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Humla (Limi Valley) Saga Dawa & Kailash Trek

Our 2011 Saga Dawa departure, dates to come

Our once-in-a-lifetime journey to Kailash begins in fabled Humla, the far west of Nepal, with an eleven-day trek to the Tibetan border through the remote Limi Valley, where the inhabitants of the upper reaches are Bhotias, of Tibetan descent. This wild, remote trek takes us deep into a region of unspoiled Nepal where the diverse culture reflects the Silk Route trade of olden times; old men with weathered, Central Asian faces, sitting smoking a hookah, dark, desert women of Rajasthani descent adorn themselves in mirrors and silver coins, Bhotias, in their turquoise, coral and amber necklaces and Tibetan 'chubas' worship in their Tibetan Buddhist Gompas and animism still is visible in many forms. In this swath of the Trans-Himalayan plateau, the mountain scenery is spectacular; the Saipal and Nalakankad ranges dominates the horizons, wild-life abounds and the ancient trade routes from the Terai, over the Himalayas into Tibet, are still an important part of the hearty inhabitants' lives. Tibetan culture exists in its pure form, untainted by the Chinese occupation which has affected much of Tibet.

To start off our adventure we visit the sacred Saga Dawa festival, celebrating the enlightenment of the historical Buddha, at Raling Gompa in the Nyimba Valley. At Raling Gompa, we will be some of the few Westerns to have the privilege to experience this exotic once-yearly festival. We will have plenty of opportunity to photograph the colorful Tibetan Buddhist rituals and lama dancing during our two days in Raling and the Nyimba Valley.

The Kailash Kora, in the high plateaus of the Ngari region in western Tibet, is one of the most spectacular short treks in the Himalaya, crossing the Dolma La (5,600 m) to erase the sins of a lifetime. Camping beneath the north face of Kailash, we complete the trek with a myriad of Tibetan pilgrims, coming from as far away as eastern Tibet to acquire merit for humanity. After the kora, we continue west past the sacred Manasarovar Lake to the third most important pilgrimage site for Tibetan Buddhists, Tirthapuri Gompa.

We have a day to explore the ancient Zhangzhung Kingdom and Gurugyem Gompa, in the 'Garuda Valley' along the Sutlej River, where the crumbling troglodyte capital of Kyunglung is all that remains of a Bon-po Kingdom that ruled over most of Tibet, Ladakh and the neighboring regions for over a millennium in the pre-Christian era.

With plenty of trekking, a bit of exploring, the Saga Dawa festival and some good karma under our belts, we embark on an epic cross-Tibet jeep expedition, stopping at Shigatse and the resplendent Tashilungpo Gompa, finally arriving at the exotic capital of Lhasa, where we have three full days to absorb the exoticism of the Tibetan quarter with its colorful pilgrims and Barkhor square, and to explore this history-laden city and its ancient gompas.

Don’t miss this Tibetan journey deep into the 'Land of the Snows'!

Outline Itinerary

Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu

2 - Kathmandu

3 - Fly Nepalgunj

4 - Fly Simikot

5 - Trek Bargaon

6 - Trek Raling

7 - Saga Dawa Festival (Raling)

8 - Trek Burungtse

9 - Trek Kermi

10 - Trek Tsongsa Khola

11 - Trek Talung (over Nyalu La)

12 - Trek Chekjur (Jang Village)

13 - Chekjur

14 - Trek Halji Village

15 - Trek Tilchu

16 - Trek Mane Peme

17 - Trek Sher. Drive Taklakot (Purang)

18 - Drive Tarboche

Kailash Kora

19 - Trek Dira Puk

20 - Trek (over Drolma La) Meadow Camp

21 - Trek Darchen. Drive Tirthapuri Gompa

Kailash Kora End

22 - Kyunglung (Zhangzhung Kingdom)

