This is truly the ‘journey of a lifetime’, combining two amazing countries, China and Nepal, with a week spent in mystical Tibet.
Starting in southern China we begin the journey in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. Yunnan Province has many attractions ranging from rich cultures to historic towns and magnificent alpine scenery. We also have time to appreciate the beauty of the region by enjoying a trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge.
We then fly north and visit Chengdu, where we see endangered giant pandas in a special breeding centre. The fabled mountain province of Tibet beckons with its alpine pastures and ancient monasteries. We visit Lhasa and its fabulous Potala Palace, before continuing to Gyantse, Shigatse and driving up to the Base Camp of the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest. Finally crossing the mighty Himalaya to Nepal, we reach our final destination, Kathmandu.
Day 1 - Kunming
On arrival in Kunming you are transferred to your hotel, located right in the middle of town. You meet your tour leader and other group members at a pre-tour briefing, then head out for an optional group dinner. Local specialities are a highlight, with dishes such as 'across-the-bridge' noodles and other similarly intriguing Yunnanese fare.
Day 2 - Dali
Kunming is a vibrant and bustling city with a flourishing Muslim area, exciting markets, interesting temples and a strong ethnic minority influence. A half-day walking tour takes us to the more interesting parts of the city, including watching the locals practising taichi in the morning in People's Square, and meandering through the Flower and Bird Market, where you are free to wander around and make your own discoveries. Departing Kunming, we catch an afternoon bus to Dali.
Lan Lin Ge Hotel or similar
Day 3 - Dali
Dali is one of the favourite places for travellers in China. Resting near the banks of Er Hai Lake with the Cang Shan mountain range forming an impressive backdrop, the town's cobblestone streets, ancient stone houses and laid-back charm make it a wonderful place to relax. Dali is home to the proud Bai people, a traditional minority tribe renowned throughout China for their craftsmanship. There is much to explore in our two free days in Dali. There is a chance to go boating on Er Hai Lake and travel across to the village of Wase, or spend a day catching a chairlift up and hiking in the mountains behind Dali (stopping at the occasional monastery along the way). We can also cycle to nearby villages or just stroll around town. Several small stone hamlets lie close to Dali and make for a highly rewarding half-day trip by bicycle or local bus.
Lan Lin Ge Hotel or similar
Day 4-5 - Lijiang
After a free morning in Dali, a spectacular local bus journey through rambling Bai and Yi hamlets, beneath towering mountains and over lush alpine passes, takes us to Lijiang, former capital of the famed Naxi Kingdom. The Old Town is a maze of cobblestone streets, narrow canals and decorative wooden houses, a wonderful place to wander around and imagine being in a bygone era. A walk up to the Wangu Pagoda on Lion Hill offers an impressive view of the rooftops of the Old Town. Our accommodation is located right in the middle of the Old Town and set up like a local Naxi house, but the rooms contain all facilities that one would expect at home! In the evening, you can witness a performance of the local Naxi orchestra (optional), a unique and entertaining musical experience (please check schedules in Lijiang to see if the show is on during your visit). We may need to repack our luggage in preparation for the trek. Extra luggage can be stored in the vehicle, but remember to pack all your valuables to carry into Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Sanhe Naxi Hotel or similar
Day 6-7 - Tiger Leaping Gorge
Another breath-taking journey on our private mini-bus takes us past the upper reaches of the Yangtze River to one of the world's deepest gorges and China's most spectacular natural scenery. Part of the Yangtze River (known here as the Jinsha River) thunders through Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is in turn framed by 5000-metre-high mountains. In the gorge, a sheer cliff face rises from the raging torrents. A memorable walk in the gorge is a wonderful way to take in its awesome beauty, with overnight stays in the local villages such as enchanting Ben Di Wan. The facilities in the village accommodation are extremely basic, as we are visiting a remote area frequented only by adventurous travellers. Please note that this walk is geared towards travellers who like to enjoy some physical activity, but it is not an extreme trek for advanced mountain walkers. The walk can be quite challenging for some people, depending on weather conditions, and good footwear, preferably hiking boots, is essential. It is necessary to bring warm clothing, especially for the evenings, and, in general, for the cooler months. The degree of difficulty on the particular trail that we take will vary greatly, depending on the time of year. Our tour leader may not be able to advise us of the actual trekking itinerary until the last minute.
