Those on the group flight will be transferred to our central hotel. Those not flying with the group from London will join us at the hotel.
Today there is a half-day sightseeing tour visiting the temples of Bodnath and Pashupatinath. Bodnath is one of the largest Buddhist Stupas in the world and home to a large Tibetan population, whilst Pashupatinath is the most important Hindu temple in the country. The tour will end at lunchtime and there will be time in the afternoon for individual exploration of the Durbar Square area of Kathmandu or Swayambhunath, the Monkey Temple, with its all seeing eyes of Buddha overlooking the whole valley. There will also be a trip briefing today.
Early morning transfer to the airport, and board the plane for the flight over the Himalaya to Lhasa. If the weather is clear there is a wonderful view of Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, Makalu, Kanchenjunga and other peaks en route. On arrival at Gonggar airport (which is 90 km. from Lhasa), we meet our vehicle and drive east along the broad Yarlung Tsangpo valley to Tsedang (3400m). After checking in to our hotel, we drive south to see what is reputedly the oldest building in Tibet, the Yumbu Lakhang, a beautiful castle-like dwelling and monastery, dramatically perched on a spur looking out over the fertile valley below. If time permits we may be able to visit a small monastery close to Tsedang. Today's drive is a total of approximately 100 km.
A short drive west along the Tsangpo Valley brings us to the ferry that will take us across the river to Samye monastery on the north bank. The ferry journey may take an hour or more, as the boatman has to negotiate the sometimes-tricky currents and sandbanks. Once on land again, we travel in the back of either an old bus or truck (or similar basic transport) the few kilometres to Samye, Tibet's very first monastery, founded by Trisong Detsen in 779 AD. Very badly damaged in the Cultural Revolution, it has now been completely rebuilt, and although the new work is not as fine as the old, this is a magnificent example of Tibetan religious architecture, with wonderful painted wooden roof beams and typical gilded roofs. Around the main building is a fine cloister and there is now a substantial body of monks living and studying here. We return across the river and continue west past the airport, then cross the bridge over the Tsang Po and turn northeast up the Lhasa valley. As we near Lhasa we see the great bulk of the Potala looming over the city. Today's drive is a total of approximately 210 km. (Please note that occasionally the ferry is not running as the water levels are too high or low. If this is the case we must drive to Samye).
Day 5 - 6
These two days are spent in Lhasa, the religious, cultural and economic centre of Tibet. One of the highlights is the visit to the symbol of Tibet; the Potala Palace set high on Red Hill, the winter home of the Dalai Lama until 1959. The most sacred temple in Lhasa is the Jokhang, where people come from all over Tibet to visit and pray in this spiritual heart of the country. It was used as a military kitchen during the Cultural Revolution but has now been beautifully restored, with many statues adorning the chapels, and magnificent gilded roofs. The most holy statue in Tibet is the Jowo Shakyamuni, housed now in the Jokhang. We also visit Sera and Drepung monasteries, two of the great monasteries of the Gelukpa (yellow hat) sect, just outside Lhasa. Other great treasures are the Norbulingka - the wonderful old summer palace of the Dalai Lama - and the Ramoche temple. You will probably also want to spend time wandering around the Barkhor, the old city, in company with the pilgrims. Around the Barkhor there are numerous stalls selling all sorts of handicrafts, brightly coloured boots and fur-lined hats, silver and turquoise jewellery, rosaries, prayer flags and charms, as well as beautiful Tibetan carpets and all manner of ordinary household ware. (Please note that the order in which we do the sightseeing depends on when we get tickets to visit the Potala. Since 2006 Potala visiting times have been restricted due to the large number of tourists and only a limited number of tickets are issued every day to each travel agent. Outside the Potala and walking up to and down from the palace we can take our time but all tourists are now only allowed 1 hour actually inside the Potala).
We re-cross the Yarlung Tsangpo, then turn upstream to climb steeply to the first of the many passes. The Kamba La (4794m.) is traditionally the divide between 'front' and 'back' Tibet. At the top is a splendid panorama with the Yarlung Tsangpo, the great river of Tibet, behind us, while in front is a superb vista of the stunning scorpion-shaped turquoise lake of Yamdrok Tso and the peaks along Tibet's southern border. The road quickly drops down to the lake, and then follows the shore for a couple of hours. A short climb brings us to the Karo La (5010m.) passing close to a magnificent hanging glacier near the summit. This was the site of one of Younghusband's battles in 1904. We then climb to our third pass of the day, the Simi La, before descending to a broad flat valley and the town of Gyantse, an important market town and trading crossroads. Gyantse is an attractive town dominated by the great fortress captured and destroyed by the British during their incursion into Tibet in the early years of last century. Apart from the fort, there are two particular points of interest in Gyantse - the Pelke Chode Monastery and the Kumbum Stupa. The stupa is reckoned the finest in Tibet and is filled with innumerable manifestations of Buddha, some of which are incredibly old. Today's drive is at total of approximately 261 km.
