On this 12 day journey we explore Lhasa and then take on some serious trekking in remote high altitude valleys with two 5000m+ passes. Not to be taken lightly but incredibly rewarding!Departure:
12 Days Best season:
April to October Grade:
This is Tibetan adventure at its best. We get to explore the holy city of Lhasa and trek through remote valleys and over high passes and finish our experience off with a visit to the cradle of Tibetan civilisation
Our 3 nights in Lhasa is not only fascinating, but a critical element of our acclimatisation for trekking over remote 5000m passes. Seen as the heart and soul of Tibet, Lhasa, once the Forbidden City, is a place of devout Buddhist pilgrimage and still truly a city of wonders. The medieval feel of the city, with its ancient architecture, stalls hawking everything from prayer flags and turquoise to yak skulls, and pilgrims completing prostrations at each step of their devotional kora – this is an exotic brew that few people can resist.
Leaving Lhasa we drive to Ganden and use the day here for further acclimatisation and exploring the first Gelugpa Monastery in Tibet. Then we set off for a demanding but incredible walk, crossing the Zhukar La (pass) at 5200m and the Chetur La at 5100m, en-route to Samye. The valley between these passes is quite high in elevation (4890m) and very remote.
We end the trek at Samye, said to be the first Monastery in Tibet and drive to Tsetang where we can explore further monasteries. To complete our immersion in Tibetan culture we visit the Yarlung Valley also known as the Valley of Tombs and considered to be the cradle of Tibetan civilization.
Day 01: Arrive Lhasa [3650m]
Day 02: Sightseeing in Lhasa
Day 03: Sightseeing in Lhasa
Day 04: Free day in Lhasa
Day 05: Drive to Ganden p4180m]
Day 06: Trek to Yama Do p4300m]
Day 07: Trek to Tsotup Chu Valley [4880m]
Day 08: Trek to Herder's Camp [4400m]
Day 09: Trek to Wango [3800m]
Day 10: Trek to Samye [3540m], Drive to Tsetang [3510m]
Day 11: Explore Yarlung Valley [3500m]
Day 12: Drive to Gongkar and Depart
DEATILED ITINERARYDay 01: Arrive Lhasa [3650m]
Surely we have the world’s most spectacular flight ahead of us this morning as we board the flight in Kathmandu. We fly over the highest mountain range in the world and land deep inside Tibet, the mysterious land for so long closed to outsiders.
We will be met at Gonggar Airport by our Tibetan guide and take the 2 hour drive to Lhasa, through a mountain! Due to the jump in altitude today we advise that you rest and take it easy for the remainder of the day.Day 02: Sightseeing in Lhasa
Today we can immerse ourselves in this amazing city – the heart and soul of Tibet! Our sightseeing will be accompanied by a guide and interpreter and we will visit the Sera Monastery, one of the best-preserved monasteries in Tibet. Within its whitewashed walls and golden roofs, several hundred monks live and study.
After lunch we'll visit the Norbulingka, the summer palace of the Dalai Lama, followed by the Jokhang Temple. This temple is possibly the most sacred shrine in Tibet and there is always a procession of devout Tibetans through the complex. Surrounding the Jokhang is the Barkor - a maze of narrow cobbled streets, which is the central market of Lhasa. This is truly fascinating stuff and you will be mesmerised by the energy and feel of this area of Lhasa.Day 03: Sightseeing in Lhasa
No visit to Tibet could be complete without visiting the Potala Palace. A spectacular building, it literally dominates the skyline of Lhasa. It contains the private quarters of the Dalai Lama as well as numerous grand staterooms and many important chapels. There has been a palace on this site since the 5th or 6th century, but the present palace was constructed in the 17th century.
After lunch we will visit the Drepung Monastery which was founded in the 14th century. This monastery was once the largest in the world, with a population of around 10,000 monks! These days that figure is down to several hundred, but there is still much here of interest as it was left relatively unscathed during the Cultural Revolution.Day 04: Free day in Lhasa
Today is our final day in Lhasa for acclimatisation. This is a day at leisure in which we are free to explore further, revisit a favourite monastery or simply sit in a café overlooking the Barkor and watch the pilgrims as they circumambulate the Jokhang, or plunge into the madness of the market and check out the merchandise at the stalls lining the cobbled streets.Day 05: Drive to Ganden [4180m]
Ganden is 40km from Lhasa and we will arrive quite early in the day, which means we have the afternoon for rest and acclimatisation. If we take it easy we can explore Ganden which was the first Gelugpa monastery and has remained the main seat of the order ever since.
Unfortunately, it is thought that Ganden suffered the most of all the great monasteries of Tibet during the cultural revolution, however, it is still a fascinating place. It’s ochre hues are stunning and there is a very active pilgrim presence. While on their kora around the monastery pilgrims perform unusual rituals that test their faith and earn religious merit. A large rocky cleft draped with prayer flags marks the start of this scenic circuit, which takes at least one hour to complete.Day 06: Trek to Yama Do [camp at approx. 4300m]
Today we begin our trek by following the well trodden trail south along the side of Angor Ri, the highest point on the Ganden kora. We gradually ascend for about 1 ½ hours before reaching a saddle from where we can look west down the Kyi Chu valley towards Lhasa.
We then traverse the west side of the ridge and descend towards Hepu village, a village of about 30 houses. We climb for about an hour in the direction of the Zhukar La (‘la’ means ‘pass’) to reach Ani Pagong, a narrow craggy bottleneck in the valley, where a small nunnery used to be located. From here we continue climbing for about an hour through marshy meadows to Yama Do, with suitable campgrounds where we will stay the night.
