Saga Dawa Festival at Mount Kailash
Our once-in-a-lifetime journey to Kailash begins in Lhasa, the exotic capital of Tibet, where we explore this history-laden city and its ancient gompas and palaces. We visit the resplendent gompa of Tashilhunpo in Shigatse and the ancient temples at Ganden before embarking on an epic cross-Tibet jeep expedition via the scenic southern route, thus seeing much of far-western Tibet and the Himalayan range en route.
The Kailash Kora, in the high plateaus of the Ngari region in western Tibet, is one of the most spectacular short treks in the Himalaya, crossing the Dolma La (5,600m) to erase the sins of a lifetime. We arrive at Kailash in time for the Saga Dawa festival during the full moon (of the fourth lunar month), the most important festival in western Tibet. Tibetans from all over the country flock to sacred Mount Kailash for the ritual raising of the prayer-flag pole, which foretell the yearly fortunes of the country. Saga Dawa is a carnival of Tibetan music, chants and Tibetan products brought to sell, an event not to be missed. Camping beneath the north face of Kailash, we complete the trek with a myriad of Tibetan pilgrims, coming from as far away as eastern Tibet to acquire merit for humanity. After the kora, we continue west past the sacred Manasarovar Lake to the third most important pilgrimage site for Tibetan Buddhists, Tirthapuri Gompa.
Next stop, a visit to the 10th century Guge Kingdom's Toling Gompa and Tsaparang, the remains of one of the oldest and most powerful civilizations in Tibet, which house some of the most significant murals and statues in Tibet, treasures of Buddhist art. And afterwards, a bit of exploration of the ancient Zhangzhung Kingdom or 'Garuda Valley' along the Sutlej River, where the crumbling troglodyte capital of Kyunglung is all that remains of a Bon-po Kingdom that ruled over most of Tibet, Ladakh and the neighboring regions for over a millennium in the pre-Christian era.
Finally we head to fabled Humla, the far west of Nepal, with an eleven-day trek to the Tibetan border through the remote Limi Valley, where the inhabitants of the upper reaches are Bhotias, of Tibetan descent. This wild, remote trek takes us deep into a region of unspoiled Nepal where the diverse culture reflects the Silk Route trade of olden times; old men with weathered, Central Asian faces, sitting smoking a hookah, dark, desert women of Rajasthani descent adorn themselves in mirrors and silver coins, Bhotias, in their turquoise, coral and amber necklaces and Tibetan 'chubas' worship in their Tibetan Buddhist Gompas and animism still is visible in many forms. In this swath of the Trans-Himalayan plateau, the mountain scenery is spectacular; the Saipal and Nalakankad ranges dominates the horizons, wild-life abounds and the ancient trade routes from the Terai, over the Himalayas into Tibet, are still an important part of the hearty inhabitants' lives. Tibetan culture exists in its pure form, untainted by the Chinese occupation which has affected much of Tibet.
Don’t miss this Tibetan journey deep into the 'Land of the Snows'!
Day 01: Arrive Kathmandu
Day 02: Kathmandu
Day 03: Fly Lhasa. Drive Samye
Day 04: Drive Lhasa
Day 05: Lhasa
Day 06: Lhasa
Day 08: Drive Shigatse (via Gyantse)
Day 09: Drive Saga
Day 10: Drive Parayang
Day 11: Drive Darchen
Day 12: Trek Dira Puk
Day 13: Trek Zutuk Puk (over Drolma La)
Day 14: Trek Tarboche
Day 15: Saga Dawa Festival. Drive Tirthapuri
Day 16: Kyunglung (day trip)
Day 17: Drive Tsaparang (Guge Kingdom)
Day 18: Tsaparang & Toling Gompa (Guge)
Day 19: Drive Purang
Day 20: Drive Sher. Trek Mane Peme
Day 21: Trek Tiljung
Day 22: Trek Halji
Day 23: Trek Dzang
Day 24: Trek Takchhe
Day 25: Trek Talun (Limi) Camp
Day 26: Trek Trongsa Khola
Day 27: Trek Yakba Camp
Day 28: Trek Dharapori
Day 29: Trek Simikot
Day 30: Fly Nepalgunj & Kathmandu
Day 31: Depart
NOTE: Make sure you have reliable travel insurance as we are finishing the trek in Simikot during monsoon season. If we need to leave via helicopter because of dangerous monsoon conditions at the airport, everyone will be responsible for their portion of the helicopter evacuation.
NOTE: We recommend scheduling an extra day in Kathmandu post-trek in case of delays out of Simikot.
Highlights & Reviews
I reckon this was the most amazing trip I've been on with you. Clearly with all the major changes & glitches it had to be organised on the run at times so it was a tribute to you all that when problems arose you were able to work around them - the road accident in the valley, the Last Resort, your being ill, the long night drive, Tholing, Darchen, the weather etc, etc. As Pip & I have discussed if people want a trip when everything happens as planned it will be a straight up the Kali Gandaki to Lo and straight back down, a boring and uninteresting type of trip. You might as well just read a book and watch a DVD. I haven't done 4 trips with you because I want this type of trip!
- Graham N (Australia), Kailash, Guge & Limi Humla Trek 2011
Trip Advisor Reviews
- Limi Humla trek in far-west Nepal
- Remote villages & nomadic settlements
- Mount Kailash Kora
- Saga Dawa festival at Kailash
- Ngari and the nomads of western Tibet
- Sacred Tirthapuri Gompa & Lake Manasarovar
- Kyunglung (ancient Zhangzhung Kingdom)
- The Guge Kingdom - Toling Gompa & Tsaparang
- Jeep safari across Tibet with Himalayan vistas
- Three full days in Lhasa
- Shigatse & Gyantse
- Exotic Kathmandu
Date & Price
Single Supplement Tibet - $350
Max 14 bookings
- Kathmandu Guest House
- Lhasa, Samye & Shigatse hotels (breakfast included)
- Kathmandu-Nepalgunj & Nepalgunj-Simikot flights
- Airport transfers & departure taxes
- Group transportation by Landcruiser in Tibet
- Tibet Permit
- Humla Remote Area Permit
- Entrance fees
- Kamzang-Style Trekking:
Marmot or Big Agnes tents (2x, or 3x for couples), delicious & copious 'gourmet' food with seasonal, fresh produce, French-press coffee, chai, Kashmiri & herbal teas, Katadyn filtered drinking water, warm washing water, library, 'lounge' with dhurri rugs, Crazy Creek camp chairs, blankets & the occasional music at night, oxygen & PAC bag (when needed), full medical kit, horses, yaks or porters, Western, Sherpa & local guides (when needed), our 5-star staff & the signature yellow 'Kamzang Dining Tent', NO single supplement for single tents. And flexibility ...
- Insurance (travel & medical)
- Nepal & Chinese visas (although we get the Chinese visas & Tibet permits for you)
- Meals in Kathmandu
- Lunch & dinner in Tibet (when not camping)
- International flights to/from Nepal
- Oxygen (we have it but your insurance will need to pay for this)
- Equipment rental
- Alcohol & soft drinks
- Tipping and other items of a personal nature.
Tips & Extra Cash
Allow approx $350 for meals (while not on trek), drinks (on trek) and tips. We recommend $200 per trekker thrown into the tips pool for the crew.
Details & Contact
Nepal (Kathmandu) Contact
Lhakpa Dorji & Lhakpa Doma Sherpa
Office: +(977) 01 4488352
Lhakpa Dorji mobile: +(977) 98412 35461
Lhakpa Doma mobile: +(977) 98415 10833
Tibet Kawajian Travel
Mobile: +(86) 18076999966, +86 15289188887
Office: + (86) 891 6336565
Kathmandu Guest House
Tel: +(977 1) 4700632, 4700800
Arrival in Kathmandu
Providing you have sent us your arrival details, you will be met at the airport by a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House (look for their sign - they will be looking for you) and escorted to the guest house. Kim will book the extra nights for you, so your room will be ready.
