NOTE: Our trekking itinerary and campsites may vary slightly depending on local trail conditions, the group's acclimatization rate and the Western, Sherpa or Tibetan guide's discretion.
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 brought to the Kathmandu Guest House in their van. Kim will book the extra nights for you, and your room will be ready for you when you arrive.
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 Kathmandu Guest House (Room 603) 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. You'll need to give Kim you insurance details, your passport and visa copies, three visa-sized photos and your return flight tickets, so have these ready to hand over. Over the next two days we can go over everyone's gear if they would like. In the evening, we'll get to know each other over dinner and a beer at New Orleans ...
Day 2 - Kathmandu
A free day to explore exotic Kathmandu and the mythical Kathmandu valley. 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 Lhasa 3650m
Our spectacular hour long China Air flight takes us right across the main Himalayan range, over such Himalayan giants as Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kanchenjunga, for magnificent mountain views. After landing at Gonggar Airport and meeting our Tibetan guide, it is an hour and a half drive to Lhasa, where we check in to our Tibetan-run hotel, the New Yak. We're staying near the Jokhang temple and the Barkor square, where the character of the city is still very Tibetan. We've had a big altitude gain so have a walk around the Barkor square and take it easy; and drink plenty of water. We'll get together in the evening for a meal out ...
Days 4, 5 & 6 - 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.
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.
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.
*** OPTION *** Those wh0 want to can hire a jeep/bus for the day and visit Ganden or Samye Gompas. Ask Kim for options.
Day 7 - Drive to Shigatse (via Gyantse) 3900m
Leaving Lhasa, we switchback up a pass to overlook the turquoise Yamdrok Tso far below. Yamdrok Tso is one of the four holy lakes of Tibet, home to wrathful dieties. We’ll stop at the 15th century Palkor Chode Monastery and the Kumbum Temple before continuing on to Shigatse. 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 Saga. We stay at a nice hotel in Shigatse, and head out for a good dinner and Lhasa beers in the evening.
Day 8 - Drive to Saga 4600m
It will be a long, wonderful day of jeeping through the high plains of Tibet, soft, beautiful and photogenic. Just after arriving in the dusty truck stop of Lhatse, we’ll cross the Brahmaputra River, which originates from Kailash. The new roads are much better than they were, all paved, and our drive to Saga past lovely Tibetan villages where the spring planting will be in full force, is a scenic one. Saga is a somewhat industrial town so we’ll set up camp on the outskirts in a green meadow.
Day 9 - Drive to Parayang 4750m
From Saga, we drive another 255 km west, 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.
The kids will be out at the camp sight to welcome us to our sand dunes campsite 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 10 - Drive to Darchen 4650m
Reverse details to come ...
We are headed for Tarboche, the first stop before our ‘kora’ or circumambulation of Kailash. We pass the sacred peak of the Bonpos just to the west of Kailash and cross the Barka plain to Darchen and continue on to our campsite at Tarboche. 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 archway previously decorated with yak and sheep heads. 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 11 - Trek to Dira-Puk 5160m
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. Sunset on the north face of Kailash is magnificent ...
Day 12 - Trek to Zutuk Puk Camp (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. Below us lies the Lake of Compassion, Thukpe Dzingbu, one of the highest lakes in the world. We descend steeply, sometimes over snow but mostly on switchbacking trails, eventually reaching a group of teahouses on the .....
river where we will stop for lunch on the grassy river banks. We have another three hours of trekking along the grassy riverside with the Tibetan pilgrims, some prostrating, to reach our green campsite right on the river, a lovely spot.
Day 13 - Trek to Tarboche
An hour 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 sometimes 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!
We'll spend the night at Tarboche by the prayer flag in preparation for the next day's festivities, but it will be full of action and color today, too! And tourists ...
Day 14 - Tarboche. Saga Dawa. Drive to Tirtapuri 4550m
*** We plan for Saga Dawa AFTER the kora to save on the pre-Saga Dawa insanity so will stay the morning of Saga Dawa at Tarboche and then drive to Tirthapuri afterwards***
This morning we gather with the hundreds of Tibetan pilgrims from the far reaches of Tibet, all having endured the long journey to Kailash by over-loaded truck, some by yak caravan, and the extremely devout few by full-body prostrations across the continent, some from as far away as Kham or Amdo. It is said to be a two year round trip by prostration from the eastern parts of Tibet to Kailash and back ...
