Tibet Travel Guide & Vacation Guide

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TWO WAYS TO EXPERIENCE LUXURY Tibet TOURS

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Join a small group of like-minded fellow travelers on a perfectly crafted Tibet luxury tour. Or create your own personalized, private departure for just you, your family and friends. See the possibilities at Custom Trips to Tibet.

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Like an architect creating your one-of-a-kind home, our Asia Travel Experts craft your personalized journey from the ground up. Your preference of destinations, pace, budget, dates, activities and lodging are skillfully arranged, down to the finest detail. Begin planning your custom luxury travel to Asia or the Pacific today!

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Highlights

If this is your first luxury Tibet travel experience, there are some iconic cities, sites, destinations and attractions located throughout the country that are simply a must-see for first-time travel to Tibet, which include Lhasa, the Tsang Province and Gyantse. If this is your second trip to Tibet or you prefer to get off the beaten path, explore our featured Adventures. 

LHASA & ENVIRONS

Tibet's largest city, Lhasa, is also its most sacred and home of the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple and many of the plateau's largest monasteries. If you're picturing Tibet, chances are you're picturing the Potala Palace.

Sacked during the Cultural Revolution, it remains a symbol of Tibetan autonomy and seat of the government-in-exile of the Dalai Lama. A must see on any tour of Tibet, it's a treasure trove of traditional culture, an amazing architectural achievement and a World Heritage Site. Stroll through its 13 stories, housing 1,000 rooms, and you will have touched the heart of Tibet.

In Lhasa's old quarter you'll find the Jokhang Temple, the spiritual center of the country. Founded in the mid-7th century, today it hums with pilgrims saying prayers and spinning prayer wheels amid the smoke of yak butter lamps. Step out into the surrounding streets and be swept into a current of humanity making their clockwise circuit, called a kora, around the temples grounds. It's an electrifying experience to join the kora at Lhasa, like a water droplet uniting with a strong and ancient river. You'll pass pilgrims performing chaktsal, or ritual prostration, around the entire kora circuit.

Surrounding the Jokhang Temple is the Barkhor Market. Along the kora route around the temple and in the square, hundreds of merchants, traders and craftsmen set up shop to sell their wares to the people of Lhasa and the innumerable pilgrims. Everything from incense and prayer scarves, leather boots and yards of wool, plastic housewares and traditional turquoise jewelry, yak butter and Pringles, antiques and stereos can be found within the market area. A unique Tibet travel experience, it is interesting to visit the Barkhor area at several different times of the day, as it is continually transforming in character.

The Dalai Lama's former Summer Palace, Norbulingka, is a shady retreat from town and a pleasant place to spend an afternoon. Starting in the 18th century, the Dalai Lamas used this park as a retreat from the Potala, and eventually built administrative centers here so that they could spend the whole summer near the river.

DREPUNG MONASTERY

Just outside Lhasa lies the Drepung Monastery, once the largest in the world. Essentially an assembly of colleges, it once housed up to 10,000 monks. There's lots of art, armor and atmosphere. Be sure to wander into the gigantic medieval kitchen-the monks don't mind. It's full of smoke and boiling pots of noodles and monks tending the fires. It's like stepping into another world.

SERA MONASTERY

At Sera the monks perform a clapping ritual every afternoon. They gather to grill each other on theological questions. If a monk answers incorrectly the others clap, and the sound reverberates throughout the chamber. It's good-natured, boisterous fun, and visitors can take part.

GANDEN MONASTERY

Perched at the edge of the Kyi Chu Valley, the spectacularly situated Ganden Monastery suffered greatly at the hands of the Red Guards. Now painstakingly restored, you can spend a fascinating day during your Tibet tour wandering through its courtyards, chapels, halls and rooms. Join the pilgrims circumambulating the monastery, some prostrating themselves on the ground with each step to amplify the cleansing effects of the ritual. You'll be immersed in a forest of colorful prayer flags, clouds of sandalwood incense, and experience firsthand the immense devotion of the Tibetan people.

DRAK YERPA CAVES

In the Kyi Chu Valley it is possible to explore the Drak Yerpa Caves, one of the holiest cave retreats in Tibet. They may be accessed via car or preferably via an interesting walk through small villages en route. The caves have been visited by Guru Rinposche and Atisha, the Bengali Buddhist who spent 12 years proselytizing in Tibet. King Songtsen Gampo also meditated in a cave here after his Tibetan wife established the first of Yerpa's chapels. At one time the hill at the base of the cliffs was home to a Yerpa Monastery. The monastery was largely destroyed as a result of the Cultural Revolution and there is unfortunately very little left to see. High atop the perch, surrounded by caves, you will see hundreds of prayer flags bearing witness to the power of Buddhism and prayer in Tibet. Some of the caves may be occupied by monks, who have once  more returned to the caves after years of abandonment due to desecration by the Chinese Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. This is a very special Tibet tour excursion, affording a glimpse into a way of life that has existed for centuries among the deeply spiritual Tibetan people.