(5 hours)Day 07: Trek to Tsotup Chu Valley [4880m]
After breakfast we proceed along the valley floor for about an hour before ascending to a shelf on the eastern side of the valley, avoiding a steep gully. We continue climbing to the Zhukar La (5200m), marked by a large cairn covered in prayer flags and yak horns. Crossing the pass we descend quickly across a boulder field, reaching the valley floor about 1 ½ hours from the pass.
We cross the large stream, the Tsotup Chu, which flows through the valley. The pastures in the area support large herds of yaks, goats and sheep, and during the trekking season herders are often camped here. So this is an ideal place for our camp and to meet the herders (drakpa in Tibetan).
(4 to 5hours)Day 08: Trek to Herder's Camp [camp at approx. 4350-4400m]
From our camp by the Tsotup Chu we follow a tributary to the south-west, climbing steeply for about ½ hour up to a basin and a broad valley. Following this valley we turn to the south and can soon see the Chetur La in the distance, a rocky rampart at the head of the valley. As we continue towards the pass the trail switches to the east side of the valley and we have fairly easy terrain up to the Chetur La (5100m) which is marked by several cairns.
As we leave our second high pass behind we circumvent a sheer rock wall to descend down into a basin with three small lakes. From here we drop down through a valley passing several herders camps on the way. At the first one, the herders have carved out level places for their tents. Below this the valley becomes very narrow and we pick our way through the rock-strewn valley floor, squeezed in by sheer rock walls. As the valley widens we come to a flat and another seasonal herder's camp in the east side of the valley. As we continue down the valley the camping places become more numerous and we will choose our camp here for the night.
(5 hours)Day 09: Trek to Wango [camp at approx. 3800m]
Today our trail is wide and easy and we walk through an area where the combination of elevation, moisture, and aspect create a lush environment while just a few kilometres away the alpine desert prevails. We have entered into what may be the most beautiful part of the entire trek. Local woodcutters say that more than 15 types of trees and shrubs are found here, some growing 6 meters tall. Fragrant junipers grow on exposed southern slopes while rhododendron prefer the shadier slopes. At the end of May the forest is ablaze with pink and white rhododendron blossoms.
As our trail winds through a series of meadows the forest start to thin rapidly. We soon reach Changtang, our first permanent village since Hepu, from where, looking south we see the far side of the Yarlung Tsangpo Valley in the distance. About ½ hour down the valley we can take a side trip to the Yamalung Hermitage. It is about 1 hour steep climbing to the hermitage and those not so keen on the climb can relax near the bridge.
Yamalung (also called Emalung) is where Guru Rinpoche is said to have meditated and received empowerment from the long life deity Amitayus (Tibetan: Tsepame). Consisting of several small temples, a few monks live here. Below the temple complex is a sacred spring and an stone carving of Guru Rinpoche, King Trisong Detsen and Indian pundit Shantarakshita, all of whom lived in the 8th century. The cave Guru Rinpoche meditated in is enshrined by the Drup Pug Mara handprint of the saint said to have been created when he magically expanded the size of the cave.
Back at the bridge, it is about 1 hours walk to Nyango, a village of solidly built stone houses which has some small shops where we can by soda/ cigarettes etc. We are on the old trade route from Lhasa to Samye via the Gokar La. Tonight we will camp in a meadow between Wango and Pisha, not much further down towards Samye.
(6 Hours)Day 10: Trek to Samye [3540m] (2 Hours), Drive to Tsetang [3510m]
From Pisha this morning, we can see the entire lower Samye Valley, a tapestry of fields, wood and villages. We can see a hill in the middle of the mouth of the Samye Valley called Hepo Ri, one of Tibet's most sacred mountains.
Not far down the trail past Pisha a ridge called Dragmar meets the trail. On the summit is the partially rebuilt palace where King Trisong Desten is said to have been born. Below, just off the road, is a small red and white temple enshrining the stump of an ancient tree. Legend has it that a red and white sandalwood tree grew here, nourished by the buried placenta of King Trisong. In the Cultural Revolution the tree was chopped down.
We continue down the valley, finding a jeep trail to take us towards the golden spires of Samye along the margin between woods and desert. As we get closer Samye the valley can be fiery hot, but if the heat gets too much we can simply walk through the stands of willows and poplars not far from the road.
Samye Monastery is designed to represent the Buddhist universe and many of the buildings in the courtyard are cosmological symbols. We will take ample time to explore this fascinating monastery before heading to Tsetang, the third largest city in central Tibet, for a well deserved shower!Day 11: Explore the Yarlung Valley [3500m]
Today we wrap up our remarkable journey visiting the Yarlung Valley, also known as the Valley of Tombs and considered to be the cradle of Tibetan civilisation. The creation myth locates the valley as the origin of the Tibetan people and it was from Yarlung that the early Tibetan kings unified Tibet in the seventh century. We see the massive burial mounds of these kings in Chongye.
We will also visit Yumbulakhang, perched on a crag like a medieval castle and is considered the oldest building in Tibet. After a full day off exploring in the Yarlung Valley we return to Tsetang for the night.Day 12: Drive to Gongkar Aiport and depart
This morning we leave Tsetang early to drive 96 km to Gongkar airport for the flight back to Kathmandu.
Again we have that spectacular flight, this time Leaving Tibet behind as we fly over the Himalayan Range and into comparatively bustling and lush Nepal. It will take us two hours and is without doubt one of the most spectacular commercial flights in the world. The flight path takes us just east of Mt Everest before circling to the south where the entire Himalayan Range from Makalu to the Annapurnas can be appreciated.
The rest of the day is free for relaxing, shopping, or extra sightseeing and we will get together in the evening for our farewell and celebration of our fantastic Tibetan experience.