This 16-day tailor-made Tibet adventure begins in the Chinese capital Beijing before you hit the metaphorical and literal heights in culturally fascinating Tibet. See the Forbidden City and Great Wall of China, and then explore Xining, Lhasa and a host of extraordinary Buddhist monasteries on the awe-inspiringly beautiful Tibetan plateau.
Your tailor-made Tibet adventure begins with a direct overnight flight from the UK to Beijing. The flight takes just over ten hours.
You will arrive in the Chinese capital mid-morning and your driver will meet you in the arrivals' hall for a private transfer to your city centre hotel.
After lunch you have the afternoon to get your bearings and go for a wander around the neighbourhood surrounding your hotel. We can recommend several restaurants for a first supper in China and some guidance for what to order to help you navigate the menu.
Today is dedicated to exploring the historic highlights of the Chinese capital. Your guide will meet you at your hotel after breakfast, and first stop of the day is the iconic Tiananmen Square, the heart of the city and the country known as the Middle Kingdom. Wander through the square, visit the mausoleum which houses the embalmed body of Chairman Mao, and then head to the entrance of the Forbidden City, the imperial palace for 500 years-worth of Chinese emperors from the Ming to the Qing dynasties.
Your guide will be able to bring this extraordinary place even more to life, explaining what life was like in this gilded cage for emperors and those who worked here. Complete the visit with a walk up Jingshan Park for superb panoramic views over the city and back over the Forbidden City itself.
The final stop of the day is to explore the hutongs, the original single-storey neighbourhoods that once stretched in every direction from the Forbidden City. Sadly, many hutongs were levelled before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but those that do remain provide a fascinating window into Beijing before the modern era. Wander the alleyways and courtyards with your guide and you'll see old men playing mahjong and street vendors peddling delicious bao (fluffy steamed buns) filled with various meats and vegetables, the most traditional being a delicious and slightly sweet pulled pork.
Enjoy a relaxed evening because tomorrow you're going to see another of the highlights of China - the Great Wall.
After breakfast your guide will meet you for the one-and-a-half-hour transfer to Huanghuacheng, one of the most interesting sections of the Great Wall of China in proximity to Beijing, and another highlight of your tailor-made Tibet Adventure.
The name 'Huanghuacheng' refers to the pretty yellow wildflowers that blossom in the region, and the scene is further enhanced by the wall being reflected in the still waters of a reservoir. Despite the site's beauty, this was also a hugely important strategic site guarding one of the key north-south routes from the capital. The best way to appreciate the size and scale of the Great Wall is to walk along it, and we have arranged a moderately difficult two-hour walk along the ramparts, from which you can get a glimpse of every day Chinese life as you pass orchards of chestnut trees and rustic settlements. Chairman Mao once declared that no-one was a true man (or woman) if they hadn't visited the Great Wall of China, so after your hike you can celebrate your new status by enjoying a lunch in a stunning spot on the Wall.
Return to your hotel, and we can recommend several of the finest restaurants in Beijing and make reservations.
Today you leave Beijing and head to the Tibetan plateau for the next stage of your tailor-made Tibet Adventure.
You will be met at your hotel after breakfast for a transfer
back to the airport, and then you have a two-and-a-half-hour flight
to Xining in Quinghai Province. You will met at the airport and
drive into town to check in to your hotel, and then to visit the
Tibetan Culture Museum. After Beijing, the museum is a perfect
introduction to the remarkable richness of Tibetan traditions and
the particular type of Buddhism that so defines the region.
As the largest city on, and gateway from Han China to, the Tibetan plateau, Xining itself is a fascinating place. The city was a key staging post on the legendary Silk Road, which saw the transfer of goods, ideas and religions from East to West over the centuries. The city's many mosques and Buddhist temples pay testament to that, and a visit this evening to the Night Market will only emphasise the city's exotic nature after Beijing. Wander through between street food stalls with your guide, sampling excellent local delicacies such as beef with chrysanthemums. Some local concoctions might only be for the braver eater. Snow chicken with caterpillar fungus, anyone?
Today you will explore beyond the city, and the first stop is Quinghai Lake, named by no less august a publication that National Geographic as the most beautiful lakes in China and one of the most beautiful in the world.
