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In 15 days we trek to Shishapangma Base Camp, one of Tibet's best kept trekking secrets and one of Tibet's finest high alpine walks, followed by an overland journey to explore Shigatse, Gyantse and Lhasa.

Departure: Kathmandu
Duration: 15 Days
Best season: May to October
Grade: Strenuous

Shishapangma or Xixapangma (8046 meters) is probably the least known of the world's fourteen peaks over 8000m. It is the only peak above 8000m that is wholly within Tibet but although only 80 km north east of Kathmandu, it is hidden from Nepal, tucked away behind the main Himalayan range.

We will trek on the southeast side of Shishapangma, where the monsoon just manages to push over Nepal’s Jugal Himal, bringing some rain most nights from June until early September. In the season when we trek here, most days are clear and we will have stunning lush meadows and an outstanding display of wildflowers high into the mountains.

The normal Shishapangma trekking route back tracks down to Nyalam from the Base Camp, however being trekkers, we don’t like back tracking, so we have come up with this great alternative trek to Ngora via the beautiful Kong Tso (lake). This section from the Tshongdü Chu Valley to Ngora village, via Kong Tso La, takes us two days starting from the herder camp at Shingdip.

After our trek we will travel overland to Lhasa, via the towns of Shigatse and Gyantse.  Shigatse is Tibet’s second largest city and is where we visit the Tashilhunpo Monastery, formerly home of the Panchen Lama. In Gyanste we will visit the medieval Pelkhor Chode Temple complex with its huge Kumbum stupa, and can also see famous Gyantse fort and ‘Memorial Hall of Anti-British’.

We will spend two days in Lhasa, once the Forbidden City, seen as the heart and soul of Tibet. A place of devout pilgrimage, it is 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.

BRIEF ITINERARY

Day 01: Drive Kathmandu [1300m] to Nyalam [3780m]
Day 02: Rest day / acclimatization
Day 03: Trek to Draabochhan [4110m]
Day 04: Trek to Shingdip [4560m]
Day 05: Trek to Shishapangma Base Camp [4980m]
Day 06: Explore towards Advanced Base Camp and return to Shingdip
Day 07: Trek to Kong Tso [5030m]
Day 08: Trek to Ngora [4340m]
Day 09: Drive to Lhatse [3990m]
Day 10: Drive to Shigatse [3900m]
Day 11: Drive to Gyantse [3950m]
Day 12: Drive to Lhasa [3650m]
Day 13: Explore Lhasa
Day 14: Explore Lhasa
Day 15: Fly Lhasa to Kathmandu

DETAILED ITINERARY

Day 01: Drive from Kathmandu [1300m] to Nyalam [3750m]
We leave Kathmandu after an early breakfast and drive northwards through Nepal’s beautiful terraced hillsides, river valleys and forests and catching glimpses of the Himlayas. We reach Kodari on the Nepal - Tibet border and must complete the border formalities at both the Nepalese and Chinese immigration posts. Once in Tibet we follow a series of incredibly steep switchbacks climbing up a mossy gully with cascading waterfalls to Nyalam where we stay the night. 
Day 02: Acclimatisation day
With Tibet’s average altitude being over 3500m above sea level we take altitude sickness very seriously, so we spend today resting in Nyalam in order to acclimatise before heading up higher.

We take the opportunity to go a short way out of town to visit a small temple, Nyalam Pelgye Ling, associated with eleventh- and twelfth-century poet-lama and saint Milarepa, credited with bringing Buddhism to Tibet.

Day 03: Trek To Draabochhan [4110m]
After breakfast we head out of Nyalam for our first day of Tibetan trekking! We walk for a couple of hours up the Tshongde Phu river valley before we have a choice of whether to head directly up to Draabochhan or make a detour to the lake Tara Tsho.

The pilgrimage route up to Tara Tsho (lake) is quite a climb, but worth it! After 2 or 3 hours climbing steeply we reach the lake, which although quite large, remains hidden until we are quite close. When it reveals itself we see the shoreline is speckled with hundreds of small stone offering piles and larger rock cairns with prayer flags. Tara Tsho is remarkable for having neither inlet nor outlet and it is said to be 40 meters deep. According to local legends, the lake manifested from a piece of ice brought here by a lama returning from holy Mount Kailash in Western Tibet.

We spend the night camping at the herders' camp at Draabochhan.
 
Day 04: Trek To Shingdip [4560m]
After breakfast today we begin with a heartstarter! We climb up for about an hour to the top of a ridge. From here we walk parallel to the ridge, along hills thick with dwarf rhododendrons.

