- Tour the UNESCO-listed Potala Palace and observe Tibetan customs
- Watch how monks practice debate in Lhasa's Sera Monastery
- Hike to the home of a local Tibetan family for some local drinks and snacks
- Check out 39 chapels inside the Tashilumpho Monastery
- See Tibet's origins in the Yarlung Valley on your last day
|Arrive in China, Retrieve Paperwork
|Fly to Lhasa
|Explore Jokhang Temple, Sera Monastery & Barkhor Market
|Explore Potala Palace & Drepung Monastery
|Visit Ganden Monastery
|Drive from Lhasa to Shigatse, via Gyantse
|Explore Tashilumpho Monastery, Drive to Tsetang
|Visit Samye Monastery & Yarlung Valley
|Return to Lhasa, Depart Tibet
Day 1: Arrive in Chengdu, Retrieve Paperwork
To start your Tibetan adventure, you'll first fly into one of China's major cities, preferably Chengdu, where you will spend one night. This is a necessary step as you'll need to receive your travel permits for the flight to Lhasa. (Please note: This is a requirement by Chinese law as you can't fly directly into Lhasa directly.)
Though you'll likely be tired from the journey, try and get out to explore a bit of Sichuan's capital including leafy alleyways, teahouses, nightlife, and, of course, spicy cuisine for which the province is known. In fact, Chengdu was named UNESCO's first city of gastronomy.
Day 2: Fly to Lhasa
Welcome to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet!
Upon landing at Gonggar Airport, you'll meet your Tibetan guide who will help you get through the terminal. From here, you'll take an hour-long drive by private vehicle through a newly constructed tunnel and along the riverside towards Lhasa. You'll then check in to the hotel with time to rest and relax after what has likely been a long journey.
Don't worry about missing anything: In the following days, you'll get to experience this Holy City, often considered the most spiritual capital on Earth, with your guide. Over the centuries, Buddhists have traveled through some of the most extreme, inhospitable, and yet beautiful landscapes to visit the area's spectacular temples, but for most westerners, the history behind Lhasa remains a mystery.
The city is full of simple surprises: Look for the Islamic mosque, outdoor pool tables, and young monks playing football. You'll likely be tempted to pound the pavement with newfound energy, but it is recommended you lay low and spend the first day adjusting to Lhasa’s altitude of 11,995 feet (3,656 m).
Please note: The itinerary may adjust slightly depending on travel dates and hours of operation.
Day 3: Explore Jokhang Temple, Sera Monastery & Barkhor Market
After breakfast at your hotel, you'll meet your guide who will brief you on the day’s itinerary, which will include tours of Jokhang Temple, Sera Monastery, and Barkhor Market.
First on the list is Jokhang Temple, a seventh-century geometric structure at the heart of Lhasa—in fact, the most sacred temple in Tibet, often nicknamed 'Power Place' by locals. For a bit of history, Queen Bhrikuti, a Nepalese princess married to King Songtsen Gampo, founded Jokhang Temple as a place to hold all of the Buddhist sculptures she brought to Tibet. In recognition of the queen, the main gate of the temple faces west towards Nepal. Make sure to check out the chapels surrounding the exterior.
From here, you'll make your way to the Sera Monastery, just a few miles outside of town. This spiritual site was founded in 1419 and sits in a beautiful spot at the base of Mount Purbuchok. The monastery used to be an important center for learning and at one point housed nearly 6,000 monks, so you can imagine the size. Present day, Sera is home to approximately 550 monks.
Once you're inside, you'll want to see many places include Coqen Hall, (the main assembly hall), the three Zhacangs (Buddhist colleges) and the twenty-nine Khangtsens (monk dormitories). Perhaps the most intriguing feature on the tour is the enlarged image of Maitreya erected in 1419. You can also witness the practicing of debate among the monks, who pitch their knowledge against each other.
Last on the day's itinerary is a visit to Barkhor Market (Bazaar). This is the most popular square in town where you can find Tibetan handicraft items, Buddhist artifacts, carpets, and paintings—a fun way to end the day of sightseeing.
At the end of the day, your guide will escort you back to your hotel. Lhasa offers a variety of restaurants for both lunch and dinner—including Tibetan, Nepalese, Indian, and Sichuan cuisines, to name a few—so walk around and check out the vibrant dining scene.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 4: Explore Potala Palace & Drepung Monastery
This morning, after breakfast, you'll meet up with your guide for a personal tour of the Potala Palace, which dominates the city of Lhasa. This spectacular site contains the private quarters of the Dalai Lama along with numerous grand state rooms and several important chapels. In fact, there has been a palace on this very site since the 5th or 6th century, but the present palace, which you'll see today, was constructed in the 17th century.
