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High Road of Tibet, Bucket List Adventures

High Road of Tibet

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Overview

This is an epic privately guided Nepal and Tibet overland tour, unique to The Natural Adventure Company. It takes in the best of the Himalayas in 16 days: exploring bustling Kathmandu, ancient Bhaktapur and Patan and fabled Lhasa, driving on the stunning high road of Tibet that connects it with Nepal, visiting numerous temples and traditional villages, and finishing with the highest temple in the world, located close to the historic Everest Base Camp used by the Mallory expeditions in the 1920s.

After a few days for sightseeing and preparation in and around Kathmandu (also needed to have our Tibet visas issued), we fly to the sacred city of Lhasa in Tibet. We spend a few days there (needed to acclimatize properly). In the company of our Tibetan guides, we will take in all the cultural highlights of Lhasa including the Potala Palace, the Jokhang temple, the Norbulingka, the Drepung and Sera monasteries, with visits to Gyantse and Shigatse.

Then we start an unforgettable overland crossing of the Tibetan Plateau on the Jyirong Highway, linking Lhasa with Kathmandu. The final highlight of the journey is Rongbuk, the highest monastery in the world, from where you will enjoy unrivalled views of the north face of Mount Everest. Then we drive down to Kathmandu after crossing the Nepal/Tibet border.

All our Nepal and Tibet trips are private departures, so you are free to choose your date (between September and May), and companions (minimum group size is 2 people).

You will spend 15 nights in hotels or guesthouses. All overnights are on a twin-share basis, although occasionally in the remote Tibet areas you may have to multi-share.

Highlights

  • Explore vibrant Kathmandu, ancient Bhaktapur and Patan, and sacred Lhasa, taking in all the highlights, including Potala, the winter palace of the Dalai Lamas from 1649 to 1959
  • Experience authentic Nepali and Tibetan villages, meet locals during tea house stays and soak up the unique local culture
  • Drive on the stunning high road connecting Tibet with Nepal
  • Visit numerous temples, including Rongbuk, the highest temple in the world, from where you will admire the amazing views of the Everest north face

Click to view map

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive Kathmandu | 1400 m

Upon arrival at Kathmandu Airport (you can choose any flight you wish), our representative will meet you and transfer to your hotel in Kathmandu. Relax at your hotel, then explore the streets of Kathmandu.

Day 2: Kathmandu

After a lovely breakfast in the morning, we start a guided sightseeing tour to four UNESCO World Heritage sites of Kathmandu that have historical and spiritual values. We will visit Pashupatinath, Temple Swoyambhunath Stupa, Kathmandu Durbar Square and Bouddhanath Stupa.

Day 3: Bhaktapur | 30 min | 1965 m

After breakfast, we drive towards the east of Kathmandu and reach the ancient city of Bhaktapur where the medieval architecture and culture are still kept alive. We stroll around the ancient Durbar square, where the former palace of the Malla king of Bhaktapur is surrounded by temples of Hindu deities, and admire the skills of Nepali woodcarvers. The homemade yoghurt of Bhaktapur is a must-try. Overnight in Bhaktapur.

Day 4: Patan and back to Kathmandu | 15+45 min| 1400 m

We will have some time in the morning for further exploration of the city of devotees. Then we will drive to Patan, another Malla Kingdom gem in the Kathmandu valley. The architecture of Patan resembles those of Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, but Patan is more influenced by Buddhism. After a brief sightseeing trip in Patan, we return to Kathmandu, collect our Tibet visas and attend info meeting about the Tibet trip.

Day 5: Flight Kathmandu to Lhasa | 1.5 h | 3670 m

Our Nepali driver will take you to the airport for your flight. Upon arrival at Gonggar airport (Lhasa), meet with the Tibetan guide and transfer to the hotel (1 hour). Take it easy today, and allow your body to acclimatize.

Day 6: Lhasa – Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Bazaar

The following three days are scheduled to appreciate – with a relaxed pace to allow for the effects of altitude – the numerous places of interest and Lhasa’s long and rich cultural history, accompanied by an English-speaking local guide.

