Like everything it does, China’s ancient history is on a grand scale – see it first-hand, with time to explore and walk the epic Great Wall’s Mutianyu section.. Sit back and relax on one of the world’s greatest train journeys – a marathon 45-hour journey to the literal Roof of the World, passing by incredibly mountainous and remote terrain, and the occasional grazing yak!. Get to know Lhasa, from the incredible atmosphere of the pilgrim-filled Jokhang Temple – the most sacred in the Tibetan Buddhist world – to a traditional momo making class, you’ll get a real taste for this place.. Climb phenomenal mountain passes, twist up thrilling peaks, and take in incredible views of skies and lakes on your overland journey, standing in the shadow of the mightiest of them all – Mt Everest – and visiting the world’s highest monastery on your way!
Take part in an epic 5000-kilometre overland journey from imperial Beijing, through the mighty mountains and monasteries of Tibet, and finishing in Nepal’s compact capital of Kathmandu. There’s temples aplenty to explore, mountain passes and rugged landscapes to drive past, and, oh, did we mention standing in the shadow of Mt Everest? Experience one of the world’s greatest train journeys, get to know the highland haven of Lhasa and discover the world’s highest monastery in the foothills of Qomolangma. Respecting Buddhist cultures past and present, this insightful journey to the literal Roof of the World has never been so easy, yet still so incredibly fascinating.
Touch down in China’s capital, Beijing, ready for a high-altitude adventure! Your trip begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm, where you’ll meet your group leader and travel companions. After this important meeting, why not get together with your group for an optional dinner, perhaps finding one of the best Beijing duck restaurants in the city. Your group leader will definitely know of some delicious places eat this specialty.
Great Wall – Train to the Roof of the World
What’s the most quintessential image of China? That’s right, the great Great Wall. Today, you’ll take an early morning drive (approximately 2 hours) to visit to one of the most well-preserved areas of the Wall – the Mutianyu section. An incredible piece of engineering, the wall stretches 6000 kilometres westwards from the mountain ridges north of Beijing. It's a 30-minute climb up some steep steps to the wall itself so pack some good walking shoes, but it’s well worth the effort. If you’re feeling like resting your legs, there’s also the option to get the chair lift up too, at your own expense. Travel back to the city and in the late afternoon, transfer to Beijing West Railway Station – one of the biggest and busiest in the world – to board your mighty train journey to Lhasa (approximately 45 hours). Be aware that, on the odd occasion, there may be interruptions to this schedule – see the ‘Special Information’ section of your first day in Beijing for more details.
Train to the Roof of the World
Today, all you can do is sit back, relax and take in the mountainous ridges and remote terrain along the highest railway in the world. The journey takes you through the major cities of Xi'an, Lanzhou and Xining, and across the wide open highlands of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, with a speckling of grazing yaks, sheep and glistening pristine lake. On this second night, you’ll climb in altitude and your breath will likely be taken away by the changing landscapes outside the windows – snow-dusted black cliffs and mountain peaks illuminated by the moonlight.
Say goodbye to your local train pals and your 'home' for the last two nights after lunch time, and be greeted by Lhasa's crisp mountain air. The colourful and historic holy city of Lhasa is situated in a small valley, and for hundreds of years it was a mysterious place, virtually unknown to the outside world. Lhasa remains an intriguing city with deeply fascinating cultures, sights and stories. Check in to your hotel later this afternoon and begin to get acclimatised with both the city and the altitude.
Begin exploring Lhasa with an easy morning walk in the nearby area, before joining a momo making class for lunch – a type of Tibetan-style dumpling. In the afternoon, take a visit to the Sera Monastery and witness the residing monks taking part in heated debates in the courtyards.
In the morning, visit the Potala Palace, the incredible former home of the Dalai Lama that’s perched 130 metres above the city. The palace is divided into two parts, the White Palace (secular and used as offices and the like) and the Red Palace (home to chapels, shrines, and tombs of Dalai Lamas). Although you must stick with your guide while exploring Potala Palace, this in no way lessens the impact of seeing what is truly a wonder of the architectural world. Afterwards, visit Jokhang Temple – considered the spiritual heart and most sacred temple of Tibet. It always attracts steady waves of pilgrims. Spend some time exploring this large World-Heritage listed site and learn a thing or two about its history. According to legend, the temple was built on top of a lake after many failed attempts to build monasteries in other nearby locations. Feast your eyes on golden Buddha which stands in the centre. If you still feel energetic enough, perhaps join the pilgrims walk around the Barkhor Street or around the Potala palace (in a clockwise direction) – both of which are considered sacred Koras by the Tibetan Buddhists.
