For departures after 30 June 2015 this trip has variations.
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Sample the high life (altitude, not extravagance wise) on this Himalayan adventure through Nepal and Tibet. Catch the craze of Kathmandu, visit sacred Buddhist monasteries in Lhasa and Shigatse and take the easy route (by vehicle) up to Everest Base Camp.
It's the duty of every Nepalese traveller to buy some Tibetan prayer flags that sit in a box under your bed for the next three years. Don't let the team down.
We cannot guarantee this tour to depart on all dates as it is subject to Tibet permits being issued by the local government tourism authorities.
Namaste! Welcome to Nepal.You can arrive at any time on day 1 as there are no activities planned until the important welcome meeting at 6 pm. Your leader will leave a note at reception telling you where the meeting will take place. Please ask at reception for this information. It is very important that you arrive in time for this meeting, as there are formalities to be completed for our Tibet entry permit.
Please note that your leader will collect your China Group Visa fee in cash at the group meeting today - see the visa section for more information.
After a brief orientation walk of the area surrounding the hotel, the next day is free to explore fascinating Kathmandu.
Kathmandu is a mixture of ancient architecture and modern development and, with its rich artistic and cultural heritage, it remains the legendary destination it has been for decades. Crowded markets and bazaars are the centre of Nepali life and the narrow streets are home to holy men, monks, bicycles, incense, goats and sacred cows.
Some great ways to spend your time here include:
Check out Durbar Square, the vast plaza opposite the old Royal Palaces chock full of Newari architecture.
See the ancient Swayambhunath Stupa (known to tourists as the Monkey Temple) - Kathmandu's most important Buddhist shrine. The sleepy, all-seeing Buddha eyes that stare out from the top have become the quintessential symbol of Nepal.
Join the pilgrims at Bodhnath Stupa - the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. It's the centre of Tibetan culture in Kathmandu and rich in Buddhist symbolism.
Head to Pashupatinath - a Hindu temple on the banks of the Bagmati River in Deopatan, a village 3 km north-west of Kathmandu. It's dedicated to a manifestation of Shiva called Pashupati (Lord of Animals).
On day 3 we fly to Tibet's capital, Lhasa (approx. 2 hours).
Colourful and historic, the holy city of Lhasa is situated in a small valley 3,650 m above sea level. For many years it was a mysterious place, virtually unknown to the outside world with even the most adventurous and hardy of explorers rarely reaching the city without being turned away, either by the treacherous terrain or the fierce warrior monks that protected Tibetan territory from intruders. While now welcoming tourists and much modernized, Lhasa remains an intriguing city with deeply fascinating culture, sights and stories.
Altitude sickness and oxygen deprivation may be felt while travelling in Tibet, particularly when arriving in Lhasa. We've allowed a number of days here to allow for appropriate acclimatisation. For more information about altitude and altitude sickness prevention please see the 'Health' section of these notes.
In Lhasa we stay at a basic hotel, centrally located, with twin-share accommodation decorated in the traditional Tibetan style.
Tour the incredible Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lama. Although we're not free to explore the Potala Palace on our own and must stick to a strict schedule of viewing the exhibits and buildings with our guide, this in no way lessens the impact of seeing what is truly a wonder of the architectural world. Please note this is the most popular attraction in Lhasa, especially among Chinese tour groups, so it can be very crowded and tickets are for a limited time period only.
As this is a Basix Trip, entrance fees to the Potala Palace are not included and will need to be paid to your tour leader on the ground.As all groups must be accompanied, your local Tibetan guide can organise your Potala Palace visit for you.
Other optional activities you may like to take part in are:
Shuffle along with the throngs of pilgrims around the Barkhor pilgrim circuit, stopping to shop for souvenirs at some of the many market stalls.
Explore Lhasa's quaint backstreet craft workshops, bakeries, tea shops and tiny alley ways as you wander the Old Town.
Explore Jokhang Temple, which is often regarded as the spiritual heart of Tibet and one of the region's most active religious sites.
Visit the Sera Monastery where the monks hold dramatic daily debating sessions.
As the majority of the cultural and historical sites in Tibet are temples and monasteries we advise choosing carefully which activities you do in your free time and pacing yourself in order to enjoy the sites we visit as a group as much as possible. Tibetan Buddhism is certainly a fascinating part of the region's culture, however some travellers find that they get 'templed out' quickly as there's just so much information to take in. Take your time, ask our local guide about what interests you most and if you would rather have time on your own instead of joining the group to explore a monastery or temple please let your leader know.
On day 8 we continue on to Gyantse (approx. 8 hours, elevation 3980m), a small town southwest of Lhasa that retains a feel of 'old' Tibet. The drive is long but rewarding, with spectacular views and plenty of photo opportunities. If we do stop at Karo La (4960m) there will be a tourism charge per person of CNY 40 (optional).