23 - Drive Parayang

24 - Drive Saga

25 - Drive Shigatse

26 - Drive Lhasa

27,28, 29 - Lhasa

30- Fly Lhasa - Kathmandu

Day 31 - Depart

Highlights

Spectacular Limi Humla trek in west Nepal

Saga Dawa at Raling, Nyimba Valley

Kailash Kora & Ngari, western Tibet

Lake Manasarovar & gompas

Tirthapuri Gompa

Kyunglung, capital of ancient Zhangzhung Kingdom

Jeep safari across Tibet

The Himalalayan range from the north

Lhasa, the Potala Palace & Jokhang Temple

Sightseeing in the Lhasa Valley

Shigatse & Tashilungpo Gompa

Exotic Kathmandu

20111 Dates

to come, 31 days

Cost - US$4880

Max 12 bookings

$200 Single supplement for Tibet

Leader

Kim Bannister

Arrival Hotel

Kathmandu Guest House

Thamel, Kathmandu

Tel: +(977 1) 470 0632, 470 0800

Contact: Mr Sohan Shrestha, Guest Manager

Local Office Contact

Khumbu Adventure Treks

Lhakpa Dorji mobile: 98412 35461

Lhakpa Doma mobile: 98415 10833

Our Service Includes

Kathmandu Guest House

Airport transfers

Domestic & international flights as needed, local departure tax

Group transportation by private vehicle

Entrance fees & permits as needed

*Kamzang-Style expedition trekking:

Delicious, gourmet meals, fresh produce, French-press coffee & herbal teas, horse, yak or local portering, Western & Sherpa guides, local guides when needed, experienced team, medical kit, Oxygen bag when needed, roomy 4-season Big Agnes tents, no sharing of tents (except for couples) & our famous 'Tibetan Festival Dining Tent' with all the amenities (rugs/kilims, camp chairs, library, blankets, extras). And flexibility!

Our Service Excludes

Insurance (travel & medical), Nepal visa, meals in Kathmandu & other cities (while not on trek), international flights, equipment rental, alcohol and soft drinks, laundry, showers, tipping and other items of a personal nature

Tips & Extra Cash

Allow approx $250 for meals (while not on trek), drinks (on trek) and tips. We recommend $100 per trekker thrown into the tips pool for the crew.

Our Trekkers Say

'I went on to a Mt. Kailash/Tibet trek with Kim as the leader. She was an A1 leader, always considerate of slowpoke like me! Normally I am scared to even climb a 6ft ladder! But on this trek we went up to 17,500 feet! Sherpas on this trek became like my family, they even encouraged by holding my hand over really narrow portions of the trek. Fellow trekkies were equally helpful, it was so good that I gave a party for all when we returned to Kathmandu.'

Harshad P, Kailash Simikot 2005

'Kim, this trek was special. Different and better than any other I did before. Somehow the group became a 'band of brothers'. The spiritual content of the trip produce a calm warm friendship between all of us. That is unique in a trek. And you where the one that made all this good things happened. Thank you.'

Samuel G, Kailash Simikot

'It will take me a few weeks to fully absorb the experience we all shared, but I really feel that it was significant, wonderful, inspirational and much much more! And once again a BIG THANKS for all the organizing that made this trip possible and thanks to you for being you!'

Ivan B, Kailash Simikot

Humla, Saga Dawa & Mount Kailash

The flight out to Simikot from Nepalgunj is a dramatic transition from in the flat, lush and steamy Terai to the high, arid and mountainous regions of Nepal. Our Yeti Air twin-otter flies only meters above soaring snow peaks, which spread in all directions as far as the eye can see; it's an exciting flight!

The Nyimba Valley, in Humla, is one of the least touristed regions of Nepal comprised of just four Bhotia (the Nepali name for Tibetan) villages. The inhabitants practice Tibetan Buddhism of the old (Nyimgmpa) sect, mixed with ancient forms of animism. In Raling, we'll be part of an elite group of Westerners to take part in their isolated but very important Saga Dawa Festival, held once a year on the full moon of the fourth lunar month of the Tibetan calendar to celebrate the historical Buddha (Sakyamuni)'s enlightenment. At most monasteries in the Tibetan Buddhist realm, sutras are performed, incense burned, prayer flags hung, prayer-poles raised and 'cham dances' (lama dances) performed. This is one of the most sacred, colorful events of the Tibetan Buddhist world, so have plenty of film and your prayer beads ready!

Resources

Footprints Guide - 'Tibet'

Victor Chan - 'Pilgrim's Guide to Tibet'

Gary McCue - 'Trekking in Tibet'

Stephen Batchelor - 'The Tibet Guide - Central & Western Tibet'

Atsushi Kanamaru - 'Mapping the Tibetan World'

Steve Razzetti - 'Trekking & Climbing in Nepal'

Charles Allen - 'A Mountain in Tibet' & 'The Search for Shangri La'

Caroll Dunham & Thomas Kelley - 'Hidden Himalayas'

John Snelling - 'The Sacred Mountain'

Robert Thurman - 'Circling the Sacred Mountain'

Lama Anagarika Govinda- 'The Way of the White Clouds'

John Avedon - 'In Exile From the Land of the Snows'

Patrick French - 'Tibet, Tibet'

