Ultimate Tibet | Saga Dawa Kailash, Guge, Zhangzhung & West Tibet

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Saga Dawa Festival at Mount Kailash

Tibet has been so challenging to get into for the past few years that we decided to pack the absolute best of central and western Tibet - featuring a sacred Kailash kora trek - into a single trip!

Our once-in-a-lifetime journey to Mount Kailash begins in mythical Lhasa, the once-forbidden capital of Tibet, where we explore the history-laden city, its ancient gompas and palaces. Near Lhasa we visit the hilltop Ganden monastery, doing a kora of its sacred peak, and spend nights at both Gyantse, with its ancient dzong (fortress) and many-tiered Gyantse Kumbum (temple), and Shigatse where we have the afternoon and evening to explore the resplendent Tashilhunpo Gompa.

Next we embark on an epic cross-Tibet jeep expedition along the Himalayan range via the scenic southern route, heading to far-western Tibet, Kailash, Guge and other ancient kingdoms ...

The Kailash Kora, on 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 (5,600 m) 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 celebrating the birth and enlightenment of Lord Buddha. 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 a market of Tibetan products, 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.

Cleansed, we continue west past sacred Manasarovar Lake to the third most important pilgrimage site for Tibetan Buddhists, Tirthapuri Gompa. We spend two nights here, with time to visit the hot springs, and make a daytrip to Khunglung. We have the day to explore the remote and ancient capital of the Zhangzhung Kingdom or 'Garuda Valley' along the Sutlej River. The crumbling troglodyte capital of Kyunglung with its crystal palace 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.

Driving over a pass to drop into a vast canyonland, we spend two days wandering through 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.

Finally, we embark on the spectacular drive back to Nepal via the northern route, through the Tibetan Changthang, dotted with lakes, populated with nomads and wildlife. We spend our last night of camping by a turquoise lake near Shishapangma and cross the Himalayan range and the Nepal-Tibet border. To end of our journey, we'll spend two blissful nights at the semi-tropical Last Resort, which has a sauna, a plunge pool and a luxurious tented camp under banana trees.

Don’t miss this Tibetan journey deep into the 'Land of the Snows'!


NOTE: We need your passports before the trip starts. Date will be announced.

Day 1 - Thursday, 29 May 2014 - Arrive Kathmandu (Passport collection 8-9 am)
Day 2 - Kathmandu
Day 3 - Fly Lhasa
Day 4 - Lhasa
Day 5 - Lhasa
Day 6 - Lhasa (day trip Ganden Monastery)
Day 7 - Drive Gyantse (visit Gyantse Kumbum & Gyantse Fort)
Day 8 - Drive Shigatse (visit Tashilungpo Monastery)
Day 9 - Drive Saga
Day 10 - Drive Parayang
Day 11 - Drive Darchen
Day 12 - Trek Dira Puk
Day 13 - Trek Zutuk Puk (cross Drolma La)
Day 14 - Trek Tarboche
Day 15 - Tarboche (pre-festival day)
Day 16 - Saga Dawa Festival. Drive Tirthapuri
Day 17 - Kyunglung (day trip)
Day 18 - Drive Tsaparang  (Guge Kingdom)
Day 19 - Tsaparang & Toling Gompa (Guge Kingdom)
Day 20 - Drive Ali
Day 21 - Drive Rutok
Day 22 - Drive Gegye
Day 23 - Drive Gertse
Day 24 - Drive Tso Chen
Day 25 - Drive Saga
Day 26 - Drive Peiku Tso
Day 27 - Drive Zhangmu
Day 28 - Drive The Last Resort (Nepal)
Day 29 - Drive Kathmandu
Day 30 - Friday, 27 June - Depart

See our Nepal & Kathmandu Modules | Customize Your Trip! to put together the perfect journey in Nepal!

Make sure you have good travel & travel medical insurance!

