Tibet – Kailash & the Guge Kingdom
What you will See & Do
Discover the vastness of the Tibetan Plateau and the grandeur of the world's greatest mountain range. Make the pilgrimage to and around the sacred mountain at the heart of Buddhist, Hindu, Bon and Jain cosmology & spend a night on the shores of the vast blue Lake Manasarovar.
Travel through stunning landscapes to explore the religious and artistic heritage of the ancient Kingdom of Guge on the banks of the Sutlej River. Cross vast grasslands for a spectacular close-up view of the world's highest mountain.
Embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure to the roof of the world and discover the hidden treasures of Tibet, traversing the vast and rugged Tibetan Plateau and witness the awe-inspiring grandeur of the world's highest mountain range. Marvel at the breath-taking views of snow-capped peaks, turquoise lakes, and rolling grasslands as you venture deeper into this mystical land.
Immerse yourself in the spiritual atmosphere of ancient monasteries and temples and experience the unique cultural traditions of the Tibetan people. Taste the bold and spicy flavours of Tibetan cuisine and witness mesmerizing performances of traditional dance and music. A journey to Tibet is a truly unforgettable experience that will leave you with a deep appreciation for the natural and cultural wonders of this magical land.
Day 01: Arrive Lhasa - transfer to hotel
Arriving in Lhasa, visitors will be greeted by the stunning natural beauty of the Tibetan plateau. The city is situated at an altitude of over 3,686 meters above sea level and is home to many significant cultural and historical sites. Transferring to the hotel catch your first glimpse of the city and its unique architecture, which is heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.
Your arrival day is relaxed with no set activities in order to allow your body to adjust to the effects of altitude. A welcome dinner is included this evening.
Day 02: Lhasa sightseeing - visit Drepung & Sera
The university monastery of Drepung is one of the three most important Gelugpa monasteries in Tibet and was founded in the 15th century. It houses a large collection of Buddhist scriptures, artifacts, and artwork, and is known for its beautiful architecture and peaceful atmosphere.
Nechung is a small temple located nearby and is the home of the Nechung Oracle, a medium who is believed to be possessed by a deity and who offers spiritual advice and guidance. He is the personal oracle of the Dalai Lamas.
Sera is another important Gelug monastery located on the norther foothills of Lhasa and is known for its vibrant debating culture. Monks at Sera engage in lively philosophical debates on Buddhist doctrine, which can be fascinating to observe.
Day 03: Lhasa sightseeing - Potala, Jokhang & Barkhor
The Potala Palace is a massive fortress-like structure that dominates the Lhasa skyline. It was the winter palace of the Dalai Lamas and contains a complex of chapels, halls and rooms that are richly decorated with frescoes, carvings and sculptures. Explore the many levels of the palace, including the Red Palace and the White Palace, and admire the stunning views of the city from the rooftop.
The Jokhang Temple is considered the spiritual heart of Tibet, located in the heart of Lhasa. It is one of the oldest and most revered temples in Tibet and is known for its impressive architecture and religious artifacts. Amid the many shrines and statues of Buddha witness the daily rituals and offerings made by devotees.
The Barkhor is a bustling marketplace and pilgrimage route that circles the Jokhang Temple. It's one of the oldest and most vibrant areas of Lhasa and is a great place to buy traditional Tibetan goods such as prayer flags, incense and handicrafts. You may also ask your guide to visit a nunnery, Tibetan Medical Institute, art workshops ...
Day 04: drive via Yamdrok Lake to Gyantse
A full days’ drive with many photo stops, follow a spectacular route to Gyantse. From the top of the Kamba Pass (4794m) the views of the turquoise lake, Yamdrok-Tso are unforgettable. The road winds down and along its shores via the small town of Nangartse before climbing again to the Karo La (5054) and the glaciers of Mt Nojin Kangtsang.
For those interested, it is an option to take a short detour to the spectacularly sited Ralung, principal seat of the Drukpa Kagyu.
Gyantse was once of major importance as a trading centre on the routes between India, Sikkim, Bhutan, Tibet and China, its imposing fort, Gyantse Dzong, dominates the skyline.
