a chance to hike around the lake and visit the monastery, with views of Mount Kailash in the background.

From here we travel to the ancient kingdom of Guge, dating back to the 10th century, and nearby Zanda with its striking canyons and eroded earth structures.

We travel back on the little traversed northern route passing marshlands and dry canyons, beautiful lakes and multi-coloured mountains, looking out for wildlife on the way. This is a part of Tibet that few visitors see. Before our final approach to Lhasa we stop at the holy lake of Namtso. It has been an epic journey through a wild land.

Tibet is a complex land with a fascinating and often troubling history. This comprehensive trip will take you to the soul of this alluring region.

Tibet In Depth

Highlights

  • Explore the Tibetan towns of Kham
  • Visit the ‘forbidden city’ of Lhasa
  • Hike around the holy lake of Manasarovar
  • Drive to Everest Base Camp
  • Explore the ancient Guge Kingdom
  • See ancient Tibetan monasteries

Day 1 - Lhasa

Arrive in Lhasa. Today we catch our first glimpse of the giant Potala Palace but the rest of the day is set aside to rest, relax and acclimatise. Overnight Tashitakge Hotel or similar.

Lhasa

Coming from the Tibetan words lha, for sacred and sa, for earth, Lhasa is Tibet’s heart and soul. Soaring above the holy city is the Potala Palace, red and white in colour and majestic in its towering presence, like the snow-capped mountains that make up its background. This palace was once the home of the Dalai Lama and is an image that many think of when they picture Tibet.  Lhasa is also home to two of Tibet’s largest monasteries – Sera and Drepung – and the Jokhang Temple, a sacred site of pilgrimage, made up of a network of shrines.

You’ll know you’ve reached the spiritual heart of Tibet when you see the glittering gold roof of the Jokhang and the Bakhor circuit, a medieval pilgrim circuit overflowing with prostrating pilgrims and religious artefacts.  Lhasa has a population estimated at 475,000, the minority being Tibetans and the majority being Chinese and migrants.  It was once the most reclusive city on the planet and a difficult place to reach and although you can now see evidence of the encroaching Chinese influence on Lhasa, it doesn’t take away from the colourful charm of the Tibetan people and the underlying spiritualism, for which this magic city is so well-known.

Day 2 - Lhasa

Spend the day visiting some of the most important sights of the city including the Jokhang Temple, the most sacred in the city. We also visit the Potala Palace, the former home of the Dalai Lama which dates back to the 7th century – surely Tibet’s most impressive structure. Overnight Tashitakge Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 3 - Lhasa

We visit Drepung Monastery today – once the world’s largest monastery that housed more than 10,000 monks. We also visit Sera Monastery, built in the fifteenth century by Jamchen Choji Sakya Yeshi. Sera is well-known throughout Tibet and is home to several hundred monks, and hosts lively debates between the monks most days. Overnight Tashitakge Hotel or similar. (B)

Please note: Due to the altitude we have not scheduled full days of sightseeing on Days 2 and 3, but have allowed some free time for you to rest and acclimatise.


Day 4 - Ganpa La Pass – Gyantse

We cross over the Gampa La Pass to Gyantse, passing towns and villages and with views of Yamdrok Lake, sitting deep within the mountainous valley and striking, in its bright, turquoise colour. Continuing, we stop at Karo La (5150m) to see the Mount Nyenchen Kangasr Glacier, before arriving at Gyantse and visiting Palkhor Choede Monastery and the Kumbum Stupa. This spectacular multi-door structure is the largest stupa in Tibet and is not only well known for its architecture but for the history of its centuries-old paintings that adorn the inner walls. Overnight Yeti Hotel or similar. (B)

Tibetan People

The Tibetans are classified as belonging to the Mongoloid family of peoples and almost a quarter of Tibetans are still nomadic. Tibetan nomads, along with the Mongols of Outer Mongolia, the Kazakhs of northwest China and the Kyrgyz nomads of Kyrgyzstan, are among the last nomads in Asia. There are three segments of Tibetan society: the community of monks and nuns (Sangha), the farmers of the valleys (Rongpa) and the nomads (Drokpa) who all share a deep faith in Buddhism.

The Drokpa nomads are pastoral nomads and they move their yak-hair tents in search of pasture for their livestock – yaks, goats, sheep and horses. Nomads sport elaborate costume and jewellery and sing folk songs, and the most true and authentic nomads are found in the grasslands of northern Tibet and at the peripherals of Amdo and Kham. Nomad women from Amdo are particularly interesting as they are recognised by their jewellery and elaborate braided hairstyles. Their hair must be braided in 108 strands as this is a sacred number, and these braids are re-done once a week and are smeared with Dri (female Yak) butter.

The variety of ethnic groups within Tibet are all differentiated by dress, culture and linguistic variations. These groups include the Topa (far-west Tibet), the Khampa (east Tibet), who are wilder than other Tibetans, generally larger too and wear red or black tassels in their long hair, the Golok (from the northeast) who wear yak-hide boots, sheep-skin cloaks and felt bowler or Stetson hats – the former a legacy of the British invasion and the latter made in Eastern China – and a number of minority groups such as the Moniba and Lhoba, who come from the extreme south-east and make up less than one percent of the population.

