We call this the Highest tour in the world, 11 days culture and wilderness on the Tibetan Plateau.
With an average altitude in excess of 3500m, Tibet can truly be described as the roof of the world. Lying to the north of the great Himalayan range which separates it from its neighbours India, Nepal and Bhutan, much of the country is high-altitude desert. With its spectacular mountain scenery and rich Buddhist culture, Tibet is a remarkable place to visit.
On this trip, we will follow the Friendship Highway through some of the most amazing landscape on Earth. We'll pass small Tibetan settlements, nomadic herdsmen wandering across the wide arid plains and awe-inspiring mountain peaks. Equally as fascinating is the wealth of cultural interest and we will have plenty of opportunity to explore this side of Tibet, both in Lhasa and the other towns we pass through on our journey to Kathmandu.
We spend 3 nights in Lhasa, staying right in the centre of the old city. This will allow both plenty of time for acclimatisation and easy access to the city's main attractions - the Potala Palace and the Jokhang Temple. Leaving Lhasa in our Toyota Landcruiser 4 wheel drive, we'll travel through this amazing country, staying in the best traditional hotels Tibet has to offer. In the towns of Gyantse and Shigatse we explore further monasteries and fully immerse ourselves in the Buddhist culture.
Without doubt, a highlight of this trip is the visit to Everest Base Camp,. This adventure tour, the highest tour in the world, is an incredible journey to Everest Base camp and the base of the Everest North Face via the Rongbuk Valley. Nowhere else on this planet can you tour to such a high elevation without any problem.
Day 01: Arrive Kathmandu. Transfer to Hotel.
Day 02: Explore Kathmandu Valley
Day 03: Kathmandu [1400m] - Lhasa [3660m]
Morning transfer to the airport for the hour-long flight to Tibet. This spectacular flight, on a China Southwest Airlines Boeing 757, takes us right across the main Himalayan range and provides us with magnificent mountain views. After landing at Gonggar Airport and meeting our Tibetan guide, it is a further 2-hour drive by Landcruiser jeep to Lhasa where we will check in to the Hotel Dhood Gu or Dhood Gu. It's advisable to rest and take it easy for the remainder of the day due to Lhasa's altitude.
Day 04: In Lhasa
Today will be spent visiting several of Lhasa's many monasteries in the company of a guide and interpreter. One of these is 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, as well as 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 that is the central market of Lhasa.
Day 05: In Lhasa
This morning we will visit the Potala Palace, which dominates the city of Lhasa. A spectacular building, 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. A visit to the Drepung Monastery this afternoon will complete a truly awe- inspiring day. 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 06: In Lhasa
A final day in Lhasa for acclimatisation. This is a 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 circumnambulate the Jokhang, stopping regularly to peruse the merchandise at the stalls lining the route.
There is also the option of an additional tour to places such as the Tibetan Medical Centre, Ganden Monastery and Tsurphu Monastery, but this will incur extra costs.
Day 07: Drive Lhasa - Gyantse [3950m] 216 km
Today we start our overland journey towards Kathmandu. Travelling by jeep along the Friendship Highway we cross the Khamba La [4794m] from which there is stunning views across the waters of Yamdrok-tso Lake to the snowy summit of Nazin Kang Sa [7252m]. We continue westwards over another high pass the Karo La [5045m] where we are treated to the spectacular sight of a huge glacier tumbling down to within a few hundred metres of the road. After passing through beautiful valleys and colourful Tibetan villages we arrive in the town of Gyantse. Our overnight accommodation is at the Gyantse Hotel.
Day 08: Drive Gyantse [3950m] - Shigatse [3900m] 90km
Before leaving Gyantse we have time this morning to visit the Gyantse Dzong and Gyantse Kumbum. The Dzong is a fort dating from the 14th century from which there are amazing views of both Gyantse itself and the surrounding Nyang Chu Valley. The Kumbum is a large gold-domed stupa and its many small chapels house an impressive array of Tibetan Buddhist murals.
We then continue on to Shigatse, a short drive of only 90kms, arriving in time for lunch. Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet and after exploring the local market we will make a detailed visit to the Tashilhunpo Monastery. This monastery is one of the largest functioning monasteries in Tibet and there is much to explore within its high surrounding walls. Overnight at either Shigatse Hotel or Woutse Hotel.
Day 09: Shigatse [3900m] - Shegar/New Tingri [4050m] 244km
Today we continue along the Friendship Highway, marvelling once more at the barren yet spectacular landscape of Tibet. Beyond the small town of Lhatse we cross the highest pass on our journey, the Gyamtso La [5220m]. From here we descend to the plains, passing lonely monasteries and the camps of nomadic herders, en route to Shegar and our overnight accommodation at Hotel Quomolongma.
Day 10: Drive Shegar [4050m] - Rongbuk [5000m] 68 km
Shortly after leaving Shegar, we turn off the Friendship Highway and head south over the Pang La [5150m] towards the main Himalayan range. The view from the top is incredible with uninterrupted views stretching from Makalu to Shishapangma. Below the pass, Everest initially is hidden from view, but as we turn the corner into the Rongbuk Valley it reappears, more impressive than ever. We stay overnight at the Gompa Guest House.
Day 11: Rongbuk to Everest BC and Back to Rongbuk
This is a good place to read a book: just how often do ysou get a chance to sit and read at 5000m and with the stunning view of Everest's north face.
Day 12: Drive Rongbuk [500m] - Nyalam 215 km
Today we rejoin the Friendship Highway and drive to Tingri. Upon leaving Tingri, we cross another two high passes, the Lalung La [5124m] and the Shung La [5200m]. Once more we are rewarded with magnificent views of the surrounding peaks of Shishapangma, Cho Oyu, Menlungtse and Gauri Shankar. Now we begin our descent from the Tibetan Plateau to Nyalam just 30 km before the Nepalese border. With dramatic suddenness, everything appears incredibly lush and green.
Day 13: Drive Nyalam - Kathmandu [ 1400m] 153km
From Nyalam we drive the last 30 kilometres to the Friendship Bridge, which spans the Bhote Koshi River and marks the Chinese - Nepalese border. We say goodbye to our Tibetan guide and driver and walk to Nepalese Immigration Control in Kodari where our Nepalese staff will meet us. After completing the re-entry formalities we continue the drive to Kathmandu, which, depending on road and weather conditions, should take about 5 hours.
In the monsoon season, be prepared to have to walk stretches of this road because of landslips from higher up.
Day 14: Final Departure from Nepal.