This extraordinary journey sees us cross the vast expanses of China as we immerse ourselves in the diverse cultures of the Middle Kingdom and travel through a once forbidden land. The journey takes us from the bustling capital Beijing across to the Terracotta Warriors of Xian from there we make our way to the Tibetan grasslands where monks and nomads coexist and we then come face-to-face with the pandas of Chengdu. From here we make the journey through to Tibet where we unlock the secrets of the monasteries and explore the amazing mountains across the roof of the world. From exploring Lhasa we continue across the arid Tibetan Plateau to reach Gyantse and on to Shigatse, home to the famous Tashilhunpo Monastery. The roads we travel are spectacular, crossing the Pang-La (Pass) to Rongphu Monastery and base camp of the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest - one of the highlights of our trip. The final leg sees us descending through an impressive gorge and winding our way through the terraced hillsides of Nepal down to the medieval Kathmandu. The warmth and curiosity of the people make this an unforgettable journey.
Day 1 - Beijing
On arrival in Beijing you are transferred to your hotel. In the evening you meet your tour leader and the other group members for a pre-tour briefing. This is generally followed by an optional group dinner at a local restaurant - Peking Duck is often a popular choice.
Dong Fang Hotel or similar
Day 2-3 - Beijing
Beijing offers endless opportunities for exploration. The enormous Forbidden City, built more than 500 years ago and off limits to commoners for almost all that time, is a truly amazing place. Its size might surprise you (it is huge!), but what makes it fascinating is that every square metre is interesting, ranging from intricately carved walkways to colourful, painted ceilings. The Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace are other fine examples of extraordinary workmanship. You will visit one of the best-preserved parts of the Great Wall, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall used to serve as the northern barrier defending the capital and the imperial tombs. Being perched on this incredible engineering feat and surveying the spectacular surrounding countryside is an unforgettable experience. There is also ample free time in the itinerary, allowing you to make your own discoveries. Our hotel is located in the south of the city and a walk in any direction will unveil all sorts of wonderful surprises. There are good shopping opportunities at the various markets around the city, such as the centrally located Dashilan Market. In the evening, you have the chance to enjoy a performance of the unique Beijing Opera (optional). We leave Beijing on the overnight train, travelling in soft-class, four-berth compartments. The 12-hour trip is a great opportunity for our group to get to know each other.
Dong Fang Hotel or similar
Day 4-5 - Xian
Xian is a wonderful place to explore. Food options are excellent here, ranging from delicious Muslim fare to great little dumplings in Chinese cafes. Widely regarded as the first capital of a united China in 221 BC, the city is rich in history. A half-day tour to the renowned Terracotta Warriors introduces us to these entombed statues, considered one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century. Over 6000 of them were individually sculpted from clay, each having a different costume, height, and even facial expression. They are standing in battle formation, facing east in order to protect the tomb of China's first emperor, the great Qin Shihuang. Peasants digging a well only discovered the underground vault, which was home to this army for two millennia, in 1974. Xian also has a wonderful Muslim Quarter. A free day can easily be spent wandering the narrow streets where we find quaint shops, lively markets, groups of white-bearded men in skull caps sipping tea in dingy cafes, and the Great Mosque, one of the most important in China.
City Hotel or similar
Day 6-7 - Lanzhou - Xiahe
After morning flight to Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province, we transfer to a bus and travel to Bingling Temple to view some fascinating Buddhist caves. Our journey continues on to Xiahe, a major centre for Tibetan Lamaism. We spend one night in this amazingly remote town set in a beautiful mountain valley, with the highlight being a visit to the impressive 18th century Labrang Monastery. This Monastery is the most important Tibetan monastery outside of Lhasa. There are many monks walking around the streets, some of who are on pilgrimage from Tibet. The town of Xiahe is where both Tibetan nomad and monk collide.
Overseas Tibetan Hotel or similar
Day 8-9 - Langmusi - Songpan
From Xiahe we travel by local express bus to Langmusi, a rustic town that stands at 3500 metres above sea level. This town is surrounded by Monasteries and mountains. It is here we visit the Langmusi Monastery which overlooks the town. There is also the opportunity to hike up one of the peaks above the town and gain a perspective of where you are. In the middle of breathtaking scenery that stretches for miles. If hiking is not your thing then you can relax in this town and soak up the ambience of this settlement. From here we travel by bus down to Songpan. This bus journey takes about eight hours through some amazing countryside.
Langmusi Hotel or similar
Day 10-11 - Songpan- Jiuzhaigou
Songpan is a quaint little town situated over 2000 metres above sea level. The ancient gates from the original walled city remain and from here, an interesting walk down the main cobblestone street will confront you with Tibetan and Qiang minorities selling their wares, such as big Tibetan coats and lots of silver jewellery and embroideries. It is here you can organise an optional morning horse ride or simply soak up the ambiance of this town. Late in the afternoon we catch the bus down to Jiuzhaigou. The national park is a UNESCO world heritage site. The scenery in this park is spectacular with turquoise lakes and flowing waterfalls. We spend a full day in this expansive and stunningly beautiful reserve.
Jiuzhaigou Lantian Hotel or similar
Breakfast | Lunch
Day 12-14 - Chengdu
We take a last look at this 'Heaven on Earth'. Leaving Juizhaigou behind for Chengdu, we climb down from alpine forest areas and wide grasslands to the basin where Chengdu sits - be warned, depending on road conditions, it is an 8 to 10-hour drive! Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province known for its hot, spicy dishes and generally 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. First 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. The following day 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 15-17 - Lhasa
An early morning 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 18 - 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 19 - 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 20 - 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 21 - Everest Base Camp - Shegar
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 22 - 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 23 - 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 24 - 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.