- Visit Lhasa, the religious and historic capital of Tibet
- Tour Potala Palace, the winter palace of the Dali Lama
- Visit high-altitude lakes and ancient Tibetan monasteries
|Arrival in Lhasa
|Potala Palace & Lhasa City Tour
|Drive from Lhasa to Shigatse
|Shigatse to Lhasa
|Fly from Lhasa to Beijing - Departure
Day 1: Arrival in Lhasa
Welcome to China and Tibet! After arriving in Beijing, you'll catch a connecting flight to Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet 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”, Tibet 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 2: 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. .
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 3: Drive from Lhasa to Shigatse
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'll check into your hotel and can spend the evening relaxing.
Day 4: Shigatse to Lhasa
After breakfast, you'll visit Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. This religious site is the seat for the Panchen Lama, one of Tibet’s spiritual leaders. It was initially constructed by the first Dalai Lama in 1447 in honor of his teacher. 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 monastery, you'll have some free time, which you can spend browsing the local market.
After the tour, you'll return to Lhasa, where you'll check into your hotel and will have the evening free.
Day 5: Fly from Lhasa to Beijing - Departure
In the morning, you will transfer to the airport in Lhasa where you will take a flight to Beijing and then catch your connecting flight home. Until next time!