Alexandra David-Neel - 'Magic and Mystery in Tibet'

Sven Hedin - Many books

Geological video scan of the border Himalayan regions

Trekking into the equally remote Limi Valley of Humla, we cross high passes and visit timeless villages and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, with fantastic views of the Saipal range and the sacred Takh and Changla Himalayas. Humla was once part of the Karnali region of Nepal under the powerful, pro-Buddhist Malla Dynasty which ruled much of Nepal from the 11th century, but is now one of the poorest, least privileged and most remote regions of Nepal with limited access, only a few months per year. The region is part of the 'Trans Himalayan plateau', a region of snow-peaks alternating with thick vegetation, high alpine meadows, glacially-fed lakes, large rivers and undulating hills, with a wealth of flora and fauna. Snow leopards still exist in some numbers in these isolated mountains.

The population is equally diverse, being a mix of Tibetan Buddhist, Khasa and Rajasthani descent. The Khasa are an Indo-Aryan tribe believed to have come from Persia. There is a distinctly Central Asia feel to Humla, giving it an exoticism not found in many mountain regions of Nepal. The higher inhabitants of Humla are Tibetans (Bhotias) sub-divided into five sub-sects (Limi, Nyinba, Tsangba, Yultshoden and Trugchulung), all practicing a medieval form of polyandry. The Bhotias were originally pastoralists and traders, but have become agriculturalists over the past few centuries as political disputes close and re-draw age-old boundaries. The Khasas of southern Humla practice polygamy, and come from the tropical areas of the south. Living along side the native Khasa are Bahuns and Thakuris, descendents of desert tribes of Rajasthan, who fled to Humla during the Mogul invasions of the 14th century. They still maintaining many of their traditional customs, dress and language, and worship gods not even remembered today in Rajasthan. Today, the Thakuris are the dominant group in Humla having been the stronger group politically and militarily. They ruled Humla under the Kayla Confederacy until the Gorkhas conquered Humla and other regions in Western Tibet in the 18th century. There has been much interaction between the Bhotias of the north and the Khasas, Bauns and Thakuris of the south through the ancient trade routes, a practice that continues to this day.

In the far west of Tibet, in the province of Ngari and the land of the ‘drokpas’ or nomads of the high plateaus, sits the legendary Mount Kailash, or Kang Rimpoche (‘precious snow-peak’, as known by the Tibetans). Kailash, on 'the roof of the world', is the most sacred mountain in Asia, venerated by Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and followers of the ancient Bon religion. Tibetan and Hindu pilgrims have been making the 53km kora, or circuit, of Kailash for centuries. This circumambulation, clockwise for Buddhists and Hindus, and anti-clockwise followers of the ancient Bon religion, is said to erase the sins of a lifetime. To complete the Kailash pilgrimage one should bath in the sacred Lake Manasarovar, stunningly set on the Tibetan plateau bordered by the majestic Gurla Mandata. Mount Kailash itself is 6714m high, and with its four sheer walls, distinctive snow-capped peak, and valleys peppered with brightly-clad Tibetan pilgrims, is an awe-inspiring sight. From it flow four great rivers of Asia: the Karnali, the Indus, the Sutlej and the Brahmaputra, all of which drain the vast Tibetan Plateau.

Tirthapuri is the third most important pilgrimage site for Tibetan Buddhists, after sacred Lake Manasarovar, a magical site perched on a plateau above the Sutlej. Kyunglung is the ancient troglodyte capital of the powerful Kingdom of Zhangshung, set spectacularly on a hill surrounded by sculptural, fluted canyons along the Indus. This region is rarely visited by tourists and has no check-posts or entrance-guards, so a unique chance to explore the tunnels, caves and old habitations of this ghost city.

Both of these regions, Humla and Ngari, have been dubbed the 'real' Shangri-La ...

Detailed Itinerary

Note that the trekking itinerary and campsites may vary slightly depending on the trail conditions and the trekkers' acclimatization rate. Note also that festival dates can change unexpectedly sometimes.

Early Arrival

Providing you have sent us your arrival details, you will be met at the airport by a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House (look for their sign - they will be looking for you) and escorted to the guest house. Kim will book the extra nights for you, so your room will be ready.

Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu 1340m

You'll be met at the airport by a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House, so look out for a Kathmandu guest house sign when you leave the airport. They will bring you back to the Kathmandu Guest House, where your rooms are booked.