Gyantse is a small agricultural town set at 3950m above sea level, famed for its wool carpets. It has a very traditional feel to it and everyday Tibetan rural life continues here much as it has done for centuries. There are a number of interesting buildings in the town, including the Pelkhor Chode Temple complex, a unique structure built in 1414, with five stories representing the five steps to enlightenment.
As well as many religious sites, Gyantse is a great place to see contemporary Tibetan life in the backstreets where pilgrims, pop music, cows, "cowboys" on motorbikes, kids and monks all mingle in a lively mix of cultures.
After exploring Gyantse, we drive to Shigatse (approx. 2 hours, elevation 3840m), Tibet's second-largest city.
Visit the Tashilhunpo Monastery, one of the few in Tibet to have come out virtually unscathed from the Cultural Revolution. With its expansive territory inside thick stone walls it's almost like a town in itself. We visit with our local guide, but if you're feeling a little overwhelmed by the myriad monastic buildings each with their own intricate decorations, legends and religious imagery, ask for directions to the tranquil Chapel of Jampa and meditate on the world's largest gilded statue. The courtyard outside of the Kelsang Chapel is one of the best places to observe the pilgrims and monks prepare for ceremonies.
In the evening we can join the pilgrims on their kora (prayer circuit), spinning prayer wheels as we walk around the perimeter of the monastery and taking in the great views and atmosphere. The walk takes around 1 hour to complete.
Back in the city, if our stay coincides with Market Day a great activity is to head to the Shigatse bazaar and browse the stalls that sell everything from slabs of yak butter and yak wool to prayer wheels and rosaries. Be tempted by antiques, jewellery and fur hats with elaborate gold brocade, or simply watch as Tibetans vie with each other to win a sale. Alternatively, you may be able to visit the carpet factory where hand-woven carpets are made to traditional designs. Don't forget to bargain hard if you decide to make a purchase.
On the morning of day 10 we depart for Sakya (approx. 4 hours, elevation 4280m), the base of the once-powerful Sakya sect of Buddhism. Sakya's monastery and town buildings are quite unique. The monastery is built in medieval 'Mongolian' style and rather than whitewashed, the secular buildings are painted in red and while stripes. With its high imposing walls, the monastery is sometimes nicknamed the "Great Wall of Tibet". At first the halls may seem similar to other monasteries we've visited, but spend some time here and soak in the atmosphere and you'll soon realise that Sakya has a subtle ancient beauty that is unlike any other. After the monastery you can choose to climb the hill through the Tibetan Village to see what's left of the original monastery complex. Make sure you pick your way through the ruins and remaining buildings in a clockwise direction as this is a kora route. You can also hike a little further to visit the friendly nuns at the Nunnery high on the hill overlooking the town. Tonight for dinner, why not try some spicy food at one of the little restaurants run by Sichuanese immigrants. Stay the night in a basic guesthouse. Please note that there's usually not hot running water available here.
An exhilarating drive (approx. 8-9 hours) along what is little more than a yak track brings us to Rongphu - 5,000 m above sea level and a mere eight km from Everest Base Camp (5150m). The view from here is utterly spectacular! Rongphu Monastery is the highest in the world. On a clear day you may even get a photo of the monastery's chorten against the backdrop of mighty Everest, or Qomolangma as it is called in Tibetan. A relatively modern monastery by Tibetan standards, Rongphu was built in the early 1900s and originally housed more than 500 monks. Today around 50 monks and nuns remain. Unusually, they share the same prayer hall although they have separate residences. We are received very warmly by the monks and nuns here and it's often possible to join them for their evening prayers. Stretch our legs and our lungs on the gentle two hour return hike up to Everest Base Camp. Follow the prayer flags up the slope, hope for a clear sunny sky for amazing photos and even text a friend back home when you reach the camp at 5200 m. Yes, there's mobile reception even here! The monastery guesthouse offers very basic, multi-share accommodation with no showers and outside toilets.
Today, we drive to the Tibetan settlement of Nyalam. The drive from Rombuk to Nyalam (3700m) takes around 8 hours. The journey is long but truly memorable as we traverse high mountain passes, featuring spectacular views of the Himalayas. We stay in basic guest house with twin-share accommodation. Toilet and showers are on a shared basis
Between Nyalam and Zhangmu, the Tibetan Plateau abruptly ends. The colours change, there are a lot more trees and the humidity relatively skyrockets as the harsh mountain landscape transforms into green jungle valleys. Have your camera handy because this drive is full of photo opportunities!Also known as Khasa, the border town of Zhangmu (elevation 2250m) clings precariously to the cliff face, 10 km inland from the Friendship Bridge that soars across the Bhote Kosi River (Sun Kosi River). This small town has become a major trading post between Tibet and Nepal and the subtropical oceanic climate endows it with warm, humid weather as well as beautiful scenery throughout the year.Crossing the border at Zhangmu, we wind our way further down the valley into Nepal and our accommodation above the raging white waters of the Bhote Kosi River.
