- See Beijing's famous sights, like the Forbidden City and Great Wall of China
- Tour the palaces and monasteries of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet
- Venture to rural Tibetan holy sites like Yamdruk Lake and Palcho Monastery
- Drive over high mountain passes with great views of Everest
- Travel to Everest Base Camp and marvel at the highest peak in the world
|Day 1||Arrival in Beijing - Stroll Wangfujing Street||Beijing|
|Day 2||Beijing Highlights Tour||Lhasa|
|Day 3||Temple of Heaven - Fly from Beijing to Lhasa||Lhasa|
|Day 4||Potala Palace & Lhasa City Tour||Lhasa|
|Day 5||Tour Lhasa's Religious Sites||Lhasa|
|Day 6||Drive from Lhasa to Shigatse - Sightseeing||Shigatse|
|Day 7||Shigatse to Tingri||Tingri|
|Day 8||Day Trip to Mt. Everest Base Camp||Tingri|
|Day 9||Drive from Tingri to Gyirong - Stop at Lake Paiku||Gyirong|
|Day 10||China to Nepal - Departure|
Day 1: Arrival in Beijing - Stroll Wangfujing Street
Welcome to China!
With a population of over 21 million people, Beijing is the most densely populated capital city in the world. As one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, this metropolis has been the seat of power in the country for eight centuries. It's home to expansive historic landmarks like the Forbidden City, and Temple of Heaven, which date all the way back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Also here is the Summer Palace, a lakeside royal retreat and imperial garden during the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911).
However, Beijing is also a shining example of modernity. Some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world exist here. Also, new developments, high-rise apartments, and shopping malls all but engulf historic hutong alleyways and ancient courtyard houses. This city is a megalopolis hurtling towards the future while keeping one foot firmly in the past, and you'll discover its highlights.
Upon arrival at Beijing Capital International Airport, you'll meet your private guide at the arrival hall and transfer to your hotel in downtown Beijing. After check-in, you'll have the remainder of the day free to head out and explore. Time and energy permitting, you can take a guided tour in the evening to Wangfujing Street, a buzzing shopping area home to one of Beijing's most famous night markets. Here you can snack on street food galore.
Day 2: Beijing Highlights Tour
This full-day tour begins with a trip just north of Beijing to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World: the Great Wall of China. Because this ancient fortification is so massive, it's separated into sections. The area you'll visit is Mutianyu, one of the best-preserved portions of the Great Wall. Located 40 miles (64 km) north of Beijing, it was built in 1368 ACE by Xu Da, a general in the army of Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty.
This section of wall stretches for 13 miles (22 km) and is comprised of 22 stone watchtowers. Sitting atop steep hills blanketed in rich green pines and cypress trees, the views from here on a clear day are nothing short of breathtaking. Walking these ramparts you'll easily understand how this landmark became a prominent symbol of China's history and heritage.
After the Great Wall, you'll return to Beijing and head to Tiananmen Square, in the heart of the city. Built in 1651 and progressively enlarged over the centuries, this massive public space is surrounded by government buildings. These include the Great Hall of the People, National Museum of China, and the mausoleum of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong.
You'll see an enormous portrait of Chairman Mao on the square's north end at Tiananmen Gate. This is the entrance to the Forbidden City (officially the Imperial Palace Museum), which was constructed in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty. You'll enter and tour this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which will surely leave you awestruck. It's a vast complex as big as a neighborhood and has a long history: it served as the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty in 1420 through the Qing Dynasty in 1912.
A walking tour of the Forbidden City takes at least a couple hours. This ensures you see the majority of its some 980 buildings spread across 180 acres (72 hectares). Among other things, you'll see the 32-foot (10-meter) high city walls, the Imperial Garden, ceremonial rooms, emperor's living quarters, and galleries featuring ancient imperial artifacts. You can expect crowds, too, as the Imperial City hosts a staggering 80,000 visitors each day.
After the Forbidden City, you'll return to your hotel and will have the evening free.
Day 3: Temple of Heaven - Fly from Beijing to Lhasa
In the morning, your guide will take you to the Temple of Heaven, one of Beijing's most famous landmarks. This complex sits on 670 acres (271 hectares) and is actually comprised of a few buildings. Construction began back in 1407 under the Yongle Emporer, who also commissioned the building of the Imperial City. For hundreds of years spanning the Ming and Qing Dynasties up until 1900, this was the main imperial temple where emperors prayed to heaven for a good harvest.
