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Mountains & Monasteries
Transport - Private Bus, Overnight sleeper train, Taxi
Accommodation - Hotel (7 nts), Guesthouse (6 nts), Overnight sleeper train (2 nts), Permanent tented camp (1 nt)
Meals - no meals included
We often have multiple itineraries so please check to see which itinerary is suitable for you, by selecting the relevant tab.
Nimen Hao! Welcome to China.
Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6:00pm on Day 1.
You can arrive at any time as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
The capital of the most populous country on earth, Beijing is quickly shedding its historical face in favour of modernity. However, there are still plenty of places to go that will give you a great insight into the nation's ancient past as well as sights that showcase China's contemporary culture.
You take an early morning trip to the Mutianyu Great Wall (approx 2 hrs drive from Beijing). An incredible piece of engineering, it stretches 6,000 km westwards from the mountain ridges north of Beijing. It was originally constructed to protect Chinese empires from the 'barbarians' of the north and even though it failed in this purpose, it is still without a doubt one of the country's most remarkable achievements, and an iconic destination. It's a 30 minute climb up some steep steps to the wall itself but well worth the effort! There is also the option of taking a chair lift or cable car to the top and back if you are after a more leisurely experience and great views. We'll have a few hours to explore the winding wall before heading back to the city for the afternoon. Please note that the wall is quite steep in places so make sure you have some appropriate footwear for this activity.
You suggest arriving a few days early to enjoy more of what Beijing has to offer such as:
Explore Tiananmen Square - apparently the largest down town square in the world. Framed by the Gate of Heavenly Peace with its Mao portrait, Mao's Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People and the National Museum it's a place of pilgrimage for Chinese tourists who consider it the heart of their nation.
Enter the imposing Forbidden City, former home to China's imperial rulers and filled with palaces, gardens and seemingly never-ending grand courtyards.
The Temple of Heaven Park is one of the most popular in Beijing and at any time of the day is full of people of all ages taking part in traditional pastimes such as tai chi, fan dancing, diablo, kite flying, water calligraphy and more.
A trip to the 798 Art District on a Beijing Art and Architecture tour will give you a taste of where art is heading in today's China as you wander the multitude of galleries housed in this old factory complex.
A metro ride can take you to the Summer Palace, once an imperial residence and the largest and best-preserved imperial garden in China.
The fantastic "The Legend of Kung Fu" is said to be a must-see production in Beijing for Kung Fu lovers.
Visit beautiful Yonghegong, or Lama Temple, which was built in 1694 and is the largest and best-preserved Tibetan style monastery building in Beijing.
Take taxis to the Beijing West railway station, one of the biggest and busiest in the world, to board our train to Lhasa (approx 45 hrs) on day 2.
Parts of your trip go above 2800 metres / 9200 feet where it is common for travellers to experience some adverse health effects due to the altitude - regardless of your age, gender and fitness. It even happened to Sir Edmund Hillary!
Before your trip: Some pre-existing medical conditions are known to severely worsen at high altitude and be difficult to adequately treat on the ground, leading to more serious consequences. It is imperative that you discuss your pre-existing medical condition/s with your doctor. You understand certain medications are reported to aid acclimatising to high altitude. Please discuss these options with your doctor.
During your trip: While our leaders have basic first aid training and are aware of the closest medical facilities, it is very important that you are aware of the cause and effects of travelling at altitude, monitor your health and seek assistance accordingly.
- Informal Chinese language lesson
- Great Wall - Mutianyu section
- Beijing - Forbidden City - CNY60
- Beijing by Bike Urban Adventure - CNY480
- Beijing Art & Architecture Urban Adventure - CNY590
- Kung Fu show - CNY180
- Lama Temple - CNY30
- Summer Palace - CNY40
- Temple of Heaven - CNY40
Hotel (1 nt), Overnight sleeper train (1 nt)
Train to the Roof of the World
The train to Lhasa is truly one of China's greatest engineering feats in recent years. It's the highest railway in the world, traversing some incredibly mountainous and remote terrain. Our journey takes us through the major cities of Xi'an, Lanzhou and Xining, and across the Qinghai Plateau before arriving in Lhasa.
