Lhasa to Kailash & Guge Trips (15-19 days)
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This itinerary is designed to give you some suggestions for what is possible when you travel to Kailash. We hope it inspires and look forward to creating an itinerary uniquely for you.
Mt. Kailash in far-western Tibet offers unforgettable experiences. Not only is this one of the highest regions in the world, it is the watershed of the mighty rivers of Asia and is revered by millions —Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Bonpos and others— for its cosmic powers. After spending four days in Lhasa, you can go directly to Kailash in three days or more if you include Everest Base Camp. At Kailash you can hire a porter or a small Tibetan horse to help you walk the three-day circuit around Kailash. After, you can extend for 2-3 days for the lost kingdom of Guge or return directly to Lhasa.
DAY 1: Arrive Lhasa by plane or train, transfer to your hotel of choice and relax.
The holy city of Lhasa was founded as the capital of the Tibetan Empire in the 7th century by the Emperor Songtsen Gampo. Since the beginning of the ascendancy of the Dalai Lamas in the 17th century, it has had no rivals on the Tibetan Plateau. "The Place of the Gods", (10 950 ft.) which straddles the Kyichu Valley, is the planet's majestic rooftop city where amid temples, wafting incense and devoted Buddhists, the traditional Tibetan culture continues. Filled with sights, sounds and an abundance of shops, restaurants and historical monasteries, the Tibetan quarter of Lhasa will keep you busy!
DAY 2: Visit the Jokhang Temple and the Barkhor in the morning and nearby Sera Monastery in the afternoon.
The Jokhang was built in the 7th century by King Songtsen Gampo and his two wives—the Nepalese Princess Bhrikuti and the Chinese Princess Wencheng. It houses the famous Jowo Rinpoche (Buddha Shakyamuni) statue, the holiest object in Tibet. Over the centuries, the complex has expanded and been rebuilt several times but remarkably, the core of the original temple still remains and can be visited. The Jokhang is a UNESCO World Heritage site and its importance to the Tibetan people cannot be exaggerated.
DAY 3: Visit the Potala Palace in the morning and Norbulingka or Drepung Monastery in the afternoon.
The glorious Potala Palace, truly an architectural gem, was the residence of the Dalai Lamas known to the Tibetans as Yishin Norbu, Wish-fulfilling Gem. The Emperor Songtsen Gampo is believed to have built the first palace in 637 and later it was rebuilt and expanded by the Great Fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century. Today the Potala is a state museum but the vibration of its sanctity can still be felt.
Drepung or Rice Heap Monastery located at the foot of Mount Gephel, is one of the great three Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet. The others are Ganden and Sera. Drepung is about 8 km west of Lhasa and is built below a valley wall. It once housed more than 7,000 monks. Much has been destroyed but the four primary buildings have been preserved.
The Norbulingka is a park that was developed in the mid-18th century as the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lamas. It was also the seat of government during the summer months. The complex includes a debating courtyard and three palaces. To the east, there is an open-air stage and gardens where operatic performances are held during the Shoton Festival.
DAY 4: Today, you will enjoy a scenic excursion to Ganden Monastery about 45 km from Lhasa and return to Lhasa for dinner.
About 45 km from Lhasa, Ganden was founded in the 15th century by Tsongkapa. For centuries, Ganden, named after the paradise of Maitreya Buddha, has been a major institution of the Gelukpa tradition. The pilgrim's circumambulation or walking circuit route follows a path that passes several important religious relics, sacred places and rock impressions. The hour-long circuit descends into a burial ground, passes through a narrow cleft then ends at Tsongkhapa's hermitage.
DAY 5: Leaving Lhasa and driving south, you will arrive at breathtaking views of shimmering turquoise waters against a backdrop of glaciers—Yamdrok Yutso Turquoise Lake and Karola Glacier. Yamdrok Lake lies at 4,408 m/14,461 ft. It is revered as the life force of Tibet. Stretching over 754 km, its teal blue waters make it the largest lake in southern Tibet. Surrounded by snow-capped mountain ranges, the lake is fed by icy streams and inlets that flow down from the higher elevations during the warm summer months. Its curved pincer shape boasts nine islands, numerous bays and is home to several monasteries.
In the afternoon, you will reach Gyantse, a town famous for having retained its rural Tibetan character through the centuries. You will visit the unique 15th century octagonal Kubum Stupa, Stupa of 100,000 Deities, and, the beautiful Pelkor Monastery next to it. Both are exquisite examples of ancient Buddhist architecture, murals and imagery.