After breakfast you will be met at your hotel for the
hour-and-a-half drive to the lake, where you can stretch your legs
in the best possible fashion on a bicycle ride along the lake's
beautiful shoreline. Framed by distant snow-capped peaks and
meadows of wildflowers, this lovely alpine lake is fed by a large
number of streams that make this not only the most beautiful, but
the largest, lake in China.
On the way back from Qinghai Lake, you will pass through the Xiangla grasslands, a huge expanse of high-altitude pastureland that have been inhabited and cultivated for centuries by Tibetans. Your guide will stop and introduce you to some local farmers, and you will have the chance to try the local speciality - a delicious homemade yoghurt with vegetable oil.
The final stop is Xining Nanshan Park for beautiful views back across the city from its highest local peak. The park at the summit is not only a great viewing point, but home to lovely gardens and Tibetan temples.
On the next leg of your tailor-made Tibet adventure, you will move on from the Tibetan plateau to Tibet itself, by taking the overnight train to Lhasa.
But first, there is the chance to explore a few more of Xining's high-altitude highlights. First of these is Kumbum Monastery. The monastery was built in 1577 on the spot where Tsongkhapa, founder of yellow hat (Geluppa) Tibetan Buddhism, was born. Your guide will talk you through the monastery's hugely significant architectural innovations and priceless artworks and artefacts, and you will meet some of the many pilgrims and scholars who gravitate here.
Then it's on to visit Dongguan Grand Mosque because while greater Tibet is synonymous with Buddhism, four-fifths of Xining's population is Muslim. Non-Muslims can't enter the prayer hall, but it's still nice to wander around, while learning about the city's Silk Road and Muslim heritage.
This afternoon, stock up on some snacks and head to the station for the overnight train to Lhasa: one of the most memorable train journeys in the world. The journey takes some 21 hours and allows you time to soak up sensational views of the 'roof of the world' as you stare from the window of your private cabin.
After a comfortable night on the train and more amazing views of the Tibetan plateau this morning, you will arrive into Lhasa train station at around midday, where you will be met and driven to your hotel in the Tibetan capital.
As this is one of the highest cities in the world - 11,860ft above sea level to be precise - you should take some time to adjust to the altitude and so you have this afternoon to relax and wander around the city as much or as little as you want, perhaps following the many pilgrims making the circuit of prayer wheels along Barkhor Street. One other thing you should do (or have done) is swot up on the extraordinary history of Tibet and Lhasa, the fascinating capital and key depository for Tibetan culture. Your guide throughout your time in Tibet will help peel back the layers, but nothing beats a base layer of local knowledge around such a significant subject as Tibet.
After breakfast at your hotel this morning it's time to start your exploration of the Tibetan capital, starting with Lhasa's cultural, religious and political lodestone, the Potala Palace, sitting resplendent on the Red Mountain.
The palace was originally built in 631 AD but was significantly
remodelled in the 17th century after which it became the official
winter residence for Dalai Lamas. To call the Potala Palace a
treasure trove doesn't do justice to the astonishing number of
shrines and Buddhist statues liberally scattered across the
palace's thousand-plus rooms. Fortunately your guide is on hand to
explain the significance of the key sites.
The next highlight is Jokhang Temple, a beautiful blend of Indian and Nepalese Buddhist architecture and both the eldest and most holy Buddhist temple in Tibet. Join the crowds of pilgrims who flock to the Jokhang every day, and make sure to head up on to the roof for stunning views of the Potala Palace against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
You've now appreciated some of Lhasa's architectural highlights, so it's time for a deeper dive into Tibetan culture with a visit to a traditional Tibetan tea house. The locals imbibe a sweet tea made with yak's milk - the perfect restorative after the day's wanderings, and a moment to reflect on the day's discoveries and watch everyday life at the slower Tibetan pace.
Today is another day of intense highlights on your tailor-made Tibet adventure, starting with a visit to Ganden Monastery, an hour from Lhasa. Ganden consists of a group of buildings tucked away in a stunning location in a fold in the mountains and containing the Golden Tomb of Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa monastic sect.