Train travel in China/Tibet may not be entirely luxurious but it's certainly one of the best ways to come face to face with the country and its people as it's a major form of transport for locals. The Beijing - Lhasa train is one of the newest and best in China. You use hard sleeper class trains for our overnight train journeys. These are not as rough as they sound - compartments are open-plan, clean, with padded three-tiered berths (6 to a compartment). Sheets, pillows and a blanket are provided. You recommend bringing your own sleeping sheet as the quality/cleanliness of sheets may not be what you are used to. Safe hot drinking water is always available for making coffee, tea or instant meals. You recommend bringing a mug, spoon, knife and fork if you will be preparing your own hot drinks or food on the train (as these are not provided in cabins) The train has a dining car although meals are of better quality on the first day as by the second day you are travelling at altitude which makes cooking difficult! You may wish to purchase extra snacks of your choice before the journey to supplement food available on the train.
Basic bathroom facilities are situated at the end of each carriage with toilets and washbasins. As toilet paper isn't always available it's advised to carry some of your own, keep in mind general train cleanliness may not be to the same standards you are accustomed to. While you always try to have our groups staying together, there may be times where due to ticket availability the group will be staying in different compartments and carriages, and possibly sharing with passengers who are not part of the group.
On rare occasions it may be possible to upgrade to a different carriage class once on the train itself for an additional cost paid to the train conductor but this can not be guaranteed and and should not be relied on as an option.
Overnight sleeper train (1 nt)
Colourful and historic, the holy city of Lhasa is situated in a small valley 3,650 m above sea level. For many years it was a mysterious place, virtually unknown to the outside world with even the most adventurous and hardy of explorers rarely reaching the city without being turned away, either by the treacherous terrain or the fierce warrior monks that protected Tibetan territory from intruders. While now welcoming tourists and much modernized, Lhasa remains an intriguing city with deeply fascinating culture, sights and stories.
Altitude sickness and oxygen deprivation may be felt while travelling in Tibet, particularly when arriving in Lhasa. We've allowed five days here to allow for appropriate acclimatisation. For more information about altitude and altitude sickness prevention please see the 'Health' section of these notes.
Due to Chinese government regulations, all foreign tour groups in Tibet must be accompanied by an official licensed Tibetan guide. Depending on the departure, you will either have a Tibetan Intrepid leader from Beijing to the Chinese border and a Nepalese Intrepid leader after making the crossing (as Tibetans are not permitted to travel outside of China) or a Chinese Intrepid leader for the duration of the trip and be accompanied by a local Tibetan guide during your time in Tibet. In this case, while you try to request experienced guides with a good level of English, please note that you often have no control over which guides are assigned to our groups and some may be very new to guiding or have limited English communication skills.
You have plenty of time to enjoy Lhasa. While here the included experiences are:
Take part in a Tibetan lesson to learn some basic greetings, numbers and phrases.
Learn how to make momos (steamed dumplings), one of the staples of Tibetan cuisine, in a cooking class.
Tour the incredible Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lama. Although we're not free to explore the Potala Palace on our own and must stick to a strict schedule of viewing the exhibits and buildings with our guide, this in no way lessens the impact of seeing what is truly a wonder of the architectural world. Please note this is the most popular attraction in Lhasa, especially among Chinese tour groups, so it can be very crowded and tickets are for a limited time period only.
Visit the Sera Monastery where the monks hold dramatic daily debating sessions.
Explore Jokhang Temple, which is often regarded as the spiritual heart of Tibet and one of the region's most active religious sites.
Please note that inside many of Tibet's monasteries and temples, including the Potala Palace, photography is not permitted. In buildings where it is permitted, often this requires the purchase of a photo permit. Your guide can obtain this photo permit for you for an additional fee.
Visit our friends at Braille Without Borders, a wonderful organization that provides support, education and training to visually impaired Tibetans. Blindness and visual impairment in Tibet are very widespread due to the climate and lack of adequate medical care. Braille Without Borders' key message is to give Tibetans the 'right to be blind without being disabled'. You visit their school where young children receive education in Tibetan, Chinese, English and learn to read Braille, as well as prepare for future professions in order to be self supporting. You have a chance to see their classrooms and meet some of the students who are always very proud to show off their language and music skills.
Braille Without Borders is supported by The Intrepid Foundation. If you would like to make a donation to support their programs you recommend donating through The Intrepid Foundation rather than while at the centre. That way any donation you give will be matched dollar for dollar by Intrepid and therefore doubled! You can either pass on your donation through your leader or donate online at www.theintrepidfoundation.org
In your free time you may like to:
Shuffle along with the throngs of pilgrims around the Barkhor pilgrim circuit, stopping to shop for souvenirs at some of the many market stalls.
Explore Lhasa's quaint backstreet craft workshops, bakeries, tea shops and tiny alley ways as you wander the Old Town.
