This tour is for the adventurous who wish to partake in the journey of a lifetime from Kunming to Lhasa along the upper reaches of four of Asia’s greatest rivers, the Yangtze, the Mekong, the Salween and the Brahmaputra. We will traverse great mountain ranges and gorges and in one day you will pass through vegetation zones from almost tropical to alpine. After May there is a wide range of plants blooming. Many are recognisable from your gardens at home. Drifts of blue gentians are perhaps the most memorable on the high passes.
Travelling such vast distances we will see a variety of farming techniques. On our journey we will see Tibetan farmers sickling, vanting, threshing and winnowing their barley crop. The straw is brought in on bent-backed women, men and donkeys. It is stored largely on the rooftops. Grass, too, is being cut and dried for winter fodder. Huge drying frames line the edge of villages. High altitude farmers keep yaks, sheep and goats. Tents, of various styles, made of yak wool will be seen in the upper pastures, Fascinating, also, are the different traditional housing styles of the villages, many villagers fly prayer flags on their rooftops.
Naturally, too, as we travel we will see a number of dress styles of the Tibetans and the minorities. We will follow this theme throughout the journey. Visits will be arranged to Tibetan homes to see their festival costumes.
Throughout our journey we will explore Tibetan Buddhist monasteries belonging to a variety of sects. Guides will explain them and the different deities. Textile enthusiasts will note the important use of decorative textiles in the monasteries.
En route we will have plenty of opportunity for photography. This area is a dream for landscape photographers as the varying light conditions create an ever-changing scene. Candid photographers will have plenty of opportunities, too.
The route follows sections of the ancient tea-horse trails from Sichuan and Yunnan which supplied Lhasa and the Tibetan region with tea, from the Tang Dynasty onwards. The culmination of our journey is, of course, Lhasa where we will visit the most important monasteries and the Potala Palace, the winter home of the Dalai Lama before he fled to India.
The organiser Mr. Hua Qing has made every effort to make this tour as comfortable as possible. We have land cruisers for the whole of your journey from Lijiang to Lhasa and there will be no more than three clients in each vehicle. We drive from Lijiang so clients are gradually acclimatised to high altitude. However, there will be some long journeys. Hotels are rapidly improving and there are luxurious hotels and there are one or two nights without private facilities.
This is a fascinating journey that will provide you with a lasting insight into Tibetan life and culture.
Maximum number of clients 20.
Towns are spelt in Chinese first and the Tibetan is in brackets.
Day 1. Departure from Home City to Beijing
Day 2. Arrive Beijing midday and transfer to a hotel. Free afternoon but an opportunity for those who haven’t been to Beijing before to see the Forbidden City(optional excursion).
Day 3. Transfer to Beijing airport and fly to Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, where we are staying near Green Lake, a superb oasis of quiet in a busy city. It will also give us an opportunity to explore the textile shops situated near the lake. Those not excited by this option can wander through the Park and see the various Chinese leisure pursuits. It is a candid photographic location. In the evening you can join the English corner or have a massage, in the fresh air, by some blind masseurs, who usually frequent this area.
Day 4. Today we fly to Lijiang and stay in the centre of the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site. There will be an opportunity to explore the old town and soak in its ambience. Lijiang is the home of the Naxi people who still wear their traditional costume. We will be met by a team of drivers with their land cruisers and our Tibetan National Guide who speaks excellent English and comes from Qinghai Province.
Day 5. In the morning we visit the Baisha Frescoes and a local village with distinctive farmhouse architecture. Here we find tie dyed indigo products, largely made in the Dali region. It is hoped to meet the venerable Dr Ho, who speaks English and sells traditional herbal remedies. TV viewers will remember town, climb to the overview point and go to the local market. In the evening we will go to the Minority Michael Palin’s visit when he was in Lijiang. In the afternoon there are various options but we shall probably explore the delightful old Song and Dance Performance, which is a spectacle not to be missed. Overnight in Lijiang.