Kim will meet you at the guest house and introduce you to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu. Thamel is a myriad of banners, signs, music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels, shops of all imaginable varieties and eccentrically clad backpackers. In the afternoon we'll check your insurance details (please have a copy of your travel medical insurance policy with you), go over gear and later get to know each other over dinner and a beer at the New Orleans garden cafe ...

Day 2 - Kathmandu

Explore the Kathmandu valley with Kim. Options: Climb the many steps to Swayambhunath (the monkey temple), with its commanding views of Kathmandu (at 1420 m), its whitewashed stupas and its unique synthesis of Buddhism and Hinduism. The striking Buddha eyes of Boudhanath Stupa watch over a lively and colorful Tibetan community and attract pilgrims from all over the Himalayan Buddhist realm. In the midst of traditional gompas, and hung with long strings of multi-colored prayer flags, Boudhanath attracts Sherpas, Tibetans and tourists alike for daily circumambulations (koras) of the stupa. Durbar Square, one of the old capitals of the Kathmandu valley, is a synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist temples, stupas and statues, and is often the site of festivals, marriages and other ceremonies. Hindu Pashupatinath and its sacred temple complex on the banks of the holy Bagmati river. Here, monkeys run up and down the steps of the burning ghats, and trident-bearing saddhus draped in burnt-orange and saffron sit serenely meditating - when they’re not posing for photos-for-rupees.

We'll have time for a bit of gear shopping in Thamel for anyone who needs to do this, and in the evening will head out for wood-oven pizzas and a few glasses of wine at the Roadhouse Cafe.

Day 3 – Fly to Nepalgunj 150m

A spectacular afternoon flight takes us to Mahendra Airport in Nepalgunj, the largest city in the Terai of western Nepal and a jumping-off point for many flights and buses into western Nepal, set in the steamy Terai near the border of India. The drive to the hotel passes through this old village, a step back in time into the 'old' Nepal. We stay the night at an air-conditioned hotel, and have an early dinner as we'll have an early wake-up call the next morning.

*** Note that the trekking itinerary and campsites may vary slightly depending on the trail conditions, availability of campsites and the trekkers' acclimatization rate.

*** This next Limi Valley part of the trek is semi-exploratory, so we will have some flexibility in the day to day itinerary.

Day 4 – Fly to Simikot 2910m

We take another early morning flight 218km north to Simikot, the district headquarters of Humla, situated up on a ridge overlooking the Humla Karnali River. The flight is spectacular, cruising just over the tops of a mass of snow-covered peaks, and the landing equally exciting as we descend over cultivated, green fields surrounding the landing-strip on the jutting plateau. If the flight is on time, we arrive before lunch, and will meet out crew and head to our campsite where we will introduce you to our 'Kamzang Style' of trekking and get you set up in your Big Agnes tents.

Simikot is an atmospheric village, a mix of local Humla and Tibetan culture, and provides endlessly fascinating opportunity for exploring. You will feel the altitude, so take it a bit easy, and drink lots of water!

Day 5 - Trek to Bargaon

We set off on the trek towards the border of Tibet! We are heading along the remote eastern trail towards Raling in the Nyimba Valley, where we will experience one of the most remote Saga Dawa festivals in the Tibetan Buddhist world. The Nyimba Valley is known for their unique practice of mixing Tibetan Buddhism, which shapes its philosophies and values, with an old form of shamanism, having a 'dhami' from each village who acts as an intermediary with the spirit world. Our first campsite is at Bargaon, along the eastern trail from Simikot leading to Raling.

Day 6 - Trek to Raling

After fresh-brewed coffee and a good breakfast, we set off towards the remote, scenic village of Raling, the site of the Saga Dawa festival, arriving early enough to secure a good campsite and get ready for the following day's festivities.

Day 7 – Saga Dawa

Today will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a chance to witness the colorful Lama dances and rituals of the Saga Dawa festival at Raling Gompa, where hundreds of pilgrims dressed in their finest, traditional clothes will be in attendance to celebrate Buddha's birthday, the most important Tibetan Buddhist holiday of the year. Have plenty of batteries for your camera as it will be a full day of photography!

Day 8 – Trek to Burungtse 2800m

After the activities of the previous day, we'll leave Raling and take a shortcut back to the main Limi Valley trail, which heads north towards the border of Nepal and Tibet at Sher. We trek along ancient trails where their life-line - the cultivated fields - have been precariously hewn out of the hillsides. Campsite is at Burungtse after a day of many steep ascents and descents, so it will be a welcome sight, and hot chai will be brewing ...

