Travelling in Tibet is one of the most sought after travel destinations of the world. Either for pilgrimage, spiritual or for the sake of great scenery, Tibet has always allured tourists from around the globe. The Tibet Autonomous Region lies in the southwest of China and in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The region covers an area of around 1.22 million km2, which accounts for 12.8% of the total area of China. The best way to understand and visit Tibet is by taking a tour from Lhasa, ending in Kathmandu. Long regarded as a land of mystery and magic, harsh yet exquisitely beautiful, Tibet is without question a world apart.
Itinerary in brief
Day 1: The flight to Lhasa from Kathmandu is spectacular. From Gongkar airport it is about 90 minutes drive to Lhasa, first along the Yarlung Tsangpo – the largest canyon in the world with a total depth of 5,382m and then into the Kyi Chu Valley. Lhasa is connected to other parts of China by flights from Chengdu. The famous Qinghai Railway line connects Lhasa to many other parts of China, specially the first town Golmud. Every day, there is a train leaving for Lhasa from Beijing and Xian and on specified days of the week from Chengdu.
Day 2 – 4: With a relaxed pace to allow for the effects of altitude, explore the fantastic city on the Roof of the World. The spiritual heart of Tibet is the Jokhang Temple and every morning, it is full of life as pilgrims bring offerings of butter and barley flour. The Jokhang Temple is a 1300 year old, golden roofed building at the center of the Barkhor Market. The most sacred and active of Tibetan temples, it was founded by Bhrikuti, King Songtsen Gampo’s Nepalese bride, on a site chosen by his other wife; a Tang dynasty Chinese princess, Wenchang. He Barkhor is the holiest of Lhasa’s Koras (devotional circumambulation circuits) and its most fascinating market includes shops, stalls, teahouses and cafes. The streets are filled with monks, pilgrims, street performers and hawkers. The atmosphere is an intoxicating blend of the sacred, medieval, commercial and exotic
The Potala Palace towers over Lhasa and is an enduring landmark of Tibet. Little remains of the original structure built by Songtsen Gampo other than its foundations. After Lhasa was reinstated as the capital of Tibet in the 17th century, the Great 5th Dalai Lama began construction of the White Palace (built 1645 – 53) employing 7,000 workers and 1500 artisans. Norbulinkha is a 40 hectare park to the west of Lhasa town and was built as a summer residence for the Dalai Lamas in the 18th century. The site was selected on account of its medicinal spring.
Day 5: Gyantse (3,950m) is 254km from Lhasa. The drive is long, yet scenic across the Khamba La, Kora La (passes), along the shores of Lake Yamdrok Tso. Once an important trading town, Gyantse retains the feel of old Tibet.
Day 6: In the morning, visit Gyantse’s monastery, Pelkor Chode. The main temple of Pelkor Chode, the Tsuklakhang was built 1418 – 1425 by the 2nd prince of Gyantse. It was an eclectic academy with 16 dralsang (colleges) belonging variously to Sakya, Butonpa, Geluk and Kagyu schools. All the dralsang buildings have been destroyed, however the main assembly hall was preserved along with its remarkable 15th images and murals. The top chamber is decorated with fantastic mandalas in Sakya tradition. Also, visit Kumbum within the same complex. There may be also some time to visit the dzong (fort) that towers above the town. In the afternoon, we make a short 2 – 3 hour drive to Shigatse.
Day 7: In Shigatse, we visit Tashilumpo which is the seat of the Panchen Lama, second only in importance to the Dalai Lama. Panchen means a great scholar and was traditionally bestowed on the abbots of Tashilumpo. Its numerous halls contain a 21.6m wooden statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha and elaborate, jewel encrusted reliquary chorten. After lunch drive via Sakya to Lhatse. Sakya was the seat of political power in central Tibet from the 10th to mid 14th century. The fortified monastery is till head of one of the most important schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Day 8: Turn off the Friendship Highway for a stunning drive through Qomolangma National Park to reach the tiny Ronghphu Gompa at 5,000m. The view from here is utterly spectacular!
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