You can get your Nepal visa either at the airport (or any land border) when you arrive in Nepal, or before you leave home. Make sure you have a multiple-entry visa for re-entering Nepal from Tibet. We will submit your passport for the Chinese visa, and we will get the group permit for Tibet.
Although we try to follow the itinerary below, it is ONLY a guideline based on years of experience trekking in the Himalaya. At times local trail, river or weather conditions may make a deviation necessary; rivers may be impassible, snow blocks passes, and landslides wipe out trails. The trekking itinerary and campsites may also vary slightly depending on the group's acclimatization rate or sickness.
The Himalaya are our passion, and we take trekking seriously. Although everyone is here on vacation, please come with a dollop of patience and compassion added to your sense of adventure ...
Extra Days in Kathmandu
If you wish to stay longer, we can offer plenty of suggestion! Mountain biking or rafting in the Kathmandu valley or Pokhara, a luxurious stay at Temple Tree Resort & Spa in Pokhara, paragliding or zip-lining in Pokhara, an Everest sightseeing flight, trips to Bhaktapur or Patan (Kathmandu Valley's other historic capital cities), a night at the Fort Hotel in Nagarkot for a bit of luxury and expansive sunrise & sunset mountain panoramas, a spa & wellness getaway at Dwarikas Resort in Dhulikhel, visits to interesting temple villages such as Changu Narayan, a relaxing excursion to Chitwan National Park Wildlife Safari & Tharu Villages (staying at Maruni Sanctuary Lodge) or Bardia National Park, or a weekend of adventure and pampering at The Last Resort. Kim can help to arrange any of these excursions for you.
Kailash, Guge & Humla
Kailash, Guge & Western Tibet
In the far west of Tibet, on the roof of the world, in the province of Ngari and the land of the ‘drokpas’ or nomads of the high plateaus, sits the legendary Mount Kailash (Kang Rimpoche) known to the Tibetans as ‘precious snow-peak’. Mount Kailash is the abode of Demchok, the wrathful manifestation of Buddha, to Tibetans and as the home of Shiva the destroyer to Hindus. Kailash is the most sacred mountain in Asia, venerated by Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and followers of the ancient Bon religion. Tibetan and Hindu pilgrims have been making the 53 kilometer kora of Kailash for centuries. This circumambulation, clockwise for Buddhists and Hindus, and anti-clockwise followers of the ancient Bon religion, is said to erase the sins of a lifetime. To complete the Kailash pilgrimage one should bath in the sacred Lake Manasarovar, stunningly set on the Tibetan plateau and bordered by the majestic Gurla Mandata. Mount Kailash itself is 6714 meters high, and with its four sheer walls, distinctive snow-capped peak, and valleys peppered with brightly-clad Tibetan pilgrims, is an awe-inspiring sight. From it flow four great rivers of Asia: the Karnali (Ganges), the Indus, the Sutlej and the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), all of which drain the vast Tibetan Plateau.
Tirthapuri is the third most important pilgrimage site for Tibetan Buddhists, after sacred Lake Manasarovar, a magical site perched on a plateau above the Sutlej. Kyunglung is the ancient troglodyte capital of the powerful Kingdom of Zhangshung, set spectacularly on a hill surrounded by sculptural, fluted canyons along the Indus. This region is rarely visited by tourists and has no check-posts or entrance-guards, so a unique chance to explore the tunnels, caves and old habitations of this ghost city. The Guge Kingdom, further west, was founded by a son of the anti-Buddhist King Langdarma a millennium ago. Its ancient capitals, Tsaparang, and its important monastery, Toling Gompa, inspired by architecture from the Yarlung Dynasty, house some of the most important gompas and murals in the Tibetan Buddhist world, a look into an ancient civilization, now turned to dust ...
Humla & Western Nepal
Trekking into remote Limi Valley of Humla, we cross high passes and visit timeless villages and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, with fantastic views of the Saipal range and the sacred Takh and Changla Himalayas. Humla was once part of the Karnali region of Nepal under the powerful, pro-Buddhist Malla Dynasty which ruled much of Nepal from the 11th century, but is now one of the poorest, least privileged and most remote regions of Nepal with limited access, only a few months per year. The region is part of the 'Trans Himalayan plateau', a region of snow-peaks alternating with thick vegetation, high alpine meadows, glacially-fed lakes, large rivers and undulating hills, with a wealth of flora and fauna. Snow leopards still exist in some numbers in these isolated mountains.
The population is equally diverse, being a mix of Tibetan Buddhist, Khasa and Rajasthani descent. The Khasa are an Indo-Aryan tribe believed to have come from Persia. There is a distinctly Central Asia feel to Humla, giving it an exoticism not found in many mountain regions of Nepal. The higher inhabitants of Humla are Tibetans (Bhotias) sub-divided into five sub-sects (Limi, Nyinba, Tsangba, Yultshoden and Trugchulung), all practicing a medieval form of polyandry. The Bhotias were originally pastoralists and traders, but have become agriculturalists over the past few centuries as political disputes close and re-draw age-old boundaries. The Khasas of southern Humla practice polygamy, and come from the tropical areas of the south. Living along side the native Khasa are Bauns and Thakuris, descendents of desert tribes of Rajasthan, who fled to Humla during the Mogul invasions of the 14th century. They still maintaining many of their traditional customs, dress and language, and worship gods not even remembered today in Rajasthan. Today, the Thakuris are the dominant group in Humla having been the stronger group politically and militarily. They ruled Humla under the Kayla Confederacy until the Gorkhas conquered Humla and other regions in Western Tibet in the 18th century. There has been much interaction between the Bhotias of the north and the Khasas, Bauns and Thakuris of the south through the ancient trade routes, a practice that continues to this day.
Both of these regions, Humla and Ngari, have been dubbed the 'real' Shangri-La ...
UNESCO LIST OF SITES IN LHASA
Copied directly from the UNESCO website
Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa
The Potala Palace, winter palace of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century, symbolizes Tibetan Buddhism and its central role in the traditional administration of Tibet. The complex, comprising the White and Red Palaces with their ancillary buildings, is built on Red Mountain in the centre of Lhasa Valley, at an altitude of 3,700m. Also founded in the 7th century, the Jokhang Temple Monastery is an exceptional Buddhist religious complex. Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama's former summer palace, constructed in the 18th century, is a masterpiece of Tibetan art. The beauty and originality of the architecture of these three sites, their rich ornamentation and harmonious integration in a striking landscape, add to their historic and religious interest.
Enclosed within massive walls, gates and turrets built of rammed earth and stone the White and Red Palaces and ancillary buildings of the Potala Palace rise from Red Mountain in the centre of Lhasa Valley at an altitude of 3,700 metres. As the winter palace of the Dalai Lama from the 7th century CE the complex symbolizes Tibetan Buddhism and its central role in the traditional administration of Tibet. The White Palace contains the main ceremonial hall with the throne of the Dalai Lama, and his private rooms and audience hall are on the uppermost level. The palace contains 698 murals, almost 10,000 painted scrolls, numerous sculptures, carpets, canopies, curtains, porcelain, jade, and fine objects of gold and silver, as well as a large collection of sutras and important historical documents. To the west and higher up the mountain the Red Palace contains the gilded burial stupas of past Dalai Lamas. Further west is the private monastery of the Dalai Lama, the Namgyel Dratshang.
The Jokhang Temple Monastery was founded by the regime also in the 7th century, in order to promote the Buddhist religion. Covering 2.5ha in the centre of the old town of Lhasa, it comprises an entrance porch, courtyard and Buddhist hall surrounded by accommodation for monks and storehouses on all four sides. The buildings are constructed of wood and stone and are outstanding examples of the Tibetan Buddhist style, with influences from China, India, and Nepal. They house over 3,000 images of Buddha and other deities and historical figures along with many other treasures and manuscripts. Mural paintings depicting religious and historical scenes cover the walls.
Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama's former summer palace constructed in the 18th century, is located on the bank of the Lhasa River about 2km west of the Potala Palace in a lush green environment. It comprises a large garden with four palace complexes and a monastery as well as other halls, and pavilions all integrated into the garden layout to create an exceptional work of art covering 36ha. The property is closely linked with religious and political issues, having been a place for contemplation and for signing political agreements.
The Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka embody the administrative, religious and symbolic functions of the Tibetan theocratic government through their location, layout and architecture. The beauty and originality of the architecture of these three sites, their rich ornamentation and harmonious integration in a striking landscape, contribute to their Outstanding Universal Value.
Criterion (i): The Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace is an outstanding work of human imagination and creativity, for its design, its decoration and its harmonious setting within a dramatic landscape. The three-in-one historic ensemble of the Potala Palace, with Potala the palace-fort complex, Norbulingka the garden residence and the Jokhang Temple Monastery the temple architecture, each with its distinctive characteristics, forms an outstanding example of traditional Tibetan architecture.
Criterion (iv): The scale and artistic wealth of the Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, which represents the apogee of Tibetan architecture, make it an outstanding example of theocratic architecture, of which it was the last surviving example in the modern world.
Criterion (vi): The Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace forms a potent and exceptional symbol of the integration of secular and religious authority.
The Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace owns tens of thousands of collections of diverse cultural relics. The wall paintings are rich in themes, form the best of Tibetan painting art and precious material evidence for learning Tibetan history and the multi-ethnic cultural fusion. The historic scale, architectural typology and the historic environment remain intact within the property area and within the buffer zone, carrying the complete historic information of the property.
In terms of design, material, technology and layout, the historic ensemble of the Potala Palace has well retained its original form and characteristics since it was first built and from successive significant additions and expansions, convincingly testifying to its Outstanding Universal Value.
Protection and management requirements
The three components of the Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, the Potala Palace, Norbulingka and the Jokhang Temple are all State Priority Protected Sites, and protected by the Law on the Protection of Cultural Relies of the People's Republic of China.The Potala Palace was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1994, the Jokhang Temple in 2000 as an extension to the property, and Norbulingka in 2001 as a further extension to the property. The buffer zone of the property has been confirmed as originally demarcated. Any intervention must be approved by the responsible cultural heritage administration, with restoration strictly in accordance with the principle of retaining the historic condition. The Potala Palace Management Regulations have been put into force; measures are formulated and taken for better visitor management. A World Heritage Steering Committee has been established in Lhasa. The conservation and management plans for the three component parts of the World Heritage property have been formulated and will be submitted and put into force as soon as possible.
The Potala Palace symbolizes Tibetan Buddhism and its central role in the traditional administration of Tibet. Also founded in the 7th century, the Jokhang Temple Monastery is an exceptional Buddhist religious complex. Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama's former summer palace, constructed in the 18th century, is a masterpiece of Tibetan art. The beauty and originality of the architecture of these three sites, their rich ornamentation and harmonious integration in a striking landscape, add to their historic and religious interest.
Construction of the Potala Palace began at the time of Songtsen of the Thubet (Tubo) dynasty in the 7th century AD. It was rebuilt in the mid-17th century by the 5th Dalai Lama in a campaign that lasted 30 years, reaching its present size in the years that followed, as a result of repeated renovation and expansion.
The Potala is located on Red Mountain, 3,700 m above sea level, in the centre of the Lhasa valley. It covers an area of over 130,000 m2 and stands more than 110 m high. The White palace is approached by a winding road leading to an open square in front of the palace. Its central section is the East Main Hall, where all the main ceremonies take place. The throne of the Dalai Lama is on the north side of the hall, the walls of which are covered with paintings depicting religious and historical themes. At the top of the White Palace is the personal suite of the Dalai Lama.
The Red Palace lies to the west of the White Palace. Its purpose is to house the stupas holding the remains of the Dalai Lamas. It also contains many Buddha and sutra halls. To the west of the Red Palace is the Namgyel Dratshang, the private monastery of the Dalai Lama. Other important components of the Potala complex are the squares to the north and south and the massive palace walls, built from rammed earth and stone and pierced by gates on the east, south and west sides.
Building of the Jokhang Temple Monastery began in the 7th century CE, during the Tang dynasty in China. The Tibetan imperial court eagerly espoused Buddhism when it was introduced,
The site of the Temple Monastery was selected, according to legend, when the cart in which Wen Cheng was bringing the statue of Sakyamuni sank into the mud by Wotang Lake. Divination identified this as the site of the Dragon Palace, the malign influence of which could only be counteracted by the building of a monastery. The foundation stone was laid in 647 and the first major reconstruction took place in the early 11th century. During the century following the reunification of the Tibetan kingdom by the Sakya dynasty in the mid-13th century, a number of new developments took place. These included extension of the Hall of Buddha Sakyamuni and construction of a new entrance and the Hall of Buddha Dharmapala.
The Temple Monastery is in the centre of the old town of Lhasa. It comprises essentially an entrance porch, a courtyard and a Buddhist hall, surrounded by accommodation for monks and storehouses on all four sides. The buildings are constructed of wood and stone. The 7th Dalai Lama is reported to have had health problems and he used to come here for a cure.
The construction of Norbulingka started in 1751 with the Uya Palace. Successive Dalai Lamas continued building pavilions, palaces and halls, making it their summer residence, and soon the site became another religious, political, and cultural centre of Tibet, after the Potala Palace. Norbulingka (treasure garden) is located at the bank of the Lhasa River about 2 km west of the Potala Palace. The site consists of a large garden with several palaces, halls, and pavilions, amounting to some 36 ha. The area is composed of five sections.
According to historical records, construction of the Potala Palace began in the time of Songtsen Gampo of the Thubet or Tubo dynasty in the 7th century AD. It was rebuilt in the mid 17th century by the 5th Dalai Lama. It reached its present size and form in the years that foilowed, as a result of repeated renovation and expansion.
Songtsen Gampo (reigned c. 609-649) played a very important role in the political, economie, and cultural development of Tibet; he also encouraged close links with central China. He united Tibet and, for political and military reasons, moved the capital from Lalong to Lhasa, where he built a palace on the Red Mountain in the centre of the city. He married Princess Tritsun (Bhrikuti) of the Nepalese Royal House and Princess Wencheng of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. 1t is recorded that his palace was an enormous complex of buildings with three defensive walls and 999 rooms, plus one on the peak of the Red Mountain.
Following the collapse of the Tubo Dynasty in the 9th century, Tibetan society was plunged into a long period of turmoil, during which the Red Mountain Palace fell into disrepair. However, it began to assume the role of a religious site. During the 12th century Khyungpo Drakse of the Kadampa sect preached there, and it was later used for the same purpose by Tshurpu Karmapa and Tsongkapa, founder of the Gelukpa sect, and his disciples.
The Gelukpa sect developed rapidly in Tibet during the 15th century, assuming the dominant place. With the help of Gushri Khan, leader of the Mongol Khoshotd tribe, the 5th Dalai Lama defeated the Karmapa Dynasty in the mid 17th century and founded the Ganden Phodrang Dynasty. The dynasty's first seat of government was the Drepung Monastery; however, since the Red Mountain Palace bad been the residence of Songtsen Gampo and was close to the three major temples of Drepung, Sera, and Ganden, it was decided to rebuild it in arder to facilitate joint political and religious leadership. Reconstruction began in 1645, and three years later a complex of buildings with the White Palace (Phodrang Karpo) as its nucleus was completed. The 5th Dalai Lama moved there from Drepung Monastery, and ever since that time the Potala Palace bas been the residence and seat of government of succeeding Dalai Lamas.
Building of the Red Palace was begun by Sangye Gyatsho, the chief executive official of the time, eight years after the death of the 5th Dalai Lama, as a memorial to him and to accommodate his funerary stupa. It was completed four years later, in 1694, and is second in size only to the White Palace. With its construction the Potala Palace became a vast complex of palace halls, Buddha halls, and stupas. Funerary stupas (chortens) were added in memory of the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 13th Dalai Lamas, each within its own hall. The most recent is that of the 13th Dalai Lama, the building of which lasted from 1934 to 1936.
