Prepare yourself for an epic road-trip into a heavenly land, where lofty mountains and shimmering sacred lakes await!
Journey into the wilderness of Tibet and experience what authentic Tibetan culture is like on this once-in-a-lifetime trip. We will begin our adventure in Xi’an, where we will travel into Tibet via the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and make a brief stop in Qinghai province. This will allow us to acclimatize to the high altitude gradually while simultaneously giving us the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular landscapes along the way. When we arrive in Lhasa, we’ll visit some of the most iconic attractions that the city has to offer. Once we are done in the region’s capital, however, we will take you on a tour of Tibet that is unlike any other. We will travel deep into the heart of Tibet, where we will get to wander along the banks of holy lakes, explore the ancient ruins of a forgotten kingdom, and marvel at the pearly snow-capped mountains that pierce the endless sapphire sky. Along the way, we’ll have an opportunity to see native Tibetan wildlife, such as the rare Tibetan antelope and the Kiang or Tibetan wild ass.
Participants Max: 12 Duration: 22 days and 21 nights
Tours in 2021: 10th of Jul - 31st of Jul
Tours in 2022: 7th of May - 28th of May / 16th of Jul - 6th of Aug
Tibet is renowned throughout the world for its snow-capped plateau scenery and sparkling alpine lakes, which come together to form an almost fairytale landscape.
Due to the high altitude and the resulting endless blue nature of the skies, the lakes in Tibet are crystal clear and their varying depth means that they are often a wonderful mixture of colours. They shimmer like sapphires embedded into the jade-hued grass of the highland plateaus.
Perhaps most significantly, however, almost every lake in Tibet has a spiritual or religious value to the local people, making them popular sites for pilgrimage. Monks and pious locals will frequently circumambulate a lake as a religious act. This may sound simple enough, but some of these lakes are so large that it can take days to walk around their entire circumference!
For example, Yamdrok Lake is over 40 times the size of Lake Windermere in the UK and it takes an average of around 7 days to complete a pilgrimage around its perimeter.
On our journey, we will visit six of the largest lakes that all occupy integral roles as sacred places within the religions of Tibet.
Escape on a Spiritual Retreat to Tibet's Monasteries
Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and resplendent with crystal clear alpine lakes, it is easy to see how the Tibetan people have felt inspired and spiritually in touch with the landscape for hundreds of years.
Tibetan Buddhism is the dominant religion within the region, and the local Tibetan people are renowned throughout the world for their piety. It represents a mixture of beliefs from the Mahayana and Vajrayana branches of Buddhism, which in turn stem from the late stages of Indian Buddhism. Alongside the practices that it inherited from Indian Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism has several unique qualities, such as certain Tantric practices and spirited scriptural debates within the monasteries. Each monastery in Tibet will follow one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, which are known as Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug. Of these, the Gelug or "Yellow Hat" sect is by far the most prevalent and is so named because the monks wear traditional yellow hats when they debate scripture.
When you visit a temple or monastery in Tibet, you'll undoubtedly see countless worshipers spinning prayer wheels, circumambulating the temple grounds, or kowtowing within the temple halls. If we arrive at the right time, we may even have the opportunity to catch the monks during one of their scripture debates, which are often lively and sometimes even a bit heated! These temples and monasteries are an ideal place to get in touch with the local culture and to feel the depth of faith for which Tibetan people are so well-known.
Day 01 Arrive in Xi’an
Meeting point: Xi’an airport or you can come to the hotel directly by yourself.
There is a direct flight that leaves from London every Friday and arrives into Xi'an: London (LHR) to Xi’an (Friday 22:00 – Saturday 15:50)
We will come to the airport at 16:30 to arrange a pick-up service.
Please Note: If you decide to take the train from another city in China to Xi’an, please let us know in advance and we can meet you either at the hotel or the railway station. If you need any help making travel arrangements, please don’t hesitate to ask us!
Dinner: Included. We will enjoy a welcome dinner together, where we will sample traditional Shaanxi-style cuisine.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Xi’an
Day 02-03 Onwards and Upwards!