Potala Palace

Enjoy a tour of Potala Palace, a magnificent structure and true architectural wonder built in the 1600s. The Potala palace was first and foremost the residence of the Dalai Lama and his large staff. Besides, it was the seat of the Tibetan government, where all ceremonies of state were held; it housed a school for religious training of monks and administrators, and it was one of Tibet’s major pilgrimage destinations because of the tombs of past Dalai Lamas. This is where the Dalai Lamas would meditate and handle affairs of state. Admire the golden statues, three-dimensional mandalas, ancient scriptures.

Jokhang Temple

The beautiful Jokhang Temple is Tibet’s spiritual heart and home of the most venerated Buddha statue in Tibet. It was built during the reign of king Songsten Gampo (605-650) to celebrate his marriage with the Chinese Tang dynasty Princess Wencheng, a Buddhist. The temple was called the Tsulag Khang or ‘house of wisdom’, but it is now known as the Jokhang, which means ‘house of Buddha’. Watch the pilgrims circle the temple day and make a kora, the holiest devotional circuit around the temple square and then stroll the bustling Barkhor Street.

Day 7: Lhasa – Drepung and Sera Monasteries

Drepung Monastery

Drepung is situated at the foot of the Mountain Gambo Utse, 5 km from Lhasa. It is known as the most important monastery of Gelugpa in Tibetan Buddhism. It is considered one of the ‘three great monasteries’ (the other two are the Ganden monastery and the Sera monastery, covering 250 000 square metres. It had 7700 monks in total and possessed 540 pastures in its heyday. It’s building resembles a heap of rice; as such, it was given the name ‘Drepung’ which, in the Tibetan language, means ‘collecting rice’.

Sera Monastery

Sera Monastery is located at the foot of Tatipu hills. It is one of three great monasteries of Lhasa along with the Drepung Monastery and the Ganden monastery. The monastery complex is magnificent and covers an area of 114 946 square metres. Its main buildings are Thetsokchan hall, Dratsang (college), and Kamtsan (dormitory). Scriptures written in gold powder, fine statues, scent cloth, and unparalleled murals can be found in these halls. You can witness the monks engaged in a lively debate on Buddhist doctrines, a philosophical practice they have held for hundreds of years.

Day 8: Lhasa – Norbulingka Summer Palace

While Potala Palace was the official ‘winter’ residence of the Dalai Lamas, Norbulingka was their summer palace. Norbulingka. Be sure to check out the beautiful flowers in the botanical garden. The Norbulinka park and summer palace were completed in 1783 under Jampel Gyatso, the eighth Dalai Lama. The earliest building is the Kelsang Potang palace built by the seventh Dalai Lama. The ‘new palace’ construction began in 1954 by the present Dalai Lama and was completed in 1956.

The gardens are a favourite picnic spot and provide a beautiful venue for theatre, dancing, and festivals, particularly the sho dun or ‘Yoghurt Festival’, at the beginning of August, with families camping in the grounds for days surrounded by colourful makeshift windbreaks of rugs and scarves. There is also a zoo at Norbulingka, originally intended to keep the animals given as presents to the Dalai Lama.

Day 9: Lhasa to Gyantse | 261 km | 7-8 h | 3950 m

Today you embark on the last part of your journey, an amazing overland trip from Lhasa to Kathmandu on the ‘high road to Tibet’. Set off early this morning, driving down the Kyichu Valley to the Yarlong Tsampo (Brahmaputra) before ascending to the Khamba Pass (4900 m). The views are outstanding: the beautiful turquoise lake, Yamdrok Tso backdropped by the main Himalayan range’s snow-capped peaks.

We will skirt the lakeshore before crossing the Karo Pass (5200 m) to reach Gyantse, strategically located in the Nyang Chu valley where the ancient trade routes from the Chumbi Valley, Yatung and Sikkim merge. It is dominated by the ancient fort besieged by British forces in 1904 during the Younghusband Expedition.

Day 10: Gyantse to Shigatse | 90 km | 2 h | 3850 m

Before we start the relatively short drive to Shigatse, we will visit Phalkor Monastery and the remarkable ancient Buddhist site of Gyantse Kumbum (meaning ‘100 000 images’), an 8-story structure built on a series of four levels containing 77 tiny chapels full of Buddhist images and sculptures – Buddhas, demons and saints. The Phalkor Monastery has a special influence over Tibetan Buddhism owing to its unification of three different sects, the Gelugpa, the Sakyapa and Bhutan Sects, in a single monastery.