Special mention should be made of the fact that the Meditation Cave of the Dharma King, situated at the top of the mountain where Songtsen Gampo is said to have studied, and the Lokeshvara Chapel, both of which preceded the building of the present Palace, have been incorporated into the complex.
Building of the Jokhang Temple Monastery began in the reign of Srong-brtsan-sgam-po XXXII in the 7th century CE, during the Tang Dynasty in China. This ruler united Tibet and moved his capital to Demon (present-day Lhasa). The Tibetan imperial court eagerly espoused Buddhism when it was introduced, and this process was intensified when Princess Bhikruti of Nepal and Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty came to Tibet as royal consorts.
The site of the Temple Monastery was selected, according to legend, when the cart in which Wen Cheng was bringing the statue of Sakyamuni sank into the mud by Wotang Lake. The Princess used divination to identify this as the site of the Dragon Palace, the malign influence of which could only be counteracted by the building of a monastery. The foundation stone was laid in 647 and the foundations were completed within a year.
In 823 the Tibetan regime and the Tang Dynasty entered into an alliance. To commemorate this event a stone was erected outside the monastery, known as the Stone Tablet of Long- Term Unity.
The first major reconstruction of the Jokhang Temple Monastery took place in the early 11th century. The Jokhang Buddhist Hall was extensively renovated and the Hall of Buddha Sakyamuni was added to its eastern side. The circumambulatory corridor around the hall was added around 1167, when the mural paintings were restored. Upward curving tiled eaves were added in the early 13th century.
During the century following the reunification of the Tibetan kingdom by the Sakya Dynasty in the mid-13th century, a number of new developments took place. These included extension of the Hall of Buddha Sakyamuni, construction of a new entrance and the Hall of Buddha Dharmapala, and the introduction of sculptures of Srong-brtsan-sgam-po, Wen Cheng, and Bhikruti Devi. Buddhist halls and golden tiled roofs were added on the third storey on the east, west, and north sides.
Tsongka Pa founded the reforming Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism in the early 15th century, initiating the Great Prayer Festival. At his instigation part of the inner courtyard of the main Jokhang Hall was roofed.
Tibet was formally included in the Chinese domain during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). In 1642 the 5th Dalai Lama, who had received an Imperial title from the Qing rulers of China, began a project of restoration that was to last thirty years. It was continued during the regency of Sangyetgyatso (1679-1703). The main entrance of the Temple Monastery, the Ten Thousand Buddha Corridor (Qianfolang), the Vendana Path, and the third and fourth storeys of the main Buddhist Hall all date from this period.
The site of Norbulingka was a place with gentle streams, dense and lush forest, birds, and animals known as Lava tsel. The 7th Dalai Lama is reported to have had health problems and he used to come here for a cure. The construction of Norbulingka started in 1751 with the Uya Palace, benefiting from financial assistance from the central government. Successive Dalai Lamas continued building pavilions, palaces, and halls, making it their summer residence, and soon the site became another religious, political, and cultural centre of Tibet, after the Potala Palace. The Gesang Palace was built in 1755 and included a court for debates. The Tsoje Palace and the Jensen Palace were built by the 13th Dalai Lama in the 1920s, influenced by his time in Beijing; the Gesang Deje Palace was constructed in 1926. The Tagtan Migyur Palace was built in 1954-56 with support from the Central People's Government. Since the departure of the 14th Dalai Lama in 1959, Norbulingka has been managed first by the Culture Management Group under the Preparatory Committee of the Autonomous Region and later directly by the Cultural Management Committee and Bureau.
Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu 1340m
You'll be met at the airport by a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House, so look out for a Kathmandu guest house sign when you leave the airport. They will bring you back to the Kathmandu Guest House, where your rooms are booked.
Kim will meet you at the guest house and introduce you to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu. Thamel is a myriad of banners, signs, music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels, shops of all imaginable varieties and eccentrically clad backpackers. Over dinner we'll go over some of the logistics of the trek and get to know each other over a few beers ...
Day 2 - Kathmandu
A free day to explore exotic Kathmandu and the mythical Kathmandu valley. Climb the many steps to Swayambhunath (the monkey temple), with its commanding views of Kathmandu (at 1420 m), its whitewashed stupas and its unique synthesis of Buddhism and Hinduism. The striking Buddha eyes of Boudhanath Stupa watch over a lively and colorful Tibetan community and attract pilgrims from all over the Himalayan Buddhist realm. In the midst of traditional gompas, and hung with long strings of multi-colored prayer flags, Boudhanath attracts Sherpas, Tibetans and tourists alike for daily circumambulations (koras) of the stupa. Durbar Square, one of the old capitals of the Kathmandu valley, is a synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist temples, stupas and statues, and is often the site of festivals, marriages and other ceremonies. Hindu Pashupatinath and its sacred temple complex on the banks of the holy Bagmati river. Here, monkeys run up and down the steps of the burning ghats, and trident-bearing saddhus draped in burnt-orange and saffron sit serenely meditating - when they’re not posing for photos-for-rupees.
Day 3 - Fly Lhasa 3650m. Drive to Samye
Our spectacular hour long China Air flight takes us right across the main Himalayan range, over such Himalayan giants as Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kanchenjunga, for magnificent mountain views. After landing at Gonggar Airport and meeting our Tibetan guide, we'll drive the approximately 3 1/2 hours to Samye to visit the oldest monastery in Tibet, and spend the night in a hotel. En route we'll cross the sacred Bramaputra River which flows from Kailash, and the landscapes are sublime as we near the green Samye valley. We've had a big altitude gain so be sure to take it easy, drink lots of water and stay away from alcohol for the night ...
Samye Gompa is the oldest Buddhist monastery in Tibet, constructed in the late 8th century under the patronage of the great King Trisong Detsen, who sought to revitalize Buddhism after its decline from the time of King Songsten Gampo in the 7th century. The renown Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava) of the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhist was influential in the gompa's construction but it was later taken over by the Sakya and Gelugpa schools. These days Tibetans of all traditions come to worship here.
Samye Gompa is famous for its sacred mandala design. The central temple symbolizes the legendary Mount Meru, the center of the universe, the physical location of which is believed to be Mount Kailash in Western Tibet. Samye is said to be modeled on Odantapuri monastery in Bihar, India, and has a strong connection to Lo Gekar in Mustang.
The story of Lo Gekar: Samye Gompa, the oldest gompa in Tibet, was repeatedly destroyed by demons when it was being built. The head lama dreamed that Guru Rimpoche could help with the construction and invited him to the site. The great Guru Rimpoche found demons to be the problem, and suggested that they first build Lo Gekar. Guru Rimpoche killed the demons at the spot that Lo Gekar was soon to be constructed. The long mani wall just south of Dhakmar is said to have arisen from the intestines of the demon, and the red cliffs above Dhakmar the blood of the demon. After Lo Gekar was completed, Samye in eastern Tibet was also successfully built.
Once settled into our guest house in Samye, we'll head to the gompa, hoping to catch the afternoon puja and the wonderful evening light ...
Day 4 - Drive to Lhasa
We'll have the morning in Samye, returning the 250 km to Lhasa after lunch and another morning's visit to Samye Gompa. We check in to our Tibetan-run hotel, the New Yak. We're staying near the Jokhang temple and the Barkor square, where the character of the city is still very Tibetan.
Over the following three days we visit most of the most important sites in and around Lhasa with our Tibetan guide. Late afternoons will be free for you to discover the endlessly fascinating bazaars, walk koras around the Jokhang with the myriad other pilgrims, or sit in the Barkor square, immersing yourself in the exoticism of Lhasa. There is also the option of additional tours to places such as the Tibetan Medical Centre, Ganden Monastery or Tsurphu Monastery at a slight extra cost, although after our last few weeks, a bit of rest in Lhasa is usually the top choice.
Let's explore and meet the Tibetans in December, without the hoards of tourists and under crisp, blue winter skies ... !