In order to gradually get used to the high altitude, we will travel into Tibet by train. It is a long journey from Xi’an to Lhasa and we need to preserve our energy for the adventure ahead of us, so we will take a break at Xining.
In the morning, we will take the high-speed train to Xining, which will take about 5.5 hours. After an early dinner, or perhaps better to call it afternoon tea based on the time, we will board onto the sleeper coach of the train and start our journey along the Qinghai - Tibet railway.
The scenery along this famous railway line is indescribably beautiful. Fortunately we won’t miss too much while we are sleeping, because most of the night will be spent crossing through the Gobi Desert, but we will be greeted by the sight of snow-capped Kunlun Mountains in the early morning sunlight.
The train journey will take 21 hours in total and we will arrive at Lhasa on the afternoon of Day 3. Once we arrive, we will go directly to the hotel for a good rest. During this time, you are free to relax and prepare for the trip ahead of us. We suggest that you take it easy, drink lots of water, and avoid eating any heavy foods. In the evening, we will enjoy a welcome dinner made up of delicious local cuisine.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Lhasa
DAY 04 The Heart of Tibetan Culture (3,670m)
We will visit the Potala Palace, one of the most iconic landmarks in Lhasa and the spiritual symbol of Tibet. You will join many pilgrims on your way to the top of the hill on which this13-storey architectural wonder is perched. Be forewarned, however, that the approach to the Potala Palace is not easy and we will have to climb some very steep steps, so we will take it slowly and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the Palace at our leisure. As we stroll through its winding corridors and explore a handful of its hundreds of rooms, you’ll get a taste of what life within the palace was once like.
In the afternoon, we will visit the Jokhang Temple, which represents the spiritual centre of Lhasa. As we make the inner circuit around the courtyard, you’ll have the opportunity to spin some of the numerous prayer wheels and feel swept up by the spiritual fervor of the devout locals. From the rooftop, we’ll get to enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the Potala Palace and the snow-capped peaks in the distance. We’ll then explore part of the Barkhor, which is a holy circuit around the temple that is frequented by pilgrims and is also home to a bustling market. You will have the rest of the afternoon free to explore the Barkhor Market at your leisure and experience what life is like in the heart of Tibet.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Lhasa
DAY 05 Tibetan Monasteries and Their Devoted Followers (3,670m)
On this day, we will visit the Drepung Monastery, the Sera Monastery, and the Norbulingka. The Drepung Monastery is about 8 kilometres (5 mi) west of central Lhasa and once ranked as the world's largest monastery, with about 10,000 monks living within the monastery. Our day will begin by admiring the pearl-white monastic buildings that are scattered across the hillside. Walking up the hill will be a pleasant distraction, as it represents a welcome break from the somber atmosphere inside of the temple halls. From the top of the hill, we’ll be treated to a breathtaking view of the city of Lhasa and the lofty mountains in the distance.
Sera Monastery rests at the foot of the mountains. It is recognized as one of the three main monasteries in Lhasa dedicated to the Gelugpa or “Yellow Hat” sect of Tibetan Buddhism and it represents one of the most sacred spiritual centres for Buddhist monks, If we are lucky, we may even catch a glimpse of the monks as they take part in the traditional exercise of debating sutras, which is more lively than you might imagine!