Tina’s Guest House or similar
Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner
Day 8-9 - Zhongdian
After completing a morning walk we reunite with our mini-bus and drive to Zhongdian, a town set on a high plateau with a distinctly Tibetan feel. Home to a range of minority groups from western China, it encapsulates much of the region's fascinating qualities. Yaks are seen grazing on vast alpine plains and the farmhouses are built in a distinctive local style. Due to Zhongdian's high altitude (3200 metres), it is advisable to bring warm clothing. (Please note that sometimes due to bad road conditions caused by poor weather, it may not be possible to travel to Zhongdian. If that is the case, additional time will be spent in Lijiang.) The highlight of Zhongdian is a visit to the Songzanlin Monastery, restored since the ravages of the Cultural Revolution and once again a place of homage for Tibetan Lamaism. We also visit a Tibetan family and gain an understanding of their unique way of life.
Shangri-La Olive Noah Inn or similar
Day 10 - Kunming
We fly back to Kunming this afternoon and have the rest of the day at leisure. There is free time to explore some of Kunming's other sights, such as the Bamboo Temple or Yuantong Temple. Those of us who are more adventurous can try some of the delicacies at the roadside stalls.
Haikun Hotel or similar
Day 11-13 - Chengdu
This morning we board a flight bound for Chengdu (please note that you will be unescorted on this flight). Here we are looked after by a local guide for three days. The capital of Sichuan province is known for its hot, spicy dishes, considered by the Chinese as the best cuisine within China. In such a food-loving country, that is no mean achievement. A history of trade built on cottage industry handicrafts has had a major influence on the development of Chengdu. Recent changes in the regulations in China have seen a revival of this tradition of private industry and, at almost every turn, you see signs of a thriving market. We visit the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, located just out of the city. The giant panda is one of the world's most endangered species and has become an icon for conservation movements everywhere. It is still found in parts of Sichuan province, but very difficult to spot in the wild. In the afternoon there is an opportunity to relax in a bamboo chair at the teahouse in Renmin Park. There is often an ear-picker with cotton buds wandering around, if you feel the need! A stroll to Wenshu Temple will take you past beggars, children, tourists, fortune tellers and fireworks sellers. This is an active and noisy place of worship. We travel to view one of the major monumental highlights of China - the Giant Buddha at Leshan. Situated on the shores of the Min River, the sleepy town of Leshan is bursting with alleys and backstreets just waiting to be explored. The Giant Buddha ('Dafo') measures 71 metres high and is located at the convergence of the Dadu and Min Rivers. At the time it was built, it was the largest Buddha image in the world. Carved out of the cliff face, construction on this amazing statue began in the year 713 AD by a Buddhist monk named Haitong. It took 90 years to be completed. It was built for good luck because many boats had previously come to grief on this treacherous bend in the river. Ironically the construction of the statue led to the creation of a buffer that resulted in the raging torrents being diverted away from the dangerous cliffs, perhaps saving many lives as a result. After our excursion we return to Chengdu.
Chengdu Garden City Hotel or similar
Day 14-16 - Lhasa
An early morning flight (please note that you will also be unescorted on this flight) takes us over snow-capped mountains to Lhasa, capital of the autonomous region of Tibet. This is one of the most spectacular flights in the world, as we cross over high mountain peaks before arriving in the high Tibetan Plateau. On arrival at Gonggar Airport we are met and driven by coach to the fabled city of Lhasa, which lies at 3650 metres above sea level. Here we have three days to explore this once-isolated city, with its monasteries and markets bulging with pilgrims and traders. This includes an organised tour to the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, and Sera and Ramoche Monasteries. Free time to explore the city is subject to the Chinese authorities and the ever-changing political climate, although there are never any problems with filling in the days to great advantage in such a fascinating city. In your free time you may wish to visit the Norbulingka Summer Palace or the interesting Tibet Museum.
Yak Hotel or similar
Day 17 - Gyantse
Today we travel for about four hours as we take to the Friendship
Highway; a spectacular road, which traverses high mountain passes and
crosses plateaus, connecting Lhasa with Kathmandu. We first travel
through Tibet's richest farming areas, then cross the Brahmaputra River
as it winds its way down to the Bay of Bengal. Running here at an
altitude of 3939 metres above sea level, it is the highest major river
in the world. We wind our way to Kamba La (Pass) at 4970 metres and
enjoy a view over the huge Yamdrok Tso Lake. After the lake, we climb
again to Karo La (Pass) (5010 metres) before descending to the historic
town of Gyantse, a small village and home to the Kumbum Monastery and
Pelkhor Chode Temple, where we find interesting Buddhist murals. Time
permitting we may also make an optional visit to Gyantse Fort.