Day 05: visit Pelkhor Choede – drive via Shalu to Shigatse
Pelkhor Choede is a unique blend of Tibetan and Nepalese architectural styles was established in the C15th as an ecumenical community, eventually comprising 18 colleges representing different traditions of Tibetan Buddhism – Gelukpa, Karma Kagyu, Sakyapa, Shalupa, Drukpa Kagyu …
Within the complex stands the Gyantse Kumbum, a large and impressive chorten (stupa) containing over 100,000 images and is considered one of the best examples of Tibetan art.
The drive to Shigatse takes travellers along a valley filled with farmlands and small villages. A short diversion off the road between Gyantse & Shigatse, drive through small villages to Shalu. The seat of Buton Rinpoche. Shalu is a very beautiful C11th monastery, renovated in the C13-14 with funds provided by the Mongolian Emperor. Its wonderful artwork reflects the same traditions as those of the far western Guge area.
Shigatse is the second-largest city in Tibet and is home to Tashilumpo, one of the largest and most important Gelugpa monasteries in Tibet. Depending on timing, visit this afternoon or tomorrow morning.
Day 06: visit Tashilumpo – drive to Sakya & visit gompa
Tashilumpo is the seat of the Panchen Lama, second only in importance to the Dalai Lama. Its numerous halls contain a 21.6-meter wooden statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha and elaborate, jewel encrusted reliquary chorten.
After lunch drive via Sakya to Shegar. Sakya was the seat of political power in central Tibet from the 10th to mid-14th century. The distinctively coloured fortified gompa is still head of one of the most important schools of Tibetan Buddhism and famous for its library.
Day 07: Sakya to Rombuk & Everest
From Sakya, return to the Friendship Highway and cross its highest point – 5220m before descending again to Shegar from where you again turn south into the Himalaya and begin the climb through Qomolangma National Park – part way up you will transfer to eco-busses for the rest of the way to Rombuk.
Said to be the world’s highest monastery at 5000m, Rombuk gompa is situated to provide the perfect view directly up the valley to Mt Everest (Qomolangma). The monastery guest house provides simple, but comfortable rooms and meals in the tea house.
Day 08: drive via Paiku Tso drive to Saga
Descending from Rombuk head north across the lush grasslands surrounding Lake Paiku Tso, admiring views of Shishapangma on the way.
Saga has little appeal as a town but offers decent accommodation and restaurants for your overnight stop.
Day 09: drive to Menshi
Set out across the vast expanses of western Tibet. Passing small towns & villages, today you will enjoy your first sights of both Mount Kailash & Lake Manasarovar before continuing west to the small village of Menshi.
Day 10: visit Tirthapuri (Gurugyam & Khyunglung) & drive to Tsada
This morning a side trip takes you to the sacred hot springs of Tirthapuri. An important pilgrimage site, there is a small temple and a cave associated with Padmasambhava and his consort – there are rocks with indentations of their footprints and the stone through which he extracted the consciousness of the ogress who inhabited the cave. This is an amazing landscape of red and white earth.
*It is also possible to visit Gurugyam, one of the most important Bon monasteries of western Tibet, and Khyunglung provided you have specified this when booking so that it is included on your permits.
A bit further up this road is Khyunglung, the remains of Tibet’s first inhabited city – a vast cave city complex within the Garuda Valley on the banks of the Sutlej, confirmed as the location where the kings of Shangshung established their rule.
Return via Menshi, then head into the hills and canyons to Tsada (Zhada) on the cliffs above the Sutlej River and one of the most magnificent landscapes of Tibet
Day 11: Visit Tholing & Tsaparang (Guge Kingdom)
Visit some of the most magnificent of Tibet’s historic sites; its style and artworks marking the areas long independence from central Tibet. The kingdom of Guge was established in the 9th century following the assassination of the anti-Buddhist king Langdarma and breakup of the Yarlung Empire. His descendants travelled west and established a capital at Tsaparang.
C11th Tholing was the greatest and historically most important monastery of western Tibet, its influence stretching from Kashmir to Assam. The surviving 15th and 16th century murals are splendid examples of the Guge style, a synthesis of Kashmiri and Newari art.
Tsaparang sprawls over a ridge alongside the Sutlej River. The entire ridge is covered with temples, chortens, houses, cave dwellings, fortifications and secret passageways.
It is one of the most important art-historical centres in Tibet with stunning murals adorning the Lhakang Marpo and Lhakang Karpo.
