The ultimate pilgrimage to remote western Tibet
An incredible overland journey and trek from the holy city of Lhasa to the most sacred pilgrimage sites of western Tibet.
The great temples and palaces of Lhasa, Gyantse and Shigatse - alive with atmosphere, teeming with pilgrims - are an experience you will not soon forget. High passes topped with colorful prayer flags, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, nomad herders and stunningly clear rivers make the drive west equally memorable.
Sacred to Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Bonpo as the earthly manifestation of Mount Meru, a pilgrimage circuit of the mountain is one of the most effective means of acquiring merit in this life. Add a circumambulation of the sacred Lake Manasarovar nearby for an incredible pilgrim experience.
Crossing the border it is a lovely 4-day trek through villages and barley fields to Simikot in far northwestern Nepal.
Where are you going?
Days 1-2 : Flying into Kathmandu is an unforgettable experience with the Himalaya spread out before you. You will be met at the airport on arrival and transferred to your hotel. In the morning of day 2 a half-day city tour will introduce you to some of the highlights of Kathmandu.
Day 3: The flight from Kathmandu to Lhasa is spectacular. From Gongkar airport it is about 1½ hours' drive to Lhasa, first along the Yarlung Tsangpo then into the Kyi Chu Valley.
Days 4-6 : With a relaxed pace to allow for the effects of altitude, explore this fantastic city on the roof of the world. The spiritual heart of Tibet is the Jokhang Temple and every morning is full of life as pilgrims bring offerings of butter and barley flour. The Potala Palace rises above the city and, more than any other sight, symbolizes the history and culture of Tibet. Nearby are the huge monastic universities of Drepung and Sera still active institutions.
Day 7: A long, yet scenic day's drive across the Khamba La and Kora La (passes), along the shores of Lake Yamdrok Tso to Gyantse. Once an important trading town, Gyantse retains a feel of old' Tibet.
Day 8: In the morning visit Gyantse's monastery Pelkor Choede and the justifiably famous Kumbum, within the same complex. There may also be time to visit the dzong (fort) that towers above the town. In the afternoon we make the short (2-3 hour) drive along the valley to Shigatse.
Day 9: Tashilhunpo is the seat of the Panchen Lama, second only in importance to the Dalai Lama. Its numerous halls contain a 26-meter statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha and elaborate, jewel encrusted reliquary chorten. After lunch it is a 4-hour drive to Lhatse.
Days 10-12 : Long, yet spectacular days as we head west. Even along the road settlements are few as we cross vast, open valleys and prayer flag topped passes. Depending on the season there may be families of nomadic dropka moving their herds of sheep, yaks, goats and horses across the plateau.
Days 13-14 : The 53-kilometer kora of Mount Kailash is one of the most sacred of pilgrimage circuits in the world. Kailash (Kang Rinpoche in Tibetan) is the earthly manifestation of Mount Meru and is sacred to Buddhists, Hindus, Bonpo and Jains the entire route is lined with prostration points, places to check you sin-level, drink or immerse yourself in sacred waters, make offerings and hang prayer flags. The high point, both physically and spiritually is the Drolma Pass (5636m) on the second day.
Day 15 : It is a short walk to Darchen before heading to Chiu Gompa on the shores of Lake Manasarovar to soak in the hot springs.
Days 16-19 : According to both Hindu and Buddhist cosmology the four great rivers (Brahmaputra, Sutlej, Indus and Ganges) have their source in Lake Manasarovar. Actually only the Sutlej does, but the sources of the other three are close by.
It is an incredibly beautiful lake, usually cobalt blue, though can turn into an angry, churning black during storms. For most of the way the kora route follows the lake shore. Most of the monasteries around Manasarovar belong to the Kagyu tradition, the exception being Trugo, which is Gelukpa and an important place for ritual bathing.
Day 20 : Drive to Purang, an important trading center, divided by the Karnali River, which flows through the town.
Days 21-24 : Completing border formalities it is a 4-day trek, mostly downhill, to Simikot. Stone housed villages are surrounded by orchards and fields at higher elevations millet, barley, buckwheat and potatoes, as you descend wheat and rice appear along with walnut and apricot orchards.
Day 25-26 : Fly Simokot to Nepalgunj for the onward connection to Kathmandu. Simikot-Nepalgunj flights are often delayed or cancelled so it is advisable to allow at least one extra day in Kathmandu before your international flight.
Day 27 : Depart