You will also find Hui Muslims in the southern Gansu province, most of whom are restaurant owners and traders but used to be traders and butchers – the latter a profession that is intensely disliked by Buddhists.

Day 5 - Gyantse – Shigatse

Today we will drive to Shigatse and visit Tashilunpo Monastery, built by the first Dalai Lama in 1447, later becoming the seat of the Panchen Lama. Overnight Gesar Hotel or similar. (B

Shigatse and Tashilunpo Monastery

Shigatse is the traditional capital of Tsang, the second largest town in Tibet and the seat of the Panchen Lama, who is traditionally based at Tashilhunpo Monastery, Shigatse’s main attraction. Like Lhasa city and most modern Tibetan towns, Shigatse is divided into a Tibetan quarter and a Chinese quarter.

The massive monastery of Tashilunpo, dates back to the 15thcentury and is associated with the Gelugpa order, alongside five other great Gelugpa institutions, including Drepung and Sera in Lhasa. Shigatse itself, was the base of power for the King of Tsang in the 16thcentury, until he was defeated in battle in 1642 by Mongol leader, Gushri Khan.  Ten years later, the Fifth Dalai Lama bestowed the title of Panchen Lama on the abbot of Tashilunpo Monastery and from that time on, the authority of the Panchen Lama, outweighed that of the Lhasa-appointed governor, who was the occupant of the defeated king’s castle.

Day 6 - Shigatse – Rongbuk Monastery

We drive to Rongbuk today, crossing several passes along the way. With views of the many peaks over 8000m, the highest being Everest at 8850m, we travel to Rongbuk valley, the location of Everest Base Camp. The Rongbuk Monastery is the highest in the world, housing both monks and nuns. Overnight local tent guesthouses or Rongbuk Monastery Guesthouse. (B)

Please note that Rongbuk Monastery is approximately 8km from Everest Base Camp – the actual base camp has been closed for visits from non-mountaineers.

Everest

Mount Everest, known in Tibetan as Chomolungma – Goddess Mother of mountains – in Chinese as Zhumulangma Feng and in Nepalese as Sagarmatha, lies on the border between Nepal and Tibet and at 8,850 metres is the highest mountain in the world. The mighty mountain has long been revered by local people and trekkers from all over the world. The first people to successfully make it to the summit of Everest on 29th May 1953, were Edmund Hillary, a professional bee-keeper from New Zealand and Sherpa Tenzing, a Nepali-Indian Sherpa who set out on his first Everest expedition at the age of nineteen and who had subsequently become determined to conquer it.

An earlier summit bid, and perhaps the most famous of all Everest expeditions, is that of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, who at the age of twenty-two, attempted to reach the summit and were last seen going strong at 7800m, before cloud cover obscured visibility. The two men were never seen again and the question of whether they got to the top or not and what happened to them, remains one of mountaineering’s great mysteries.

Day 7 - Saga

After making our way back to the main road we continue our journey into Tibet’s western wilderness, seeing stunning Mt Shisapama (8020m) and Peikutso Lake on the way. We end the day at Saga. Overnight Yarlung Zangbo Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 8 - Manasarovar Lake – Darchen

Another long drive today but the landscapes along the way more than make up for it. The smooth sand dunes near Thuktso Lake are backed by snow-capped mountains, making for a striking contrast. In the afternoon, we reach Manasarovar Lake, one of the holiest lakes in Tibet and holy to Buddhists, Hindus and followers of the ancient Bon religion. Overnight Gang-gyan Hotel or similar. (BLD)

The lake is surrounded by snowy mountains, one of which is Gurla Mandata (7760m) and on the opposite side of the lake, you will be able to see Mt Kailash (7762m). We end the day in Darchen.

Mount Kailash

Mount Kailash is a 6,714m peak and is sacred to Tibetan Buddhist and Bon adherents and also to the Hindus and Jains of India. The mountain is known among Tibetans as ‘Kang Rinpoche’, meaning ‘Precious Jewel of Snows’ and is thought to be an earthly manifestation of Mount Meru, which according to Tibetan beliefs is the abode of the gods and lies at the cosmic axis of the universe.

Mount Kailash is the site for a sacred pilgrimage circuit known as the Kailash Kora. Tibetans start this circuit before dawn and complete it in one day, finishing after nightfall. This can be very difficult for westerners due to the altitude and the norm is to allow three to four days, but it can be done in two.

The source of four of Asia’s mightiest rivers, the Indus, the Yarlung Tsangpo (which emerges in India as the Brahmaputra), the Karnali (a major tributary of the Ganges) and the Sutlej, all lay within 100km of this highly revered mountain.