Days 5 & 6 - Lhasa
Drive to Lhasa after visiting Samye Gompa. Over the following three days we visit most of the most important sites in and around Lhasa with our Tibetan guide. Late afternoons will be free for you to discover the endlessly fascinating bazaars, walk koras around the Jokhang with the myriad other pilgrims, or sit in the Barkor square, immersing yourself in the exoticism of Lhasa. There is also the option of additional tours to places such as the Tibetan Medical Centre, Ganden Monastery or Tsurphu Monastery at a slight extra cost, although after our last few weeks, a bit of rest in Lhasa is usually the top choice.
The Jokhang is the holiest temple in Tibet and shelters the sacred Jowo Sakyamuni statue. Shuffle among the pilgrims, butter lamps permeating the air, and find gruesome Gods in hidden annexes. There is always a procession of devout Tibetans through the complex. After walking the holy inner circle, complete a circuit of the Barkor, the market surrounding the Jokhang, for good luck. It is the best market to shop for all things Tibetan, and just about anything else you ever wanted as well. Kim has lots of practice, and is happy to assist with any buying ... no commission attached.
Drepung and Sera Monasteries - Sera is one of the best preserved monasteries in Tibet, renown for its lively debating sessions in the courtyard each afternoon. Within its whitewashed walls and golden roofs, several hundred monks live and study. Drepung was founded in the 14th century and was once the largest gompa in the world with a population of around 10,000 monks. These days the figure has been reduced to several hundred, but there is still much of interest to see here, as the structure escaped relatively unscathed during the Cultural Revolution.
Potala Palace - The magnificent white, black, red and gold Potala Palace dominates the skyline of Lhasa. It was the winter quarters of the Dalai Lama, housing jewel-encrusted gold and silver stupas of previous Dalai Lamas, numerous grand state rooms and many important chapels. There has been a palace on this site since the 5th or 6th century, but the present palace was constructed in the 17th century.
Norbulingka - Norbulingka is the summer palace of the Dalai Lama, set in a quiet and relaxing garden which used to house the Dalai Lama’s pets. One particularly interesting mural inside depicts the history of Tibet and all the Dalai Lamas.
OPTION: Those wh0 want to can hire a jeep/bus for the day and visit Ganden or Samye Gompas. Ask Kim for options.
Day 7 - Drive to Gyantse
Leaving Lhasa, the 'city of gods', we switchback up a pass to overlook the turquoise Yamdrok Tso far below. Yamdrok Tso is one of the four holy lakes of Tibet, home to wrathful deities, and a spectacular site. Be ready to have your photo taken at the top of the pass with yaks and goat by enterprising Tibetans ...
After switchbacking down the pass, we continue to drive through the fertile plain of the Nyang River valley, a traditional vingette around every corner. the fertile plain of the Nyang river valley. Once in Gyantse, we'll check into our hotel and head out to visit the sites.
Gyantse, strategically located in the Nyang Chu valley, was once part of an ancient trade route from the Chumbi Valley, Yatung and Sikkim. From Gyantse, trade routes led south to Shigatse and also over the Karo La into Central Tibet. The Gyantse Dzong (fort), built in 1390, guarded the southern approaches to the Yarlung Tsangpo Valley and Lhasa, and the town was surrounded by a long, protective wall 3 kilometers in length. Part of this wall still survives and is a dramatic backdrop for photos. Gyantse was once the third largest city in Tibet but was overtaken by Younghusband and the British in 1904. During the fierce battle, Tibetan forces fought the British for most of two months with dire consequences for both sides. (See 'Younghusband' by Patrick French).
Day 8 - Drive to Shigatse (via Gyantse) 3900m
Leaving Lhasa, we switchback up a pass to overlook the turquoise Yamdrok Tso far below. Yamdrok Tso is one of the four holy lakes of Tibet, home to wrathful deities. We’ll stop at the 15th century Palkor Chode Monastery and the Kumbum Temple in Gyantse before continuing on to Shigatse. Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet, with perhaps the best preserved but controversial monastery, the Tashilhunpo gompa. This Gelugpa gompa, home to the Panchen Lama, is one of the largest functioning monasteries in Tibet and there is much to explore within its surrounding walls. We will take a few hours for a visit in the late afternoon or early morning before heading to Saga. We stay at a nice hotel in Shigatse, and head out for a good dinner and Lhasa beers in the evening.
Day 9 - Drive to Saga 4600m
It will be a long, wonderful day of jeeping through the high plains of Tibet, soft, beautiful and photogenic. Just after arriving in the dusty truck stop of Lhatse, we’ll cross the Brahmaputra River, which originates from Kailash. The new roads are much better than they were, all paved, and our drive to Saga past lovely Tibetan villages where the spring planting will be in full force, is a scenic one. Saga is a somewhat industrial town so we’ll set up camp on the outskirts in a green meadow.
Day 10 - Drive to Parayang 4750m
From Saga, we drive another 255 km west, shouting 'Ki ki so so, Lha gyalo' (roughly translated 'May the gods be victorious!') as we crest the passes marked with prayer flags and cairns; the first pass is the Laplung La (4565m) after which we pass through open grasslands of grazing yaks to reach Drongpa Tradung where we'll probably stop for lunch. At Tradung we'll have time to visit the old Sakya monastery built by Songsten Gampo up on a small hill, from where we'll be treated to vast, green vistas across the plateau. The panoramas are some of the most beautiful on our journey, with the high mountains bordering Nepal on our right, and pebbly streams, small lakes, small Tibetan villages and soft hills surrounding us. We traverse this amazing Tibetan landscape, crossing the Soge La, and the landscape gently transforms to a plateau of high, rolling sand dunes. There’s time to climb up to the wind-sculpted ridges and gaze over a bordering lake below a panorama of Himalayan peaks. Soon after the sand dunes, in a marshy region, we may spot the rare, migratory Black-necked cranes as they summer in Tibet.
The kids will be out at the camp sight to welcome us to our sand dunes campsite at Parayang, as will the village dogs! This is a wonderful spot to watch sunset and roll down the soft, dun-colored dunes with the village kids. Parayang is a small village of traditional mud-brick houses, small Tibetan tea-houses and several chortens and mani-walls; have a wander through the village!
Day 11 - Drive to Darchen 4650m
Leaving lovely Parayang, we have an easy drive over the Mayum La and past Gunggyu Tso (lake) where we'll be likely to spot more Tibetan wildlife. Over a small cairn-topped pass and we spot sacred Lake Manasarovar, from which the snowy Gurla Mandata (7694m), the highest peak in Western Tibet, rises to the south. Tibetans call this peak Mapham Yumtsho, 'the unconquerable turquoise lake'. It is the source (nearly) of four of South Asia's greatest rivers which flow in four directions towards the sea. These are: the Senge Khabab ('river from the lion's mouth') to the north, the Tamchok Khabab ('river from the horse's mouth') to the east, the Mapcha Khabab ('the river from the peacock's mouth') to the south and the Langchen Khabab ('the river from the elephant's mouth) to the west. Translated into western names, it's the Indus, the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), the Karnali and the Sutlej respectively. Just to the west is and it's nemesis, Raksas Tal, the 'Demon Lake' . Lake Manasarovar is the second most sacred pilgrimage spot for Hindus, and those on pilgrimage will submerge themselves in this sacred lake and bring some in a plastic bottle back home with them. The clear lake is full of migratory birds, although quite swampy near the fly-infested shores. But sublime all the less! There is a sacred 'kora' around the lake, which takes Westerners about six days, Tibetans more like three. There are several gompas en route, including Chiu (Little Bird) Gompa.
We are headed for Darchen, the dusty village near Tarboche and the first stop before our ‘kora’ or circumambulation of Kailash. We'll have to spend the night in a hotel in Darchen, Chinese government regulations. Gary McCue aptly describes it in the second addition of his 'Trekking in Tibet': 'Darchen has been ... transformed into a pit of garage and broken glass, barking dogs, loud Chinese disco music and revving truck engines'. Still, as a pilgrimage destination there's plenty of people watching, and these days quite a bit of shopping as well ...
