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My Tibetan Holiday - a day by day account
Overnight flight to Kathmandu
Day 3 Kathmandu
On arrival in Kathmandu we transferred to the lovely Hotel Tibet. After a briefing from the Guide the evening was free so a group of us opted for dinner in a nearby restaurant.
A meal for 6 which included a drink and main course with some shared starters worked out at £28 between us (550 rupees per person). Evening entertainment was experiencing an Earthquake! (8.6 on the Richter scale). The floor moved but fortunately nothing was broken.
The next day started with a half day sightseeing tour of Kathmandu. The afternoon was supposedly free but a few people in the group who were looking to buy “Singing Bowls” and Prabin, our Guide owns a shop with other guides (formerly his home) so he was asked to take us there. It was fascinating learning about the different bowls - new, antique and “tourist” bowls.
Prabin suggested we meet for dinner and go to a restaurant where they have traditional dancing and set menu including the local brew. I left early as I had to get up early for the optional Everest flight the next day. Sadly it was cloudy so I only managed to see the very top of Everest.
Day 4 Tsedeng
Following the early morning flight we departed Kathmandu airport again, this time to Gongkar Airport (Tibet), at 3,570 metres it’s one of the highest airports in the world. The hour flight is very scenic so it’s good to get a window seat if you can. The left hand side is best for views of snow-capped mountains and Everest.
Our Tibetan guide, Jigmy, was waiting for us at the airport. Very useful as most our guidebooks were confiscated on arrival, although a few people managed to keep theirs hidden!
We arrived into Tsedang our first stop, and ate at the Tashi Restaurant in town. Dinner was by candle light as there was no electricity but it all added to the ambience. The food was very good and apparently the garlic soup, which was delicious, helps to prevent altitude sickness.
Day 5 Lhasa
The first stop today was Yumbulangang Fortress, the oldest in the country which is now a consecrated chapel to the ancient kings of Tibet. It was very peaceful and serene with the sun shining down. One lady in our group had a tear in her eye and said this was just how she had imagined the “Real Tibet”.
Back on our bus we headed for the ferry to begin our journey to Samye, which is the oldest monastery in Tibet. We got onto a wooden boat which we shared with 3 others. This scenic journey took about an hour, travelling along the Brahmaputra River.
After a brief explanation on the monastery we were free to wander around. This is Tibet’s first monastery and is where the first seven Buddhist monks in Tibet were ordained. It is also where the Great Debate took place in 790 to try and resolve the differences between Indian and Chinese interpretations of Buddhism.
It is a beautiful and colourful monastery and our visit was made all the more enjoyable by being able to attend the afternoon prayer session where the monks were chanting, blowing into long horns and banging on drums.
Then it was onto Lhasa. We were greeted with our first glimpse of the spectacular Potala Palace. We checked into the Kyichu Hotel and met for dinner. After which I took an evening stroll to view the Potala Palace which looks fabulous at night with the shining lights.
Day 6 Lhasa
We started the day with a tour of the magnificent Potala Palace, one of the highlights of the trip. Photographs don’t really do it justice or really show just how beautiful it is.
The palace was first built in the seventh century. The main building consists of Halls of Buddhas’ and the Hall of Stupas of Dalai Lamas from various historic stages. The White Palace is the residence for successive Dalai Lamas, although since the construction of the Summer Palace at Norbulingka it has only been used as a Winter Residence.
After our visit we continued on to the Norbulingka. It was built in the 1740s and is huge, covering 360,000sq ms. The park houses a lake and a number of palaces built by successive Dalai Lamas. We also viewed his private quarters and huge gilded throne.
After lunch our next stop was Sera Monastery to see the monks’ afternoon debate which takes place daily, 3–5pm. Debating is part of their training until 18-20 years when they have to pass exams. The monks sit outside in a pleasant courtyard debating Buddhist theory in groups of 2 – 5. It is quite a theatrical event as the questioner who is standing asks philosophical questions to the trainee monks. If answered to the questioner’s satisfaction he lunges forward, loudly clapping his hands. If he is not satisfied he does the same but with one hand inverted.
Next we returned to the hotel to get ready for dinner in a local restaurant. After which we walked around Barkhor Square. This is the pilgrimage circuit that surrounds Jokhang Monastery. It is a fascinating place to be at night with the lights, the cooking smells, the vendors selling their wares and even the armed Chinese soldiers.
