The Himalayas are your companion as you continue your adventures on the rooftop of the world with eight nights in timeless, ethereal Tibet—the spiritual center of Buddhism. We’ll explore beyond the capital of Lhasa to the central valley cities of Gyantse and Shigatse, where we delve deep into the powerful spiritual core of Tibetan culture.
- It's Included:
- Roundtrip international airfare between Kathmandu and Lhasa
- Accommodations for 4 nights in Lhasa, 1 night in Gyantse, 2 nights in Shigatse, and 1 night in Kathmandu
- 21 meals—8 breakfasts, 6 lunches, and 7 dinners
- 9 small group activities
- Services of an experienced OAT trip leader, who speaks English and the native language
- All transfers
Our Nepal & the Mystical Himalayas adventure comes to a close today, as we begin our discoveries in Tibet. This morning we depart Kathmandu on a flight to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, arriving in the afternoon. Upon arrival we transfer to our hotel and have time to relax and adjust to the altitude of 12,000 feet. Later in the afternoon, you can join a short walk in the vicinity of the hotel to get oriented.
For 350 years, Lhasa, the “City of the Sun,” has been at the political and economic center of Tibet. The country itself has existed since the seventh century as a remote mountain theocracy based on the mystical tenets of Lamaism, a form of Tantric Indian Buddhism coupled with Tibetan shamanism. Here, feudal Lamas whose spiritual authority was matched by their complete control of internal affairs ruled the rural population. Some reigns were benevolent, while others were ruthless.
The autonomy of the Lamas waxed and waned during various Chinese dynasties, with almost complete independence enjoyed during the Republican period (1912-1949). But things changed during China’s Cultural Revolution. In 1951, through military action and pressured negotiation, China re-established its sovereignty. After years of steadily increasing oppression, a revolt broke out in 1959, and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India.
Widespread persecution of the Tibetan people continued, reaching a peak during the Cultural Revolution. Thousands of monks and nuns were sent to labor camps. Hundreds of ancient monasteries were destroyed. Arbitrary agricultural reforms, such as imposed planting of unfamiliar crops and the collectivization of yak and goat herds, undermined traditional Tibetan life. The population was further destabilized when the Chinese government encouraged non-Tibetan Han Chinese people to settle in Tibet, thereby weakening the cultural foundations of the region.
In spite of these hardships, Tibetan culture has continued to thrive under the stewardship of the exiled Dalai Lama, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. A charismatic figure, he has been able to force the Chinese government into seeking normalized relations, restoring temples, allowing some religious freedoms, and permitting some degree of free enterprise. Attempts by the government to bring the Dalai Lama back to China have been unsuccessful so far. Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama, along with a growing coterie of international celebrities and activists, continues in the struggle to safeguard Tibetan human rights.
This evening, we have a dinner at a local restaurant.
After breakfast at our hotel, we see one of the grandest monuments in all of Asia: the extraordinary Potala Palace. Built in the 17th century (atop the original seventh-century site), it boasts more than 1,000 rooms, including the Red palace (where the Dalai Lama once lived), 10,000 chapels, and a labyrinth of mysterious dungeons. It took 7,000 workers and 1,500 artists and craftsmen more than 50 years to build the adjoining White and Red palaces. This Eastern architectural triumph was the world’s tallest building before the creation of 20th-century skyscrapers. During our explorations, we’ll encounter pilgrims who journey to this sacred Buddhist shrine from throughout Tibet. Behold a stunning array of treasures: a grand ceremonial hall with magnificent hanging brocades and painted religious scrolls, vivid murals, statues of Buddha, and a mandala made of 20,000 pearls. Of particular note are the rich gold and jewel-encrusted tombs of eight Dalai Lamas. Perched on Red Mountain, the Palace offers sweeping views of the city and the surrounding immense peaks that are as extraordinary as its interior. We'll also visit a Tibetan carpet shop for a demonstration of this skilled work by local artisans.