North of Darchen a paved, fairly new jeep road leads to Gyangdrag Gompa and afterwards to Selung (Serlung) Gompa, Kailash's first monastery.
Day 12 - Trek to Dira-Puk 5160m
We meet our team of yaks and the local ‘drokpa’ yak drivers who will escort us around the kora, yak bells ringing. From Tarboche and Chuku Gompa, we follow the Lha Chu river through a serene, meadow-lined valley, hopping over small streams, the west face of Mount Kailash towering above us. The river enters a narrow canyon with high, steep cliffs and spectacular waterfalls. Chuku Gompa is perched above the valley at 4780m. Pilgrims will be doing koras and rubbing parts of their body against worn areas of rock, shiny with butter, to start the kora off in an auspicious manner. Inside is a revered marble statue called Chuku Opame and a silver-inlaid conch shell with silver wings which was said to have flown here from afar, and a ‘trulku’, or reincarnated lama, resides in a cozy (but dung-smoke filled) room in the gompa. A blessing by the local lama is an extremely good start for the kora.
To the west of the Tarboche is the Chorten Kangnyi, and auspicious archway previously decorated with yak and sheep heads. Perched above Tarboche is the Sky Burial Site of 84 Mahasiddhas, a spot revered for once having been the burial site for lamas, and containing numerous sacred springs, cairns, and power places. Pilgrims lie down on a flat rock strewn with old clothes, bones, tsampa bowls and personal belongings and visualize their death.
Midway along the trek at the second prostration point the secret entranceway to the Inner Kora is visible to the right. One must complete 13 koras to enter inside. Continuing up the valley, the north face of Kailash comes into view just as we reach the 13th century monastery at Dira-puk. There are two routes to the camp from the convergence of the valleys, and we have the choice of crossing a small moss bridge and following a small path to the gompa, which has awesome views of the north face of Kailash, or continuing on along the main trail. We camp opposite the river from the gompa, immediately below the massive north face of Kailash. Sunset on the north face of Kailash is magnificent ...
Day 13 - Trek to Zutuk Puk Camp (over the Drolma La)
We now leave the Lha Chu Valley just as the sunrise turns the snow peaks gold and pink, and enter the Drolma Chu Valley, heading up towards the 5,630 meter Drolma La. Although the altitude makes the trekking difficult, the masses of pilgrims performing their acts of devotion along the way are continuously intriguing. Those extremely devout pilgrims prostrate themselves the entire way around Kailash, kneeling down and extending their bodies and hands in front of them in prayer (and marking the beginning of the next prostration). The trail is lined with sacred sites: butter, coin & flag-covered rocks, rocks with footprints of saints, rocks to climb over, under or through, hillsides of discarded clothes as offerings and other significant sites. It's a tough climb to the prayer-flag festooned summit, but it’s all worth if from the top as juniper incense burns and thousands of colorful prayer flags send prayers out into the surrounding valleys. Below us lies the Lake of Compassion, Thukpe Dzingbu, one of the highest lakes in the world. We descend steeply, sometimes over snow but mostly on switchbacking trails, eventually reaching a group of teahouses on the Lham Chu (river) where we will stop for lunch on the grassy river banks.
We have another three hours of trekking along the grassy riverside with the Tibetan pilgrims, some prostrating, to reach our green campsite right on the river, a lovely spot. Have a wash in the icy stream and enjoy the afternoon!
Day 14 - Trek to Tarboche
An hour of bright early morning trekking along a boulder-filled river brings us to Zutul-puk Gompa (4790m), with Milarepa’s meditation cave and imprints of his hand, food and head prints. A monk with a Polaroid sometimes takes photos of the Tibetan pilgrims in all their finery for 5 RMB. Afterwards, it’s an easy walk along some impressive gorges and around many mani stones and mani walls back to the Barka plains and dusty Darchen where our jeeps await us. The kora is finished - we’ve erased our sins, endured extremely cold nights and mornings, crossed one of the highest passes in the world, met countless fellow pilgrims, sent prayers of peace out to the world. Congratulations!
We'll spend the night at Tarboche by the prayer flag in preparation for the next day's festivities, but it will be full of action and color today, too! And tourists ...
Day 15 - Tarboche. Saga Dawa. Drive to Tirthapuri 4550m
NOTE: We plan for Saga Dawa AFTER the kora to save on the pre-Saga Dawa insanity so will stay the morning of Saga Dawa at Tarboche and then drive to Tirthapuri afterwards.
This morning we gather with the hundreds of Tibetan pilgrims from the far reaches of Tibet, all having endured the long journey to Kailash by over-loaded truck, some by yak caravan, and the extremely devout few by full-body prostrations across the continent, some from as far away as Kham or Amdo. It is said to be a two year round trip by prostration from the eastern parts of Tibet to Kailash and back ...
The sacred prayer-pole will be ritually raised as it is every year, and the direction the pole tilts, if it tilts at all, will foretell the future of Tibet for the coming year. It is a very significant ceremony, and monks, lamas and Rimpoches will preside over the rituals. During the festival, there is plenty of shopping as a good Tibetan never misses an opportunity to make a sale, and products from all over Tibet are available. And after the ceremony, devout Tibetans will gather for a piece of wooden prayer-pole, a 'sacred relic'. This is a day for photos, so make sure you have plenty of memory cards and your battery fully charged. Bring small change for 'festival street-food' and prayer flags as well!
Good karma acquired all around, we pack up camp and drive along the beautiful bluffs, past Lake Manasarovar and the sacred peak of the Bonpos just to the west of Kailash, to the third most important site on our pilgrimage. Tirthapuri Gompa is spectacularly situated along the Sutej River. This gompa is revered as one of the sacred sites of Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava) and his consort Yeshe Tsogyel, who magically transported themselves through much of the Tibetan Buddhist world in the 8th century. The gompa acquired its name in the 11th century from the great Indian Buddhist scholar, Atisha. It is affiliated with Hemis Gompa in Ladakh, and was destroyed during Cultural Revolution, and subsequently rebuilt about 30 years ago. The footprints of Guru Rimpoche and Yeshe Tsogyel are displayed on a slab of granite within the dimly-lit gompa. Tiny, opaque calcium balls, believed to have powerful medicinal value, can be found along the plateau, and jet-black ravens and rainbows adorn this magical spot. There is a hot-springs 'complex' where you can wash off the grime of Tibet for a small fee just minutes from our campsite under the gompa complex.
Take an hour at sunset to walk the kora of Tirthapuri if you have energy left from the day ...
Day 16 - Kyunglung (day trip)
Leaving Tirthapuri, we head west to the spectacularly-set Bon-po Gurugyam Gompa, under fluted canyon walls next to the Sutlej river. Built into the cliffs, an ancient cave complex with tunnels, balconies, prayer flags and ancient artifacts mark the spot that Guru Rimpoche and the Bon-po masters meditated over a millennium ago, now used by the resident Rimpoche Lama. This is one of the most important Bongo monasteries in far west Tibet, the present gompa re-built after the Cultural Revolution, and a beautiful spot.
Continuing east, the magnificent Sutlej River is our guide as we follow the canyons to Kyunglung village and then the ruins of old Kyunglung, the ancient capital of the Zhangzhung Kingdom, which ruled over most of Tibet and neighboring Ladakh from the pre-Christian era onwards, a fabled troglodyte community. Set amidst spectacular red-sandstone canyons, these are relatively untouched ruins of one of Tibet's earliest cities, little visited by tourist of any nationality. The name means 'Garuda Valley', and the dzong on top is called Ngulkhar, which translates as 'Silver Castle of the Kings'; there is much mythology associated with the region, and the population was said to be between two and three thousand. Old paths lead up to crumbling cave-home with wooden doors, tunnels, old stone walls and mani walls. It's a wonderful day of exploring!
To get there, we cross the Sutlej near a large complex of hot springs and limestone deposits, and hike for about 20 minutes up to the ancient city.