Today’s a day you’d want to call shotgun on a window seat, as you’ll be tackling a seriously scenic 8-hour drive. Heading towards Gyantse, cross over stunning mountain passes as you twist through dramatic valleys and peaks. Pass by the shimmering Yamdrok Lake, climb the Khama La Pass, pass sheep herder villages scattered along the banks, and marvel at the soaring Noijin Kangsang – the peak of the Lhagoi Kangri Mountain Range. You’ll stop by the roadside town of Nangartse for lunch, before driving the Karo La pass, and then descending down to your destination for tonight, Gyantse. This small rural town is perfect to just wander around and watch contemporary Tibetan life play out in front of you – where pilgrims mix with pop music, cows stroll past cowboys on motorbikes and monks go about their daily business.
This morning, take some time to check out the unique Gyantse Kumbum – an impressive layered stupa on the grounds of the Pelkor Monastery. Each floor of this six-level structure can be visited, and as you wind up the floors past several tiny chapels, the air fills more and more with incense and the passageways get narrower on each step towards enlightenment. Later today, there’s a chance to experience a simple lunch at a family’s home, which is a a great opportunity for you to listen to some personal stories of living in Tibet, and all the while enjoying warm hospitality. After lunch, head towards Tibet’s second-largest city, Shigatse, taking about 2 hours. Translating to ‘all fortune and happiness gathered here’, Shigatse is a busy, mountain-clasped city that’s rapidly modernising. With some free time this afternoon, maybe head to the local bazaar and check out the local wares that this town has to offer.
This morning, take a visit to the Tashilhunpo Monastery. Your group leader will take you on a tour through parts of the monastery – each building with their own intricate decorations, legends and religious imagery. Be sure to ask for directions to the tranquil Chapel of Jampa and meditate on the world's largest gilded statue. The courtyard outside of the Kelsang Chapel is one of the best places to observe the pilgrims and monks prepare for ceremonies. In the evening, perhaps join the pilgrims on their kora (prayer circuit), spinning prayer wheels on a 1-hour walk around the perimeter of the monastery while taking in its splendid, atmospheric views.
Continue on your journey west to the town of Sakya (approximately 3-4 hours). This region of Tibet is known for its grey (kya) earth (sa), and so, provides the town’s name! Its monastery, the principal monastery of the Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, was built in 1073, and was originally in two sections, The Northern and Southern Monastery on either side of the Zhongqu River, until the Northern structure was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. The Southern Monastery is built in a medieval 'Mongolian' style, and rather than being whitewashed, the secular buildings are painted red white and grey in honour of the three Buddhist Tulkas (notable lamas). Today, you’ll have time to explore inside its high walls, stopping to admire some of its hundreds of shrines, temples and monastic residences. Afterwards, you might like to check out what’s left of the Northern Monastery complex, and even walk a little further to the town’s Nunnery high on a hill overlooking Sakya. Your leader will let you in on correct etiquette and rules when visiting these sacred sites, but as a rule of thumb, take your time and explore in a clockwise direction.
Everest National Park (5200m)
An exhilarating drive (approximately 5–6 hours) brings you to Everest National Park. The road is winding but the you'll be greeted with great views of world's greatest snow-capped mountains standing together like giants. As al the buses can only continue to the National Park's parking lot. You'll leave your big luggage on the vehicle and take an overnight bag with you to continue on the National Park shuttle to Rongbuk Monastery – this world's highest monastery. On a clear day you might even get a photo of the monastery's chorten against the backdrop of mighty Everest, or Qomolangma, as it is known in Tibetan. Today, around 50 monks and nuns remain in this relatively modern Tibetan monastery (in the early 1900s, some 500 lived here). Then get settled where you'll stay tonight – a camp ground made of the yak hair tents set up by Tibetans to accommodate travellers who come for a night close to Everest. Depending how you feel, you can either relax at the tent site or walk to the Everest Base Camp Monument Stone that's about 500 metres away. The monument is the closest you can get to the Base Camp on the Chinese/Tibetan side, but simply standing in front of Everest will leave you speechless – ask your leader why it's such a sacred mountain to Tibetans. For the more energetic, your leader can take you for a hike to the upper Rongbuk Monastery and visit some caves where the monks meditated in the ancient times.
Take a moment to take one last look at Everest close up before a long drive ahead. You’ll head to the Tibet–Nepal border today, stopping at the closest town of Kyirong. It’ll be roughly a 10-hour drive today, but this long effort will be worth it with the changing scenery around you – from the barren highlands of Tibet to the deep Alpine Valley. Put your feet up tonight, and enjoy a dinner with your Tibetan leader who will say goodbye to you tomorrow.