Day 7 Lhasa
We walked back to Barkhor Square for our visit to Jokhang Temple which is the holiest temple in Tibet and attracts pilgrims who complete the Kora (holy circuit).
As we enter the square we have a guided Kora, passing an array of vendors set up for the day. Wherever you look there are interesting sights, whether it is the Chinese soldiers standing to attention, a decorated sheep ambling past, or men, woman and young children spinning their prayer wheels as they complete the Kora.
There is activity everywhere and as we approach the entrance to the Jokhang we are practically stepping over numerous Tibetans, prostrating themselves in homage to the Buddhas and deities inside. It is a really special experience and inside we have a guided walk around the temple. We spend some time on the roof top enjoying great views of Barkhor Square and we are able to see the numerous pilgrims below with fabulous views of the mountains and Potala Palace.
Back at the hotel, most of the group arranged to meet for dinner at 6.30pm. We walked back down to Barkhor Square for the evening and ate at the Mandala restaurant which overlooks the Square and serves western, Nepalese and Tibetan cuisine…delicious.
Day 8 Gyantse, 3950m
Toyota Land Cruisers picked us up for our journey to Gyantse via Yangdrok Tso. It is a 6-7hr journey but very scenic and with the stops you hardly notice the time.
We ascended towards the Kampa La, a pass at 4,794m with stunning views of the Tibetan hillside in all directions. Our first stop was at Yamdrok Tso (Turquoise Lake) with a backdrop of peaks and clouds.
After lunch in a small town we pass some glaciers before stopping at Kharo Glacier (4,960m). Here I enjoyed a true Tibetan view of snow- capped mountains, prayer flags, yaks, nomadic settlements and farmers.
Then we arrive at Gyantse which is a little walled town, set on an old trading route from Sikkim to Tibet. It’s the third largest town in Tibet. Arriving late afternoon there was time before dinner to stroll down the street leading to the Pelkar Chode Monastery, passing food markets.
Day 9 Shigatse
We start the day visiting Khumbum Stupa and Pelkor Chode Monastery. Founded in 1418, it is a complex of 15 monasteries. After which we have some free time to wander around on our own and to visit the adjoining Kumbum Stupa. Housing colourful Buddha images and frescoes, it has six floors, each with a doorway to the outside which you circle clockwise. You keep climbing up steep steps until you reach the top for great views.
Then we’re back in the Land Cruisers for the two hour journey northwest to Shigatse, the capital of the Tsang province. Enroute we stopped at a small building to see how the barley is made into flour.
We arrived in time for lunch at a local restaurant with a choice of Nepalese, Tibetan and Western food.
After lunch we had free time to stroll around the market. Dinner was back at the same local restaurant and our guide arranged a birthday cake with candles and wine for one of the ladies in our group. After dinner the group played cards in the restaurant.
Day 10 Shegar 4380m
We set off for our sightseeing tour of Tashilhunpo Monastery which is one of Tibet’s finest and like a walled town. Founded in the 15th Century by the first Dalai Lama, the monastery then became the seat of the Panchen Lamas. The chapel of Jampa holds a huge statue of Maitreya (Future Buddha) which stands at 26.2m and is the tallest gold and copper statue in the World.
After lunch we are back in our Land Cruisers for our five hour, scenic journey to Shegar. We pass mountains, valleys, farms, yaks, sheep and barley fields. So far the roads have all been good and on the Friendship Highway the well surfaced road took us over the 4520m Chong La. Continuing on we pass another military checkpoint to reach Chomolangma (Everest) Nature Reserve.
30km onwards we catch our first glimpse of Everest, what a magnificent sight to be greeted with. Photos taken and with enough time to take in this fabulous sight we are back in the Land Cruisers on our way to Shegar. It has one main street with few houses and a couple of basic hotels. The main road seems to continue on into nowhere and the views are lovely.
Day 11 Rongbuk (Everest Base Camp) 5200m
We are all eager to get to Everest Base Camp. We pass through the first of our passport and permit check points near to Shegar.