Day 9 – Trek to Kermi 2780m

Our lovely trail follows the meandering Karnali river as we pass shepherds herding their sheep and goats in a timeless manner, with their locally spun and woven sheep-bags loads with goods to trade at the border of Tibet. Another old tradition is the polyandry which is practiced in the valley, with which we might come into contact; this tradition helps to keep land in the family, and is an effective method of family planning as one wife shares many brothers. There are hot-springs near our campsite at Kermi, which we will reach early in the afternoon, so enjoy!

Day 10 – Trek to Tsongsa Khola

After a delicious breakfast, we follow the lovely Sale Khola (khola and kosi mean river in Nepali) through a wonderful, green valley, passing through pine forests and passing more donkeys and locals en route. It's a beautiful day of trekking, through meadows blanketed with Spring flowers, and by colorful rhododendron forests as we head towards the base camp for the Nyalu La which we cross tomorrow. The region turns rocky and more arid as we approach the pass and our campsite at Tsongsa Khola, near some local kharkas, or seasonal herding settlements.

Day 11 – Trek to Talung (over Nyalu La)

Pass day, so have a good breakfast for the gradual ascent up the Nyalu La pass, at about 5000 meters, where we might have a view of the sacred Mount Kailash and the snowy bulk of Gurla Mandata in the distance. We'll have a long descent to our campsite far down the valley below, at Talung.

Day 12 – Trek to Chekjur (Jang Village)

Another spectacular trekking day, with views of old trade routes into Tibet as we traverse this magical landscape. Our destination is Chekjur, or Jang Village, where there are hot springs nearby to wash off the grunge of the past few days of trekking. We'll have a rest and exploration day tomorrow, so a chance to really settle into our tents and the campsite for two days.

Jamie says of the villages in the Limi Valley:'The villages of Limi: Til, Halji and Jang were one of the highlights, with their surprisingly neat stone wall houses, they really are proudly independent and have really strong communities, but are absolutely medieval in looks. The houses are dense, stacked on top of each other almost, alleys under some houses. And Halji's gompa - wow! I have been told it is the oldest in Nepal and can quite believe it. It is in need of some work though. Structurally it seems ok on the outside, but tests have shown that the supports of the oldest parts are rotten.'

Day 13 – Chekjur Rest Day

Sleep late as we have a rest day today, and after breakfast feel free to get out and do some exploring of the traditional village and surrounding area, again having a chance to jump into the hot springs. A laundry line will be up for dirty clothes, and we'll have a hot lunch in the dining tent.

Day 14 – Trek to Halji 3600m

It's not a long walk to our next destination, Halji village, so we'll take our time and enjoy the scenery before arriving at our lovely, green campsite. There is an important Tibetan Buddhist gompa, reputed to be one of the oldest in all of Nepal, in the village, and we will have time for a visit after lunch.

Day 15 – Trek to Tilchu 4100m

Another short-ish day of trekking as we head along the well-used trail, climbing a bit, towards Tilchu, where we set up camp for the night. Tilchu is a wonderful and scenically located village high above the Humla Karnali, and we'll have plenty of time for exploring in the afternoon, possibly getting inside one of the houses for a cup of salt-butter tea. There is also a gompa in this village, so lots to do to keep us busy.

Day 16 – Trek to Mane Peme 3800m

The trail becomes more dramatic as we climb high on narrow, cliff-side trails high above the river canyon below us. The views are tremendous and vast, and we'll enjoy this great day of trekking. Our destination for the day is Mane Peme, where we camp near ancient mane stones sending out their Buddhist message into the mountains.

Day 17 - Trek Sher. Drive Taklakot (Purang) 3930m

Finally, heading to Tibet, and one last pass! From the crest, we’ll be treated to wonderful and extensive views of the Tibetan plateau, the Humla Karnali and Sher far below us. Descending after the pass to Ranipauwa, we slip and slide down loose rock, and then contour around a canyon back down to the Humla Karnali, at 3720m, to Hilsa. Just across the suspension bridge is a stone pillar that marks the Nepal – Tibet border. After the informal border crossing at Sher, we meet our Tibetan guide and Landcruisers for the one and a half hour drive to Taklakot, where the Humli people of Humla come to barter or sell their rice and wood for cash and salt. The road follows the Humla Karnali past Moto Gompa, an important 13th century Sakya gompa at Khojarnath, over a 4000 meter pass and through some small Tibetan villages before finally reaching Taklakot. Taklakot is called Purang by the Chinese, and is a large trading center for the Humli and the Tibetans.

