- Ground Operators
For centuries, vast swathes of Central Asia and Tibet were closed to outsiders; they appeared as empty space on the maps used by the Western world. Nevertheless, legends and myths persisted, telling of mysterious places beyond the ramparts of the Himalaya where the great rivers of Asia begin. In western Tibet, the Indus, Sutlej, and Tsangpo have their origins, while in eastern Tibet, the Yangtze, Mekong, and Salaween are born. These eastern rivers twist, turn, and cut their way through immense gorges and canyons quite unlike anywhere else on the planet.
This 22-day exploratory itinerary was inspired by English adventurer Frank Kingdon-Ward and his book Mystery River Canyons of Tibet. He spent 20 years traversing this region, searching for a route to Lhasa that he knew existed, but which eluded him. This is also a unique opportunity to see four of the world’s great rivers in the course of one magical expedition. As you walk in the footsteps of Kingdon-Ward and other legendary pundits, you will discover for yourself the exquisite beauty and awesome raw power of the Mystery River Canyons of Tibet.
Demanding High-Altitude Touring
High-Altitude touring generally indicates that the majority of the tour spends time above 10,000 feet, and that participants must stay on their feet for 4-6 hours a day in order to partake in all tour activities. This itinerary relies on long overland journeys over rough terrain (with some dirt roads). On some days, the drives may be as long as 6-8 hours. Because of the nature of mountain roads, which are subject to closures due to landslides, it may be necessary to revise our schedule before or during the trip. (In that event, we will keep all travelers advised to the latest information we obtain.) Bathroom facilities during these long drives are frequently nonexistent and limit your privacy to a nearby tree or rock. Anyone who would be uncomfortable in such a situation should not consider this trip.
High Altitude: Please note that we will reach altitudes of more than 16,000 feet as we drive over high passes, with sleeping altitudes above 12,000 feet. This tour is subject to mountain weather (snowfall, storms, ice, rain, wind) and other high mountain hazards. Circumstances may mean that some days could be long and arduous for some people.
Anyone with a history of medical problems, particularly cardiac or respiratory, should consult a doctor before considering this tour. A release of liability and a medical certificate, signed by a physician, will be required from all participants.
Flexibility, a good sense of humor, and an adventurous spirit are essential on this tour.
Day 1: Arrive Kunming, China
You will be met on arrival and transferred to our hotel. Enjoy a traditional Welcome Dinner.
Day 2: Exploring Kunming
Today we have the option to visit the Buddhist sites of Huating Si, Qongzu Si, and Yuantong Si Monastery in the city, or take a day trip to the Stone Forest.
Day 3: To Lijiang
A short flight brings us to the city of Lijiang (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), dramatically situated below the snowy peak of Mount Yulong Shan.
Day 4: Exploring Lijiang
Winsome cobblestone lanes and tranquil waters twist through the picturesque Old Town of Lijiang. Discover the rich diversity of this part of China, which is home to more ethnic groups than any other.
Day 5: Exploring the Yangtse Gorge
From Lijiang, we rendezvous with the fabled Yangtse (Jinsha) River at the legendary Tiger Leaping Gorge. Here, the rapids of the Yangtse cascade through the vertiginous cliffs beneath the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
Day 6: To Gyalthang
We again experience the potent Yangtse in all its glory as we visit the first renowned “u-bend” in the river, where it turns back on itself nearly 180 degrees before continuing into China. We drive along the river before climbing onto the plateau and reaching Gyalthang.
Day 7: Exploring Gyalthang (Shangri-La)
We have the day to explore the region around Gyalthang while acclimating to the high elevation. Writings of this region by Kingdon-Ward and Joseph Rock were the source of inspiration for James Hilton as he described the village and monastery of Shangrila in his famous book “Lost Horizon.” This city has now been officially renamed Shangri-La.
Day 8: To Dechen
Leaving Gyalthang, we head north along the serpentine road that clings precipitously to the cliffs flanking the Yangtse. Our drive to the frontier town of Dechen will afford us several spectacular views of the stupendous Yangtse gorges, before crossing over a pass and into the Mekong drainage basin.
Day 9: Exploring the Mekong Gorge
Entering the TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region), we will drive along the contours of the Mekong, traversing verdant valleys and cresting high ridges and passes. We will overnight in a camp along the Mekong.
Day 10: Exploring the Mekong Gorge
We continue through the canyons of the Mekong as we head north to the town of Markham, known locally as Garthog Dzong. We set up our camp in the vicinity of Markham and visit the Woser Monastery.
Day 11: Exploring the Mekong Gorge
Fording the Mekong and crossing three high-altitude passes in the Hengduan Range, the incredibly scenic road will then carry us along the banks of the Yu-chu River, an added bonus.
Days 12 & 13: Exploring the Salween Gorge
Crossing another high pass, we descend to the precipitous cliffs of the Salaween River canyons. We meet up with the Phalung Tsangpo and follow the course west toward its confluence with the Labrung and then the Yarlung Tsangpo. This is the area of the famous Brahmaputra gorges, arguably the deepest river canyons in the world. We will see the raging waters of the Labrung as they crash through the canyon into the Brahmaputra.
