Tibet: Lhasa to Kathmandu overland

One of the great overland journeys across the Roof of the World. Enjoy man-made wonders like the Potala Palace alongside natural beauty such as Mt Everest viewed from base camp north.

Where can you ride the world’s highest railway? In the same country as you can explore the world’s highest palace and gaze up the world’s highest mountain!

Join us to experience this great overland journey across the Roof of the World. Built by Tibet’s Chinese rulers, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway climbs from Xining, Qinghai Province, up onto the Tibetan Plateau then swings south to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. (Tibet totally lacked roads, let alone railways, until the 1950s). At 3700 metres, the Potala Palace looms large over Lhasa. This fortress-like structure encompasses more than a thousand rooms, dimly-lit and stuffed with priceless religious art. Until 1959, the Potala Palace was the seat of spiritual and temporal power in the forbidden kingdom of Tibet.

Later, you will stand right below the northern face of Everest, the highest peak on the planet – without making an epic trek. Beyond lies one of the wildest regions of Tibet, where 5000-metre snow-capped peaks are reflected in icy lakes and wolves prowl the windswept grasslands.

Finally, the highway drops down, down through the Himalayan foothills. At the Nepalese border we step into a totally different country: the road ahead is badly rutted; our vehicle is a jeep or similar. Ahead lie the three ancient Newari city-states of the Kathmandu Valley, with their intoxicating mix of Hindu and Buddhist cultures.

After your flight* arrives in Xining, you will be welcomed by our local guide and transferred to the station to board a train (Qinghai-Tibet Railway) to Lhasa. This feat of engineering is the only railway that links Tibet and Mainland China. The Tibet Railway holds many world records: the world’s highest railway, the highest railway station and the world’s longest track on frozen ground.

If your flight arrives in the morning, a half-day tour to China’s largest lake, Qianghai Lake, will be included.

Overnight on the train

Enjoy a whole day on the train to Lhasa.

En route, marvel at the diverse and beautiful landscapes of snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas, turquoise plateau lakes, boundless deserts, vast grasslands with grazing yaks, colourful prayer flags, and charming Tibetan villages.

This spectacular scenic journey to “the Roof of the World” by train helps to minimise the effects of altitude sickness on arrival in Lhasa (3650m) in the late afternoon or evening. Transfer to the hotel.

In the morning, visit Lhasa’s iconic landmark – Potala Palace.

Perched high above the city, explore this architectural wonder with its grand and myriad chapels, and appreciate the jewelled burial chortens of past Dalai Lamas as well as statuary, frescoes and paintings.

Later, visit the Jokhang Temple, which is considered the most sacred temple in Tibet and attracts a tremendous number of Buddhist pilgrims from all over Tibet each year. Walk with the pilgrims who wear their traditional dress and spin their prayer wheels as they encircle the Jokhang Temple. The Barkhor Area, also serves as Lhasa’s biggest bazaar, full of handicrafts, ambers, jewellery, Tibetan clothes, etc.

Just outside of Lhasa, visit the 600 year-old Drepung Monastery.

This monastery was once the largest monastery in the world accommodating 10,000 monks of the “Yellow Hat Sect”, and also the seat of political and religious power in Tibet before the Potala was built. Every Dalai Lama has been part of this sect. Built around a hillside, this complex of buildings and narrow alleyways, houses many precious stupas, sculptures, paintings and thangkas which are displayed in the hundreds of chapels.
The famous annual Shoton Festival is also held here every summer.

In the afternoon, explore the smaller Sera Monastery, which is best known for the dramatic style of debates by resident monks. This ritual is considered integral to learning and understanding Buddhist doctrine. Verbal debating points are emphasised by claps and footwork, providing a unique spectacle. The hallways of the monastery are resplendent with scriptures written in gold powder, fine statues and exceptional murals

In the morning, leave Lhasa for Bayi Town (Nyingchi).

On the way, drive by the Niyang River and over Mila Pass (5013m). Visit Xiubu Castle and its ancient towering remains, and wander around the tiny village nearby to take a glimpse of traditional Tibetan life.

Arrive at Basomtso, the largest freshwater alpine lake in Eastern Tibet. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks and natural forests, this holy lake is noted for its tranquillity and beauty.

Walk across the footbridge, which links the lake shore with a small island to explore Tso Zonggongba Monastery of the Nyingma Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Continue on to Nyingchi .

Visit the most famous and magical tree in Nyingchi – the King Cypress, which is 50m tall but more than 2,500 years old.

On the way to Lulang Forest, take a short stop at Sekyim la Pass (4720m) to enjoy the view of Mt. Namjia Bawa (7,700m). In the afternoon, explore the beautiful Lulang Forest, a 15km-long and 1km-wide narrow valley of wild forests, flowers, grasslands and streams.

On both sides of the valley are lofty green mountains covered by prosperous spruce, pine trees, a variety of deciduous trees and brush. The vivid range of colours in the autumn is spectacular. At the foot of these mountains, the landscape changes to meadows dotted with wildflowers, and villages where winding streams flow amongst the wooden houses.

Continue to drive to Ranwu Lake via picturesque Bome. Ranwu Lake is a barrier lake formed by landslides and debris flows around 200 years ago. The tranquil and clear waters of the lake can produce (weather permitting) stunning mirror reflections of the surrounding diverse landscapes: grasslands, forests, blue sky and snow mountains which change colour in different seasons of the year.

Drive a little further to admire Lhegu Glacier, the largest and widest “frozen river” in Tibet, and is the third largest glacier in the world. Lhegu Village is located at the foot of Bosura Mountain southeast of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which is also the best place for visitors to appreciate this breathtaking glacier landscape.