Highlights & Reviews

Trip Advisor Reviews

Client Highlights
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

Read More Testimonials
Trekker's Comments

  • Saga Dawa Festival at Mount Kailash
  • The spectacular Kailash Kora Trek crossing the Drolma La (5630 meters)
  • Ngari & the nomads of western Tibet
  • Kyunglung (capital of the ancient Zhangzhung Kingdom)
  • The Guge Kingdom - Toling Gompa & Tsaparang
  • Sacred Tirthapuri Gompa & Lake Manasarovar
  • Remote Jeep safari across the 'northern route' through Tibet's Changthang region
  • Himalayan panoramas
  • Lhasa - Potala Palace, Jokhang, Drepung & Sera Gompas, Barkor Square and the Tibetan Quarter
  • Shigatse & Tashilunpo Monastery
  • Gyantse, Palkor Chode Monastery & Kumbum
  • Exotic Kathmandu
  • The Last Resort

Trip Photos
Tibet & Kailash Saga Dawa Trek
Humla & Limi Valley
Lhasa & Central Tibet
Lhasa Prostrations | Barkor Square & Jokhang Temple
Kailash & West Tibet Photos

Date & Price

May - June tba
30 days

Trek Price - $5880
Single Supplement Tibet - $400
Single Supplement Last Resort - $50


  • Kathmandu Guest House 
  • Tibet hotels (3-star, breakfast included)
  • Lhasa-Kathmandu flight
  • Airport transfers & departure taxes
  • Group transportation by Landcruiser in Tibet
  • Tibet 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 ...

Safety & Health Precautions

  • Thuraya satellite phone (when allowed)
  • InReach satellite messaging system (when allowed)
  • Updated route published on InReach site (when allowed)
  • Helicopter evacuation services (when allowed)
  • Support by Khumbu Adventures in Kathmandu & Tibet Kawajian Travels in Lhasa
  • Oxygen saturation monitoring system
  • PAC bag (portable oxygen chamber)
  • Full medical kit & stretcher
  • Kayadyn filtered water
  • Safe, sanitary, delicious & plentiful food and drinks


  • Insurance (travel & medical)
  • Nepal & Chinese visas (although we get the Chinese visas & Tibet permits for you)
  • Meals in Kathmandu
  • Helicopter rescue services
  • 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
  • Laundry
  • 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.

Contact & Details

Trekker's Comments
Travel Books

Kim Bannister
Mobile: +(977) 9803 414745
On-Trek Satellite Phone: +88216 21277980 (Nepal)
On-Trek Satellite Phone: +88216 21274092 (Tibet & India)

Nepal (Kathmandu) Contact
Khumbu Adventures
Lhakpa Dorji & Lhakpa Doma Sherpa
Office: +(977) 01 4488352
Lhakpa Dorji mobile: +(977) 98412 35461
Lhakpa Doma mobile: +(977) 98415 10833

Tibet Contact
Tibet Kawajian Travel
Lobsang Dhardul

Mobile: +(86) 18076999966, +86 15289188887
Office: + (86) 891 6336565

Arrival Hotel
Kathmandu Guest House
Thamel, Kathmandu
Tel: +(977 1) 4700632, 4700800

Standard Single | breakfast included in the trek. Options for upgrades & extra nights below:

Kathmandu Guest House Upgrades |Cost Per Night
Including breakfast & 25% taxes
Garden Single - $20
Deluxe Single or Double - $80

Kathmandu Guest House Extra Nights
Including breakfast & 25% taxes
(20% Discounted Room Price)

Standard Single - $48
Standard Double - $65
Garden Single - $65
Garden Double - $80
Deluxe Single - $120
Deluxe Double - $135
Deluxe Single Suite - $135
Deluxe Double Suite - $150

Trip Photos
Tibet & Kailash Saga Dawa Trek
Humla & Limi Valley
Lhasa & Central Tibet
Lhasa Prostrations | Barkor Square & Jokhang Temple
Kailash & West Tibet Photos

Arrival in Kathmandu

Early Arrival
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.