Day 12: drive via Dungkar - Piyang to Darchen
Dungkar and Piyang comprise an area of 2000+ cave dwellings & temples approximately 1100 years old with strong silk road influence – much artwork reminiscent of the Dunhuang area. The altars and mandalas of Dungar are probably the earliest in western Tibet. In the C16th Geluk monasteries, controlled by Shigatse, were active at both sites. Visit these cave temples with their long histories and wonderful art works before heading to Darchen to prepare for your kora.
Day 13: Kailash Kora - Darchen to Dira Phuk
Collectively known as Kangri Tsosum - Ponri Ngaden, Lake Manasarovar & Kailash – are said to be the heart of the ancient Zhangzhung Kingdom, the supposed land of origin of the pre-Buddhist Bonpo.
To the Bon it is called Yungdrung Gu Tse (Nine-Storey Swastika Mountain) and is the place where their legendary founder, Tongpa Shenrab descended from heaven to earth. In the C11th however Naro Bonchung ‘lost’ both Kailash and Lake Manasarovar to Buddhist Milarepa in a contest of magical powers. To complete a kora (circumambulation) is the goal of every Tibetan; a single kora cleans the sins of a lifetime whilst 108 guarantee enlightenment.
The first day of the kora (circumambulation) passes the site of the huge prayer flagpole at Tarboche, renewed at saga dawa each year. A steep trail through a maze of boulders carved with mantras leads to a Drukpa Kagyu Monastery, dwelling place of the protector of the Kailash region. A rock has a rangjung image of a conch shell believed to have fallen from the sky and dissolved into the rock.
Passing many sacred places, the trail ascends steadily to Dira Phuk (Cave of the female Yak’s Horns). On the ceiling of the dukhang is a rangjung imprint of a female yak. Overnight at the guest house here. Darchen-Dira Phuk approx. 6 hours walking, transport as far as Tarboche can also be arranged to cut the distance.
Day 14: Kailash Kora – Dira Phuk, cross Drolma-la to Zutrul Phuk
Today is a tough day as you climb steeply to cross the Drolma-la (5636m), followed by a short, but very steep descent and a long hike down the valley on the east side of the mountain.
There are numerous sites of immense significance, and you will see pilgrims stop regularly. These include Siwatshal, a replica of the fabled burial ground at Bodh Gaya. Here pilgrims undergo ritual death and enter into the horrific presence of Dorje Jigje before being reborn on top of the Drolma La. All who pass leave offerings.
Crossing the Drolma-la represents the transition from this life to a new one. Here the pilgrim is reborn, and all sins forgiven. Every stone here is looked upon as representing the Three Jewels and considered to be imbued with the three qualities of the Buddha (mind, body, speech).
Day 15: complete Kailash kora - drive to Chiu Gompa (Lake Manasarovar)
It is only a short, gentle hike back to Darchen (2.5 hours, transport also possible) before heading to Lake Manasarovar to relax.
The ‘Lake Conceived from the Mind of God’ is a brilliant turquoise expanse of water, pure beyond conventional scientific confirmation. Its sun-shape a balance and contrast to Rakshal Tal.
Spectacularly perched on a rocky pinnacle, Chiu Gompa is a branch of Dira Phuk gompa on Kailash and is the site of the cave where Padmasambhava lived and meditated for the last 7 years of his life. The granite contains clear imprints of his hands and feet. Here too is the source of the Sutlej River - its water level reflecting the fortunes of Tibet.
Day 16: Return drive to Saga
Return drive to Saga
Day 17: drive to Kyirong(views of Shishapangma)
Head back south across the beautiful Paiku Tso grasslands with views of Mt Shishapangma before turning west via waterfalls, sacred spots and villages to Lower Kyirong - just before the Nepal border.
Day 18: Rasuwa border - Kathmandu
Crossing the border in the morning can be slow, and rather chaotic on the Nepal side. You then have a long drive to Kathmandu as the road condition is not good and road works can slow things. We recommend you do not book departure flights for this evening.
If you are familiar with Kathmandu and prefer to arrange your own accommodations here, just let us know when you book the trip.
Option: This trip can also be operated Lhasa-Lhasa.
In this case Day 17: Saga-Shigatse / Day 18: Shigatse-Lhasa (or departure flight from Shigatse airport / or afternoon departure from Lhasa airport after 15:00)