Your guide will lead you on a tour of the complex and its iconic buildings. The most prominent is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This large, three-tiered structure is located in the north of the complex and was where the emperors would come for annual prayer ceremonies. Other iconic buildings you'll visit include the Circular Mound Altar, which was the site of winter solstice ceremonies, and the Imperial Vault of Heaven, a circular building constructed in 1530 and which housed the stone tablets used in the harvest prayer ceremonies.
Later in the morning, you'll head to the Hongqiao Pearl Market, which is the largest pearl distribution center in China. Besides selling these prized gemstones, they also offer fine silks and other clothing. After the Hongqiao Pearl Market, you'll transfer to the airport in Beijing for the 4.5-hour flight west to Lhasa, the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Translated as the "Place of Gods," Lhasa dates back to 639 ACE when the founder of the Tibetan Empire, Songtsen Gampo, moved the kingdom's capital here. After a civil war in the 9th century led to the monarchy's collapse, the next few centuries saw a Buddhist revival. Large monasteries of the new schools of Buddhism were constructed, and after the 5th Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso, relocated to Lhasa in 1642, the city became both the political and religious capital of Tibet.
This area is also known for its high altitude. Commonly dubbed the “Roof of the World," the Tibetan Plateau sits at an average altitude of 16,000 feet (4,900) meters above sea level, making it the highest region in the world. As for the capital of Lhasa, it lies at 11,450 feet (3,490 meters) above sea level.
After landing, your guide will meet you at the airport and transfer you to the hotel, where you'll have the evening free. You'll enjoy dinner in town but take it easy your first couple days in Tibet, as your body will need time to adjust to the altitude.
Day 4: Potala Palace & Lhasa City Tour
In the morning you'll head out into the city to visit one of the most iconic buildings in the nation: Potala Palace. This fortress sits atop Red Mountain in the middle of the Lhasa Valley and is actually a complex comprised of the White Palace and Red Palace. With its sheer walls, gates, turrets, and gilt roofs, Potala is as imposing as it is regal.
Potala served as the winter home of the Dalai Lama beginning in the 7th century, but today it's a museum, which you'll enter on this tour. Inside, there are a whopping 1,000 rooms, which are decorated with thousands of murals, scrolls, sculptures, and other items made of jade, porcelain, silver, and gold. The White Palace contains the ceremonial hall and throne room of the Dalai Lama, and the Red Palace contains the golden burial stupas of past Dalai Lamas.
After lunch, you'll visit the expansive Barkhor Square. At the edge of it is Jokhang Temple, a pilgrimage site built during the reign of King Songtsen Gampo in 652 ACE for his two wives. Specifically, the temple was built to house the wives' dowries, which came in the form of golden Buddha statues. One of these statutes is now the most revered in Nepal, thus making Jokhang Temple the spiritual heart of Tibet. Each morning crowds of pilgrims fill the temple and prostrate themselves in accordance with their faith.
You'll then head to adjacent Barkhor Street. More than a pedestrian throughway lined with shops, Barkhor Street is known as the "Holy Road" to Tibetans. It dates to the 7th century when Buddhists started making the journey here. The procession of the masses created a footpath around the temple, which became a pilgrimage site unto itself. Today you'll see pilgrims performing the religious ritual of walking in a clockwise circuit along this road, turning prayer wheels and chanting mantras.
But Barkhor Street is more than a pilgrim route. This oldest street in the city is a hotbed of activity and a thriving commerce center. If you want to purchase souvenirs, prayer beads, or the aforementioned prayer wheels, you can do so on this road. Thre are also a number of Tibetan, Nepalese, and Indian restaurants as well as butter tea shops. .
Day 5: Tour Lhasa's Religious Sites
Today you'll head out for a tour of some of the area's famous religious institutions. The excursion begins with a visit to the Sera Monastery. Located on the outskirts of Lhasa, this is one of the most famous monasteries in the country. It sits on 28 acres (11 hectares) and is dedicated to the Gelugpa Sect, which, having emerged in the 15th century, is the youngest school of Tibetan Buddhism. It was built in 1419 during the Ming Dynasty and is comprised of a four-story ritual hall, a college, and 32 dormitories.
You're in for a real treat at this monastery, as you'll have the chance to witness a debate session where the monks offer their differing perspectives on the religious scriptures.
After Sera, you'll visit the last attraction of the day: Drepung Monastery. It was built in 1416 and is the mother temple of Dalai Lamas, a title that the monastery earned in 1546 when the third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso, the living incarnation of Buddha, was enthroned here. This collection of whitewashed buildings sits on 61 acres (24 hectares) in a dramatic location at the foot of Mt. Gephel. In its heyday, more than 10,000 Buddhists resided in the monastery.
