On arrival you will need to make your own way to the group hotel. This is usually the Beijing Dong Fang Hotel, but please check your documentation. The remainder of the day is at leisure to explore Beijing. There will be a group meeting this evening in the hotel foyer before we head out to a local restaurant for our first taste of Chinese cuisine. Our hotel will be our base as we explore this fascinating city for the next four days. Beijing has been the dynastic capital since the 13th century and visiting the iconic sights located in this orderly city is like meandering through the pages of a history book.
After breakfast we visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is the world's largest public square and is located only a short distance from our hotel. People flying kites, a popular pastime all over China, stand next to guards under the ever-watchful eye of Chairman Mao's portrait. Which ever way you turn there is another photo opportunity to be found in this huge open space. From here we enter The Forbidden City through the Gate of Heavenly Peace. The Forbidden City is a masterpiece of 5000 years of Chinese civilization and still vividly displays the power and prestige of the former dynasties. Sprawling over acres, the City is a magnificent group of palaces, pavilions, courtyards and deep terracotta walls. Ornately furnished palace rooms, priceless artworks and treasures are all now open to the public after 500 years of seclusion. After lunch we visit the Temple of Heaven (time permitting).The Temple itself is an architectural highlight however it's the crowds of people that makes this spot so interesting and memorable. Thousands of people gather here to practice ballroom dancing, Tai chi and calligraphy. After relaxing in the late afternoon we will make our way to the famous Chinese Acrobat show. Set in an old theatre, the Acrobat show is something to see as very talented young men and women enthrall the crowd with daring feats involving bicycles, dragons, swords and double-jointed body parts!
He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man
We will make an early morning start today to explore the Great Wall at the Mutianyu section. This is approximately a 1.5 hour drive outside of Beijing, slightly further than the popular and very busy Badaling Gate section. On arrival we will have the option to complete a 2 -3 hour walk along this beautiful section of the wall. Mutianyu is renowned for its Ming Dynasty guard towers and superb views. The scene here is as one would expect of one of the world's great man made wonders, with huge steep ramparts criss crossing this mountainous area. Those deciding not to undertake the walk will be able to enjoy this section of the wall by cable car. The Great Wall of China is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is one of the world's most unusual and awesome sites. Commenced 2000 years ago, it was built as a defence line to keep out invaders, along the course of several thousand kilometres. The Emperor Qin Shihuang unified the various northern walls into the Great Wall we see today. We return to Beijing in the evening. Tonight you have the option to try one of Beijing's restaurants or perhaps you may wish to have a traditional Peking Duck dinner.
For those who are keen, we rise early this morning and travel to the Summer Palace. This huge area is punctuated by the picturesque Kunming Lake. Once a secluded resting place for the imperial court this collection of temples, gardens, pavilions and lakes is now one of the most visited places in all of Beijing. This afternoon we transfer to the train station for our overnight train journey to Xian in comfortable air-conditioned sleeper cabins.
This morning we arrive in Xian, the traditional starting point of the Silk Road. The old walled city of Xian, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is a vivid example of old and new China. The modernised new city bustles around the quaint, winding lanes of the Old Quarter, where old men can be seen smoking pipes and watching the world go by, as butchers pull their carcass-laden carts and hawkers sell their wares. Following breakfast we visit the famous Terracotta Warriors. These warriors stand in their thousands outside the tomb of Qin Shihuang where they were uncovered in 1974 by peasants digging a well. Each warrior stands over 6 feet tall and has different features and characteristics. Some stand in a vanguard with crossbow and longbow bearers; others hold spears, daggers and axes at the ready. They are accompanied by dozens of horse-drawn carriages and enormous terracotta horses. The sight of the warriors arising from their muddy grave, some intact, others still submerged in the ground, is an extraordinary one.
Following breakfast we will embark on a leisurely walking tour the old City Wall and Muslim Quarter. The City wall of Xian is one of the few cities in China where the old city walls are still standing. These walls were erected during the Ming Dynasty in 1370. We explore this historic structure before venturing amongst the the small lane ways and exotic smells of the Old Muslim Quarter. This area has been home to the cities Hui Community (Chinese Muslims)for centuries. To get to know this alternate side of Chinese culture we immersed ourselves in the butcher shops, sesame seed oil factories and hidden mosques that make this area so fascinating.
This morning we fly to Xining, the major gateway to the Tibetan Plateau. It is an ancient highland city on the Yellow River which offers many scenic spots and historical sites. The city itself has a strong Islamic flavour, as it is home to many Hui people. Dongguan Mosque is the biggest mosque in Qinghai Province. It was built in 1380, boasting a history of more than 600 years. Following a city tour of Xining you say farewell to your Chinese guide when boarding the train and travel independently on a comfortable, air-conditioned overnight train to Lhasa. The train departs at 3.04pm from Xining and arrives the following day in Lhasa.
The train will arrive in Lhasa at approximately 2.35pm where you will be met at the station by our local Tibetan guide and driver. We are then transferred to our comfortable well located hotel for a hot shower and freshen up before heading out for a delicious local Tibetan dinner.