Relax with a traditional Tibetan massage.
Walk the pilgrim path around the Potala Palace or take photos of the busy scene from the main square.
Deepen your perspective of Lhasa's holy sites with a trip to Ganden or Drepung Monasteries. Alternatively, visit the Norbulingka, the Summer Palace of Dalai Lamas.
As the majority of the cultural and historical sites in Tibet are temples and monasteries you advise choosing carefully which activities you do in your free time and pacing yourself in order to enjoy the sites you visit as a group as much as possible. Tibetan Buddhism is certainly a fascinating part of the region's culture, however some travellers find that they get 'templed out' quickly as there's just so much information to take in. Take your time, ask our local guide about what interests you most and if you would rather have time on your own instead of joining the group to explore a monastery or temple please let your leader know.
Head out of Lhasa for a day trip to one of the most stunning natural sights in Tibet - Nam Tso Lake. The soaring Tangula Range with its peaks of over 7000m dominates the south shore of the lake which turns a magnificent turquoise shade in spring. Along the way we'll see nomadic tent camps and sweeping grasslands, as well as devoted pilgrims making the trek to Tashi Do Monastery on foot. While here, you can walk the kora and hike to the top of the surrounding hills for intoxicating views. In the evening you drive back to Lhasa.
This is a long day - the drive will take us to over 4500m and the road is far from smooth. For those who would rather take it easy there is the option of staying in Lhasa for the day. During the months of October through April the road to Nam-Tso can be inaccessible due to snow. You will arrange alternative activities in or around Lhasa for those departures not able to visit the lake.
- Lhasa - Tibetan language lesson
- Lhasa - Braille Without Borders school visit
- Lhasa - Jokhang Temple
- Lhasa - Sera Monastery
- Lhasa - Cooking class
- Lhasa - Potala Palace
- Lhasa - Nam-Tso Lake day trip
- Norbulingka - CNY60
- Ganden Monastery - CNY145
- Drepung Monastery - CNY60
- Tibetan Massage - CNY120
Hotel (5 nts)
Today you begin your overland journey which will take us all the way from Lhasa to Kathmandu. For the Tibetan part of the tour you must be accompanied by a local guide according to the local laws. As foreigners are not permitted to travel by public transport in this region, you will have a private van and driver for the journey.
Driving times will vary and any times listed here are approximate only. While much of the infrastructure in Tibet has been improved in recent years it still lacks regular maintenance and travel time will rely heavily on weather and road conditions. As you have our own vehicle it may also be possible to make some stops along the way for photos, meals or to chat with locals however you need to aim to complete our drives before nightfall for safety reasons.
Our journey to Samye will take approx. 5 hours.
Samye sits at over 3600m and is home to the oldest and one of the most enchanting monasteries in Tibet. This is where Buddhism was established and the monastery has withstood centuries of invasion and other threats to remain standing, imposing and immense beside the river.
Explore the magical structures that make up the Samye Monastery with our local guide giving some explanations about the complicated religious symbolism and rituals. Go through the assembly hall with its statues and the Jowo Khang inner chapel. Some of the murals here are amazingly vivid and detailed, although you'll need to purchase a permit to take photos. The entire Samye complex is huge so we'll have some time to explore here on our own or you can continue to walk with our guide. In the afternoon you can make the 30 minute climb to the top of Hepo Ri Hill with prayer flags and a spectacular view.
Stay in the monastery guesthouse within the complex walls. The rooms are simple, with shared bathroom facilities. Sometimes hot showers are not available and be prepared for occasional 'romantic candle nights' in the case of a blackout.
Accommodation in Tibet outside of Lhasa can be of a very basic standard and with limited options. The region is still hurting from the riots in 2008 which lead to tourism practically being halted for over a year and many hotels and other businesses are still struggling with the financial loss and unable to pay for regular maintenance or sufficient staff to keep things in good condition. Hot water, when available, can be sporadic and in some destinations hot water and showers are not available at all. Many hotels have shared bathroom facilities and unreliable plumbing. Most places you stay will have twin-share rooms although on occasion we'll stay in multishare rooms on a same gender basis.
- Samye - Samye Monastery
Guesthouse (1 nt)
The long drive to Gyantse today is spectacular, with unforgettable views of the turquoise coloured Yamdrok Tso Lake from the top of the soaring Kamba Pass (over 4700m). The road takes you along the lake shore, stopping at the town of Nangartse for lunch before climbing again for more views of glaciers and peaks. You aim to arrive in Gyantse (around 4000m) by late afternoon.