The Norbulingka originally served as the summer residence of the Dalai Lama and the term “norbu lingka” literally translates to mean “treasured garden” or “jeweled park.” It served as a retreat for the 7th to the 14th Dalai Lama, who would move here from the Potala Palace every year at the start of summer.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Lhasa
DAY 06 The Sapphire-Blue Lake Surrounded by Snow-White Mountains (3,900m)
Lhasa-Gyangtse 265km/5.5hrs driving;
During our morning drive through the Kampala Pass (5,030m), you will spot a glimpse of the Yamdrok Tso Lake and we’ll get to enjoy spectacular views of the sacred Mount Nyenchen Tanglha in the distance. Nestled at the southern foot of the snow-capped Himalayas, the turquoise-hued Yamdrok Tso Lake looks like a precious sapphire that has been carefully embedded into the landscape. When the weather is clear, the reflection of the sunshine lends the lake a mysterious and ethereal quality, as the colour reflected changes depending on the different depths throughout the lake itself. The Tibetan people believe that the lake is actually the dwelling place of spirits who serve as their guardians, so devoted followers will regularly make a pilgrimage to the lake in order to pay their respects. Once we arrive at the highway towards Gyantse, we will stop at the famous Gyantse Kumbum, which is one of the largest stupas in Tibet.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Gyantse
Day 07 A Day in the Life of a Buddhist Monk (altitude 3836m)
Gyangtse-Shigatse 95km/1.5hrs driving;
We will spend the morning in Gyantse, where we will visit the Palcho Monastery and Tashilhunpo Monastery.
The Palcho Monastery was built at a time when different religious sects were in a major conflict within Tibet, so it occupies a particularly special position within the history of Tibetan Buddhism. The most famous and symbolic feature of the monastery is undoubtedly the Kumbum Stupa, which is composed of nine layers and 76 halls containing elegant murals and Buddhist statues. All around the stupa, there are around 100 grottoes that each contain unique murals and statues, many of which date back to the time when the stupa was first constructed. Read more about the Palcho Monastery.
The Tashilhunpo Monastery was built in 1447 and serves as the seat of the Panchen Lama. Within its vast expanse, the monastery houses both a giant statue of the Maitreya Buddha and the tomb of the 4th Panhcen Lama, which contains a wealth of jewels and gold. Not far from the monastery, we’ll find the Old Town of Shigatse, which is a great place to have a wander. In the old town, you’ll discover beautifully decorated Tibetan houses and a lively local bazaar, which will give you a taste of what life is like for the local people here.
Once we have finished our sightseeing for the day, we will drive for around 1.5 hours to Shigatse.
Accommodation: 4-star Tibetan-style hotel in Shigatse
Day 08 The View from Beneath the Himalayas (altitude 4316m)
Shigatse-Sakya 153km/ 3hrs driving;
Speed limits in Tibet are taken very seriously and are heavily enforced. Although the journey from Shigatse to Sakya is only about 150 kilometres (93 mi) long, the speed limit is capped at 40 km/h (approx. 25 mph) and there are numerous speed-limit checks along the way, so this section of road will really slow us down. For this reason, it will take at least 3 hours for us to drive to Sakya.
On this day, we will also visit the Sakya Monastery, where you will be able to see Mount Everest in the distance! Located in the county of Sakya, the Sakya Monastery is the largest and most well-known monastery dedicated to the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism,
Our journey for the day will end in Tingri, or Lao Tingri, which is traditionally used as a stopping point for most tours of Everest Base Camp.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Tingri
Day 09 Journey into the Pure Land (4,640m)
Sakya-Lhatse/Saga 347km/6.5hrs driving;
You may feel tired today, as we will spend nearly the whole day on the road (approx. 7 hours), but the reward for taking this long trip will be the breathtaking landscapes that we will see along the way. During the drive, we will pass by the county of Lhatse, which is located deep within the valley of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. From Lhatse onwards, the roads are not as well maintained and our path will be quite rugged! The town of Saga, which means “Happy Land,” is situated along the Tsangpo River in a region that is crisscrossed by the upper Brahmaputra River and its tributaries. As long look out, you will notice that the land here becomes wilder, the air will start to get thinner, and the sky will seem to be endlessly blue.
In the evening, we will stay in a local guesthouse within Saga.
Accommodation: Guesthouse in Saga
Day 10 Journeying Among Sacred Lakes and Mountains (4,560m)
Saga-Darchen 492km/ 8hrs driving;
From Saga, we will travel for around 145 kilometres (90 mi) to Zhongba. The road to Zhongba has been well-maintained, so the trip should only take us about 3 hours. Once we reach Zhongba, we can pay a quick visit to a small monastery, which sits on a hill at the western end of the town. From Zhongba onwards, however, the road begins to deteriorate rapidly and vehicles sometimes get stuck here, so we must take it very carefully. Along the way, you’ll be treated to more stunning panoramic views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains, which is sure to distract you from our slow pace.