After the visit to the monastery complex in Gyantse, we drive to Shigatse, the second-largest town in Tibet. Visit Tashilunpo Monastery, which is home to the Dalai Great Panchen and the largest monastery in the region, founded in 1447. The Panchen’s throne, a large number of ancient Buddhist sculptures and murals are rare treasures of the monastery.

Day 11: Shigatse to Sakya | 160 km | 4-5 h | 4300 m

In the morning after breakfast, we will start the picturesque drive to Sakya.  On arrival, we will visit Sakya Monastery, one of the most impressive attractions in Tibet. Also known as Pel Sakya (“White Earth” or “Pale Earth”), it is the seat of the Sakya (or Sakyapa) school of Tibetan Buddhism, it was founded in 1073, by Konchok Gyelpo, originally a Nyingmapa monk of the powerful noble family of the Tsang and became the first Sakya Trizin.

Its powerful abbots governed Tibet during the 13th and the 14th centuries under the Mongol Yuan dynasty’s overlordship after the downfall of the Tibetan Empire until they were eclipsed by the rise of the new Kagyu and Gelug schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Its Mongolian architecture is quite different from that of temples in Lhasa and Yarlung. The only surviving ancient building is the Lhakang Chempo or Sibgon Trulpa. Originally a cave in the mountainside, it was built in 1268 by Sangpo and restored in the 16th century. It contains some of the most magnificent surviving artwork in all of Tibet.

Day 12: Sakya to Rongbuk Monastery | 295 km | 9-10 h | 5000 m

Today an exhilarating drive to Rongbuk awaits us. The drive over the Pang Pass (5150 m) offers the first views of Everest’s north face (8848 m). From the pass, we descend to the village of Phadhruchi, before driving up the Rongbuk Valley to the monastery. We will stay in the small lodge attached to the monastery, which has recently been reconstructed. Rongbuk is the highest monastery globally, and the lodge offers rather spartan accommodation, but the views from it are unrivalled. 

Day 13: Rongbuk to Tingri | 90 km | 4-5 h | 4300 m

One of the highlights of the tour, Rongbuk Monastery is located a mere 7 km below Everest Base Camp near Rongbuk Glacier’s tongue. This camp has been used by the expeditions attempting Everest from the north, Tibetan side, including the Mallory expeditions in the 1920s. Unfortunately, access to Base Camp is currently restricted only to mountaineers with the necessary Everest climbing permits. But the views of the mighty Everest are still utterly spectacular. In the afternoon, we will drive to the small town of Tingri where we overnight.

Day 14: Tingri to Kyirong | 200 km | 5-6 h | 3900 m

Today we are heading for the border town of Kyirong. Following the 2015 earthquake, the highway was badly damaged resulting in its continued closure. This new route and the border pass was opened in 2017 allowing for travel along this legendary route to recommence. We reach Kunda Pass at 5236 m, which offers breathtaking views of the Himalayas and then start our descent. Kyirong is known for its warmer climate and green landscapes.

Day 15: Kyirong to Kathmandu | 160 km | 5-6 h | 1400 m

After breakfast, we drive to the Tibet/Nepal border and after immigration (wait times can be quite long on some days) we say good-bye to our Tibetan guide. We will cross the bridge marking the border on foot to meet our Nepali guide on the other side and continue to Kathmandu via the earthquake-ravaged Langtang region. It is a bit bumpy, yet extremely scenic drive.

Day 16: Departure

Private transfer to Kathmandu Airport or optional extension (highly recommended!).

What to Expect

Accommodation

We always carefully hand-pick all places and regularly monitor their quality. We have tried to choose accommodations that offer friendly service, clean and comfortable rooms and local flavour. A variety of hotels/guesthouses are used on this trip: comfortable hotels in Kathmandu and Lhasa and Chitwan and the best available hotels/guesthouses in town in Tibet.

Click to view default hotels

Click to view upgraded hotels

Meals

Several years ago, meal choices were limited and pre-booking the lodge fixed menu was often the only option. Since then, as the lodges have improved in quality, so has food choice, with most hotels and guesthouses now offering an extensive menu. To give our customers choice, we now operate this holiday on a breakfast-only basis (welcome dinner in Kathmandu is included). You will need to plan £10-20 per day in total for lunches and dinners. Included breakfasts will usually be Asian style consisting of noodles or congee (rice porridge) or bread and eggs.