Winding through the high mountain passes, our journey comes to an end where it all began, arriving back in Kathmandu (approx. 5 hr drive) in the early evening of day 14. We'll check back into our hotel and head out for an optional final group dinner. Beckoning with a delicious array of international and local cuisine, Kathmandu is the perfect setting in which to chill out and reminisce about our adventure across the roof of the world. There are no activities planned for day 15 and you may depart the hotel at any time. Check-out time from the hotel is 12 noon. If you are departing later, you can arrange luggage storage at the hotel.
Tour leader throughout the trip and local guide in Tibet, all accommodation and transport as per itinerary, international flight Kathmandu - Lhasa, Chinese visa support & Tibet permit, Everest Base Camp permit.
International flights, arrival and departure transfers, airport/departure taxes, visas, pre or post tour accommodation, meals other than indicated on the itinerary, entrance fees, optional tours sightseeing or activities during free time, transfers outside of the tour program, travel insurance, tips and items of a personal nature, sleeping bag, laundry and flights unless specified. Some places that we visit charge additional fees if you are entering with a camera or camcorder - your city guide will advise on these and they can be paid for locally.
Entrance fees to sights are not included on this tour. For sights in Tibet these may need to be paid to your leader on the ground. As all groups must be accompanied to Tibetan sights, your local Tibetan guide can organise visits to sights such as the Potala Palace for you. Please note that costs below are approximate only and are subject to change:
Kathmandu - Durbar Square - NPR750
Kathmandu - Swayambhunath Temple - NPR200
Kathmandu - Bodhnath Stupa - NPR200
Kathmandu - Pashupatinath Temple - NPR1000
Lhasa - Jokhang Temple - CNY85
Lhasa - Potala Palace - CNY200
Lhasa - Sera Monastery - CNY50
Shigatse - Tashilhunpo Monastery - CNY80
Sakya - Sakya Monastery - CNY50
Everest NP - Rongphu Monastery - CNY25
Local Emergency Contacts
In the case of a genuine crisis or emergency please contact Geckos local ground representative, Royal Mountain Travel on +977 980 201 4444 during business hours or + 977 980 201 2222 after hours.
The operator for this Geckos Adventures trip is our experienced sister company Intrepid Travel. Your group will therefore be a mixture of Geckos booked passengers and other international like-minded travellers.
Tibet Group Travel restrictions
All clients will be entering Tibet on a Group Permit arranged by our local partners and as such it's not possible for anyone to leave the group and remain in Tibet individually. Everybody must enter and leave Tibet with the group. Make sure you read the 'Visas' section for important details on the information you must provide for your group's Tibet permit.
While the infrastructure in Tibet has improved greatly in recent years and in general the roads are excellent, the geography and terrain of the region means that at times there can be significant delays due to snow, ice, landslides or poor weather. You'll need to be prepared for things not to run smoothly and then celebrate if and when they do! The level of bureacracy in Tibet is extreme and there have been times when travellers have be prohibited from entering Everest National Park, or even crossing the border into Nepal for unknown reasons and at the last minute. Your leader will keep you up to date with any itinerary changes and we recommend having $400 cash as an emergency fund just in case we are required to depart from Lhasa by air or are delayed unexpectedly.
Hotels in Tibet are often poorly maintained and even the best options may not be up to the standard you are used to. Hot water can be sporadic or non existent and heating may at times be inadequate. Please be prepared to "rough" it a little, be flexible and patient and bring plenty of warm clothes.
Travelling During Holiday Periods
Major holidays in China are Spring Festival (Lunar New Year), first week of May and National Week (first week of October). These are not ideal times to travel in China as literally the entire country is on the move and we schedule less or no tours during these times. There is a major burden on all forms of transport, and despite booking in advance, tickets for planes and trains especially are extremely difficult to obtain. If your tour does travel during this time, plenty of patience and flexibility will be required.
In 2014 Chinese New Year day fall on Friday 31st January, ushering in the Year of the Horse. All days from 30th January to 5th February 2014 are designated as public holidays. In 2015 Chinese New Year will be on 19th February (Year of the Sheep) and in 2016 it will be on 8th February (Year of the Monkey).
Photography in Buddhist monasteries requires permission. You will need to pay a fee, which is normally negotiated in advance and not included in your trip costs.
The information provided here is given in good faith and has been compiled with all reasonable care. However, things change and some of the information may become out of date. Please ensure that you have the most up-to-date information for your trip. We recommend that you check the trip notes for your tour around one month before departure. If you have any queries, please contact your travel agent or our staff in Australia. We are here to help you!
17 April 2014