It will take us at least 4.5 hours to drive from Zhongba to Manasarovar Lake and we will need to make several river crossings. Manasarovar Lake is considered to be one of the holiest lakes in Tibet, and you’ll definitely see why once you are captivated by its beauty.
Once we have finished sightseeing at the lake, we will drive to Darchen and pass through the Mayum La Pass along the way, which is famed for its beautiful views of the Himalayas. We will stay overnight near the main gateway of Darchen, which rests at the foot of the sacred Mount Kailash.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Darchen
Day 11 Sample Another Type of Landscape
Darchen-Tsada 251km / 4.5hrs driving;
We will spend the day driving to Tsada, which is a small town located deep within a river valley. Throughout the drive, we’ll have the chance to view some of the strange sand-rock formations that have become part of the river valley.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Tsada
Day 12 Uncovering Ancient History
On this day, we will visit the Ruins of the Guge Kingdom, which is located in the county of Zhada within the Ngari Region of Tibet. It is believed to be the highest ancient kingdom in terms of altitude in the world and it ruled over western Tibet over 1,000 years ago. Most of the ancient buildings have either been made of tamped earth or have been carved directly out of a small mountain, which gives the kingdom a strange and almost ethereal quality. Seeing it in this beautiful yet ruined state, it is hard to imagine just how powerful and advanced this civilization was for its time. The entire kingdom was nearly destroyed following a civil revolt and a foreign invasion, but fortunately some of its buildings were spared and can still be seen today. The main ruins were once the political centre of the Guge Kingdom, which we will visit during the day. In the afternoon, we will explore the Tholing Monastery, which served as the religious centre of the Guge Kingdom.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Tsada
Day 13 A Much-Needed Rest in a New Town (4,255m)
Tsada-Ali 193km / 3.5hrs driving;
It will take us between 3.5 to 4 hours to drive from Tsada to Ali. Along the way, we will continue to enjoy the rich snowy landscape and the lofty mountains in the distance. Our final destination will be the town of Shiquanhe, which is the capital of Ali and was only built in 1965.
We will take a break here, to mark the middle of our journey. Once we arrive, you are free to enjoy yourselves and explore at your leisure. You can relax in a local teahouse, take a walk inside or outside of the town, or simply relax in the hotel.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Shiquanhe
DAY 14 Welcome to Paradise (4,300m)
Ali-Gertse 490km / 7-7.5hrs driving;
On this day, we will travel deep into the heart of Ali, which is considered a haven for wild animals. Unfortunately it will be a hard day, as we will be stuck in the car for between 7 to 7.5 hours. Along the way, however, we may have the rare opportunity to see some of the local wildlife, such as the Tibetan antelope and the Kiang (Tibetan wild ass).
Accommodation: Guest-house in Gertse
Day 15 Marvel at the Sacred Lakes (4,760m)
Gertse-Tsochen 251km / 4hrs driving;
On this day, we will continue our journey into this paradise of natural beauty. Along the way, we will visit two lakes. The first one is just 60 kilometres (37 mi) east of Gertse and is a salt lake known as Tong Tso Lake. If you are not feeling too tired from high altitude, you can do some morning exercises by the lakeside!
In the afternoon, we will visit Dawa Lake, which may at first appear to you like a landscape from a fairytale.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Tsochen
Day 16 Discover the Ancient Tibetan Religion of Bon (4,700m)
Tsochen-Wenbu 270km / 7-8hrs driving;
Today, we will need to continue with our epic road challenge! Although it is not a long journey, we will have to contend with the Gobi Desert and poorly maintained roads for most of the way. Our reward, however, will be to explore Tangra Yumco Lake, which looks like another scene torn directly from a fairytale.
Tangra Yumco Lake is one of the holiest lakes for followers of the ancient Tibetan religion of Bon, because it is believed to be the place where the goddess Gangzhuoma, the most well-respected deity in the Bon canon, lives according to legend. It is said that the waters within the lake can change colour and that they sometimes change between three different colours in one day!