This afternoon, we head to Bharkor Street, the first street in the oldest section of Lhasa, which bustles with marketplace activity and religious devotion. We enter the 1,300-year-old Jokhang Temple, where we are likely to see Buddhist pilgrims making clockwise circuits on their hands and knees in reverence to one of Tibet’s most sacred sites. Thousands of yak-butter candles flicker inside beneath the enlightened gaze of the golden Jowo Sakyamuni, the seventh-century Buddha statue that the temple was built to house.
Dinner is at our hotel tonight.
This morning, we venture into the city of Lhasa once again. Today we visit the Drephung “rice heap” and Sera “wild rose garden” monasteries. Drephung lies at the base of Mount Gephel and was built in 1416 by Jamyang Chojey, a direct disciple of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelukpa school. Before the Chinese invasion in 1959, Drephung was the largest religious monastery in the world with 10,000 monks.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we visit the Sera monastery, which earned its name for the opulent wild roses that grew all around the site centuries ago. Before 1959, the monastery was the home for more than 7,000 monks, but since then the monastery has only increased in cultural significance and emotional power. Built in 1419—the year that the sect’s founder, Je Tsongkhapa, died—Sera Monastery features the largest Tsokchen (main assembly hall) in the town, four stories high and with nearly 11,000 square feet of floor space. The monastery was built to house precious gifts from the Emperor to one of Je Tsongkhapa’s disciples.
We move from within the monastery walls to the spacious parks, gardens and fountains of Norbulingka. This beautiful example of “Yellow Hat” architecture was built in the 1700s by the seventh Dalai Lama and served as the summer home of successive Dalai Lamas until the late 1950s.
We enjoy dinner at a local restaurant tonight.
Today we leave Lhasa and travel overland on the “Friendship Highway” to Yamtrok Lake. Spectacular mountain views give way to the bluest water as we come upon the lake. Yamtrok is believed to be the physical transformation of a goddess. Seen from above, with its unique fan shape, the mythology is believable. The lake has dozens of islands, bays and inlets that we tour by boat. Then, we continue our drive to Gyantse (about 13,000 feet), which was once the third largest city in Tibet. Here, there may be a possibility of witnessing a water burial.
Dinner tonight is at our hotel.
After breakfast at our hotel in Gyantse, we set out to explore the Palchor Monastery. This monastery was built in the early 1400s and boasts the largest Buddhist stupa in Tibet, the Kumbum Podang. With 108 chapels and the presence of countless pilgrims offering prayers, we are surrounded with ancient texts and the dim light of yak candles.
Then, we continue our overland trek to Shigatse (12,800 feet). Here, we’ll enjoy lunch and visit a local market. We’ll then check into our hotel and have some time to rest and acclimate before gathering again for dinner.
Today we tour Shigatse, the second-largest city in Tibet, and its Tashilhunpo Monastery, founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama, Gendun Drup. The monastery is the traditional seat of the Panchen Lamas, the second-highest ranking Lama in the Gelukpa tradition. Located on a hill in the center of the city, the monastery’s name means “all fortune and happiness gathered here,” or “heap of glory.” The monastery features bronze-gated chapels and hundreds of Buddha statues. Though the tenth Panchen Lama passed away in 1989, several monks continuously pray for his new incarnation as an infant.
We’ll gather for lunch, then you are free to explore on your own this afternoon before we gather again for dinner at local restaurants.
After breakfast, we drive overland for our return trip to Lhasa. During our trip, which will take most of the the day, we'll be surrounded by mountains, glaciers and the occasional yak herd. Once we reach Lhasa we'll stop for a visit to a local food factory, followed by dinner at a local restaurant.
This morning, we transfer to the airport for our flight to Kathmandu. We arrive mid-afternoon, and the balance of the day is yours to relax or continue your discoveries in this fascinating city at your own pace. Dinner is on your own tonight.
After a morning at leisure, transfer to the airport for your flight to Dubai, where you'll board your return flight to the U.S. some time after midnight.