Detailed Itinerary
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 | Customize your Journey!
We have plenty of great suggestions for extra days, or weeks, in Nepal! See our Nepal & Kathmandu Modules | Customize Your Trip! to put together the perfect journey.

Mountain biking, rafting, vespa tours or yoga retreats around the Kathmandu valley or Pokhara, trips to Bhaktapur or Patan (Kathmandu Valley's other historic capital cities), a visit to the Newari temple of Changu Narayan and a night at the Fort Hotel in Nagarkot for sublime Himalayan panoramas, an Everest sightseeing flight, a luxurious stay at Temple Tree Resort & Spa, paragliding, hiking or zip-lining in Pokhara, a spa & wellness getaway at Dwarikas Resort in Dhulikhel, a relaxing excursion to Chitwan National Park Wildlife Safari & Tharu Villages (staying at Maruni Sanctuary Lodge) or Bardia National Park, a weekend of adventure, sauna and pampering at The Last Resort or five-star treatment in historic Dwarika's in Kathmandu.

Kamzang Journeys can customize any of these excursions for you, just inquire!

Gear List

Gear List
This is a guideline, not a bible, for the gear you will need on the trek. Ask if you have questions!
NOTE: Your duffel bag can NOT be any larger than a North Face XL (140 Liter, 32" x 19" by 19").
ONE duffel bag only!
20 kg (50 lbs) weight limit for treks

  • Strong, waterproof DUFFEL BAG (North Face are perfect, available online)
  • Daypack (35-35 Liter)
  • Sleeping Bag (-20F/-30C recommended)
  • Down Jacket
  • Trekking Boots
  • Thermarest (Air Mattress)
  • Sneakers or Light Shoes (optional)
  • Crocs (for evenings & washing) 

  • Trekking Pants (2-3 pairs)
  • T-Shirts (3)
  • Long-sleeve Trekking Shirts (3)
  • Fleece Jacket (daytime)
  • Fleece or Thermal Top (evenings)
  • Fleece or Thermal Bottoms (evenings)
  • Yoga-type Pants (evenings: optional)
Jacket (fiber-filled, soft or hard-shelled)
  • Lightweight Gortex Jacket & Pants (wind & rainproof)
  • Storm-weight Jacket (optional: for treks with multiple pass crossings over 5000 meters)
  • Lightweight Long Underwear (to sleep in or layer under clothes)
  • Socks (4-5)
  • Gloves (2: lightweight & heavier for pass crossings)
  • Hat
  • Baseball Cap &/or Wide-brimmed HatTrekking Poles
  • Yak Tracks or Micro-Spikes (for crossing passes or ice on trail)
  • Down Booties (optional but recommended)
  • Gators (optional)
  • Sunglasses (2: bring extra pair)
  • Nalgene or Sigg Water-bottles (3)
  • Bladder (optional but recommended)
  • Toiletries, Sunscreen with SPF, Lipbalm with SPF & Personal Medical Supplies
  • Watch (or small clock with alarm)
  • Extra Batteries & Battery Chargers
  • Headlamp 
(2: bring extra)
  • Water-purifying Tablets, Small Filter or Steripen
  • Compactable Washing Bowl (optional, for clothes)
  • Laundry Detergent (Kathmandu) or Bio-degradable Clothes Soap
  • Hand Sanitizer (lots)
  • Small Solar Panel (optional, recommended for iPods, iPhones, camera batteries, Kindles)
  • Book(s)
  • Zip-lock Bags
  • SOFT roll of Toilet Paper &/or Tissues (NOTE: we supply toilet paper but it’s not soft! You’ll want something softer for blowing your nose)
  • Baby-Wipes or Wet-Wipes (for personal cleaning)
  • Handi-wipes or Chux (optional: easy for a quick daytime clean, fast drying)
  • Rehydration/Electrolytes
SUGGESTED MEDS: We suggest bringing with you as Western is much better than the Indian equivalent: Diamox, Azithromyacin, Ciprofoxin & Augmentin. Bring COMPEED BLISTER covers, bandages, good wrapping tape & knee or ankle supports if you tend to have issues. Bring good electrolytes (Emergen-C) and/or rehydration. The local versions aren’t very appealing.