Accommodation: Guest-house in Wenbu South Village
Day 17 The Lost Village (4,700)
Wenbu- Nyima 124km / 3.5hrs driving;
Wenbu South Village is on the bank of Tangra Yumco Lake, so it will serve as the ideal place to enjoy the breathtaking morning view of the sun rising over the lake. This village is also considered to be one of the birthplaces of the religion of Bon and was once a place of deep significance within the ancient Kingdom of Zhangzhung. Nowadays, however, it is just a small, isolated village with only a few hundred residents, all of whom are followers of Bon.
We are not in a hurry to leave this beautiful village, so we will spend the morning relaxing as we enjoy the view of Tangra Yumco Lake. If you’re feeling energetic, we can take a small trek to the pagoda and mani stones that rest on a hill near the village. In the afternoon, we will drive for 124 kilometres (77 mi), which will be our last big driving challenge of the day. Our reward will be another beautiful holy lake, which is known as Dangqiong Co Lake.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Nyima
Day 18 A Haven for Tibetan Antelope (4,900)
Nyima-Banga 335km / 5hrs driving;
In the morning, we will drive for around 5 hours to get to Banga, and we will pass Serling Tso Lake along the way. Serling Tso is the second largest saltwater lake in Tibet, with a length of 72 kilometres (45 mi), a width of 22 kilometres (14 mi) from south to north, and a width of 40 kilometres (25 mi) from east to west. It averages at 33 metres (108 ft.) in depth and covers a colossal area of 1,640 square kilometres (633 sq. mi), making it larger than the entire city of London!
Accommodation: 3 Star3-star hotel in Banga
Day 19 One Last Lake For the Road (3,670m)
Banga-Lhasa 556km / 9.5hrs driving;
Today will be our longest day for driving. Our highlight for the day will be a visit to Namtso Lake, which means “Heavenly Lake” in Tibetan. Namtso Lake is considered to be one of the three holy lakes of Tibet, but it also ranks as the second largest saltwater lake in China and the highest altitude lake in the world! As the sun rises and bathes the landscape in its golden light, the lake will turn a captivating turquoise colour and we will be surrounded by stunning views of the surrounding Nyenchen Tanglha mountain range, which has peaks that are over 7,000 metres (22,900 ft.) in height. The wide open plains, dotted occasionally by the pearl-white yurts of the local nomads, is a real sight to behold. Depending on how everyone is feeling, we may also walk along the lake or climb up a nearby hill to explore the area. After we have finished our sightseeing for the day, we will drive back to Lhasa.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Lhasa
DAY 20 A Slow Goodbye
In the morning, we will board onto the sleeper coach of our overnight train back to Xining, where we will take a break and have something to eat. From there, we will take the high speed train and begin the journey back to Xi’an.
Please Note: Rather than take the train back to Xi’an, you can choose to end the tour on this day instead. You can either choose to rest for 1-2 days in Lhasa or take a flight from Lhasa to your next destination. We can help you to book local hotels, get a taxi to the airport, or find you a local guide if you would like to explore further.
DAY 21 A Well-Deserved Rest!
We will arrive in Xi’an in the evening. After we have checked in to our hotel, let’s go out and enjoy a celebratory dinner together. If you’re feeling up to it, we could even go out for a few beers, as Xi’an is well-known for its vibrant nightlife!
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Xi’an
DAY 22 Your Onward Journey
In the morning, we will escort you to the train station or airport with plenty of time for you to catch your train or flight.
If you would like to spend more time exploring the historic city of Xi’an, we would be more than happy to arrange a private culture-based tour for you according to your specifications.