SAMYE MONASTERY

Tibet's first monastery, Samye, was built in the late 8th century and is modeled on the Odantapuri Temple in India. The temple compound is designed to resemble the Buddhist conception of the universe. The central temple represents Mt. Sumeru, the mythical mountain at the center of the cosmos. Around it are four temples, which represent the four continents and smaller temples that represent the sub-continents, as well as four different colored stupas, which face each direction. Tibet's first seven monks were ordained within the monastery and many early Tibetan Buddhist texts were translated and transcribed here. The stone tablet near the entrance, erected by King Trisong Detsen in 779, declares Buddhism to be the state religion.

TSANG PROVINCE

Tsang is Tibet's most popular destination, outside of Lhasa. Coming from the capital city, one of the first sights you'll see after passing the stunning Kamba-la Pass (15,724 feet) is one of Tibet's sacred lakes, Yamdrok Tso, where pilgrims perform the kora on a regular basis.

After leaving Yamdrok, you'll cross another amazing pass, Karo La (16,547 feet), where you will have views of the massive glacier situated on the southern side of Nojin Kangtsang (23,586 feet).

GYANTSE

The massive fortress, kumbum (100,000 picture stupa, Tibet's largest) and monastery at Gyantse were erected in the early 15th century during the height of Sakyapa influence.

The murals and thangkas (paintings hung on silk) inside the kumbum and monastery are still in very good condition and are the highlight of the trip. Take the time to hike up to the ridge-top fortress during this stop on your tour of Tibet as the views are simply spectacular.

Adventures

Have more time, venturing to Tibet for a second time, or looking for something specific? Here are some additional adventures when creating your custom Tibet travel plan.

TSEDANG

The town of Tsedang harbors several interesting monasteries, a nice Tibetan quarter and is a great base for exploring the Yarlung Valley, the cradle of Tibetan civilization. Many sites in the valley suffered atrocious damage during the Cultural Revolution, but have been largely restored according to their original plans.

No trip to Tibet and the Yarlung Valley is complete without seeing the Tombs of the Tibetan Kings. Located outside of the town Chongye, the tombs include that of King Songsten Gampo, who helped Buddhism flourish on the plateau. Also associated with the valley's ancient past is the mighty palace at Yumbulagang, whose spindly tower looks over the whole valley. Though the original building was thought to be the oldest in Tibet, it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and has since been rebuilt.

SHIGATSE

Home to the mammoth Tashilhunpo Monastery and the Panchen Lama lineage, Shigatse holds an important place in the Gelugpa order of Buddhism. The town is also an interesting place to explore in its own right, with a fabulous market, a well-preserved Tibetan quarter and many interesting walks around town.

The Tashilhunpo Monastery was founded in the mid-15th century and covers over 3 million square feet.

There are three main buildings in the monastery that are worth exploring at length during your Tibet tour: the Chapel of Maitreya, which is home to an 85-foot-tall Buddha that is coated in 650 pounds of gold; the Palace of the Panchen Lama, which is comprised of several different chapels as well as residential areas; and the magnificent Kelsang Temple, home of the main assembly hall, a large enclosed courtyard, many chapels and the tombs of the previous Panchen Lamas. The large white wall to the northeast of the main complex is used for giant festival thangkas. After visiting the monastery, don't miss a climb up to Tashilhunpo, and pick your way through the ruins of the fortress for some amazing views.

EVEREST BASE CAMP AND RONGBUK MONASTERY

The highlight of any trip to Tibet is a glimpse at the world's tallest mountain. Towering at just over 29,000 feet, Mount Everest, known in Tibet as Qomolangma, looks as magnificent in reality as it does in our dreams.

Though the mountain can be seen from the Friendship Highway outside of Tingri, Rongbuk Monastery (16,334) and Everest Base Camp (17,056) provide the most stunning views and an unforgettable Tibet travel experience. Everest Base Camp is really just a rocky glacial basin; during the peak months, it's filled with tents and people, but once climbing season ends the basin is completely deserted. From here the view of the peak is unobstructed and the enormity of the mountain is utterly overwhelming. It can be accessed by car, then foot, in a 2 day span.

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