Gyantse is a small agricultural town set at 3950m above sea level, famed for its wool carpets. It has a very traditional feel to it and everyday Tibetan rural life continues here much as it has done for centuries. There are a number of interesting buildings in the town, including the Pelkhor Chode Temple complex, a unique structure built in 1414, with five stories representing the five steps to enlightenment.
As well as many religious sites, Gyantse is a great place to see contemporary Tibetan life in the backstreets where pilgrims, pop music, cows, "cowboys" on motorbikes, kids and monks all mingle in a lively mix of cultures.
- Tibetan Family Visit - CNY10
Guesthouse (1 nt)
Spend time in the unique Gyantse Kumbum, a layered stupa designed as a kind of 3 dimensional mandala and model of the Buddhist universe, each storey representing a step to enlightenment. If you have a head for heights you can wind your way up the pilgrim circuit, the passages steadily getting narrower as you get higher and the air becoming more and more intoxicating with incense and smoke from yak butter lamps.
Drive to Tibet's second-largest city, Shigatse (90 km, approx 2 hrs).
Sitting at just over 3800m, Shigatse is a busy, buzzing and dusty city that's rapidly modernising.
Visit the Tashilhunpo Monastery, one of the few in Tibet to have come out virtually unscathed from the Cultural Revolution. With its expansive territory inside thick stone walls it's almost like a town in itself. You visit with our local guide, but if you're feeling a little overwhelmed by the myriad monastic buildings each with their own intricate decorations, legends and religious imagery, ask for directions to the tranquil Chapel of Jampa and meditate on the world's largest gilded statue. The courtyard outside of the Kelsang Chapel is one of the best places to observe the pilgrims and monks prepare for ceremonies.
In the evening you can join the pilgrims on their kora (prayer circuit), spinning prayer wheels as you walk around the perimeter of the monastery and taking in the great views and atmosphere. The walk takes around 1 hour to complete.
Drive about 1 hour to the countryside outside of Shigatse to visit the Braille Without Borders organic farm and training centre. Along with a primary school, the training centre is home to music and massage schools, handicraft workshops, a cheese kitchen and cafe, all employing and training visually impaired Tibetans, providing opportunities for future careers and improving their livelihoods. You have a chance to tour the facilities, chat with the trainees and sample some of their delicious organically grown food.
Back in the city, if our stay coincides with Market Day a great activity is to head to the Shigatse bazaar and browse the stalls that sell everything from slabs of yak butter and yak wool to prayer wheels and rosaries. Be tempted by antiques, jewellery and fur hats with elaborate gold brocade, or simply watch as Tibetans vie with each other to win a sale. Alternatively, you may be able to visit the carpet factory where hand-woven carpets are made to traditional designs. Don't forget to bargain hard if you decide to make a purchase.
- Gyantse - Gyantse Kumbum
- Gyantse - Pelkor Chode Monastery
- Gyantse - Kumbum
- Shigatse - Tashilhunpo Monastery
- Shigatse - Braille Without Borders farm visit
Hotel (2 nts)
Continuing our journey along the Friendship Highway, drive to the small town of Sakya, which is situated at about 4300m (approx 4 hrs).
Sakya's monastery and town buildings are quite unique. The monastery is built in medieval 'Mongolian' style and rather than whitewashed, the secular buildings are painted in red and while stripes. With its high imposing walls, the monastery is sometimes nicknamed the "Great Wall of Tibet".
Explore inside the monastery with our local guide. At first the halls may seem similar to other monasteries we've visited, but spend some time here and soak in the atmosphere and you'll soon realise that Sakya has a subtle ancient beauty that is unlike any other.
After the monastery tour you can choose to climb the hill through the Tibetan Village to see what's left of the original monastery complex. Make sure you pick your way through the ruins and remaining buildings in a clockwise direction as this is a kora route. You can also hike a little further to visit the friendly nuns at the Nunnery high on the hill overlooking the town.
Tonight for dinner, why not try some spicy food at one of the little restaurants run by Sichuanese immigrants. Stay the night in a basic guesthouse. Please note that there's usually not hot running water available here.
- Sakya - Sakya Monastery
Guesthouse (1 nt)
Everest National Park
Another early start and an exhilarating drive (approx 8-9 hrs) along what at times seems little more than a yak track brings us to Rongphu - sitting at around 5,000m above sea level and a mere 8 km from Everest Base Camp. The views from here are utterly spectacular.