- Altitude Sickness
The average altitude of Tibet is over 3,500 metres (11,480 ft.). Altitude sickness poses one of the greatest risks when it comes to traveling in Tibet. The initial symptoms of altitude sickness are as follows: loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, insomnia/sleeplessness, dizziness, confusion, persistent headache, weakness, fatigue, heavy legs, breathlessness and breathing irregularity, etc. If you believe you might be suffering from altitude sickness, please consider halting your ascent so that you can take a good rest, drink plenty of water, keep your spirits up, and remain optimistic. Tibetan doctors are well-versed in procedures that can alleviate and cure altitude sickness. Please try not to depend on breathing from oxygen tanks, as this will mean it will take you longer to acclimatize. If your situation becomes worse and you start to development more serious symptoms, the only way to resolve the problem will be to stop the trip and move to a lower altitude.
- Clothing and Equipment
A camera, factor 40 to 60 sun-cream, sunglasses with a protection factor of 15 or above, lip balm with an SPF rating, a towel, toothpaste, a small flashlight, and some non-perishable snacks.
Please be aware that weather conditions and terrain will vary significantly from region to region during our trip. Your wardrobe needs to be warm but also adaptable to changing weather conditions, so we recommend bringing a jacket, sweaters, hats or warm headwear, a scarf, mittens or gloves, a bandanna, cotton underwear, thick socks, long-sleeve shirts, t-shirts, trousers (shorts are not appropriate when we are hiking), comfortable shoes, and a raincoat or protective gear for when it rains.
Please bring any medication you would normally take with you on a long trip, such as painkillers, anti-diarrheal medicine, rehydration medication, and any prescription medication you have. Alongside all of this, you should also bring some medication to help you adjust to high altitudes. For example, “acetazolamide” is a ten tablet treatment to prevent acute altitude sickness. We recommend consulting your GP for suggestions.
Prices and What’s Included
Unlike other tours in China, we do not ask you to tip your tour guides and drivers each day. Instead, we pay our tour guides and drivers a fair wage, so they do not need to ask for tips.
Cost pp (20days):
5 participants +1 tour guide – 2 SUVs: £5,300; 6 participants +1 tour guide – 3 SUVs: £5,400
7 participants +1 tour guide – 3 SUVs: £4,850; 8 participants +1 tour guide – 3 SUVs: £4,450
9 participants +1 tour guide – 4 SUVs: £4,750; 10 participants +1 tour guide – 4 SUVs: £4,150
11 participants +1 tour guide – 4 SUVs: £4,000; 12 participants +1 tour guide – 5 SUVs: £4,100
Cost pp (22days):
An additional £200 per person.
Single supp: £570 or £600 (Please be advised that, if you are the last person joining the tour or if there is no one in the group who you can share with, you may need to pay for the single supplement. We will advise you if this is the case when you enquire about the tour.)
What’s Included: Shared accommodation (based on 2 people per room at hotels); all transportation costs during the designated tour time; breakfast every day and two dinners; all entrances fees to the designated attractions within the tour; the entry permit for Tibet; and the services of our tour guides for the entirety of the tour.
What’s Not Included: Flights; visa; all meals not specified in the itinerary; and travel insurance.
How can I sign up to this tour?
Step 1 ⇒ Contact us directly to talk about the tour in more detail.
Step 2 ⇒ Book online and pay the £100 deposit. If you have an exclusive discount code, please enter it into the Enquiry box.
Step 3 ⇒ We will send you the invoice confirming you have been booked on the tour. Once you receive the invoice, you have 30 days to pay an additional £500, which will secure your place on the tour.
Step 4 ⇒ Please note that the final cost of the tour will be based on the number of participants and will be split into two payments. The first payment must be made within 3 months of the tour’s start date and is based on the minimum price of the tour minus your £600 deposit. After that, you will need to pay the remaining balance one month before the tour is due to leave based on the tour subscription. In the meantime, we will advise you on how to apply for your visa and keep you updated on the subscription of the tour.
Step 5 ⇒ Once you have made the final payment, we will send you our exclusive tour e-book, which contains a detailed itinerary of the tour and in-depth information on the areas we’ll be visiting.
Step 6 ⇒ Prepare yourself for an unforgettable adventure!
We are happy to answer any questions you may have and we will always keep you up to date on the progress of the tour subscription.