Our convoy of Land Cruisers follows a winding road through the hills and mountains until we reached Pa Lang Pass. At 5,120m this should be an amazing view point of Mt Makara (5th highest mountain in the World), Cho Oyo and Lotsi (4 highest) and Everest…… Sadly, it was too cloudy.
As we approach Rongbuk we are confronted with snow-capped peaks and then finally…. Everest. The clouds have gone, the sun is shining. Everest looks stunning against the back drop of blue sky. It’s perfect. We take some photos to capture the moment and spend a bit of time just taking in the view and throw a snowball or two.
Setting off again we reach Rongbuk - what a magical location with the view of Everest and the Rongphu Monastery. Lunch, which is surprisingly good, is at the hotel looking out over Everest. It is exciting to think that we are so close to Everest Base Camp - just 7km along the gravel road.
The Chinese Government continually change their rules. Access to Base Camp used to be by horse and cart but now the first 3km is by Land Cruiser, followed by a public mini bus for the last 4km.
The bus station is a gravelled area surrounded by rows of small tents with vendors selling trinkets. You can walk all the way to Base Camp if you want to but because of the altitude our guide said that it would be hard work.
The majority of the group decided to get the bus to drop us the last 200m from Base Camp so that we could say we walked there! I recommend everyone walks at least part of the way as each twist and turn of the road has another unforgettable view which you don’t take in on the bus.
We spend about an hour here drinking in the views. We are so lucky we have sun, snow and blue skies.
Back at the hotel we head up to the roof top terrace. We had bought some wine in Shigatse and this was the perfect place to drink it whilst watching the sun set over the mountain.
Day 12 Dhulikhel, Nepal
After, a restless night for most (which is normal because of the altitude) we loaded up the Land Cruisers for our drive to Dhulikhel. It is still dark so we don’t get to see Everest.
We drove for 2 hours along a rough dirt track. It can only be used at certain times of the year if the weather is good and only if you are in a Land Cruiser. This was the coldest that I had been all trip. I couldn’t wait for the sun to start shining so I would warm up.
It got light at about 8am although it was still cold at this stage. However, we could now see the dramatic scenery of craggy rocks, sand dunes and glaciers, small houses, herds of sheep, nomads and terraced hillsides. This feels like the heart of Tibet.
Further along the route another of our Land Cruisers got stuck in the mud as it pulled over to let an approaching vehicle pass. Finally, with a few people pushing it we managed to get it out of the mud.
We continued on for about another hour, onto the Friendship Highway to Tingri for breakfast. During the long descent we enjoyed a last view of Everest and Cho Oyi.
Leaving high altitude behind we started the descent to Zhangmu at 2,300m where we would cross the border into Nepal. We take the “Passage to Hell” named because the road is so narrow and precarious. It’s scary when you encounter oncoming traffic and have to pull over whilst they overtake on a knife edge.
The scenery starts to change dramatically as you approach the border, becoming lush and green with a forested gorge that has a river running through it.
At the border it is very hectic and the roads are jammed with lorries waiting to cross. Finally we had cleared immigration and walked down the hill to a waiting bus to take us to our hotel in Dhulikhel – our rest point for the night where we enjoyed another great meal.
Day 13 Dhulikhel – Bhaktapur - Kathmandu.
We wake up this morning to amazing views across the valley. As it was dark when we arrived so we hadn’t appreciated just how lovely it was. Breakfast is on the terrace overlooking the valley.
We leave the hotel just after 9am for Bhaktapur. It lies along the ancient trade route between India and Tibet and is surrounded by mountains, providing fantastic views of the Himalaya. It is known as 'Nepal's Cultural Gem'. It is one of the three royal cities in the Kathmandu Valley, the others being Kathmandu and Patan.
Bhaktapur is filled with monuments, mostly terracotta with carved wood columns, palaces and temples with elaborate carvings, gilded roofs and open courtyards. The city is dotted with pagodas and religious shrines. It was wonderful wandering around the city, seeing the colourful market, the pottery, paper crafts and the Hindu temples.
We arrived back in Kathmandu late afternoon with free time before dinner. Some people opted to go to Thamal market for some last minute shopping.
In the evening we met at Rum Doodle for a last dinner together. It is known for the trekking group plaques which adorn the walls and the ceilings. The food was extremely good with a choice of Western or Nepalese. A great place to end a great adventure.
Overnight flight home
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