Journey to Mount Kailash

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Explore Kailash, the most sacred mountain in the Himalaya, during the Saga Dawa festival, and experience the traditional culture of sacred Tibet.


Duration: 18 Days
Starts in: Tibet
Group Size: 5-16

Operated by:

World Expeditions

World Expeditions is an adventure travel and ecotourism company that offers guided small group trekking and adventure holidays.


Arrive Chengdu, China

You will be met by a representative of World Expeditions and transferred to the hotel. Remainder of the afternoon/evening at leisure. Your Tibetan Travel Permit will be held at reception, please ensure you collect this here as you will need it tomorrow to check into your your flight to Lhasa. Overnight Chengdu Jaho Forstar Wenshuyuan, Chengdu

Fly Chengdu to Lhasa (3670m)

This morning we are transferred to the airport for the flight to Lhasa. On arrival at Lhasa Airport you will be transferred to the city – a drive that takes around two hours. Due to the high altitude, you need to take it easy when you arrive in Lhasa. (Chengdu to Lhasa flights not included in trip cost.) A briefing will be given around 5pm by your guide, where arrangements will be made for the distribution of your kit bag, sleeping bag and down/fibrefill jacket. Overnight hotel.

In Lhasa (3670m)

Three days are scheduled to appreciate the rich cultural history of Lhasa. We include visits to the Jokhang, the Norbulingka (the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama), and the famous Potala Palace. We also include visits to the nearby monasteries of Drepung, Sera and Ganden. The Jokhang The Old City of Lhasa was built around the Jokhang, the most sacred temple in Tibet. Established in the 7th century when Buddhism was first introduced into Tibet, the temple has been considerably enlarged, particularly during the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama.Within the Jokhang, a series of temples are situated on the ground and the upper floors – some are closed to the public, but our guide will be able to give you a detailed description of each of the main chapels. The main entrance to the Jokhang is always full of activity, with pilgrims prostrating themselves as they conduct their prayers before continuing on their ritual circuit around the temple.This circuit area, together with the Barkhor– the marketplace outside the Jokhang – is a gathering place for Tibetans, who may have travelled for many months to reach Lhasa. The Barkhor is the 'real Tibet', with a multitude of stalls selling anything from ceremonial scarves to Chinese thermos flasks. You can spend many hours there people-watching, although be sure to ask first before taking any photographs. Sera and Drepung monasteries. It is a short drive out of Lhasa to visit two of the most important Buddhist monasteries in Tibet. Drepung Monastery was founded in the 15th century. A century later the 2nd Dalai Lama established the Ganden Palace that was to be his residence until the 17th century when he moved to the Potala Palace in Lhasa. While at the monastery we visit the huge Main Assembly Hall and the famous teaching colleges. Sera Monastery once housed a huge monastic population of around 5000 monks. However since the Cultural Revolution the number of resident monks has fallen to a few hundred. Like Drepung it was founded in the 15th century and includes several important teaching colleges (including the famous debating courtyard) and the Main Assembly Hall with its important thangka's and impressive statues.The Norbulingka This large compound, situated to the west of the city, is where successive Dalai Lamas spent their summer months. Indeed, the 14th (current) Dalai Lama preferred to stay in this summer palace, rather than in the cold, isolated chambers of the Potala.The Palace of the 14th Dalai Lama is situated in the centre of the compound, and little seems to have changed since the time when he escaped into exile in 1959.Most of the private quarters are open to the public, which always includes a steady flow of Tibetan pilgrims keen to pay homage to their exiled leader. The Palace of the 13th Dalai Lama, situated on the perimeter of the Norbulingka, is also open to the public.The Potala Palace is one of the highlights of a visit to Lhasa. It is divided into two main complexes – the outer white building that housed the administration, and the Red Fort, where chapels, tombs and the living quarters of the Dalai Lama are located. Founded in 1645 during the reign of the great 5th Dalai Lama, the White Palace was completed in 1648, twelve years after the Dalai Lama's death. To avoid possible problems, the head monks related to the masses that the 5th Dalai Lama was in deep meditation until after the Red Palace was completed.It is normal to approach the Potala through the Western Gate and make your way slowly through the labyrinth of chambers to the lower floor of the Red Fort. The most impressive hall within this medieval building is the chamber housing the tombs of the former Dalai Lamas, including the massive golden tomb of the 5th Dalai Lama. This chamber is currently undergoing renovation, however, and is not open to the public. Nearby is the chapel commemorating Padmasambhava, the Tantric sage who introduced Buddhism to Tibet. On the upper middle floor is the tomb of the 13th Dalai Lama, while the next floor contains the official Reception Hall and living quarters, some of which are open to the public.We complete our visit to the Potala Palace by leaving through the main gate to the Red Fort, before descending the series of steps to the marketplace immediately in front of the palace. The time spent in the Potala will depend on the number of pilgrims and tourists that are visiting while we are there. Overnight hotel.