Difficulty & terrain

This is an easy overland tour that does not include any demanding physical activities (read more about difficulty grades).

Acute mountain sickness

Altitude is not a big concern on this tour. In Tibet, the highest place you will overnight is Rongbuk at 5000 m however you would have already properly acclimatised by then (that is why the Tibet part starts with a few ‘slow’ days in Lhasa).

When to go

The climate in Tibet is not as harsh as one would think it would be. Lhasa has mild weather from May to November. On the other hand, Nepal is subject to the defining influence of the monsoon from late May to mid‐September. The best times for visiting Nepal are in spring ‘pre-monsoon’ (March, April and May), and in autumn ‘post-monsoon’ (September, October and November). The summer months are very wet as it is the monsoon season and winter is extremely cold. 

Getting there

Special note regarding travel to Tibet and obtaining Tibet visa

Process for obtaining Tibet permit & visa:

  • Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu needs at least 3 working days to grant the visa as per their new rules until further notice
  • The embassy is open from Monday to Friday except on holidays. Hence, our customers are requested to be in Kathmandu with enough time to apply for the visa (that is why we have arranged the itinerary with the Nepalese part preceding the Tibetan part)
  • Nepal visa and arrival stamp in the passport is mandatory to obtain a Tibet visa

Documents required for visa processing

  • Clear scanned copy of Passport required 30 days in advance to initiate the process for visa invitation. Once we receive the visa invitation from Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB), we will apply for the visa on your behalf
  • Passport should be standard type (diplomats, security/law enforcement personnel etc will not be able to get the visa through us)

Documents required to get the visa

  • The original passport
  • Passport scanned copy
  • 2 photographsMRP size (33 mm x 48 mm, front-facing)
  • Chinese Visa form filled up and duly signed by customer

We will not be liable for any damage or cancellation of the Ultimate Nepal and Tibet due to the Chinese Embassy’s closure or a halt in issuing permits by Tibetan Authority without prior notice. However, we will try our best to inform you well in advance if we expect such a situation.

Tipping

It is customary in Asia to tip service providers such as waiters, at approximately 10%, depending on the quality of service. All our staff in Nepal and Tibet (guides, assistant guides and porters) are fully insured and paid a fair wage; however, tips are not a substitute for wages. The amount is purely a personal matter but we would suggest a tip per day of 15-20 USD for your guide, 8-10 USD for your porter and 5-6 USD per day for assistants and other staff. These apply to the whole party, not per person. Obviously, this is very much a rough guide and you are completely free to give whatever you feel is appropriate.

Inclusions

Included

  • All ground transfers as listed in the itinerary (including one arrival and one departure Kathmandu airport transfer per party)
  • Flight Kathmandu-Lhasa
  • Standard hotel: 4 nights in Kathmandu, 1 night in Bhaktapur, 4 nights in Lhasa
  • Standard/basic hotel/guesthouse: 6 nights in Tibet
  • Sightseeing tours in Kathmandu and Tibet as detailed in the itinerary including entrance fees 
  • Welcome dinner in Kathmandu
  • All breakfasts
  • 1 English-speaking tour guide in Tibet
  • 1 English-speaking tour guide in Nepal
  • Detailed pre-departure information pack including guide book, city maps and trekking maps 

Excluded

  • International flights and international airport departure fee
  • Nepal visa fees
  • Photography fees in the monasteries in Tibet
  • Meals not listed as included
  • Drinking water (beverages)
  • Extra expenses due to unforeseen events such as natural disaster, roadblocks or health conditions of a fellow traveller
  • Travel insurance (required – get a quote online)
  • Personal expenses and tips
  • Any items not specifically mentioned as included in the programme

Options, extras & supplements

  • Single room supplement applies to members of a group who require a single room (Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lhasa only – ask our experts for a quote); during the overland part in Tibet you may ask the owner if there are single rooms available and you can pay locally for them
  • Unfortunately, we are not able to accommodate solo travellers on this tour
  • Kathmandu upgrade to a superior 4 or 5-star hotel
  • Full board upgrade
  • Extra nights in Kathmandu

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