NOTE: We have a 'dress code' for the evenings in the tent, which essentially means you'll be changing out of your trekking clothes and into clean, dry evening clothes!

NOTE: We'll have several days in hotels in Tibet so you'll want some 'street clothes' for going out at night. Low hiking shoes are perfect for during the day as will your trekking jackets, etc.

Comments on Gear

Layers are essential for trekking. Quality is more important than quantity. It’s worth investing in some of the great, warm, lightweight gear available in all gear shops or online. I generally wear a trekking t-shirt, light trekking pants, a mid-weight shirt, a lightweight fiber-filled jacket (instead of a fleece usually) and always carry a lightweight wind & rain jacket. If the weather looks stormy or it’s a pass day I carry my down jacket with me. I always have a pair of gloves, hat, baseball cap and extra pair of socks in my day-pack. Good trekking boots are essential. High boots are best, but you don’t need climbing or plastic boots (for mini-crampons or micro-spikes). You can also get away with low, sturdy trekking boot, which I wear quite often.

Nights are chilly to cold, so a down jacket and a WARM sleeping bag are essentials. For your sleeping bag, we recommend a DOWN bag of 0 to -20 F (-18 to -28 C). Mine is -20 F. At lower altitudes I open it and sleep under it like a quilt and up higher am toasty warm during the cold nights. Campsites near passes can get COLD. Rentals available. The dining tent is a Tibetan style ‘yurt’, with blankets and camp chairs on the ground. It warms up in the evenings with the gas lamp but it is still important to have warm clothes for the evenings. I always use down booties which are great when it’s cold, but a pair of thick wool socks also work.

Trekking poles are not required but strongly recommended, especially for going down passes which can be quite steep and are often icy. Bring gators if you tend to use them but they’re not required if you don't own a pair. Micro-spikes (mini-crampons) or YakTraks are almost always useful (or essential) for high pass crossings. We will have at least one ice ax with us, just for emergencies (and they are great for digging toilet tents). It’s also good (possibly essential) to have a pair of plastic Crocs for washing and the evenings; wear a pair of warm socks under them for going in and out of the dining tent which is a 'shoes off' zone. Tevas take a long time to dry, not recommended. You can bring a pair of light sneakers or running shoes for the afternoons or easy days if you have room in your pack, or if you are used to hiking in them.

Good, polarized sunglasses are essential; please bring an extra pair if you tend to lose them! Don’t forget a sun hat &/or baseball cap and have plenty of sunscreen and lip balm with SPF!

Bring extra large plastic bags or stuff-sacks in case of rain. You can pack electronics in them or stash your sleeping bag and clothes. The weather is changeable in the Himalaya, so again I recommend that everyone has a strong, WATERPROOF duffel bag for the trip. We supply covers that go over the duffel bags to protect them from rain, dirt & thorns.

Clothes for Tibet
We'll have several days staying in hotels in Tibet, so bring a pair of jeans or something casual and warm for the evenings. Your hiking shoes or a pair of Keen sandals are perfect for wandering around the towns, monasteries and bazaars.

Everyone gets their own Marmot Thor 2 tent without a single supplement. Singles have a 2-person tent and couples share a larger, 3-person version.

We recommend a 35-45 liter daypack (ask at your gear shop if you’re not sure of the capacity). Better to have it too large than too small as on pass days you’ll need to carry more warm gear. Most have internal water bladders built in, which are good for ensuring that you stay hydrated. Make sure it fits and is comfortable before purchasing!