Day 6. Our journey begins in earnest and we drive 175km to Zhongdian (Gyeltangteng), recently renamed Shangri-La. The journey is easy and as we drive we are sure to see blue gentians for the first time. In autumn the countryside is flushed with a brilliant red Euphorbia. Zhongdian County marks the beginning of our travels in the Tibetan region. The women have an unusual dress style and we will check out the other costumes of the region in the museum. We drive up to a stunning viewpoint and have an overview of the huge farmhouses, built like forts, field patterns and Napa lake, which is a crane reserve. Naturally, we will visit the newly restored monastery built on a ridge above the town.
Day 7. Our drive from Zhongdian to Deqen (Dechen) is approximately 190km. We climb along the Jinsha River (Yangtze). The good road winds through forested gorges. There are stone villages in protected valleys. Farmers can even grow apples, pears, pomegranates and tangerines. After lunch we will walk down to a superb Tibetan Yellow Sect Monastery named Tongtaling. Deqen is at 3500m and as we approach the town we have fabulous views of the Minling mountain range which is covered with snow and large glaciers. Many of the peaks are Holy Mountains, which the Tibetans worship. Pilgrims circumambulate them, as they are associated particularly with the great teacher Padmasambhava. This area is a stronghold of the Red Sect.
Day 8. Today we travel on an unmettaled road to Markham (Gartok). The total distance is 234 km and we will have a picnic lunch en route. As we leave Deqen there is a superb view of Mt Meili, from a viewpoint bedecked with prayer flags. There are outstanding views of huge glaciers. Today, we travel largely along the Lancang River that becomes the mighty Mekong in Burma. Soon we reach the Tibetan border with Yunnan Province, where our papers are checked. It is a surprise to see local villagers cultivating grapevines. A French missionary introduced them in 1907. A few villagers still make red wine. Travelling upstream, we find most villagers grow barley, potatoes and keep sheep and yak, which are grazed on the upland pastures. It is harvest time and everyone is out in the fields cutting barley and bringing it in to be threshed on the rooftops. Our guide will ask local people if we can visit one of their homes. This is a unique experience to view the interior and an opportunity to see hand-painted furniture, and huge brass caldrons used for cooking, as well as the wooden tea churns. There are forests of mixed evergreen and deciduous trees turning a golden yellow at this time of the year.
Day 9. We travel 158km from Markham to Zogong (Wanda) largely on un-asphalted roads. We are in the upper basin of the Mekong and it is a day of spectacular landscapes and there is an ever-changing farming scene as we climb from the valleys to the mountain passes. In the valleys we find the Tibetan farmers producing barley, the staple food of Tibetans, which is roasted and milled and eaten with butter and cheese, as tsampa. Families are also cutting the grass for their animal’s winter-feed. Yaks and sheep are kept in the high pastures in the summer and we shall see small black tents where part of the family is living tending their herds. We picnic in a sheltered valley and cross another high pass, bare and arid. Here, Tibetans collect the snow lotus, used in herbal remedies. Snow is possible even at this time of year on the high passes. We stay in a new hotel with facilities.
Day 10. The road between Zogong and Baxoi (Pema) is largely metalled. We drive up to Bangda, which is an important junction of two roads, one running north to Chamdo and the other travelling west to Lhasa. We travel west. Bangda is situated on a huge windswept plateau, which is only suitable for grazing sheep. The town is made up of a few restaurants and a large army base. Here we will eat lunch. The next part of the journey is spectacular. We climb to the Gama La Pass at 4600 m where there are great drifts of blue gentians. Cautiously, we travel down along hairpin bends. The arid mountains, remind one of northern Pakistan. Suddenly, there are villages situated on outwash plains and cones surrounded by terraced fields and walnut trees. There are spectacular gorges with high mountains behind, wonderful to photograph. Finally, we arrive at Baxoi a small town and to our surprise after 2004 we found a new hotel with facilities
Day 11. Today, there is a short 80km drive to Rawu (Rawok) through mountains capes. Rawu Lake is like a little silver jewel flanked by mountains covered with forests, which are already taking up autumn tints. We shall arrive for lunch; book in at a pleasant guesthouse, which didn’t have en suite facilities. Plenty of hot water was provided for washing and there was a shower available. Then we will walk a short distance to a local Tibetan village, where we will see different houses with very nice people. We can amble along the lake, through the fields and up to a stupa, enjoying the people and the landscape. Ornithologists will find plenty of birds here. Our drivers will take us along the lake to give us views of more remote villages and we will stop at an overshot water mill where they are usually grinding barley. The miller we saw was busily spinning yak wool for a bag that he was weaving at home. On a clear day we will have views of huge glaciers tumbling down the mountains behind the lake.