Day 18 – Drive to Darchen 4560m (Tarboche)

We have a beautiful hundred kilometer drive to Darchen, during which, weather permitting, we will have our first view of Mount Kailash just past the Gurla La. The road passed through the isthmus between the holy Rakshas Tal and Manasarovar and crosses the Barka plain to Darchen, where we bed down for the night at a government guest house. We’ll have the afternoon to do some shopping at the Tibetan bazaars, pack for the kora, and perhaps take a short acclimatization walk up the ridge below Kailash to some prayer-flag festooned ridges.

Tarboche is marked by a tall flagpole adorned with thousands of fluttering, multi-colored prayer flags and kata scarves strung out in radiating lines from the pole. The sacred prayer-pole will be ritually raised as it is every year, and the direction the pole tilts, if it tilts at all, will foretell the future of Tibet for the coming year. It is a very significant ceremony, and monks, lamas and Rimpoches will preside over the rituals. During the festival, there is plenty of shopping as a good Tibetan never misses an opportunity to make a sale, and products from all over Tibet are available. And after the ceremony, devout Tibetans will gather for a piece of wooden prayer-pole, a 'sacred relic'. This is a day for photos, so make sure you are loaded down with extra rolls of film!

To the west of the Tarboche is the Chorten Kangnyi, and auspicious but somewhat repulsively-decorated archway. Perched above Tarboche is the Sky Burial Site of 84 Mahasiddhas, a spot revered for once having been the burial site for lamas, and containing numerous sacred springs, cairns, and power places. Pilgrims lie down on a flat rock strewn with old clothes, bones, tsampa bowls and personal belongings and visualize their death.

We set up our first camp either near the flagpole, or just across the bridge from Chuku Gompa, and have the afternoon to wander up the valley to Chuku Gompa, perched above the valley at 4780m, where pilgrims will be doing koras and rubbing parts of their body against worn areas of rock, shiny with butter, to start the kora off in an auspicious manner. Inside is a revered marble statue called Chuku Opame and a silver-inlaid conch shell with silver wings which was said to have flown here from afar, and a ‘trulku’, or reincarnated lama, resides in a cozy (but dung-smoke filled) room in the gompa. A blessing by the local lama is an extremely good start for the kora.

Day 19 - Trek to Dira-Puk 5160m

After a leisurely breakfast, we meet our team of yaks and the local ‘drokpa’ yak drivers who will escort us around the kora, yak bells ringing. From Tarboche and Chuku Gompa, we follow the Lha Chu river through a serene, meadow-lined valley, hopping over small streams, the west face of Mount Kailash towering above us. The river enters a narrow canyon with high, steep cliffs and spectacular waterfalls. Midway along the trek at the second prostration point the secret entranceway to the Inner Kora is visible to the right. One must complete 13 koras to enter inside. Continuing up the valley, the north face of Kailash comes into view just as we reach the 13th century monastery at Dira-puk. There are two routes to the camp from the convergence of the valleys, and we have the choice of crossing a small moss bridge and following a small path to the gompa, which has awesome views of the north face of Kailash, or continuing on along the main trail. We camp opposite the river from the gompa, immediately below the massive north face of Kailash. A sunset walk up to the ridge overlooking the north face is a must!

Day 20 – Trek to Mani Camp 4650m (over the Drolma La)

We now leave the Lha Chu Valley just as the sunrise turns the snow peaks gold and pink, and enter the Drolma Chu Valley, heading up towards the 5,630 meter Drolma La. Although the altitude makes the trekking difficult, the masses of pilgrims performing their acts of devotion along the way are continuously intriguing. Those extremely devout pilgrims prostrate themselves the entire way around Kailash, kneeling down and extending their bodies and hands in front of them in prayer (and marking the beginning of the next prostration). The trail is lined with sacred sites: butter, coin & flag-covered rocks, rocks with footprints of saints, rocks to climb over, under or through, hillsides of discarded clothes as offerings and other significant sites. It's a tough climb to the prayer-flag festooned summit, but it’s all worth if from the top as juniper incense burns and thousands of colorful prayer flags send prayers out into the surrounding valleys. We take the lead from the many pilgrims up top and stop for lunch before the descent to the east valley. Below us lies the Lake of Compassion, Thukpe Dzingbu, one of the highest lakes in the world. We will camp in the valley below the pass at the eastern face of Mount Kailash at a camp called Mani camp.