Continue our drive to Kathmandu. Today we are heading for the border town of Kerung. Following the 2015 earthquake the former friendship highway was badly damaged resulting in its continued closure. This new route was opened initially to ensure that trade between Nepal and China could continue. In 2017 the border post was opened to tourists allowing for travel along this legendary overland route to recommence. This road is sure to add to the sense of adventure as it traverses parts of both Tibet and Nepal new to tourism. Road conditions along this route are changeable as improvements to the road continue to ensure that it can accommodate the traffic using it. Overnight hotel.
After spending the night in the remarkable area around Rongphu Monastery, with breathtaking views of the north side of Everest and a sense of the magnitude of the challenge that climbers face when tackling this side of the mountain, we will continue our drive to Kathmandu.
In the afternoon we will continue our journey to Kathmandu and the town of Old Tingri.
Note: Access to Everest Base Camp used by the famous interwar British expeditions is currently restricted to mountaineers with the necessary permits. That said the view of Everest from the monastery is still worth the trip as it dominates the valley carved by the glacier originating from the mountains northern flank.
The drive over the Pang La (5150m) affords our first views of the north face of Everest (8848m). From the pass we descend to the village of Phadhruchi, before driving up the Rongphu Valley to Rongphu Monastery and unrivalled views of the mountain's north face. At Rongphu we stay in the small lodge attached to the monastery, which has recently been reconstructed following the excesses of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. Nowadays there are about twenty monks in attendance. Please note that there are no "5-star" hotels at Rongphu, and facilities at both the lodge and the nearby campsite are very basic, but any discomfort is more than compensated by the views in this spectacular location!
The drive to Shegar can be completed in half a day, which allows time this afternoon to visit the Shegar Fort and Monastery.
In the morning we drive up to see the ancient cave residence and meditation center of King Songtsen Gampo and a small temple where the first written letters in Tibetan are housed. Take a leisurely walk to Sera Monastery. Sera once housed nearly 5000 monks. We also visit the famous Polata Palace, for centuries the official residence of the Dalai Lama, and the greatest achievement of Tibetan architecture. Time permitting we visit Drepung Monastery which once housed over 10000 monks. This was a great monastic university which had quarters for monks from Sichuan, Qinghai, Chamdo,Siberia, Ladakh and Mongolia. Four colleges taught different aspects of Buddhism. Ganden Potang, built by the 2nd Dalai Lama was used as residence for the subsequent Dalai Lamas.
From Lhasa we drive down the Kyichu Valley to the Yarlong Tsampo (Brahmaputra) before ascending to the Khamba La (Khamba Pass) at 4900m. The views are outstanding, in the foreground is the vast freshwater Yamdrok Tso or Turquoise Lake, while to the south the snow-capped ranges merge with the main Himalayan range. We drive around the lake before crossing the Karo La (5200m) to reach Gyantse.
In the morning we wander around Barkhor and see Jokhang temple. We visit Jokhang and the jewelled Jowo. Later in the day we can visit the Lukhang, set in the middle of a lake. The temple is one of the gems of Lhasa, and contains artwork related to Tibetan medical practices (3950m).
Today we complete the final stage of our journey from Lhasa via the earthquake ravaged Langtang region. It is a fitting conclusion to an epic overland journey and the comfort of the Radisson Hotel will no doubt be welcomed with open arms. Overnight Radisson Hotel, Kathmandu
Gyantse is a remarkable place that has escaped much of the Chinese influence evident in other major Tibetan towns. It is dominated by the ancient fort that was besieged by British forces in 1904 during the famous Younghusband Expedition. We also visit the remarkable octagonal chorten, the Kumbum (or Pango Chorten) built in 1444 on a series of four levels, each of which contains separate chapels. In the afternoon we drive to Shigatse.
In Shigatse we visit the famous Tashilhunpo Monastery, founded in 1447 by the 1st Dalai Lama. Since the time of the 5th Dalai Lama in 1642, the abbot of Tashilhunpo has been known as the Panchen Lama (literally the 'Great Scholar'). Over the generations, the Panchen Lama became established as the chief spiritual and temporal adviser of the huge western portion of Tibet known as Tsang, and at times was even considered a rival to the Dalai Lama. During the Cultural Revolution much of the Tashilhunpo and the nearby fort were destroyed, and what we see today is a huge complex in various stages of rebuilding. Of particular interest are the huge temple to the Maitreya Buddha (the 'Buddha to Be'); the tomb of the 10th Panchen Lama (who died in 1989), which is said to be encased with over 300kg of gold; the Palace of the Panchen Lama; and the tomb of the 5th to 9th Panchen Lamas. The latter, recently reconstructed, contains the remains of the former Panchen Lamas that were retrieved after their separate tombs were demolished by Chinese troops in 1966. Also of interest is the main Assembly Hall, adjacent to many of the important chapels that are in everyday use.
After breakfast, your trip concludes.