Day 9 - Manasarovar Lake

A relatively easy day today, as we drive to Manasarovar and take a short hike around the lake, as well as visiting Chiu Monastery. We head back to Darchen in the afternoon. Overnight Gang-gyan Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 10 - Darchen – Guge

After a relaxing day at Manasarovar Lake, we make the trip to Guge, an ancient kingdom of Tibet. We visit the ruins of the Guge kingdom and Zanda Earth Forest, with its landscape of diversely-shaped craggy cliffs, reminiscent of castles, towers and pagodas. The Guge kingdom once thrived as an important stop on the trade route between India and Tibet. Overnight Tada Hotel or similar. (B)

Guge

The ancient Guge Kingdom, encompassing the sites of Toling Gompa Monastery and the once-powerful 10th century capital, Tsaparang, was an important stop on the trading route between India and Tibet. Tsaparang, now in ruins, was once home to thousands of people who lived in cave dwellings and every part of the main building has been fashioned from clay, including escape exits and secret tunnels.

Around the 11th century, King Yeshi Obegan built Toling Gompa monastery, whilst nurturing and exchanging religious and cultural ideas with India. He sent a local monk named Rinchen Zangpo, to India to study Sanskrit. Zangpo is one of the greatest translators of Sanskrit texts and a key figure in the revival of Buddhism across Tibet.

The ancient Guge Kingdom is set among the barren and eroded landscape that surrounds modern Zanda. Zanda is home to an ‘earth forest’, an odd landscape of diversely shaped, craggy rock, reminiscent of all sorts of buildings, such as castles, towers and pagodas.

Day 11 - Tholing - Tada Thu - Ali

Today we drive through the valley of Sutlej, with its eroded cliffs and hundreds of tombs carved into the soft rocks. We cross four high passes, all above 5000m, then drive though the Gar Gusa valley and finally reach Ali. This is not an easy journey but all part of the adventure, with the landscapes making it all worthwhile. Overnight Xiang Xiong Hotel or similar. (B)


Days 12-15 - Gegye – Gertse – Tsochen - Nyima

Rather than take the same route back to Lhasa, we journey through the little visited region of northern Tibet. These days are very much about the journey – there are not so many formal ‘sights’ to see but we are travelling through a remote area with interesting scenery and opportunities to spot wildlife en route. On our way to Gegye we pass marshlands and canyons, then continue on past lakes and villages on our way to Gertse. Overnight simple hotels. (B)

On the way we pass multi-hued mountains and keep an eye out for gazelles and wild goats. Crossing the 5000 metre Nor Gwa Pass we reach Tsochen and visit the Medong monastery, then continue to Nyima with its grasslands. This is an epic journey and will at times be tiring, but gives a real sense of exploration and adventure.

Day 16 - Namtso

Drive to Namtso, looking out for wildlife on the way. The road today is still bumpy and muddy, especially after reaching Banger Tso and we have to cross rivers and mud ponds. Namtso Lake is one of Tibet’s three most holy lakes and Tibetans come here in pilgrimage, to circumambulate the lake as a part of a ritual which takes around a month to complete. Namtso Lake is the world’s highest salt water lake and the second largest salt water lake in China, measuring 70km in length and 40km in breadth. Overnight simple hotel. (B)


Day 17 - Lhasa

Explore more of the lake in the morning, before driving back to Lhasa. Time permitting we are able to do some last explorations of Lhasa, on your last day in Tibet. Overnight Tashitakge Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 18 - Lhasa

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)


Please note: Tibet is a vast region and due to the places visited, you should on occasion be prepared for long drives, particularly in the last few days of the trip. However, we are travelling through some spectacular scenery and will make stops at sights of interest along the way to break up the journeys. Nevertheless, an itinerary like this does mean significant time travelling on some days.

Prayer flags in Himalayas - Tibet itinerary
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Landscape photo in Tibet
Monks in monastery - Tibet holidays

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    You may be accompanied by different guides for this trip – one for the western section of the trip, and another for the eastern section, in order to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the areas that you will be visiting.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again. Please note that when meals are included, sometimes these will be in hotels, as often these are the most appropriate option, and will sometimes be set menus. Local restaurants are often lacking in variety, as well as the capacity to cater for groups. Drinks are not included and are at your own expense.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour.

  • Airport taxes

    If there are any departure taxes to pay that are not included within the cost of your ticket, you’ll need to pay these yourself.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

A valid Chinese visa is required and this must be obtained at least one month before time of travel. Tibet travel permit applications will also be required and we will take care of these with the help of our local partners in Tibet.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

Renminbi (RMB), as in the rest of China, is the legal currency in Tibet. The only foreign exchange services you will find when away, will be in the Bank of China and certain upmarket hotels.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and under-touristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings.

At the time of writing there are no warnings against travel to Tibet from the FCO – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Updated May 2019

Prayer flags in Himalayas - Tibet itinerary
Tibetan monastery - Tibet tour
Landscape photo in Tibet
Monks in monastery - Tibet holidays
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
17 July 2021
Price (PP) -
£4,999
Single Supplement -
£450
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
16 July 2022
Price (PP) -
£5,199
Single Supplement -
£450
Trip Status -
Available