In your daypack, you will be carrying your camera, 2 liters of water, a jacket, wind & rain pants, hat, gloves, extra socks, sunscreen, snacks, electrolytes, water purifying tablets, filter, or Steripen, hand sanitizer, a pack-cover and often a down jacket. I slip my Crocs on the back in case of unexpected stream crossings or for lunch. Lhakpa & I carry small medical kits in our daypacks.

We bring KATADYN expedition-sized water filters along on the trek for fresh drinking water, ecologically the best way to get water in the Himalaya’s fragile trekking regions. Bring your own filter pump, Steripen/UV purifier or iodine/chlorine tablets for fresh water while trekking. NOTE: To be extra safe with your drinking water, you can drop one purifying tablet into your water bottle after filling with our filtered water. Make sure you wait the required amount of time before drinking, and don’t add anything with Vitamin C as this negates the iodine.

Please bring at least TWO (and better three) Nalgene, Sigg or other unbreakable plastic/metal water bottles. Camelbacks and other bladder systems are good for trekking but can leak, so as a back-up it’s best to also bring a Nalgene or other water bottle.

NOTE: We do not provide boiled water for drinking on either our tea-house/lodge or our camping treks although there is endless hot water for herbal, black or green teas, hot chocolate, hot lemon as well as Indian chai and Kashmiri tea.

You will NEED snacks hiking at altitude, even if you’re not a snacker. People crave unusual foods at altitude!  Energy bars, ‘GU’ gels, chocolate bars, dried fruit & nuts, beef jerky (or whatever) are important to have along for long days, pre-lunch bonks and passes. Lemonade mix, Emergen-C or similar drink mixes are great to have for hot days in your water bottles, and it is ESSENTIAL to bring electrolytes with you every day.  

Bring something to share in the tent in the evenings if you want. Cheese is great as a treat on a cheese-board before dinner (Blue, Stilton, Yarlsburg, good Cheddar, Brie, etc). If you would like, bring a bit of your favorite and we’ll throw it on a cheese board for appetizers one night.

NOTE: Nothing besides your personal snack food is required, but it’s fun to see what everyone comes up with!  Almost all basics available in Kathmandu, so no need to over-load.

We have Western down jackets to rent for $1.50 per day.  We also have good super-down sleeping bags to rent (0 to -10 F) for $2.50 per day.

Duffel Bags
We have North Face-style duffels with Kamzang logos for sale, L & XL. They’re very good quality and come in Yellow (L) for $35, Orange (XL) for $40 or Orange (XS) for $30.

Packing & Storage
It’s easiest to pack and unpack from a duffel bag, especially when the temperature drops, and easiest for porters to carry. Inexpensive and decent quality duffels are available in Kathmandu but it’s best to invest in a strong, waterproof duffel such as a North Face. You can store extra gear in Kathmandu at the Kathmandu Guest House storage room free of charge. Valuables can be stored at the Kathmandu Guest House in private safety-deposit boxes for 2 NRP per day.

Almost all gear is now available in Kathmandu, from real (North Face, Mountain Hardwear, Sherpa Gear, Marmot shops in Thamel) to inexpensive knock-offs. The real gear shops take credit cards. Lhasa also has lots of gear near Barkor Square if you find you don't have something you need ...

Detailed Itinerary

We'll need your passports by 8-9 am on Wednesday morning for the Chinese visa, so please arrange to arrive in Kathmandu at least a day early and coordinate with Kim to pick-up your passport.

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. The van 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.

We'll have time for a bit of gear shopping in Thamel for anyone who needs to do this, and in the evening will head out for dinner of wood-oven pizza at the Roadhouse Cafe. We would recommend taking 250 mg of Diamox for the next day’s jump to 3700 meters 2x/day a day before flying to Lhasa.

Day 3 - Fly Lhasa 3650m
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 45 minutes to Lhasa.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.

Some of our favorite restaurants are Dunya (right next door), Makye Ame & Ganglamedo (across the street from the New Yak Hotel), Western Cafe just around the corner for coffee and the New Mandala for a sunny breakfast.