Rongphu Monastery is the highest in the world. On a clear day you may even get a photo of the monastery's chorten against the backdrop of mighty Everest, or Qomolangma as it is called in Tibetan.
A relatively modern monastery by Tibetan standards, Rongphu was built in the early 1900s and originally housed more than 500 monks. Today around 50 monks and nuns remain. Unusually, they share the same prayer hall although they have separate residences. You are received very warmly by the monks and nuns here and it's often possible to join them for their evening prayers.
Stretch our legs and our lungs on the gentle two hour return hike up to Everest Base Camp. Follow the prayer flags up the slope, hope for a clear sunny sky for amazing photos and even text a friend back home when you reach the camp at 5200 m. Yes, there's mobile reception even here!
In the summer months you stay nearby Rongphu in the Tent City that is sent up along the road that leads to Everest Base Camp. Accommodation here is in nomad-style tents. Tents sleep up to seven people with basic mattresses and bedding provided but you recommend using a sleep sheet and preparing some warm clothes as it can get quite cool in the evenings. There are basic pit toilets nearby. For heating there is a yak dung stove in the central open area of each tent. At such close proximity to the tallest mountains in the world the surroundings more than make up for the basic sleeping conditions.
In colder months when the Tent City is not operational you stay in the monastery guesthouse or in a nearby town. Rooms here are quad-share with very simple, shared facilities.
- Everest NP - Rongphu Monastery
- Everest NP - Base Camp visit
Permanent tented camp (1 nt)
For early risers there may be another chance to visit Everest Base camp this morning depending on group departure time.
Today you head for the final stop in Tibet - the town of Zhangmu on the border between China and Nepal. You see the landscape change quite abruptly, from barren plateau to green valleys. As the altitude drops to around 2250m so the humidity increases. Depending on the recent rainfall you might even see some amazing waterfalls cascading down the gorges. In the summer, driving time may be longer as with the road often submerged in clouds and fog you may need to take it extra slow. Landslides are also common in this part of Tibet which is why you leave a whole day to get to Zhangmu and stay the night there so that delays do not disrupt our schedule in Nepal.
Zhangmu has the restless feel typical of border towns with a congested city centre, plenty of shops and traders about and many restaurants.
Hotel (1 nt)
Say goodbye to your Tibetan guide and driver at the Chinese border and go through the immigration procedures. As immigration is often closed in the middle of the day you cross once it opens at 9.30am in order to maximize the short stay in Dhulikhel, the first destination in Nepal.
You get a lift across 8 km of no man's land and then walk across the Friendship Bridge to the Nepali border town of Kodari. After going through Nepalese immigration you meet our transfer and drive the mountain passes to Dhulikel with a stop for lunch on the way (approx 3-4hours).
Arriving in Dhulikhel, you have a chance to walk around the village streets, enjoy the beautiful lush surroundings and the immense views from your guesthouse perched high on the hillside.
- Dhulikel - Guided village walk
Hotel (1 nt)
Drive to Kathmandu
Continue on to Kathmandu by bus.
Kathmandu is a mixture of ancient architecture and modern development and, with its rich artistic and cultural heritage; it remains the legendary destination it has been for decades. Crowded markets and bazaars are the centre of Nepali life and the narrow streets are home to holy men, monks, bicycles, incense, goats and sacred cows.
As there's not much free time in Kathmandu on this trip you highly recommend you stay a few extra days to explore. Some great ways to spend your time here include:
Check out Durbar Square, the vast plaza opposite the old Royal Palaces chock full of Newari architecture.
See the ancient Swayambhunath Stupa (known to tourists as the Monkey Temple) - Kathmandu's most important Buddhist shrine. The sleepy, all-seeing Buddha eyes that stare out from the top have become the quintessential symbol of Nepal.
Join the pilgrims at Bodhnath Stupa - the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. It's the centre of Tibetan culture in Kathmandu and rich in Buddhist symbolism.
Head to Pashupatinath - a Hindu temple on the banks of the Bagmati River in Deopatan, a village 3 km north-west of Kathmandu. It's dedicated to a manifestation of Shiva called Pashupati (Lord of Animals).
Hotel (1 nt)
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. Please check for checkout times and luggage storage possibilities.
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My dream was to stand on Mount Everest Base Camp. On day 11 my dream came true. What an emotional day.The whole trip was inspiratonal. I can not foget the kindness of the Nepalese and Tibetan people.