Day 17 - Drive to Tsaparang
It's a 300 km drive through wild country from Parayang towards Lake Manasarovar, the second most important pilgrimage sight for Tibetan Buddhists, formed in the mind of Brahma and which Tibetans refer to as Maphan Tso, 'the unconquerable lake'. We cross wide plains, shallow rivers and pass by a few local truck stops with makeshift teahouses and then climb the Mayum La, with magnificent mountain panoramas. Soon afterwards we’ll pass the stunning Mayum Tso (lake). The scenery along this section is some of the most beautiful of the entire journey, and a distant storm drifting in back of Tibetans, horses and sheep is a surreal sight.
Continuing further west, towards the magnificent Nanda Devi in Uttaranchal, India, we head to the Guge Kingdom. The landscapes of western Tibet are breathtaking, sublime, and we'll have plenty of opportunities to stop for photos. Continuing through historic Dongpo, Dawa and Mangang, we eventually reach the village of Tsaparang in the heart of the ancient the Guge Kingdom, where we stay at a charming local home stay for the night.
Day 18 - Visit Toling & Tsaparang
We have the day to visit 11th century Toling Gompa, the most important monastery in western Tibet in ancient times, and Tsaparang with its royal chapels, the ancient capital of the Guge Kingdom, both now resting silently in far Western Tibet, a fairytale scene of caves and passageways honeycombed into a ridge of ancient deposits. Guge was founded almost a thousand years ago by one of three sons of Lang Darma, the anti-Buddhist king. With its cave dwellings, crumbling Tibetan Buddhist gompas and stupas, exquisite murals, sculptures and stone inscriptions, the Guge Kingdom is a museum of the history of Western Tibet. White Palace, Red Palace, Yamantaka Chapel, Tara Chapel and Mandala Chapel are the major attractions, all historically linked with the Shakyamuni Buddha, King Songtsen Gampo and other historic figures.
Day 19 - Drive to Purang (Taklakot) 3930m
Back over the same spectacular roads and passes that we crossed to get to Guge. The road is often straight as we cross the vast Tibetan plateau, watching for kyang and Tibetan gazelle. We'll drive past small Tibetan shops and teahouses, where the drivers will often stop for a drink, past Montser where Kim & Lhakpa stayed for four days years ago doing research for a film company, and again past Kailash. After another photo stop we continue below Darchen and make a sharp right turn, heading for Purang. The road passed through the isthmus between the holy Rakshas Tal and Manasarovar and crosses the Barka plain. After a somewhat long day of driving we'll reach Purang (the Tibetan name for Taklakot). Purang has a dual-personality; part military garrison and part large trading center for mountain Nepalis, Indians and Tibetans. Traditionally the Humli people of Humla came to barter or sell their rice and wood for cash and salt. Today, the trade is in more modern commodities!
We'll stay at a modern hotel in town, and have the rest of the afternoon to visit the bazaars, peopled Uigur Muslims and Chinese from all over China, as well as Tibetans and some Nepalis. On the west bank of the Map Chu (Karnali River) is a wonderfully scenic cave gompa called Gungpar, which translates as 'Fly to Heaven' according to Gary McCue. To get there you'll have to cross a small bridge to the old section of Purang and climb a bit to visit this 13th century gompa, a cave complex with mud-brick balconies connected by ladders, worth the effort if we have time.
There are also hot showers for a few dollars in town, wonderful and steamy ...
Day 20 - Drive to Sher. Cross to Hilsa 3655m. Trek to Mane Peme 3940m
We're back in the jeeps for one more short drive of an hour or so on a paved road, with a few checkpoints en route, much of it along the Humla Karnali. We cross a 4000 meter pass, through small Tibetan villages and past Moto Gompa, an important 13th century Sakya gompa at Khojarnath. We're passing through some of Tibet's most spectacular scenery as we drive directly towards Nepal and the Himalaya heading for the border. Keep your camera film hidden if you have any incriminating photos on the card.
At the border, we say goodbye to our Tibetan staff and pass through customs and an informal immigration, afterwards descending a steep hill and crossing the long suspension bridge to Hilsa, the Nepali side of the border. Here we'll meet our Tibetan contacts who have arranged our horses, horsemen and supplies for the trek down through the Limi Valley to Simikot. Hilsa is a small hamlet of shacks and a heli-pad peopled by Tibetans living over the border. Once across the bridge and into the land of 'namastes', we'll have lunch at our contact's local teashop before starting our trek into Humla. It won’t be a long day of trekking (4 hours or so) as we need to re-adjust supplies and pack the horses for the trek.
We've entered Nepal and the Limi valley; Limi means 'people of the confluence' and was settled over 800 years ago by Tibetans from Ngari in western Tibet. After lunch we'll start our steep climb out of Hilsa. It's a relentless and hot climb of 450 meters on a loose, scree trail which soon intersects another high trail coming from Sher. It will take us about 1 1/2 hours to reach the Ganda La (4100 meters), from where we'll stay high and contour, continuing to climb to yet another ridge with a small, stone doksa at a similar height to the last. Trekking along this dramatic cliff-side trail far above the Humla Karnali, we contour around several narrow valleys without a view of our campsite. We switchback down and suddenly arrive at our impossibly-set campsite, with a spring just in back and the main Humla trail across the river, high on the hillside. Welcome to our little paradise at Mane Peme!
Day 21 - Trek to Tiljung 3580m
7-8 hours. We've got a slightly long and challenging day of trekking in front of us as we stay on the north side of the valley, high above the Humla Karnali. We'll hug the rock faces and climb on stone staircases, with continuous ascents and descents and good views throughout. We crest two small passes the first a ridge at 4150 meters, a green doksa called Namka, and the second at 4100 meters. Yak caravans going to and from Tibet from the village of Til camp here, and we'll probably pass a few en route. There is a steep and dramatic drop down to the gorge far below us and several dizzying rock outcroppings to the right of the trail. We'll have lunch somewhere near here, with views of the intersection of the Humla Karnali and the Limi Khola; the Humla Karnali veers south at this point. Fortified, we trek through prickly brush and drop down to another plateau with a large lama's chair; this is the intersection to Til village and our campsite along the river. It's been a long day so most of us will probably head to camp and have a wash in the cold stream.
Day 22 - Trek to Halji 3720m
2-3 hours. We cross the river just leaving camp and have an easy, lovely river day reminiscent of parts of the Indian Himalaya until Hilsa. The trail passes through lazy groves of willows, rounded river rocks and grassy banks where redstarts flit from rock to rock. Note the amazing inclusions in the rock face across the river. We cross a small bridge to reach the marshy fields below Halji village, a lively village of 80 houses and a thousand year old Rinchin Zangpo monastery. Halji was devastated in a flood soon after we passed through in 2011; a glacial lake further up the valley burst and took away many of the houses, sadly. It's an interesting and lively village and we'll spend the afternoon exploring and talking with the local Limi Tibetans. We found interesting artifacts in the houses last year, and met a very informative girl doing research there. There is a phone is the village just in back of our campsite, which may or may not still be there!
Day 23 - Trek to Dzang (Jang) 4120m
4 hours. We'll have an easy start along the Limi Khola, a river with a large volume of water passing through. Soon we climb on well built stone steps for approximately 75 meters to avoid the river, which hugs the rock-face at this point. It's a relatively flat walk past old fields. After about an hour we climb past rock cairns and continue contouring until we reach the rock 'doorway' leading to the fields of Dzang, also called Jang on maps. The school is just above the village trail once we pass through the kane chorten where we purify ourselves to enter the village. There is an old gompa with resident monks and lamas in the main village and a large prayer wheel in the village. We'll eat lunch in the house of one of the villagers and then continue on for another hour, along a newly built (Chinese) road, to our lovely camp at the hot springs of Dzang. Take advantage of these piping hot spouts just on the other side of camp ...