Days 4 & 5 - Lhasa
We have three more days to wander the streets of the Tibetan section of Lhasa, and continue with our touring of the monasteries and the famous Potala Palace, home of the Dalai Lamas.

Jokhang Temple & Barkor Square - 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 Barkhor, 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 & 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.

Some of our favorite restaurants are Dunya (right next door), Makye Ame & Ganglamedo (across the street from the New Yak Hotel), Western Cafe just around the corner for coffee and the New Mandala for a sunny breakfast.

Day 6 - Lhasa. Daytrip Ganden Gompa 4265m
We'll set off early for a scenic 36-kilometer drive to the Gelugpa Ganden Monastery, on of the 'three great' Gelugpa monasteries in Tibet. Ganden is situated atop Wangbur Mountain in Tagtse County. Its full name is Ganden (meaning joyful, the Tibetan name for Tusita, the heaven where the bodhisattva Maitreya is said to reside) and Namgyal Ling (victorious temple).

Ganden was founded by Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa tradition, in 1409. It's history is interesting so I will quote from Wikipedia: 'The Ganden Tripa or 'throne-holder of Ganden' is the head of the Gelukpa school. Tsongkhapa's preserved body was entombed there in a silver and gold encrusted tomb by his disciples in 1419. Being the farthest from Lhasa of the three university monasteries, Ganden traditionally had a smaller population with some 6,000 monks in the early 20th century (although Waddell reports an estimate of about 3,300 in the 1890s and there were, apparently only 2,000 in 1959. At this time there are about 170 monks.

Ganden Monastery consisted of two principal original colleges, Jangtse and Shartse, meaning North Peak and East Peak respectively. The three main sights in the Ganden Monastery are the Serdung, which contains the tomb of Tsongkhapa, the Tsokchen Assembly Hall and the Ngam Cho Khang the chapel where Tsongkhapa traditionally taught. The monastery houses artifacts which belonged to Tsongkhapa. It contained more than two dozen major chapels with large Buddha statues. The largest chapel was capable of seating 3,500 monks. Tenzin Gyatso, the present Dalai Lama (born 1935), took his final degree examination in Ganden in 1958 and he claims to feel a particularly close connection with Tsongkhapa.

Ganden was completely destroyed during the rebellion of 1959. In 1966 it was severely shelled by Red Guard artillery and monks then had to dismantle the remains. Most of Tsongkhapa's mummified body was burned but his skull and some ashes were saved from the fire by Bomi Rinpoche, the monk who had been forced to carry the body to the fire. Re-building has been continuing since the 1980s and the "red-painted lhakang in the centre is the reconstruction of Ganden's sanctum sanctorum containing Tsongkapa's reliquary chorten called the Tongwa Donden, 'Meaningful to Behold.' - Wikipedia

The kora of Ganden, around the small Wangbur Mountain, takes about 45 minutes and is a great way to come into contact with Tibetan pilgrims, atired in their pilgrimage best. Every once in a while you might see a sky burial on a nearby hillside, a tradition that is rarely found in Tibet anymore ...

Day 7 - Drive to Gyantse 4025m
Leaving Lhasa, the 'city of gods' (or 'sunlight city' due to its 3000 hours of sunshine yearly), we switchback up the Khamba La pass (4795m) 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, Tibetan mastiffs 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. Once in Gyantse, we'll check into the Yeti Hotel, a great hotel with a wonderful restaurant and friendly staff, and head out for a walk around town to stretch our legs.

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).

We will visit the 15th century Palkor Chode Monastery and the magnificent Kumbum, translated as '100,000 images', the largest chorten in Tibet. Kumbum was commissioned by a Gyantse prince in 1427 and was an important center of the Sakya school. It still contains 77 chapels within its six floors and is illustrated with over 10,000 murals, many still intact and exhibiting a strong Nepali influence, the last of their kind to be found in Tibet.