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 have plenty of memory cards and your battery fully charged. Bring small change for 'festival street-food' and prayer flags as well!
Good karma acquired all around, we jump back into the jeeps for a beautiful hundred km drive to Purang during which, last views of the sacred Mount Kailash near the Gurla La. The road passed through the isthmus between the Rakshas Tal and the sacred Lake Manasarovar and affords great views of Kailash. With snow-capped mountain views in back of us, we drive along the plateau to Purang, also called Taklakot, one of the ancient capitals of western Tibet. The Humli people traditionally came here to barter or sell their rice and wood for cash and salt. We’ll either camp or stay at a hotel in Purang. There is a local shower-house nearby, worth a visit!
Day 15 - Kyunglung (daytrip)
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 16- Drive to Tsaparang
It's a 300 km drive through wild country from Parayang towards Lake Manasarovar, the second most important pilgrimage sight for Tibetan Buddhists, formed in the mind of Brahma and which Tibetans refer to as Maphan Tso, 'the unconquerable lake'. We cross wide plains, shallow rivers and pass by a few local truck stops with makeshift teahouses and then climb the Mayum La, with magnificent mountain panoramas. Soon afterwards we’ll pass the stunning Mayum Tso (lake). 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.
Continuing further west, towards the magnificent Nanda Devi in Uttaranchal, India, we head to the Guge Kingdom. The landscapes of western Tibet are breathtaking, sublime, and we'll have plenty of opportunities to stop for photos. Continuing through historic Dongpo, Dawa and Mangang, we eventually reach the village of Tsaparang in the heart of the ancient the Guge Kingdom, where we stay at a charming local homestay for the night.
Day 17 - Visit Toling & Tsaparang
We have the day to visit 11th century Toling Gompa, the most important monastery in western Tibet in ancient times, and Tsaparang with its royal chapels, the ancient capital of the Guge Kingdom, both now resting silently in far Western Tibet, a fairytale scene of caves and passageways honeycombed into a ridge of ancient deposits. Guge was founded almost a thousand years ago by one of three sons of Lang Darma, the anti-Buddhist king. With its cave dwellings, crumbling Tibetan Buddhist gompas and stupas, exquisite murals, sculptures and stone inscriptions, the Guge Kingdom is a museum of the history of Western Tibet. White Palace, Red Palace, Yamantaka Chapel, Tara Chapel and Mandala Chapel are the major attractions, all historically linked with the Shakyamuni Buddha, King Songtsen Gampo and other historic figures.
Day 18 - Drive to Purang (Taklakot) 3930m
Reverse details to come ...
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 19 - Drive to Sher. Cross to Hilsa. Trek to Mane Peme 3940m
Reverse details to come ...
From Purang, it’s another 1 ½ hours of driving to reach the border at Sher. The road follows the Humla Karnali over a 4000 meter pass to and past Moto Gompa, an important 13th century Sakya gompa at Khojarnath. At the border, we say goodbye to our Tibetan staff and pass through customs, afterwards descending to Hilsa where we camp for the night. It won’t be a long day of trekking but we need to meet the Humla staff and horses and readjust for the Limi trek.
Day 20 - Trek to Tiljung 3580m
Details to come ...
Day 21 - Trek to Halji 3720m
Details to come ...
Day 22 - Trek to Dzang 4120m
Details to come ...
Day 23 - Trek to Takchhe 4235m
Details to come ...
Day 24 - Trek to Talun or Phering Phu 4420m
Details to come ...
Day 25 - Trek to Tronsa Khola (over the Nyalu La)
Details to come ...
Day 26 - Trek to Yakba Camp
Two high passes await us today as we head for remote, Botia Yakpa camp near Yakba village where some of our yakmen come from. Details to come ...
Day 27 - Trek to Simikot
Day 28 - Fly to Nepalgunj & Kathmandu
Day 29 - Kathmandu
A free day in Kathmandu for shopping, some sun in the garden of the guest house, shopping, cafe-ing or perhaps a visit to Boudhanath for some 'koras' to give thanks for our safe journey back from the mountains. And sights we missed during the first few days in Kathmandu, we can catch today, and afterwards out for our last dinner togethery!
Day 30 - 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!