This afternoon we make camp Shingdip, a beautiful meadow camp featuring a large boulder at the junction of converging moraine valleys. While the Shishapangma Base Camp is relatively close to us now, it is nearly over 400 metres higher in elevation, so we will stop here for the night.
 
Day 05: Shishapangma Base Camp [4980m]
From our camp at Shingdip we head cross country, west towards Shishapangma Base Camp. We climb up to a ridge and follow it for some time, with splendid views of Jugal Himal towering across the valley to the south. Well worth the breathlessness you might feel!

We reach the Base Camp by a lovely little glacial lake after about two hours of walking. While Shishapangma is just out of view from the Base Camp we will have a rest after our mornings walk and then decide if we want to rest and take it easy or explore a bit in the afternoon.
 
Day 06: Explore towards Advanced Base Camp and return to Shingdip
This morning we explore up towards Advanced Base Camp and explore some more around Base Camp. There are brilliant views of Shishapangma on a boulder-plateau an hour above base camp.

In the afternoon we do the only backtracking we have – down to Shingdip where we camp the night in familiar surroundings.

Day 07: Trek to Kong Tso [5030m]
This morning we get an early start to cross the Kong Tso La, a 5180m pass between us and the stunning Kong Tso, a holy lake associated with Guru Rinpoche and said to be life-power lake for the Nyalam region.
As we trek up towards the pass we can really observe how different this arid alpine terrain is from the lush area around Draabochhan, where we started trekking. We will be surrounded by stunted juniper bushes and may see the rare flowers of the Blue Poppy in summer time.
Descending from the pass we walk for about an hour to our camp at Kong Tso. It seems that Mt Shishapangma and Pholha Gangchen seem to rise straight up from the edge of the lake and this is a truly an awesome campsite!

Day 08: Trek to Ngora [4340m]
Today is a much easier day, trekking down to the village of Ngora. We pass another stunning glacial lake before heading down through alpine meadows down the valley. We have the option to visit Ralo Phuk, a cave hermitage of the 11th century Buddhist scholar and tantric translator, Ra Lotsawa. Continuing down to Ngora, we find a nice campsite and may like to visit the little red walled gompa before dinner.
 
Day 09: Drive to Lhatse [3990m]
This morning we load up into comfortable jeeps to commence our incredible trip overland to Lhasa! We come back onto the Friendship Highway at and make our way over the Lalung La (5050m) and up to Dingri. Continuing on to Lhatse we cross another high pass on our journey, the Gyatso La (5105m), no doubt thankful we are not trekking now! If the weather is good we can have some brilliant views to Mt Everest from here, before descending once more to the barren splendour of the plains and on to Lhatse.

Day 10: Drive to Shigatse [3900m]
After breakfast we continue along the Friendship Highway to Shigatse, marvelling at just how vast this place is and simply immersing ourselves in the barren yet spectacular landscape of Tibet. Tonight we stay in Tibet’s second largest city, Shigatse, home to the Tashilhunpo Monastery and formerly home of the Panchen Lama.

Day 11: Drive to Gyantse [3950m]
Today we have a relatively short drive, so this morning we have time to visit the Tashilhunpo Monastery, one of the largest functioning monasteries in Tibet.

Reaching Gyantse where we will stay the night, we can explore the Pelkor Chode Monastery and the Gyantse Kumbum. The Kumbum is a large gold-domed stupa and its many chapels house an impressive array of Tibetan Buddhist murals.

Day 12: Drive to Lhasa [3650m]
Today we have a spectacular drive taking us over yet another high pass, the Karo La at 4690m. From here we have the awesome sight of a huge glacier tumbling down towards the road!

Leaving the pass and passing through the small town of Nagartse, we reach the stunning Yamdrok Tso. Also known as the Scorpion Lake, this is one of the four holiest lakes in Tibet, where the landscape is mapped out with holy lakes and mountains. We wind around the banks of this stunning turquoise lake for about 20km, before we cross our last pass, the Khamba La (4700m) and continue on into Lhasa. We have arrived in the Forbidden City!

Day 13: Explore 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 14: Explore 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 15: Fly Lhasa to Kathmandu
We bid farewell to Lhasa this morning and take an early 2 hour drive to the Gonggar Airport for our flight back to Kathmandu.

This is a truly awesome flight, as any crossing of the Himalayan Range should be! It takes two hours and is without doubt one of the most spectacular commercial flights in the world. Our 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.

This flight is a fitting end to our Tibetan journey and we have a final evening to celebrate our adventure in Kathmandu.

 

 

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