Commence drive towards Kailash to Gyantse (8-9 hours drive, 3900m, 290kms)

Today we commence our drive across the Tibetan plateau, which is perhaps much more mountainous than you might expect, towards Kailash. It is approximately 1300kms from Lhasa to Darchen, at the base of the Kailash. There is a newly imposed lower speed limit of 60km/hr on the highways outside of Lhasa, which means plenty of time to take in the extraordinary Himalayan views! From Lhasa we drive down the Kyichu Valley to the Yarlung Tsangpo (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. We 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. Overnight hotel.

Drive to Shigatse (3 hours drive, 3800m, 90kms)

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. Overnight hotel.

Drive across the Tibetan plateau towards Lake Manasarovar and Kailash.

The drive to Kailash is spectacular and demanding adventure across the roof of the world. From Shigatse, we head west across the Tibetan plataeu to the trading town of Saga (4500m, 9-10 hours drive, 450kms) Overnight basic hotel. The next day is the most demanding, we will pass through the settlement of Pharang (4600m, 5 hours drive, 240kms) and traverse a number of sandy sections en route to the to Chui Gompa on the shores of Lake Mansarovar, our overnight stop on day 11. Our views of the Himalaya are magnificent and continue on the final day of this epic and memorable drive across the Tibetan plateau to Darchen only one hour further along the road (4600m, 40kms). Overnight basic hotel. While we endevour to stick to the projected itinerary, travel in Tibet is by nature unpredictable and a flexible approach is always needed!

In Darchen, prelude of Saga Dawa Festival

We witness the arrival of many Tibetan pilgrims for the Saga Dawa Festival who may have spent up to a month travelling across Tibet to attend the festival. An ideal day to explore the trails in the vicinity of Mt Kailash that afford fine views of the South Face of this sacred mountain. Overnight basic hotel.

Saga Dawa Festival. Commence trek around Mount Kailash to Dera Phuk (30 minute drive from Darchen to Serlung, 6hr walk, 5000m). Overnight basic lodge.

After the full moon the monks offer their prayers and blessings to the huge gathering before the ceremonial pole is slowly lifted by means of support poles. The event takes several hours creating a feeling of awe and expectation before the pole is finally put into place. It is then time for the more devout pilgrims to commence the 'kora' or pilgrimage around Mt Kailash, a 49km trek that we will undertake together with many of the pilgrims. In the afternoon we commence our trek – the 'kora', around the base of Mt Kailash. We follow in the footsteps of the pilgrims that takes us past a dome outcrop known as “Padasambhavas Tomb" before the valley widens out below the Dri Puk Monastery. Overnight lodge.

Continue trek around Mount Kailash to Zutrul Phuk via Dolma La (5600m). (10 hrs walking, 4900m). Overnight basic lodge.

The second stage we climb to the Dolma La (5600 metres). En route the trail passes an area referred to as Shive Tso which is marked by a large collection of discarded clothing – where pilgrims are said to undertake a symbolic death, leaving an item of clothing behind before proceeding to the pass. The final 200 metres climb to the pass is not unduly strenuous while on the pass the pilgrims pay homage to the gods of the pass. It is a very special occasion particularly at this time of the year. From the top of the pass we head down the valley to the small monastery of Zutrul Puk. The site known as the miracle cave marks the place where the celebrated Buddhist teacher Milarepa performed miracles in a contest with the high priest of the Bon Po's, the original animistic religion of Tibet before Buddhism. Milarepa won the contest but consented for the followers of Bon Po to continue their own pilgrimage around Mt Kailash in an anti clockwise fashion, a tradition that still holds today. Overnight lodge.

Complete trek around Mount Kailash (4 hours walk). Overnight basic hotel.

From Zutrul Puk it is a further 4 hours trek across the open plains and past lines of mani walls and prayer flags to back to Darchen. We have the afternoon to savor our final views views towards Kailash we are reminded of the sacredness of this region for the many pilgrims that venture here each year. Overnight basic hotel.

Drive towards Kathmandu across the Tibetan plateau

It is a 4-day drive to Kathmandu from Hor Chu, with overnight stops including: , Saga (9 hours drive), and Kerung the gateway back into Nepal (9-10 hours drive). 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.

Drive from Kerung to Kathmandu

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.

In Kathmandu, half day sightseeing

This morning a sightseeing tour takes in the key attractions in and around Kathmandu. We will visit Pashupatinath and Boudhanath. The remainder of the day is yours to perhaps do some last minute shopping or sightseeing.

In Kathmandu, trip concludes

After breakfast, your trip concludes.

Additional Information

Mount Kailash is said to be the mythical Mount Meru, the centre of the universe. It is revered in both Hindu and Buddhist legends, while its location, close to the sources of the four main rivers that flow across the Indian sub-continent, contributes to its mystique. Our adventure includes a week long journey from Lhasa (via Gyantse and Shigatse) across the vast Tibetan plateau. We plan to reach Mount Kailash at the time of the Saga Dawa festival when many thousands of pilgrims from throughout Tibet gather to pay homage to the mountain. After the celebrations we will undertake a three day trek, or kora, around Mount Kailash, with inspiring views of one of the world's most iconic mountains, before the drive back to Lhasa and onto Kathmandu.


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