Gelugpa is considered by many to be the 'purest' form of Tibetan
Buddhism despite being the youngest, dating from the 15th century.
The original tomb and much of the monastery where destroyed by
China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) during the Tibetan Uprising
in 1959 and subsequently the Cultural Revolution in the 60s, but
relics were recovered and much of the monastery extensively
rebuilt, and today there is still a strong sense of the spiritual
here as you process around the monastery kora (pilgrimage
walk) past prayer wheels an fluttering prayer flags. Take a moment
or several to savour the views of snow-capped peaks and river
Next stop Sera Monastery, founded in 1419 and famed as one of Tibet's finest university monasteries, home today to hundreds of student monks. The highlight of the visit will be (subject to availability) the sight of the trainee monks sitting en masse in the monastery courtyard debating Buddhist texts with their professors. Then visit the monastery printing rooms, where sutras (scriptures) are still printed by hand on traditional paper
Today on your tailor-made Tibet adventure you will be visiting Gyantse, a glimpse of timewarp Tibet, as the town has changed little over the centuries.
The drive to Gyantse takes five hours, but through predictably
spectacular scenery, including a series of dramatic switchbacks
along the road from Lhasa that climbs up to an altitude of
14,500ft. En route you will stop for a picnic lunch besides Lake
Yamdrok Tso, dominated by Mount Donang Sangwari (17,400ft), which
sits on a peninsula by the lake. The lake - a deeply spiritual
place to most Tibetans due to its role in local folklore - is leant
an even more dramatic sense thanks to the snow-capped summits of
Nojin Gangzang, the highest peak in the Lhagoi Kangri mountain
range. Enjoy a leg-stretching walk along the lake shore before
jumping back in the car to pass through the Karo La pass and
descend into Gyantse itself.
This afternoon is another chance to interact with Tibetan locals as you visit a house in the town to drink yak's milk tea with a local family, conversing through your guide.
After breakfast today you will be met for a short drive to to Palkhor Monastery in Gyantse. Palkhor is home to the iconic Kumbum Stupa, a stupa (dome-shaped Buddhist shrine) that is in turn home to smaller shrines containing the statues of Bodhisattvas (those who have reached the highest levels of enlightenment) and other ancient Tibetan relics. Wander along the crimson red walls of the monastery complex and, with so many places in Tibet, savour the overwhelming sense of spirituality.
This afternoon is set aside to relax or wander around Gyantse.
It's time for the next leg of your tailor-made Tibet adventure, with a two hour drive from Gyantse to Shigatse, the second largest town in Tibet (with a population of around 80,000) and the seat of power for the second-highest ranking Lama in Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama - the Panchen Lama.
En route you will stop in at Shalu Monastery, founded in the
11th century but particularly famous for its 14th century abbot,
Buton Rinchen Drup, a scholar who played a significant role in the
evolution of Tibetan Buddhism. Check out the famous
mandala (elegant symmetrical images symbolising connection
to the wider universe) painted on the monastery wall.
Enjoy a relaxed afternoon and evening exploring, Shigatse, your home for the next two nights.
Today you have the chance to experience another special kora as you join pilgrims on their pilgrimage walk to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.
Tashi Lhunpo Monastery itself was built in 1447 and is the official seat of the Panchen Lama. The highlights of the visit include an extraordinary five-storey temple that is home to a 60ft tall copper and gold statue of Maitreya Buddha, a Bodhisattva and the anointed successor to the present Buddha. The tomb of a previous (the fourth) Pancehn Lama is also worth a look to see the trove of jewels and gold interred with him. Finally, make sure to the take a moment in the Grand Hall to listen to the prayers of monks and watch as lamas pour yak milk butter into cups to light.
Sadly your tailor-made Tibet adventure is coming to an end, and this morning you will be driven back to Lhasa, which will take around five or six hours through yet more spectacular mountain scenery.
In Lhasa you will head to the airport for your flight to Beijing, which takes roughly six hours, arriving back in the capital late this evening. You will be whisked to your hotel for the night.
After a leisurely breakfast you will be met and transferred to the airport in Beijing for your direct return flight to London.
The flight takes just over 11 hours, and you will arrive back in London in mid-afternoon.