Set off early to witness the amazing sunrise at Rawu Lake. Wispy mist floats above this peaceful lake, and the early morning sunlight shines on the snow-capped mountains to create a golden pyramid.

On the return scenic journey to Nyingchi, after passing through Bome, head for the confluence of the Niyang River (turquoise) and the Yarlung Tsangpo River (yellow/brown), where the difference in river colours shows the distinct boundaries of both rivers.

Arrive at a section of the Niyang River to board a barge to cruise the tranquil clear waters and to admire the continuation of this picturesque scenery: forests, water reflections and snow-capped mountains.

Today’s scenic drive is from Nyingchi to Tsetang along Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, which is regarded as the deepest (6009m) and longest canyon (505km) in the world. The canyon is noted for its harsh environment combined with glaciers, cliffs, abrupt slopes, debris flows and a billowy river. Its forests, plants, rare birds, wildlife and livestock owned by local nomads all make this a truly remarkable and diverse area. Many parts of this remote area remain unexplored. The Yarlung Zangbo River is the world’s highest river and originates from Mount Kailash and runs east for 1700km before entering the canyon.

Yumbulagang Palace is the first palace in Tibet built by the first Tibetan King and became one of the Gelugpa temples in the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama. Clinging to a hilltop, Yumbulagang Palace offers wonderful views of Yarlung Valley, Tibetan villages and mountains. Though its scale is small, the three-storied monastery contains towers, chapels and halls. Locals climb to the monastery to light butter lights in the hope that this practice will bring them good luck.

Tradruk Monastery is one of the earliest Buddhist temples in Tibet. Being so far away from Lhasa in the Yarlung Valley, there are no crowds, which provide an opportunity to soak up the atmosphere. One of the highlights of this geomantic temple is the Tara Thanka made from 29,000 pearls and other precious stones.

Explore Samye Monastery, which was the first Buddhist monastery to be founded in Tibet. It is a popular pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists, some of whom travel on foot for weeks to reach this destination. The main temple is unique because its architectural structure combines three different styles: Tibetan, Han (Chinese) and Indian. A large number of grandiose murals have been well preserved. The top-floor balcony offers fine views of the complex, its gardens, the rural landscape and the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra River). Return to Tsetang.

Enjoy the bright stunning landscape of Ngachu Valley in the morning sunlight. After passing over the Kamba La Pass (5,030m), arrive at the sacred Yamdrok Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the northern regions of the Himalayan Mountains.

Enjoy the views of the turquoise lake with surrounding snow-capped mountains, fertile pastures full of yaks and sheep, and some small Tibetan villages along the lakeshore. Further on, the imposing view of the Karola Glacier will appear towering aloft on the right side of the road. After lunch at the historical city of Gyantse, which offers views of the Gyantse Fortress perched above on a huge spur of rock, visit the mysterious Pelkor Chode Monastery, where the traditions of three Tibetan Buddhism sects peacefully co-exist. The high red walls house the monastery complex, which features the stunning Kumbum, a nine-tiered stupa – the only one of its kind in Tibet – and splendid mural art.

On arrival in Tibet’s second largest city, Shigatse, explore the Tashilhunpo Monastery, which is the largest religious institution in Tibet (once home to 4000 monks but now around 900) and the official seat of the Panchen Lama. The great monastic sights include the huge golden statue of Buddha which is the largest gilded statue in the world, and the Grand Hall which houses the opulent tomb of the fourth Panchen Lama and contains 85kg of gold and masses of jewels.

After breakfast, visit Sakya Monastery, located behind impressive thick grey walls with watchtowers in each corner. The huge library contains a floor-to ceiling collection of many thousands of scrolls which were found sealed up in a wall 60 metres long and 10 metres high as recently as 2003. This medieval monastery also has a colossal collection of highly valuable art pieces, including murals, thangkas, and 3,000 hand-written Tibetan Buddhist ancient scriptures (sutras). Continue driving towards Tingri (4,300m), which overlooks a sweeping plain bordered by the towering Himalayan peaks, including Mt Everest. Overnight in Tingri

Depart early from Tingri to visit the stunning mountain scenery at Everest Base Camp (5,250m). If time and weather permits, catch the awe-inspiring golden peak of Mt Everest at sunrise at the lodging area.

Visit the Rongbuk Monastery, which is located at the foot of the mighty Everest and is the highest monastery in the world. Drive back to Tingri. Overnight in Tingri

After breakfast, drive through the spectacular and diverse mountain scenery to Jilong. The route includes Mt Shishapangma (8,027m), Peiku-Tso (a lake noted for its abundant fish and surrounded by mountains on three sides) and Ghungtang Lhamo (5,236m).

The Tibetan Plateau hosts a variety of rare birds and animals which include the Tibetan wolf, and species of snow leopard, wild yak, wild donkey, black-necked cranes, bar-headed goose and other bird species.

Drive through the snow-capped mountain forests to the Nepalese border to exit Tibet.

After completing border proceedings you exit the Chinese immigration building and enter Nepal.

You will be met by your driver and guide and assisted through Nepalese immigration before making the long descent drive to the city of Kathmandu. This is a rough road and you will be in local private jeeps for the journey. The duration is unknown as this is determined by the condition of the road and the traffic. Upon arrival check into your hotel.

Full day sightseeing tour of Kathmandu, Patan and Bodhnath. In Kathmandu major central sights will be covered and in particular we will be looking at the earthquake recovery.

A full day sightseeing tour of the ancient town of Bhaktapur, the Surya Binayak temple and Changu Narayan.

Free day to explore

Price

Inclusions

  • All meals except Kathmandu where breakfast only is included
  • 17 nights’ accommodation
  • Private guided tours & transport throughout the itinerary
  • Rail tickets where required
  • Entrance fees and activities