JOURNEY ACROSS THE TIBETAN PLATEAU
KUNMING TO LHASA
ETHNIC PEOPLE, MONASTERIES and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.