'The town of Gyantse was nearly destroyed by flooding in 1954, and after rioting in 1959, local industries were dismantled and artisans fled while others were placed in workcamps. Some 400 monks and laypeople were imprisoned in the monastery. During the Cultural Revolution the fort, the monastery and Kumbum were ransacked. Precious objects were destroyed or sent out of Tibet. Fortunately, the chorten was spared. The main building of the Pelkor Chode or Palcho Monastery and the Kumbum have been largely restored but the dzong or fort is still largely in ruins but there is an Anti-British Imperialism Museum there which gives the Chinese version of the 1904 British invasion.' - Wikipedia.

Day 8 – Drive to Shigatse 3850m
We will spend the morning visiting the gompa complex at Gyantse and hiking up to Gyantse Fort, and then head to Shigatse mid-day. It's a short but beautiful drive through flat countryside, surrounded by snow peaks, to Shigatse, previously known as Samdruptse. Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet and is home to perhaps the best preserved but most controversial monastery in Tibet, Tashilhunpo. This Gelugpa gompa, administred by the Panchen Lama, is one of the largest functioning monasteries in Tibet and there is much to explore within its surrounding walls.

'In the 19th century, the 'Tashi' or Panchen Lama had temporal power over Tashilhunpo Monastery and three small districts, though not over the town of Shigatse itself, which was administered by two Dzongpön (prefects) appointed from Lhasa. Before military conflict between the PRC's People's Liberation Army and the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan territory was divided into 53 prefecture districts called Dzongs. There were two Dzongpöns for every Dzong—a lama (Tse-dung) and a layman. They were entrusted with both civil and military powers and are equal in all respects, though subordinate to the generals and the Chinese Amban in military matters. However, there were only one or two Ambans representing the Chinese emperor residing in Lhasa, directing a little garrison, and their power installed since 1728, progressively declined to end-up as observer at the eve of their expulsion in 1912 by the 13th Dalai Lama. In 1952, shortly after the PRC sent forces to the region, Shigatse had a population of perhaps 12,000 people, making it the second largest city in Tibet.' - Wikipedia

We will take a few hours for a visit in the late afternoon or early morning. We stay at the Manasarovar 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. (6 hrs)

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! (8 hrs)

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. (4 hrs)

Day 15 - Tarboche. Pre-festival Day
We'll spend the day around Tarboche and Darchen with the pilgrims, with time to take photos at Chuku Gompa with all the pilgrims making their rounds (koras). There may be horseracing, and there will certainly be shoping. And we will have another day with Mount Kailash, the sacred mountain ...

If people want to visit the sacred Lake Manasarovar, we can discuss options with the jeep drivers.

Day 16 - 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 17 - 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 18 - 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 19 - 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 20 - Drive Ali
We embark on a 6-day exploratory (for us) route via Ali (the gateway to Kashgar) to see the high lakes, grazing plateaus and wildlife of the northern route to Kailash. This is a route I've always wanted to do, but never had time to. Now, with the new roads throughout most of Tibet, it's possible to fit this in. We'll drive through the Tibetan Changthang plateau, a mythical high plateau of kiang, wild yaks, Tibetan gazelle, chiru (from which the illegal 'shatoosh' comes), hare and wolves roam.

We will camp at night near (but mostly not in) the below villages ...

Day 21 - Drive Rutok

Day 22 - Drive Gegye

Day 23 - Drive Gertse

Day 24 - Drive Tso Chen

Day 25 - Drive Saga
 And finally we're back where we started, after a glorious drive along the northern route ...

Day 26 - Drive Peiko Tso Camp
Back in known territory, our beautiful drive continues as we cut the corner, heading south towards the border of Nepal, and camping near a beautiful turqoise lake with Shishapangma looming above us.