Day 6: Drive from Lhasa to Shigatse - Sightseeing
In the morning you'll depart Lhasa for a journey into the Tibetan highlands. Our destination today is Tibet's second-largest city of Shigatse, which is located about five hours drive southwest of Lhasa at the junction of major trade routes between China and India.
En route, you'll stop at Yamdrok Lake, a body of water that's spiritually important to the Tibetan people. It's here, amid the glassy waters and background of snowcapped peaks, that senior monks come after a Dalai Lama passes away. Supposedly Yamdrok possesses powers that can reveal the identity of the male child in which the reincarnated spirit of the Dalai Lama resides. The monks offer prayers and blessing objects to the lake until they see a sign that reveals the location of the new Dali Llama's soul.
You'll then continue the scenic drive to the city of Gyangtse, passing many incredible sights along the way. Once impressive natural landmark is the Karola Glacier, which is located just a few hundred meters off the highway at an altitude of 18,241 feet (5,560 meters).
Upon arrival in Gyangtse, you'll stretch your legs with a visit to the Palcho Monastery. Dating to the early 15th century, this landmark is located just northeast of the city at an altitude of 12,800 feet (3,900 meters). This is the largest monastery in the Nyangchu river valley, and inside there is a fine collection of Tibetan artworks and thousands of sculptures and images of Buddha.
You'll then continue the drive another couple of hours through Nyangchu valley until you reach Shigatse. You should arrive with just enough time to make an afternoon visit the Tashilhunpo Monastery, which was founded in 1447 by the 1st Dalai Lama. Sitting on expansive grounds that cover 753,473 square feet (70,000 square meters), this is one of the largest monasteries in Tibet. After the tour, you'll check into your hotel and can spend the evening relaxing.
Day 7: Shigatse to Tingri
After breakfast, you'll have a bit of time to browse the local market before leaving for Tingri. This small town is located about a four-hour drive west of Shigatse and is known as a base for climbing excursions to Mt. Everest. You'll break up the trip with a pit stop in the town of Lhatse before driving over the Gyatso La high mountain pass at 17,165 feet (5,232 meters).
Eventually, you'll arrive in the small huddle of Tibetan homes that comprise Tingri, which sits at an elevation of 14,265 feet (4,347). The town might not look like much, but the views of the nearby Himalaya are incredible. From here you'll be treated to panoramic views over an expansive plain to the peaks of Mt. Everest (29,029 feet/8,848m) and Cho Oyu (26,864 feet 8,153 meters). Once in town you'll check into your guesthouse and rest up for the next day.
Day 8: Day Trip to Mt. Everest Base Camp
Today you'll enjoy the apex of the entire journey with a visit to Everest North Base Camp. The drive to the camp from Tingri takes about four hours and passes over the Gawula Pass, a high mountain pass 17,093 feet (5,210 meters) above sea level. It's during this portion of the drive that, weather permitting, you'll catch your first up-close sight of Everest, which is known to locals as Qomolangma, or "The Mother Mountain."
Eventually, you'll reach the base camp, the last stop before continuing on foot up the mountain. Here you'll visit Rongbuk Monastery, which is dedicated to an ancient sect of Tibetan Buddhism. At an altitude of 16,732 feet (5,100 meters), it enjoys the distinction of being is at the world’s highest-altitude monastery. It isn't a large complex (only about 30 monks reside here) but its locale at the foot of the Rongbuk Glacier makes it an impressive site to visit.
Take some time to marvel at the incredible views and bask in the splendor of the awe-inspiring Himalaya landscapes. In the afternoon you'll drive back to Tingri, where you'll overnight.
Day 9: Drive from Tingri to Gyirong - Stop at Lake Paiku
After breakfast you'll press on, embarking on a seven-hour drive further west to the town of Gyirong, where you'll overnight. Gyirong sits just north of the Nepal border and has historically been a an important stop on the trade routes between China and that country.
As for the drive, it may be a long but it's also a scenic one, filled with passing images of fertile grasslands and towering Himalayan peaks. Before reaching Gyirong you'll get to stop and stretch your legs at Lake Paiku, which is a beautiful highland lake at the foot of Mt. Everest. When you do arrive in Gyirong, you'll check into your guesthouse and will have the evening free.
Day 10: China to Nepal - Departure
After breakfast, you'll cross the border from China into Nepal where you'll connect to Kathmandu. From there Here you'll catch your international flight home. This concludes your grand Tibetan adventure. Until next time!