Day 12. After our restful day we start early for our long journey of 360 km to Bayi (Bayizhen). We drive through a reserve known as Grand Canyon. No forestry or hunting is allowed and it is rumoured that the yeti lives here in the mountains. There is no proof yet but foreign researchers are not allowed in these remote mountains, as the Chinese believe there are many rare species of animals and plants to be found. We cross rivers and mountainous terrain and finally arrive at the Fujian Hotel which is a paradise in this remote region. The hotel is modern beyond belief and has only recently been built.
Day 13. Today is a relaxing day and we spend some of the morning looking at local monasteries and visit an ancient cypress grove. Prayer flags flutter and we will notice the women in a very unusual costume, consisting of a woollen tabard, skirt or trousers. We will find this same costume at Miling (Menling) where we have lunch and stay overnight. There are a lot of shops making the local costume and it is of great interest to watch the tailors at work. The more elaborate festival costume is decorated with strips of applied brocade. We have made contact with a Tibetan Secondary School and hope to arrange a visit there. A teacher has recently introduced the teaching of traditional weaving on local style looms to her students, so they don’t forget their heritage. We have sent some ideas to the teacher to show items that she can possible make with her students. We hope these items could be sold at the hotel to augment school funds. We may also go up country and see a remote minority mountain village but we have to get special permission from the local police.
Day 14. Today we follow the banks of the Yarlung River, which becomes eventually the Brahmaputra and travel to Nangxian (Lang) a distance of approximately 170km. The scenery is forever changing. The waters of the river are, at first, placid, flowing round great sandbanks. We note great stone built houses with colourful wooden eaves. Lunch will be in a remote valley full of fragrant flowers. The most stunning is a yellow pendant primula. Fresh fish soup will be served for lunch at a remote restaurant set by a stream run by Chinese from Sichuan. Local fishermen net the fish from the Yarlung. Surprisingly, in the afternoon the road is almost blocked by waves of sand dunes, which look stunning with blue sky and large cumulous white clouds above. Here, there is desert vegetation. Lang is a Tibetan town with a large army base. This is the only town on the whole journey where photographs are forbidden.
Day 15. This is a very dramatic day. Our drive takes once again along the Yarlung River. It soon begins to cut through a great gorge and so there are few Tibetan villages. We then cut south over the plateau. Once again we find Tibetan communities. Here they are ploughing with teams of yaks, decorated with huge red tassels round their necks, said to keep away the flies. Occasionally, we notice horses used for ploughing and teams of people break down the sods by hoe before harrowing. It is a race to get the work done before winter sets in. Finally we climb to a spectacular pass at 5088m. Red yellow and blue prayer flags flutter in a great assemblage. Once again there are drifts of blue gentians. Snow peaks and glaciers edge the horizon. It is stunning. We descend, on zaging roads, passing flat-roofed stone Tibetan houses. Donkeys are loaded with straw from the fields. Cutting across the plateau we join up with a newly made up road of shining black tarmac. We pass quickly through mountain villages and white snow-capped peaks, into the Valley of the Kings and the town of Zhanang (Tsetang), where we stay. Tourists visit this town from all over the world as this is where Tibetan civilisation is reputed to have its origins. The hotel is excellent and so is the food.
Day 16. On the west side of the valley is the probable place where legend states the first Tibetan king of the Yarlung Dynasty arrived from the skies and introduced agriculture into the valley. There is a range of historical sites to visit, including Yangbu La Khang, once a summer palace of Songtsen Gampo. It later became a Yellow sect monastery. The castle of Yumbu Lakang is the oldest known building in Tibet, reputedly the home of the Yarlong kings. It is perched dramatically on a high peak and one has to walk slowly up to it unless you choose to ride on a yak or horse. Changzhu Monastery, founded in the 7th century during the reign of King Songtsen Gampo is well worth seeing as, in the forecourt, pillars of the 14th century can still be seen. There are many small chambers with various deities and the dull light and dust gives an air of mystery to the monastery. There is a famous banner, in an upper sanctuary representing Chenrezi, embroidered with 30,000 pearls from Nedong. We overnight at Zhanang.