Gyantse Hotel or similar
Day 18 - Shigatse
In the morning we explore Gyantse, a town renowned for the exploits of
Colonel Younghusband in the 1920s. We walk down the newly rebuilt main
street, along with the Nepali Kumbum Stupa. In the afternoon we drive
for an hour-and-a-half across the Tibetan Plateau. Shigatse is the
second largest city of Tibet with a population of some 40,000 people.
The Tashilhunpo Monastery is the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama,
the most important incarnation for Tibetan Buddhists after the Dalai
Lama. This impressive religious centre contains a giant statue of Buddha
in the Temple of Maitreya as well as an ornate tomb, which is the final
resting-place of the fourth Panchen Lama. Its huge size ensures it is
almost a town in itself. One of Tibet's most active monasteries, it is
currently being restored to its former beauty.
Shigatse Hotel or similar
Day 19 - Shegar
Our adventure continues with a five-hour drive over rough, dusty roads to Shegar. In the morning we cross the Gyatso La (Pass) with stunning views of the Himalayan peaks to the south. Although the scenery is desolate, the country is dotted with busy villages and ruined monasteries. Amongst these villages is the major town of Lhaze, which makes a convenient halfway stop, where we have a local-style lunch break. Shegar is a small village of 1500 inhabitants with an interesting fort.
Shegar Hotel or similar
Day 20 - Everest Base camp - Sheger
Departing from Shegar, we drive to the south towards the mighty Himalaya. The initial part of the road journey involves climbs in a series of zigzags to the top of the Pang La (Pass) (5150 metres), where we stop to take photos of Mount Everest. Along the drive we can bask in the splendour of majestic views of all the other snow-capped peaks from Makalu to Shishapangma. As we are now travelling off the main highway it could get dusty travelling on these dirt roads, so you may like to carry something like a scarf or big handkerchief with you when we’re driving. Even though we are only travelling 140 kilometres on our round journey, it is a long day due to the poor road conditions. At 5000 metres above sea level, Rongphu is home to the highest monastery in the world. From here we can enjoy a breathtakingly close-up view of Mount Everest as it seemingly hovers over us. We then branch off on to a small path that leads to Everest Base Camp itself, which is situated at 5040 metres above sea level. The base camp itself is dry and barren, but the stunning view of Everest more than compensates. It truly is an awe-inspiring place with the sheer north face of the highest mountain in the world towering above you. This is certainly a major highlight on our incredible journey. From here we return to Rongphu and make our way back to Shegar.
Shegar Hotel or similar
Day 21 - Zhangmu
We continue our journey on the main road and head in the direction of the Nepalese border, passing through a checkpost and continuing to Tingri, where we still enjoy more views of the world’s highest peaks including the 8201-metre-high Cho Oyu - the world’s 6th highest peak. From Tingri the road ascends to reach the Lalung La (Pass) (5050 metres), where the scenery is again fantastic. The panorama also includes the 8000-metre-high Xixapangma. From the top of the pass we descend nearly 3000 metres to the small town of Nyalam, before continuing to the border town of Zhangmu. As you near the border, the road is cut into the cliffs high above the valley floor. If you don’t like heights, sit on the left-hand side of the vehicle! At Zhangmu we say farewell to our Tibetan guide and driver.
PemaGuest House or similar
Day 22 - Kathmandu
Today, after finalising departure formalities, you exit from China and enter Nepal. Descending steeply down the zigzag road, you reach the Nepalese immigration and customs at Tatopani. During the monsoon season there may be landslides, which may cause sections of the road near the border to be closed. Should this be the case, porters then carry our luggage as we walk across the border to our Nepalese vehicle. It is then a 4½-hour drive to Kathmandu. There is much to see in the Nepalese capital, so you may consider extending your stay with extra time here to explore Kathmandu and the valley. There are fascinating temples in the city's Durbar Square as well as the Hindu Pashupatinath Temple and the Buddhist Bodnath Stupa, whilst the neighbouring towns of Patan and Bhaktapur are both worth a visit.
Shangri La Hotel or similar
Day 23 - Kathmandu
Your tour ends after breakfast this morning. A transfer to the airport is not included, however, your tour leader will be on hand to advise you as to the options available.