Led by a private guide, this week-long road trip covers three of Tibet's most important cities for a Buddhist cultural experience you won't soon forget. Start the adventure with two days in the Holy City of Lhasa, and then take scenic drives to the remarkable monasteries, temples, and markets of Gyantse and Shigatse—all while staying in some of the best traditional Tibetan hotels.

Highlights

  • Tour the Potala Palace, where the Dalai Lama has private quarters 
  • Observe how monks live and practice debate at Sera Monastery 
  • Walk through the many small chapels and murals at the Kumbum Stupa
  • Take a spiritual walk around the 15th-century Tashilhunpo Monastery
  • Get your fill of Asian cuisine with a range of restaurants and cafés

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Lhasa Lhasa
Day 2 Explore Jokhang Temple, Sera Monastery & Barkhor Market Lhasa
Day 3 Explore Potala Palace & Drepung Monastery Lhasa
Day 4 Drive from Lhasa to Shigatse Gyantse
Day 5 Drive from Gyantse to Shigatse Shigatse
Day 6 Drive from Shigatse to Lhasa Lhasa
Day 7 Depart Lhasa  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Lhasa

A typical street scene in 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 hit the streets 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 2: Explore Jokhang Temple, Sera Monastery & Barkhor Market

A section of the Sera Monastery

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.

Day 3: Explore Potala Palace & Drepung Monastery

Potala Palace looms over this sacred city

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.

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Day 4: Drive from Lhasa to Gyantse

Palkhor Monastery and the aerial view of the walled Gyantse town

This morning, you'll begin the road journey—about 161 miles (260 km)—by private car from Lhasa to Gyantse. Traveling by jeep along the Friendship Highway, you'll 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.

While here, you will visit the Gyantse Dzong, as well as the Pelkor Chode—a monastery complex with a large gold-domed stupa and 108 small chapels in its several floors, also known as Kumbum, which houses an impressive array of Tibetan Buddhist murals. The aforementioned Dzong, for its part, is a fort dating from the 14th century from which there are amazing views of both Gyantse itself and the surrounding Nyang Chu Valley. 

Day 5: Drive from Gyantse to Shigatse

Shigatse is the second largest city of Tibet

This morning, you'll set out in a comfortable vehicle for the two-hour drive to Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet. You'll check into your hotel and, after a quick refreshment, head out to explore the local market.

Not only is Shigatse Tibet's second largest city, but it's also the capital of the province of Tsang. The most interesting of its many sights are the TashiLhunpo monastic complex and the ruined fortress, which dominates the city's skyline. A high wall surrounds the red and gold buildings, which make up the monastery and you'll have time to explore. In fact, this is an important circumambulation route, which includes small shrines, significant rock inscriptions, and many prayer wheels. The circuit takes less than an hour to complete, but much longer if you stop regularly to observe the Tibetan pilgrims. As for the fortress, little remains here but the view from the top is spectacular.

Day 6: Drive from Shigatse to Lhasa

Make the scenic drive back to Lhasa

This morning, you'll have time for one more kora—the aforementioned spiritual circumambulation around a holy object or sacred site in a clockwise direction—at theTashiLhunpo Monastery before breakfast and the drive back to Lhasa. Founded in 1447 by the 1st Dalai Lama, this historic and culturally important site is a fantastic way to start the day. 

The 167-mile (270 km) drive back to Lhasa should take around five hours, giving you some time in the afternoon to do some last sightseeing and shopping before your last dinner of the trip. 

Day 7: Depart Lhasa

Take one more stroll around Lhasa before your departure

It's time to say goodbye to Lhasa! In the morning, you'll be transferred to the airport for your return flight home; better yet, connect to the next leg of your Asian adventure. Safe travels!

Map

Map of Discover Tibet's Cities - 7 Days
Map of Discover Tibet's Cities - 7 Days