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The vast Tibetan Plateau, often called the ‘Roof of the World’, sits several miles above sea level, and its remote location has made it one of the most spiritual and untouched places on earth. This Express Tibet Tour: Lhasa, Gyantse, Shigatse travels at a relaxed pace, covering the most significant monasteries around Lhasa and the provincial towns of Gyantse & Shigatse, and also ventures to wilderness areas to explore Yamdrok Lake. Join pilgrims at sacred temples, witness monks deep in prayer and listen to prayer flags flapping in the breeze. This is Tibet at its very best.
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DAY 01: LHASA ARRIVAL
Upon arrival in LHASA, a guide and driver will be waiting to provide transfer to your hotel for a refreshing welcome drink with your local guide. Before starting this Express Tibet tour, enjoy some down time at the hotel to relax and get acclimated to the altitude changes. For those arriving by plane from Shangri-La or Zhongdian (in Yunnan) or from Qinghai province by train, an adjustment period is not necessarily required.
NOTE: Due to the high altitude of the region, it is imperative to bring sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses, and to stay regularly hydrated. It is also strongly recommended to consult a doctor before visiting, as not everyone is conditioned to climbing at altitudes sometimes greater than 5000 meters.
Pay a visit to Tibet’s holiest place: the Jokhang Temple which boasts both Nepalese and Indian influences, this temple dates back to the 8th century. Attracting a daily crowd of pilgrims, the temple amply reflects the diversity present in the demography of the Tibetan region. Enjoy the view from the roof and watch numerous pilgrims walk around the Palace. The pilgrims travel the Barkhor (“kora” or pilgrimage routes that circle sacred sites), all the while spinning their prayer wheels before tirelessly prostrating themselves in front of the temple doors. Enter the dimly-lit temple, which is filled with the smell of yak butter and the sound of monks’ chanting. Inside are 3000 icons of Buddha, Buddhist deities, and historical figures, but it’s the golden statue located at the heart of the temple that’s the most notable.
After that, take a walk through Lhasa’s old town, providing a great first opportunity to scout out souvenirs (Tibetan hats, thangkas, incense, etc.) Tibet is also known for its precious stones and fine jewelry; a visit to a local handicrafts shop will be arranged. This area is the old and traditional part of Lhasa and is lively and eccentric.
Begin the Tibet tour today with a visit to the iconic Potala Palace which was home to the Dalai Lama before he left Tibet. The Palace is a true architectural masterpiece, magisterially overlooking the whole city of Lhasa from its 130m vantage point. It is comprised of two main buildings: the Red Palace, the religious center housing relics belonging to previous Dalai Lamas, and the White Palace, housing the private apartments of the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas (the latter fled to India with the arrival of the Chinese army in 1959). The Potala Palace is a treasure and a treasure house, that it contains the golden handwritten Buddhist scriptures, valuable gifts from Chinese emperors, and a lot of priceless antiques. There are many colorful sculptures and paintings chronicling Buddhist folklore and ancient Tibetan life. The visit takes around 3 hours to explore the labyrinth of staircases, apartments, ceremonial rooms, and chapels.
Continue by taking part in a section of the Kora next to the Palace. Here it is possible to appreciate the dedication and endurance of the pilgrims who still consider the Potala Palace as a major sacred site… despite the absence of its principal resident.
While there are several sects of Tibetan Buddhism, the Yellow Hat Sect (Gelugpa) is the most famous. Three of its most important structures are found within the Lhasa region. Finish today’s tour at Sera Monastery, which is one of Tibet’s most important monasteries. Once home to over 5,000 monks, the monastery today holds around 600 monks who still devote every afternoon from 15:30 to 17:00 (except for Sundays) to their fascinating religious debates - true examples of verbal sparring.
Pay a visit to the Drepung Monastery, which is situated at the foot of the Mountain Gambo Utse, 3 miles from the western suburb of Lhasa. This is also the third of the trio of Gelugpa temples (Yellow Hat Sect). Built in the 15th century, the Drepung monastery was once thought to be the largest monastery in the world and in its heyday it was home to 7700 monks. The second, third and fourth Dalai Lamas are buried here; the fifth lived here before taking up his residence in the Potala Palace.
Afterwards, proceed to the Ganden Monastery, the original monastery and stronghold for the Yellow Hat Sect. Established in 1416 by Tsongkhapa (two years before the Sera monastery), the monastery is literally stuck on top of a hill overlooking the whole of the Kyi-Chu Valley. Innumerable religious texts can be found in its various chapels, copied every day by the monastery’s “printers.” Get a chance to see these studious monks at work, conscientiously copying around 500 pages a day – the equivalent of around five books. Mix with the crowd of pilgrims along the kora, which offers wonderful views of the monastery and the valley. Transfer back to Lhasa.