A visit to the Drepung Monastery after lunch will complete this truly awe-inspiring tour of Lhasa. Founded in the 14th century, the monastery was once the largest in the world, with a population of around 10,000 monks. Today, that figure is down to several hundred, but there is still much here of interest as the site was left relatively unscathed during the Cultural Revolution.
Day 5: Visit Ganden Monastery
This morning, you'll day-trip from Lhasa to Ganden Monastery, located 28 miles (45 km) east of Lhasa. At an impressive altitude of 12,483 feet (3805 m) on Mount Drokri, this is one of the oldest and largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries dating back to the 15th century. Ganden in Tibetan means “Tushita,” the Pure Land where the future Buddha Maitreya resides.
After touring the monastery, you'll have the option to take a 3-to-4-hour hiking excursion crossing Ganden ridge towards Trup Shi village where you can visit a local Tibetan family for some local drinks and snacks. Upon return to Ganden, you'll either meet the driver and return to Lhasa, or take a 40-minute ceremonial walk around the monastery, called kora, before getting back on the road.
You'll return to Lhasa in the afternoon with enough to wander around the old town and have a relaxing dinner before departing for Shigatse the next day.
Day 6: Drive from Lhasa to Shigatse, via Gyantse
Today, you'll start the cultural journey to Gyantse and Shigatse on a full-day adventure. Traveling by jeep along the Friendship Highway, you'll first cross the Khamba La (pass) rising 15,728 feet (4794 m) from which there are stunning views across the waters of Yamdrok-tso (lake) to the snowy summit of Nazin Kang Sa, which ascends 23,792 feet (7252 m). Coming down from the pass, you'll wind around the banks of this stunning turquoise lake for about 12 miles (20 km). In other words, keep your camera close.
The road trip continues westwards over yet another high pass—the Karo La at 16,551 feet (5045 m) in altitude. Look for the awesome sight of a huge glacier tumbling down towards the road. After passing through several beautiful valleys and colorful Tibetan villages, you'll arrive in the town of Gyantse. Here, you'll visit the Khumbum Monastery and Pelkhor Chode Temple.
While exploring the monastery, look for the large gold-domed stupa and its many small chapels, which house an impressive array of Tibetan Buddhist murals. This is an architectural masterpiece built in the style of 108-sided Mandela. Furthermore, it is the most revered stupa in Tibet and houses 112 chapels of which only 23 are open to the public.
Make sure to save time for the Pelkhor Chode Temple, a fort dating back to the 14th century. From here, you can enjoy spectacular views of Gyantse and the surrounding Nyang Chu Valley.
To finish the day, you'll continue to Shigatse, a short drive of 56 miles (90 km) for your overnight. This is the second largest city in Tibet and—if you have energy left—you'll have time to walk around before dinner.
Day 7: Explore Tashilumpho Monastery, Drive to Tsetang
After breakfast in Shigatse, get ready to spend the morning at Tashilhunpo Monastery. This is one of the largest functioning monasteries in Tibet, and there is much to explore within its high surrounding walls. There are about 39 awe-inspiring chapels inside—including the huge Maitreya Chapel coated with gold—and the craftsmanship will certainly impress.
You'll then set out on the long drive to Tsetang, the fourth largest city in Tibet. Just southeast of the city is the mountain Gangpo Ri, which has a special significance for the Tibetans, as the legendary birthplace of their people.
Day 8: Visit Samye Monastery & Yarlung Valley
Today's excursion begins with a visit to Samye Monastery, situated in a green valley among barren mountains—one of the most imposing sights of Tibet. Built between 763 and 75 AD, the monastery was modeled after the University of Otantapuri in India as a representation of the universe.
From here, you'll spend the rest of the day touring Yarlung Valley, the cradle of Tibetan civilization, which is sometimes called 'valley of tombs' or 'valley of the kings'. Historical data names the valley as the original place of the Tibetan people, and it was from Yarlung that the early Tibetan kings unified Tibet in the seventh century. You'll get to see the massive burial mounds of these kings in Chongye.
Yumbulakhang is another major attraction in the area, which is also on today's itinerary. It is perched on a crag, similar to a medieval European castle, and is considered the oldest building in Tibet.
After a full day exploring the Yarlung valley, you'll return to Tsetang for your last night of the adventure!
Day 9: Return to Lhasa, Depart Tibet
It's time to say goodbye to Tibet! In the morning, you'll be transferred to the airport in Lhasa for your return flight home; better yet, connect to the next leg of your Asian adventure. Safe travels!