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This National Geographic “Tour of a Lifetime” will spirit you through the heart of Tibet, from Lhasa’s mighty Potala Palace to the hallowed slopes of Mount Kailash and the ancient ruins at Guge. You’ll hike ancient pilgrim trails to discover hidden monasteries, camp under starlit skies, and be inspired by a warm and profoundly devout people.
Embark on an exploration of Tibet on this adventurous three-week journey off the beaten path. A National Geographic ‘Tour of a Lifetime’, this expedition will take you deep into Tibet’s far west. From the majesty of Lhasa’s Potala Palace to the frescos and old temples of the ancient Guge Kingdom, this journey will be an opportunity to truly immerse yourself in the mysterious lands of Tibet. Breathe in the crisp, fresh air of Tibet while stopping by isolated monasteries home to red-robed monks, following in the footsteps of pilgrims by embarking on a pilgrimage route, camping beneath the stars and bathing in hot springs.
Soak up the atmosphere as you explore the bustling streets, markets and mosques of Xining Muslim Quarter • Admire the view of the Tibetan Plateau as you travel by train • Arrive in Lhasa, one of the highest cities in the world and the central hub of Tibetan religion and culture.
Visit Potala Palace, Tibet’s defining religious landmark, a grand masterpiece of white, crimson and gold famed for being the former residence of the Dalai Lama • Visit the gilded Jokhang Temple, which attracts a large number of pilgrims due to it being considered the most sacred temple in Tibet • Make your way through the bustling market stalls in Barkhor Street along the pilgrimage route.
Be greeted by the phrase “om mani padme hum” as you visit Pabongka Monastery • Hike downhill to Chupsang Nunnery, home to over 80 red-robed nuns • Witness monks animatedly debate Buddhist philosophy in Sera Monastery, one of Tibet’s top university monasteries • If interested, you can learn about thangka painting or visit an NGO in Lhasa • Explore Tsurphu Monastery.
Pass through high mountain passes as you drive to Gyantse • Visit Pelkor Chode Monastery and the famous Kumbum Stupa, built over eight levels housing 75 chapels adorned with murals revered by art scholars around the world • Walk with locals along the spiritual and relaxing pilgrimage route in Gyantse.
Admire the massive complex of golden roofed buildings and traditional white walls that is Tashi Lhunpo Monastery • Follow the pilgrimage route and visit the bustling local markets • En route to Saga, visit Sakya Monastery, which houses a staggering array of classical books, relics and precious mural paintings • Continue to Kailash (318km) and cross the highest pass of Mayumla (5,240m) • Witness an uninterrupted view of the Himalayan border stretching between India, China, and Nepal • Settle into your guesthouse at Lake Manasarovar (4,560m), the highest fresh water lake in the world.
En route to Tirthapuri, visit Guru Gyam Monastery • Explore the ancient kingdom of Shangshung at Kyunglung • Bathe in Tirthapuri’s natural hot springs, watching as steam fills the barren landscape around you • Explore the ruins of the Guge Kingdom amidst a backdrop of craggy mountains and explore the Buddhist art relics at Tsaparang • Visit Tholing Monastery, considered to be the best example of Guge Buddhist art.
Drive 80km to the secret valley of Dungkar Piyang (4,000m), home to monasteries brimming with over 1,100 years of history • Rest at your guesthouse close by the sandy peaks of Dungkar Piyang Valley.
Drive 250m back to Manasarovar Lake and check into your local hotel close to Chiu Monastery (4,560m), located on a low, craggy cliff • Visit Chiu Monastery, also known as the “bird monastery,” and peek into its tiny chapel, which is only 8m by 10m.
Drive 50km to Tarpoche, the starting point of the Mount Kailash kora and the location of the Saga Dawa festival which celebrates the life of Buddha • Add your own prayer flag to Tarpoche’s giant flagpole with a dramatic view of Mt Kailash (6,714m) • Rest or explore the lush surroundings of the lake in the afternoon.
Travel back to Saga (462km) through the Changtang Plateau • Pass by nomadic camps and herds of gazelles and wild donkeys.
Travel to Tsedang, the birthplace of Tibetan civilization • Visit Mindroling Monastery, one of the six major monasteries in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism • Visit Yumbu Lhakang, which according to legend was the first building in Tibet, and explore the heavily adorned hall of Tradduk Temple, Tibet’s first temple.
Get up early and drive to Samye Monastery (50km) along the Brahmaputra River • Visit the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery (3,650km) built in the 11th century • If your travels happen to coincide with the Samye Dhode festival, watch monks performing ritual dances while wearing Buddhist masks amidst a crowd of pilgrims.
Your WildChina guide and chauffeur will escort you to Lhasa Gonggar Airport in your private vehicle and help you check in for your departure flight.
With unparalleled views of Potala Palace, the St. Regis is inspired by Sera Monastery and pays homage to Tibet’s culture and history.
The Shangri-La Lhasa provides a copy of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon in each room and boasts both an oxygen lounge and reflexology pavilion.