NOTE: As the Ganden Monastery is located at around 3900m altitude, 200m higher than Lhasa, it is advisable, it is advised that this trip is undertaken after an acclimation period of two or three days.
Your guide and driver will meet you at your hotel before departing for Gyantse, passing Yamdrok Lake, one of Tibet's largest lakes. According to local mythology, Yamdrok Lake is the transformation of a goddess. Shaped like a scorpion, it is an intense blue and makes for a very impressive sight. It is over 72 km (45 miles) long. The lake is surrounded by many snow-capped mountains and is fed by numerous small streams. The lake does have an outlet stream at its far western end.
Stop off at the Kamba-la Pass (altitude of 4800-5000) where some amazing views of the lake (and imposing Nojin Kangtsang) can be seen. Enjoy a photo opportunity with the roaming yaks or the Tibetan Mastiffs, formerly used as watchdogs by Nomadic Peoples in the Himalayas and as guard dogs in monasteries.
Continue the journey along the lake to NAGARZE, a small town where lunch will be provided. Pay a visit to the small Samding Temple, boasting some great views of the lake.
Next stop is the Karola Glacier (altitude of 4960m), which at the start of the 20th century was the location of the highest battle in the history of the British Empire. The final stop of the day will be at the Manla Reservoir, which is of interest for both its turquoise waters and also for being fed by Yamdrok Lake – one of the most sacred lakes for the Tibetan people.
Around 90km to the west of the Yamdrok lake lies the Tibetan town of GYANTSE where we reach at the end of the day. Previously an independent kingdom, Gyantse was a commercial crossroads on the trans-Himalayan route, linking central Tibet to Sikkim.
After breakfast, visit the impressive Pelkhor Chode (or Palcho Monastery). The centerpiece of the site is the famous “Kumbum”, the largest chorten in Tibet which is over 100 feet in height, octagonal in shape, with a 9 storey terraced exterior, 75 chapels, 108 gates and superb wall paintings which include some 10,000 images. The chorten was founded in the 15th century by the Prince of Gyantse, Tabten Kunzang, whose main residence is found in the Dzong (“fortress”) located a few hundred meters away on the crest of a hill.
The Tibet tour continues to the spectacular Khumbum Stupa, where you can explore the town, climbing up to the fort, or just watching and meeting the friendly local people.
This afternoon, set off on a gentle walk in the picturesque hills overlooking Gyantse to the Rabse Nunnery, a round-trip of around 2 hours. Explore the chortens and prayer wheel chapels draped in prayer flags, and take in the superb views of Gyantse's monastery and fort in the distance. If you are feeling adventurous, there is the option to extend the afternoon's excursion to the Retok Ganden Retreat, a further 4km uphill trek from Rabse Nunnery.
After breakfast, embark on a relaxing 1.5 hour road journey from Gyantse to SHIGATSE in the morning, passing through a beautiful agricultural valley. The second city of Tibet, Shigatse was once the capital of the Tsang kingdom, a rival to Lhasa’s dominance. On arrival check into your hotel.
Pay a visit to Tashilhunpo, a Gelugpa monastery (Yellow Hat Sect) and one of Tibet's most active and beautiful monasteries founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama (whose remains are on site). Tashilhunpo, meaning ‘Heap of Glory', was the seat of the Panchen ('great scholar') Lamas who came into existence in the 17th century when the 5th Dalai Lama gave this title to his beloved and learned tutor. While the monastery remains very active with a community of around 800 monks, the divergence between China and Tibet over the identity of the real Panchen Lama has led the 14th Dalai Lama (today based in Dharamsala) to “re-establish” Tashilhunpo in India. its traditional Tibetan architecture, striking golden roof and 26m high Buddha this is the largest yellow hat monastery in Tibet and one of the most impressive.
After exploring the monastery, take a stroll through the Tibetan Market where there are some more great opportunities to pick up some truly unique souvenirs.
After breakfast in the morning, end the Express Tibet Tour: Lhasa, Gyantse, Shigatse with a transfer to the Shigatse Airport for the departing flight. If you are going to continue travelling other Asian countries, please consult with us about your plans.
NOTE: From Shigatse, the flight to Chengdu is operated only one everyday. This is the best means of avoiding the long transfer back to Lhasa. Please consult us for differing flight options.
Private Tour (for 02 pax, cheaper if more)
Tour Price Includes
06 night accommodation
Meals as mentioned
Permits for Tibet special zone
Air-conditioned coach/car transportation
Local English speaking guide
Bottled drinking water per touring days
Sightseeing and permit fees during guided times
Tour Price Excludes
Flights (both domestic and international)
Visas if required
Other meals not mentioned
Laundry, telephone calls and expenditure of a personal nature
When to Go
See estimated monthly temperature and rainfall for this itinerary