Day 17. Today we plan to visit remote Tibetan villages just off the metalled road, in the upland area surrounding Zhanang, depending on police permission. The local people still spin and weave, using local goat, sheep and yak wool. It is very important for every family to have plenty of looped and plain weave rugs for bedding, both for themselves and visiting family members and guests. The women still make these blankets on the frame loom of the region. The men also braid yak and sheep wool slings and use braid work to decorate their yaks and horses. Neck-bands incorporate bells and red tassels. This is a unique opportunity to find an area of living crafts. The mountainscape that surrounds these remote villages is fabulous and we picnic on the high plateau and gradually make our way down stopping at local villages. Occasionally we are invited in and can see the fascinating kitchens, with their central stoves and black walls decorated with Buddhist symbols. Yet nearby we find the kitchen God honoured with fresh barley and a shaman’s wand to keep the evil away from the owners cattle. Bon and Buddhism still work side by side. Overnight at Zhanang.
Day 18. The road to Lhasa is excellent and we spin along stopping at the ferry point to cross to Samye Monastery. We board a pontoon-like boat usually crowded with pilgrims. At this time of year the Yarlung is calm and peaceful. Jumping off our boat we board a bus and are taken up a sandy track to the monastery. Samye, Tibet’s first monastery, built in the 8th century has been recently restored to some of its former glory. The Great Assembly Hall and the upper chambers are well worth seeing as are the living quarters of the monks built on an upper gallery. Below are remarkable murals, some original and some damaged, and some restored. Unfortunately the surrounding zigzag wall was destroyed by fire. However, the monasteries roof offers an exceptional view of the village and countryside. Restoration is still in progress. Returning to our cars by bus and ferry we then motor to Lhasa city. We have requested a hotel in the heart of old Lhasa near the Barkhor.
Day 19. Today we are in Lhasa city and in the morning we plan to visit the Yellow Sect Monastery of Drepung, which in the past was the biggest and richest monastery in Tibet. Its lamas used to help train the Dalai Lama. It was founded in 1416 and at its zenith 10,000 monks lived there. It was also the home of the state oracle. There is plenty to see today. There are large assembly halls and chapels decorated with fine thangkas, victory banners and statues. Also before lunch we plan to visit a Tibetan carpet factory which is making traditionally designed wool carpets in vegetable dyed colours. All the girls who work here are Tibetan and it is of great interest to see the unusual carpet knot made over a needle, with such ease and speed. After lunch in the afternoon we plan to go to Sera monastery as debating goes on in the afternoon. Naturally we will visit the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama, the Norbulingka, which translates as the Jewel Park. The interior design is a bizarre mixture of modern and traditional. Overnight in Lhasa.
Day 20. The morning will be spent visiting the Jokhang, the spiritual centre of Tibet and the object of all Tibetan pilgrimage. The Jokhang dates back to the 7th century and originally was surrounded by narrow streets. In the 1980’s the houses in front of the Jokhang were pulled down and a great plaza built making it accessible but taking away some of its air of mystery. Pilgrims can be seen all day praying and prostrating themselves in front of the Jokhang and pilgrims jostle around the holy shrines inside. Next we will visit the Muslim area as we are going to take you to a project which is developing Tibetan crafts rather than importing goods from Nepal and India. It is a welcome change to see exceptionally well-designed goods made in Tibet. After lunch a tour of the Potala has been arranged to see its treasures and to gain an overview of Lhasa city. Overnight in Lhasa.
Day 21. We felt we should leave a free day for clients to do whatever they like. There is a superb new museum in Lhasa where the artefacts are beautifully displayed and labelled in three languages. There is also an audio guide. In the afternoon perhaps you just want to wander or shop in the Barkhor. We will all meet for lunch of course. Overnight in Lhasa.
Day 22. Today we fly to Chengdu and on to Beijing, overnight in China’s capital. A final banquet will also be arranged.
Day 23. We fly back to Home on our international flight and arrive in the evening.