Day 27 - Drive Zangmu 2300m
Our last day of driving in Tibet, we spend all of the day on a good road driving through stunning Tibetan landscapes with Himalayan vistas throughout the drive. After breakfast we're back on the Friendship Highway heading south towards the border of Nepal,

The first pass we crest is the Lalung La, 5124m and after a short scenic drop between we reach the Tong La 5200m (although often called other names). Here we stop to admire a Himalayan panorama that includes Shishapangma and Khambachen on the west (right) and a hard to recognize Gauri Shankar (Chomo Tseringma for Tibetans and Sherpas). We are standing on the geographic divide, although the main Himalayan mountain divide is further south.

The descent to Nyalam at 3650 meters takes a couple of hours, with Zangmu, at 2250 meters, another 1 1/2 hours further south. Along the way we'll pass both newly built and old white-washed Tibetan villages, and sometimes herders herding their flocks of sheep and goats or their yaks. This is one of the most impressive gorge roads in the world, a winding road through a green rainforest with waterfalls streaming over the road at points. It's a relief to reach the winding streets of Zangmu, a typical border town but perched precariously on a steep hill, making the most of its meager land allotment. We will stay at Zhangmu at the Zhangmu Hotel, the best in town ...

Day 28 - Drive Last Resort
From Zangmu, it's a short drive to the Friendship Bridge which spans the Bhote Kosi River and marks the Chinese - Nepalese border. We say goodbye to our Tibetan guide and driver and walk to Nepalese Immigration Control in Kodari where we will be met by our Nepalese staff and driven to the Last Resort, just half an hour south of the border past Tatopani (hotsprings).

The Last Resort is a wonderful place to spend a night after the rigors of Tibet, truly tropical after the hearsh Tibetan climate. It's a lovely Nepali-style tented resort with a sauna, plunge pool, massage room, big, leafy plans shading the canvas tents and an outdoor, bamboo dining area perfect for lively happy hours! Beers in the bamboo bar is the perfect way to wind down from the rigors of Tibet ...

Day 29 - Drive Kathmandu
The 4-5 hour drive to Kathmandu is good look at the rural, middle hills of Nepal. We'll be ready for our clean rooms, a change of clothes and a good, long, hot shower back at the Kathmandu Guest House. Later in the evening we'll head for dinner and celebrate our wonderful journey through Tibet ...

Day 30 - Depart
Transfer to the Kathmandu airport to meet your international flight. 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 | Customize your Journey!
We have plenty of great suggestions for extra days, or weeks, in Nepal! See our Nepal & Kathmandu Modules | Customize Your Trip! to put together the perfect journey.

Mountain biking, rafting, vespa tours or yoga retreats around the Kathmandu valley or Pokhara, trips to Bhaktapur or Patan (Kathmandu Valley's other historic capital cities), a visit to the Newari temple of Changu Narayan and a night at the Fort Hotel in Nagarkot for sublime Himalayan panoramas, an Everest sightseeing flight, a luxurious stay at Temple Tree Resort & Spa, paragliding, hiking or zip-lining in Pokhara, a spa & wellness getaway at Dwarikas Resort in Dhulikhel, a relaxing excursion to Chitwan National Park Wildlife Safari & Tharu Villages (staying at Maruni Sanctuary Lodge) or Bardia National Park, a weekend of adventure, sauna and pampering at The Last Resort or five-star treatment in historic Dwarika's in Kathmandu.

Kamzang Journeys can customize any of these excursions for you, just inquire!

Kailash, Guge & W Tibet

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 ...

Trip Photos
Tibet & Kailash Saga Dawa Trek
Humla & Limi Valley
Lhasa & Central Tibet
Lhasa Prostrations | Barkor Square & Jokhang Temple
Kailash & West Tibet Photos


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.

Brief synthesis
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.

Long Description
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.

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.

Trip Photos
Tibet & Kailash Saga Dawa Trek
Humla & Limi Valley
Lhasa & Central Tibet
Lhasa Prostrations | Barkor Square & Jokhang Temple
Kailash & West Tibet Photos

Namaste & Tashi Delek!

© Kim Bannister

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