Day 21 – Trek to Darchen. Drive Tirthapuri Gompa 4540m

Another couple of hours of bright early morning trekking along a boulder-filled river brings us to Zutul-puk Gompa (4790m), with Milarepa’s meditation cave and imprints of his hand, food and head prints. A monk with a Polaroid takes photos of the Tibetan pilgrims in all their finery for 5 RMB! Afterwards, it’s an easy walk along some impressive gorges and around many mani stones and mani walls back to the Barka plains and dusty Darchen where our jeeps await us. The kora is finished - we’ve erased our sins, endured extremely cold nights and mornings, crossed one of the highest passes in the world, met countless fellow pilgrims, sent prayers of peace out to the world. Congratulations!

Good karma acquired all around, we pack up camp and drive along the beautiful bluffs, past Lake Manasarovar to the third most important site on our pilgrimage, the ancient Tirthapuri Gompa, spectacularly situated along the Sutej River. This gompa is revered as one of the sacred sites of Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava) and his consort Yeshe Tsogyel, who magically transported themselves through much of the Tibetan Buddhist world in the 8th century. The gompa acquired its name in the 11th century from the great Indian Buddhist scholar, Atisha. It is affiliated with Hemis Gompa in Ladakh, and was destroyed during Cultural Revolution, and subsequently rebuilt about 30 years ago. The footprints of Guru Rimpoche and Yeshe Tsogyel are displayed on a slab of granite within the dimly-lit gompa. Tiny, opaque calcium balls, believed to have powerful medicinal value, can be found along the plateau, and jet-black ravens and rainbows adorn this magical spot. There is a hot-springs 'complex' where you can wash off the grime of Tibet for a small fee just minutes from our campsite under the gompa complex.

Take an hour at sunset to walk the kora of Tirthapuri if you have energy left from the day ...

22 - Drive to Kyunglung

Leaving Tirthapuri, we head west to the spectacularly-set Bon-po Gurugyam Gompa, under fluted canyon walls next to the Sutlej river. Built into the cliffs, an ancient cave complex with tunnels, balconies, prayer flags and ancient artifacts mark the spot that Guru Rimpoche and the Bon-po masters meditated over a millennium ago, now used by the resident Rimpoche Lama. This is one of the most important Bongo monasteries in far west Tibet, the present gompa re-built after the Cultural Revolution, and a beautiful spot.

Continuing east, the magnificent Sutlej River is our guide as we follow the canyons to Kyunglung village and then the ruins of old Kyunglung, the ancient capital of the Zhangzhung Kingdom, which ruled over most of Tibet and neighboring Ladakh from the pre-Christian era onwards, a fabled troglodyte community. Set amidst spectacular red-sandstone canyons, these are relatively untouched ruins of one of Tibet's earliest cities, little visited by tourist of any nationality. The name means 'Garuda Valley', and the dzong on top is called Ngulkhar, which translates as 'Silver Castle of the Kings'; there is much mythology associated with the region, and the population was said to be between two and three thousand. Old paths lead up to crumbling cave-home with wooden doors, tunnels, old stone walls and mani walls. It's a wonderful day of exploring!

To get there, we cross the Sutlej near a large complex of hot springs and limestone deposits, and hike for about 20 minutes up to the ancient city.

Day 23 - Drive to Parayang 4750m

It's a beautiful drive through wild country from Lake Manasarovar to Parayang. We cross wide plains, shallow rivers and pass by a few local truck stops with makeshift tea houses. Passing the stunning Mayum-tso lake, we climb to the Mayum La, where we are rewarded by a magnificent mountain panorama. The scenery along this section is some of the most beautiful of the entire journey, and a distant storm drifting in back of Tibetans, horses and sheep is a surreal sight. The kids will be out at the camp sight to welcome us to our sand dunes camp site at Parayang ... as will the village dogs! This is a wonderful spot to watch sunset and roll down the soft, dun-colored sand with the village kids.

Day 24 - Drive to Saga 4600m

From Parayang, we drive another 255 km east, shouting 'Ki ki so so, Lha gyalo' (roughly translated 'May the gods be victorious!') as we crest the passes marked with prayer flags and cairns. The panoramas are some of the most beautiful on our journey, with the high mountains bordering Nepal on our right, and pebbly streams, small lakes, small Tibetan villages and soft hills surrounding us. We traverse this amazing Tibetan landscape, crossing more high passes, and the landscape gently transforms to a plateau of high-altitude desert sand dunes. There’s time to climb up to the wind-sculpted ridges and gaze over a bordering lake below extensive ripples of peaks. We camp near Saga, though time permitting, we might make it a bit further along towards Lhasa.