We spend part of the morning visiting the Pelke Chode Monastery and Kumbum stupa before driving through a landscape of fields and low hills to Shigatse, Tibet's second largest town at 3900 m. Shigatse is situated near the junction of the Ngang and Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) rivers, with many traditional low ceiling, flat roofed, mud brick Tibetan houses, but quite a lot of ugly modern Chinese buildings as well. It is home of the Tashillunpo monastery, traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, and one of the great centres of Tibetan Buddhism. Unlike most religious buildings in Tibet, the Tashillunpo monastery was largely untouched during the Cultural Revolution, and contains numerous impressive chapels and prayer halls. Don't miss the giant statue of the Maitreya Buddha that contains 280 kg. of gold. Shigatse also has an interesting bazaar, where various traditional items can often be found at more or less reasonable prices. Today's drive is a total of approximately 90 km.
Leaving Shigatse we climb steadily to the top of a 4050m. pass, then follow valleys containing a few small villages before climbing to the Tsuo La (4500m.). From here the road drops steeply down towards Lhatse where the main road from western Tibet comes in. Another climb through virtually unpopulated high altitude moorland brings us to the summit of the Gyatso La (5220m.), the watershed between Tibet and the Indian sub-continent. After a long descent we arrive at Xegar (sometimes called New Tingi) for the night. Today's drive is a total of approximately 233 km.
After a few more kilometres on the Friendship Highway we leave the main road and drive along a rough road for about four hours to Rongbuk (85 km). This road was resurfaced in 2008 for the Olympics so it is now an easier drive to Rongbuk. However there may still be slow sections but the scenery is breathtaking as we pass through small villages and then climb to a pass, the Pang La at 5120m, from where, on a clear day, we have a magnificent panorama of Everest, Cho Oyu, Lhotse, Gyachung Kang and Makalu. We stay near the monastery in a very basic guest house for the night at 4900m, a cold night but the views are stunning. Straight ahead is the north face of Everest and the changing colours of the sunset on the mountain are not to be missed. Monks and nuns from the Nyingma sect live at Rongbuk; some speak English, learnt through contact with foreigners, and are generally very friendly. In the afternoon we will visit Everest Base Camp, which is 9km from Rongbuk. In 2011 we were allowed to take the jeeps half way to Base Camp, from where we can either walk or take a bus. From Base Camp we get even closer views of the North face of Everest. From the viewpoint we can follow the route that Mallory and Irvine climbed in 1924. There is a memorial to Mallory and Irvine just off to the side of all the prayer flags. We return to Rongbuk for the night. (Please note: the accommodation at Rongbuk is very basic, with multi bedded rooms, very basic common toilets and no running water. No single rooms are available in Rongbuk and usually there are 4 beds per room.)
We head towards the Nepalese border today. Although long, scenically this is one of the most spectacular days of the trip. We drive back to the main road on the old route into Rongbuk if possible. This is a very rough road but the views make the drive worthwhile (if it is not possible to use this road we return over the Pang La to the Friendship Highway). The old road will bring us to Old Tingri, an interesting town usually with a busy market. From here the Himalaya are still very much in view to the south and we should get magnificent views as we cross the barren plains. As Everest recedes from view we climb steadily to the Tong La (5100 m.). Ahead we have the most amazing panoramic views of the Himalaya; to our right is a splendid panorama of Shishapangma, while to the north is a vast open landscape with range upon range of mountains beyond; ahead of us the road drops into a gorge between the magnificent snow-capped peaks of the main Himalayan range. A long and sometimes steep descent brings us down to Nyalam. We continue on down the gorge until we arrive at Zhangmu, the final town in Tibet. Today's drive is a total of approximately 180 km. (Please note that this last section of the road has now been resurfaced but is prone to landslides and there can be delays. Your leader will have up to date information and will make sure you make the most of your time in this area but be prepared for a late arrival in Zhangmu).
After completing the Chinese border formalities, we cross the Friendship Bridge. Once across the bridge, we are in Nepal, and as soon as the formalities are complete, we pick up our transport. The road to Kathmandu is not that good and be prepared for a bumpy ride in a bus back to Kathmandu. The road follows the Bhote Kosi valley down to its junction with the Sun Kosi at Barabise. We continue down the Sun Kosi past rice terraces, small villages and scrub woodland to Dolalghat where we leave the river and complete our journey to Kathmandu. Today's drive is a total of approximately 130 km. We should arrive at our hotel in the late afternoon and you may have time to go and do some last minute shopping before dinner.
Those on the flight inclusive package will depart for London this morning for the daytime flight back to London; Land Only arrangements will finish after check-out from the hotel.