Then you will drive onward to the city of Shigatse with a population of just over 100,000. Shigatse is slightly higher in elevation than Lhasa and was once Tibet's second largest city. Traditionally, an important trading center, it was also the home of the famous Panchen Lamas. Check-in to your hotel.
DAY 6: Leaving Shigatse, you will drive to the new Mount Everest Base Camp (EBC) at Rongbuk Monastery, the highest monastery in the world rebuilt since the Cultural Revolution but still a very simple place. You will have the day to experience Everest and visit Rongbuk Monastery. Lodgings will be campsite or Monastery Guesthouse.
Day 7: Waking up early, you will enjoy the sunrise over Mt. Everest before leaving for a day-long drive to Saga. Along the way, you will enjoy spectacular views of Mount Shishapangma and the turquoise Pigutso Lake. Hotel or guesthouse in Saga..
DAY 8: Driving on to Mount Kailash, your next destination is the small village of Darchen (4,575 m) at the foot of Mt. Kailash. On the way, you will see Lake Manasarovar, Conceived from the Mind of God. The lake lies at 15,015 ft. and is the world’s highest freshwater lake. At times stretching to 55 miles in perimeter with a depth of 300 ft., the lake covers an area of 120 sq. miles. The Tibetan names for this lake are Mapham Yutso and Tso Madropa. It is one of two twin lakes, the other being Rakshas Tal. Together they are the sun and the moon. Hotel or guesthouse in Darchen.
Day 9: From a spiritual or religious perspective, the hike around Mt. Kailash is called "kora". This is an important practice for Buddhists, Bon and Hindus— and you will be able to join as well. The trail winds around the base of the mountain, through barren lands and lush green valleys, offering views of snow-capped peaks and pristine blue lakes. There are a few monasteries to visit along the way and tent tea houses. The hike around the Mt. Kailash requires three days for a distance of 53 km. In Darchen, you will have the option of hiring a horseman and his horse if you wish and/or a porter to carry your backpack.
From Darchen, it’s 8 km to Darboche (4,660 m). If you’re here on June 5, 2020 for the full moon, spend a few hours to enjoy the annual Saga Dawa Festival with Tibetans, erecting a giant prayer flag and celebrating this place as the navel of the world. Then it's another 12 km to the grassy meadows of Drirapuk Monastery (4,920 m), Cave of the Female Yak Hor. Drirapuk offers a spectacular view of the great north face of Kailash, a vertical sheer cliff consisting of jet black rock. You will stay in a simple guest house and enjoy the stunning Kailash towering above and very close-by.
Day 10: Today you will cross Dolma Pass, 6.4 km from Drirapuk. The ascent takes about four hours and is the most arduous part of the journey. The peak of Mount Kailash now rises to your right. The trail meanders and passes a charnel ground where pilgrims discard an item of their possessions, representing their renouncement of worldly attachments. At the Pass, there is a large boulder into which the Twenty-One Taras (female buddhas) are said to have dissolved when the great Buddhist yogi Gotsangpo journeyed there. After Dolma Pass, you will gradually descend into the fields of Dzutrulpuk Monastery where you will find another night's accommodations in a simple guesthouse and explore a famous Milarepa cave the following morning.
Day 11: This morning, the trail winds back to Darchen and the walking circuit around Kailash is completed! Rest and enjoy your success. Hotel or guesthouse.
Day 12: On the way back to Saga, you will stop on the far shore of Manasarovar Lake. Some itineraries spend the night here. The surface of the lake reflects Mt. Kailash most of the year except in winter when it freezes over. Revered as the epitome of purity, its waters are believed to have healing properties, both physical and spiritual. Religious Hindus can often be seen performing their ablutions in the lake. Hotel or guesthouse in Saga.
Day 13: Return to Shigatse. Hotel.
Day 14: Visit Tashilhunpo Monastery founded by the First Dalai Lama in 1447 and one of the most important religious institutions in Tibet. Then drive back to Lhasa via the scenic Yamdrok Turquoise Lake and have a few hours for last-minute stopping or restaurants in Lhasa. Hotel.
Day 15: Leave Lhasa by plane or train, unless you have extended your itinerary.
After Kailash, you have the option of going to the the lost kingdom of Guge. Founded in the 10th century by a descendant of a Tibetan king, it's emergence marked the second promulgation of Buddhism in Tibet. Lost in the 17th century under mysterious circumstances, it was rediscovered in the 1930's by the Italian explorer, Guiseppe Tucci. The site includes houses, once-inhabited caves, monasteries and stupas as well as sculptures, carvings and murals. The ruins cover an area of 720,000 square meters and lie at 3,800 m/12,400 ft. YouTube documentary.