Day 24 - Trek to Takchhe 4235m
5 hours. We start our hike walking along the grassy river bank to avoid the new road, and after half an hour reach an open plateau with Tibetan doksas and an old mani wall. After a bit of socializing with the Tibetan doksa inhabitants we continue along the riverside, rounding the corner through a swampy section of trail. A large rock face is to our left and just past here is another interesting doksa with Tibetan tents and grungy kids. Staying on the dirt road for a bit, we climb over a small hill and see the shop of Tholing next to a grassy area. We'll probably stop here for lunch, and can pick up Chinese beers for sundowner if we want. The next section of trail is flat, but soon climbing on the new road for twenty minutes. We're now following Takchhe Khola (river) and heading slightly north. We descend from these headlands , cross a small bridge and see camp just across the river from another set of doksas. The campsite is grassy, a great spot for relaxing in the afternoon or going to visit the nomadic settlements ...
Day 25 - Trek to Talun or Phering Phu 4420m
5 hours. We have a stunning day of trekking in front of us today, starting with a river crossing about an hour after camp; have sandals or thick socks with you. Heading in back of camp to another grassy campsite used by locals, we pass through the ruins of an old village and its now abandoned fields. Our guide, Karma, told us that all the inhabitants died of the plague (from eating marmots) over 700 years ago. It certainly has some atmosphere and was a large village at one point. Once past yet another small campsite we climb on a sandy trail to a small crest and viewpoint over a dry lake bed with a large, water filled lake in the distance, fed by a network of small, snaking streams. We cross the river, which comes from a glacier to our left, and then hike through a grassy section of lakeside where yaks graze and Ruddy Shellducks float nearby in the lake. We'll continue to trek along the left bank of the lake, with several small ascents and descents, and then drop back to the river on the far end of the lake. Passing more yaks, the valley widens and the landscape is now completely different then the first few days of trekking in the Limi Valley. This is true Tibetan border region. We follow the small stream and intersect the road from where we start to climb through a lovely, green landscape studded with lichen covered rocks, and after jumping the small stream a few times and passing through large, boulder filled regions finally reach camp in a grassy valley either at Talun or Phering Phu. Camp is on a grassy plateau which drops off seemingly into nothing; tomorrow's pass is just ahead of us.
Day 26 - Trek to Tronsa Khola (over the Nyalu La)
8 hours. We're right below the pass so head right up nearly 700 meters, a brisk climb with rewarding views down-valley from the crest of the prayer-flag strewn Nyalu La. After a good rest at the top, perhaps hanging some 'lung ta' of our own, we descend through a beautiful, green valley colored with flowers and filled with small lakes. After a first, steep descent the going is easier and we're able to enjoy our idyllic surroundings. Contouring around one lake, we'll stop for lunch somewhere on a grassy area. More descending brings us to a Tibetan settlement and a bridge over an intersecting river. The Limi Tibetans are camped out here building the new road, or were in 2011. From here it's more lovely walking, still descending, through groves of budding Himalayan Birches and grassy fields to our somewhat oddly situated camp at Trongsa Khola, just past a semi-permanent Tibetan doksa. Have a wash in the briskly refreshing stream and put your feet up; it's been a long day of trekking ...
Day 27 - Trek to Yakba Camp 2790m
Two high passes await us today as we head for remote, Botia Yakpa camp near Yakba village where some of our yak men come from. This is an exploratory day for us, crossing another pass into a new valley which is said to be amazingly beautiful. It will be a long-ish day but a great one and we'll find a good campsite in the valley near Yakba village. We camped on the other side of Yakba in 2011, approaching it from the main Humla valley on a remote side trip ...
Day 28 - Trek to Dharapori
To come ...
Day 29 - Trek to Simikot
Finally we're headed to Simikot, the district headquarters of the Humla region and site of the airport on a now-paved airstrip. Make sure you've got good travel insurance in case early monsoon rains keep us here for a few days. Simikot is an old Chettri village; the name means 'Court above the Beans'. Four hundred years ago a Thakuri prince ruled the Kalyal confederacy and this was his capital. The women wear 'chobundi' shirts, necklaces of old, silver coins, large, rounded bronze earrings and nose rings. The fields are full of buckwheat and wheat, two of their staples.
This day will also be partially exploratory as we leave Yakba and contour high towards Simikot. We'll spot the district headquarters from high above, and drop down to this lively village. We'll set up camp on the lawn of a nice guest house, where people are free to get rooms if they like. We might eat indoors, and certainly well-deserved beers will be available! We'll have our tips night tonight, thanking the hard-working staff for all of their help throughout this amazing journey.
Day 30 - Fly to Nepalgunj & Kathmandu
It's a fantastic flight through narrow valleys and past terraced fields from Simikot to Nepalgunj, in the steamy terai at the border of India. That is, if the weather cooperates! We'll continue onto a connecting flight to Kathmandu, even more spectacular as we fly past the western Nepal Himalaya. We'll arrive in Kathmandu late afternoon, in time for a shower and dinner out at Yak & Yeti!
Day 31 - Depart
Farewell! We take you to the airport for your flight home. We hope you had a wonderful trip into the heart of Tibet on the roof of the world; the journey of a lifetime!
Extra Days in Kathmandu
If you wish to stay longer, we can offer plenty of suggestions: mountain biking or rafting in the Kathmandu valley, Pokhara or further afield, a luxuriuos stay at a resort & spa in Pokhara, paragliding or zip-lining in Pokhara, an Everest sightseeing flight, trips to Bhaktapur or Patan (Kathmandu Valley's other historic capital cities), a night at the Fort Hotel in Nagarkot for a bit of luxury and expansive sunrise/sunset mountain panoramas, visits to interesting temple villages such as Changu Narayan, a relaxing excursion to Chitwan National Park Wildlife Safari & Tharu Villages (staying at Maruni Sanctuary Lodge) or Bardia National Park, or a weekend of adventure and pampering at The Last Resort. Kim can help to arrange any of these excursions for you.
Notes on Tibet
Note on Traveling in Tibet
'Tibetians employ a lunar calendar, which would in theory assign to each month 29½ days. Since the solar year is 365¼ days, each lunar year - twelve lunar months - is 11 days too short. To make up for this, every three years an additional month is added. However, like wild cards in a poker game, the extra month can be added anywhere in the Tibetan calendar year, the position being determined by an astrological forecast indicating what would be the lucky place to add the new month. Actually, even this is a slight oversimplification. In practice Tibetans round off the lunar month to exactly thirty days, but then they go ahead and add the extra month every three years anyway. To make up the difference, certain days of the month - again decided by the official astrologers - are simply eliminated, or, if some days are thought to be particularly fortunate, they may be doubled. At the end of each year the official astrologer presents the calendar for the following year. Until then, there is no future calendar. The new year begins in February, except in those years that begin following an added month, when the year begins in March. Hence when modern historical writers on Tibet indicate that some even occurred, say in April of 619 A.D., it gives one pause for thought.
The days of the Tibetan week - seven in number - are named after the sun, the moon, and the five visible planets; Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. Sa is the Tibetan word for "planet" and the seven days are then names: Sa Nyi-ma [Sunday - Sun], Sa Da-wa [Monday - Moon], Sa Mik-mar [Tuesday - Mars], Sa Lak-pa [Wednesday - Mercury], Sa Pur-bu [Thursday - Jupiter], Sa Pa-sang [Friday - Venus] and Sa Pen-pa [Saturday - Saturn]. Until the eleventh century, a twelve-year calendar cycle was used; each year being named after one of the following animals: mouse, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, sheep, ape, bird, dog, and hog. In the year 1027 A.D. - one hopes the historian have made the correct conversion - the Tibetans began a sixty-year cycle as advocated in the Kalacakra-Tantra, a Sanskrit religious text that was translated into Tibetan that year. To make up the sixty-year cycle, the twelve animals are combined with five elements: wood, fire, earth, iron, and water. Thus the years have colorful names like Fire-Mouse or Iron-Ape. Tibetan historical documents contain phrases like "On the thirteenth day of the eighth month of the Water-Tiger year . . .'
- 'In the Himalayas' - Jeremy Bernstein (1989), pp 228-229.
Namaste & Tashi Delek!
© Kim Bannister