Day 14: To the Brahmaputra Gorge
From the highs of 17,000-foot passes we now descend to 6,000 feet: the charming, flower-filled mountain valley of Lunang, in the shadow of Namche Barwa.
Day 15: Exploring the Brahmaputra Gorge
Today we continue to travel alongside the Brahmaputra, accompanied by more spectacular panoramic views of the river’s impressive canyons and gorges, eventually reaching the town of Bayi.
Day 16: Exploring the Brahmaputra Gorge
We cross the awesome Brahmaputra at Melling. Now on its southerly banks, we travel along the river’s canyons as we head toward the scenic Yarlung Valley.
Day 17: To Tsedang
Our last day in the company of the Brahmaputra will be a memorable one as we reach the Yarlung Valley, certainly one of the most beautiful parts of Tibet, and the historic town of Tsedang.
Day 18: Exploring Tsedang
Tsedang was at the crux of Tibetan civilization until Lhasa emerged as the preeminent center of Tibetan society in the 7th century. Visit the monasteries of Ganden Chökhorling and Ngachö, and the castle of Yumbu Lakang.
Day 19: To Lhasa
We spend the day driving through the charming Yarlung Valley, crossing the Tsangpo before reaching the fabled Tibetan capital city of Lhasa.
Days 20 & 21: Exploring Lhasa
We have two full days to experience the sites and sounds of Lhasa, including the important monastic centers of Drepung, Nechung, and Sera, as well as the sacred precincts of the Jokhang temple and Barkhor. Of course, no journey to Lhasa is complete without a pilgrimage to the iconic Potala Palace. On our last night, we enjoy a Farewell Dinner.
Day 22: Depart Tibet
You will be transferred to Gongkar Airport in time for your flight home
2015 Trip Dates
September 20 – October 11, 2015
Trip Duration: 22 days/21 nights
Starting City: Kunming (airport code – KMG)
Ending City: Lhasa (airport code – LXA)
2015 Land Cost
5 – 8 participants: $6,485 per person
9 – 11 participants: $5,885 per person
Minimum: 5 participants
Maximum: 11 participants
Internal China Airfare
Kunming – Lijiang: $240 (subject to change by airline)
Kindly note that names of hotels mentioned above only indicate that the Land Cost is based on usage of these hotels; it is not to be construed that accommodation is confirmed at these hotels until and unless we convey such confirmation to you. In the event that any of the above-mentioned hotels are not available, we shall book alternate accommodation at a similar or next-best available hotel and shall pass on the difference of rates (supplement or reduction, as applicable) to you.
Included in Land Cost:
• All accommodations, based on double occupancy
• All taxes and service charges
• All transportation using private, non air-conditioned 4-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruiser for the overland journey (3 travelers per vehicle) and private, non-AC vans for airport transfers and city sightseeing excursions (Kunming, Lijiang, Lhasa)
• All meals after arrival in Kunming until departure from Lhasa (Breakfast Day 2 to Breakfast Day 22)
• Special Welcome and Farewell dinners
• All arrival/departure airport/hotel transfers
• All entry fees at all temples, museums, and monuments on sightseeing excursions
• 24/7 Services of Tibetan Tour Leader/Guide for full tour
• TourDirect’s Medical ($25,000), Accident and Evacuation Insurance ($500,000) and Assistance Plan
Not Included in Land Cost:
• International airfare to/from China
• All internal China airfare – cost listed separately
• Lunches and dinners in Beijing, Chengdu, and other en route cities
• Items of a personal nature, such as alcoholic beverages, laundry, phone calls, shopping, etc.
• Movie, video, and still camera fees
• Gratuity to Tour Leader/Guide
• Gratuities to other local staff (guides, drivers, bell boys, etc.)
• Trip Cancellation insurance
At TourDirect, we will assist you in obtaining any necessary visas or other travel permits required for your journey, all done through our Visa Service Partner. Detailed Visa instructions, application forms, and information about applicable visa fees will be included in your Pre-Departure Packet.
You must have a valid passport with an expiration date that is more than 6 months from the date of your return to the U.S. The passport must also have at least 2 blank pages for each country that you will be visiting in Asia.
A China Tourist Visa is required for all foreigners traveling to Tibet. China visas are NOT granted on arrival and must be obtained prior to departure from your home country. A special “Tibet Travel” permit is also required for travel to TAR; this will be obtained on your behalf by TourDirect.
No immunizations are required for entry into China or to return to the U.S. However, proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from (or have recently visited) a country that has risk of yellow fever. Several immunizations are recommended by the U.S. Center for Disease Control. A copy of the CDC’s recommended immunization list and additional health information will be included in our Pre-Departure Packet.
High Altitude: Please note that we will reach altitudes of more than 17,000 feet as we drive over high mountain passes to reach Mt. Everest Base camp, with sleeping altitudes above 12,000 feet. Anyone with a history of medical problems, particularly cardiac or respiratory, should consult a doctor before considering this tour. A medical certificate, signed by a physician, will be required from all participants.
Please let us know if you wish to arrive early to walk on the Great Wall (Beijing) or see the pandas (Chengdu), or extend your stay in Lhasa to explore central Tibet; we will be happy to make the additional arrangements for your extension.
– Patrick V, PA
– Mona Z, CT
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