Day 25 - Drive to Shigatse 3900m

A long, wonderful day of jeeping through the high plains of Tibet, soft, beautiful and photogenic. Just before arriving in the dusty truck stop of Lhatse, we cross the Brahmaputra River, which originates from Kailash. From here, the roads are quite good, and usually paved, and our 157 km drive to Shigatse, past lovely Tibetan villages where the spring planting will be in full force, is a scenic one. Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet, with perhaps the best preserved but controversial monastery, the Tashilhunpo gompa. This Gelugpa gompa, home to the Panchen Lama, is one of the largest functioning monasteries in Tibet and there is much to explore within its surrounding walls. We will take a few hours for a visit in the late afternoon or early morning before heading to Lhasa. We stay at a nice hotel in Shigatse, and head out for a good dinner and a few cold beers in the evening.

Day 26 - Drive to Lhasa 3650m

Another day of smooth driving through the wonderful landscapes of central Tibet and towards our final destination of Lhasa, one of Kim’s favorite cities in Asia, despite the Chinese presence there. We stay in the heart of old Lhasa at the beautiful, Tibetan-styled Dhood Gu Hotel near the Jokhang Temple and Barkhor square (or at a Tibetan hotel of a similar standard), where the character of the city is still very Tibetan. After a quick look at the Barkhor Square, most atmospheric at dusk (and early morning) when all the pilgrims are doing their koras of the square and Jokhang Temple, we will walk across the square to the infamous Dunya Cafe for dinner and a few much-deserved beers after sunset ...

Days 27,28,29 - Lhasa

Over the following three days we visit most of the most important sites in and around Lhasa with our Tibetan guide. Late afternoons will be free for you to discover the endlessly fascinating bazaars, walk koras around the Jokhang with the myriad other pilgrims, or sit in the Barkhor square, immersing yourself in the exoticism of Lhasa. There is also the option of additional tours to places such as the Tibetan Medical Centre, Ganden Monastery or Tsurphu Monastery at a slight extra cost, although after our last few weeks, a bit of rest in Lhasa is usually the top choice.

The Jokhang is the holiest temple in Tibet and shelters the sacred Jowo Sakyamuni statue. Shuffle among the pilgrims, butter lamps permeating the air, and find gruesome Gods in hidden annexes. There is always a procession of devout Tibetans through the complex. After walking the holy inner circle, complete a circuit of the Barkhor, the market surrounding the Jokhang, for good luck. It is the best market to shop for all things Tibetan, and just about anything else you ever wanted as well. Kim has lots of practice, and is happy to assist with any buying ... no commission attached.

Drepung and Sera Monasteries – Sera is one of the best preserved monasteries in Tibet, renown for its lively debating sessions in the courtyard each afternoon. Within its whitewashed walls and golden roofs, several hundred monks live and study. Drepung was founded in the 14th century and was once the largest gompa in the world with a population of around 10,000 monks. These days the figure has been reduced to several hundred, but there is still much of interest to see here, as the structure escaped relatively unscathed during the Cultural Revolution.

Norbulingka – Norbulinka is the summer palace of the Dalai Lama, set in a quiet and relaxing garden which used to house the Dalai Lama’s pets. One particularly interesting mural inside depicts the history of Tibet and all the Dalai Lamas.

Potala Palace - The magnificent white, black, red and gold Potala Palace dominates the skyline of Lhasa. It was the winter quarters of the Dalai Lama, housing jewel-encrusted gold and silver stupas of previous Dalai Lamas, numerous grand state rooms 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.

Day 30 – Fly to Kathmandu

It’s a two-hour drive to the Gonggar Airport from Lhasa. The spectacular flight takes us right across the main Himalayan range and provides us with magnificent mountain views of most of the highest peaks in the world if the weather is nice. We have a final dinner together, reminiscing over wood-oven pizzas at the Roadhouse Cafe. Did we really just return from the fabled Kang Rimpoche in far-western Tibet?

Day 31 - Depart

Farewell! We take you to the airport for your flight home. We hope you had a wonderful trip into the heart of Tibet on the roof of the world; the journey of a lifetime!

Extra Days in Kathmandu

*** If you wish to stay longer, we can offer plenty of suggestions: mountain biking or rafting in the Kathmandu valley, an Everest sightseeing flight, a trip out to Bhaktapur or Patan, Kathmandu Valley's other historic capital cities, a night at the Fort Hotel in Nagarkot for a bit of luxury and expansive sunset and sunrise mountain panoramas or a multi-day trip out to Chitwan or Bardia National Parks. Kim can help to arrange any of these excursions for you.

Tashi Delek & Namaste; We'll see you during your next trip to the Himalayas!

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