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Saturday, April 10/KATHMANDU TO LHASA   This morning, depart early for your flight to Lhasa - 8:30 AM. The flight takes you over the lofty peaks of the Himalayas to Lhasa, one of the most physically challenging countries in the world. Tibet, just the name conjures up images of vast high plains, precipitous mountains and barren landscapes. XiZangZiZhiqu or Tibet is an autonomous region of China just north of Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and India. The mighty Himalayas, their snow-capped tips piercing through the cloud cover like giant snow cone, is the southern border with all these countries.
   The high altitude, 11,000 feet approximately, is formidable but you ease out of jet lag with a leisurely 1.5-hour drive from the Lhasa airport to the city, following the wide, silted Tsampo River set against the massive mountains. Set back from the road, whitewashed Tibetan villages, their colorful prayer flags rippling in the wind are stark reminders of the austere life of the locals. Yak boats glide down rivers and pilgrims in prostration make their way to sacred valleys, a journey that can take up to several weeks.
   It is imperative that you take it easy today as the altitude can be formidable. After you arrive at your hotel, drink a lot and take a short rest; then in the late afternoon you can visit the Norbulinka Summer Palace, the former summer residence of the Dalai Lama. Set amidst a park framed by pavilions and gardens, it is a quiet and peaceful place, built by the 14th Dalai Lama in l956.
Sunday, April 11/LHASA Today, visit one of Tibet’s holiest shrines, the Jokhang Temple, built 1300 years ago. Hundreds of devotees circumambulate the inner sanctum, performing various forms of ritual and devotion, or lighting candles, part of the offering of purification. As you enter the holy temple, you may hear the steady chanting of the Buddhist monks reciting ancient scriptures in the ecclesiastical language of the monasteries. Don’t miss the image of Tibetan King Jowa and the massive jeweled screen surrounding him. The amount of semi-precious stones used to stud the breastplate is staggering. Silver, coral, and gau (portable shrines) boxes were inset into the front and sides of the screen.
   Outside, circumambulate the “Jo” and see Tibetans laying out their goods: yak-butter, yak skins, turquoise (if rubbed with yak butter, it turns green)  coral and silver jewelry and antique treasures. The Barkhor market is jam packed with shops, teahouses, hawkers and entrepreneurs. This is the political and religious heart of the city where pilgrims gather from hundreds and thousands of miles.  You might want to explore further in the neighborhood and visit the Ani Sangkhung Nunnery.  It’s fun to stay for tea with local old timers.  Have lunch nearby with a view of the Barkor.
   This afternoon, visit the sacred monasteries of Sera and Drepung, the former once housed nearly 10,000 monks. We will request a visit to Sera during the active debating sessions where pairs of monks take part in challenging each other.

Monday, April 12/LHASA  The focal point of Lhasa is the Potala Palace, which looms imperiously over the city. The former center of government and the former winter home of the Dalai Lama, it’s over 1 million square feet, with 1000 rooms and stands thirteen stories tall. Seven of the former Dalai Lamas are entombed in gold-capped mausoleums.  If that's not enough, you can visit the Dalai Lama's little secret temple, tucked away in a garden behind the Potala.
   After the visit to the Potala Palace, enjoy a walk in the Tibetan quarter. The Tibetans have a large section of the city which is chock full of shops selling herbs, eastern medicine, locally made jewelery and religious accoutrements. Look for large Tibetan necklaces in turquoise and/or coral, and gau boxes, receptacles for Buddhist prayers. Tonight enjoy traditional local dishes such as tsampa (roasted barley), momos (Tibetan dumplings) and yak butter tea––as well as Western dishes.

Tuesday, April 13/LHASA – GYANTSE   Depart Lhasa in the morning, driving up to the Kamba La pass (4700m) for a panoramic view of the beautiful turquoise lake,Yamdrok Tso.  Continue on southwest across the high plains with beautiful mountain views.  The road is comparatively new and amazingly enough, you drive right by the impressive Nojin-Kangtsang Glacier to Gyantse at 3980m.. After 6 hours plus of driving, with a few interesting stops along the way, you’ll notice people traveling with horse carts and you’ll know that you’re approaching Gyantse.  Once you arrive and check in to your hotel, you can take a walking tour of the town.  Dinner in the hotel.

Wednesday, April 14/GYANTSE - SHIGATSE – Visit the Gyantse Kumbum, the largest chorten in Tibet, with several floors of shrines. By now, you might want to blow off the Pelkor Chode Monastery!  Instead, with a picnic lunch, go behind the monastery and take a nice hike to Riche Ganden Retreat.  Later in the day, drive 1.5 hours to Shigatse.

Thursday, April 15/SHIGATSE - Visit the Tashilunpo monastery, seat of the Panchen Lama, who is regarded as the reincarnation of the Buddha of endless enlightenment.  One of the most important religious centers of Central Tibet, the Tashilumpo contains a 26 meter tall image of Buddha, Asia's largest bronze Buddha, and many other beautiful thangkas, frescoes, and statues.
   After lunch, visit the 11th century Shalu Monastery.  Make sure to bring a good flashlight so you can see the 14th century murals.  If you’re inspired, you can hike up to the Ripuk Hermitage, overlooking the Shalu Valley, and take in the view.

Friday, April 16/SHIGATSE - LHASA   Take a  short drive out of town and stop by the new bridge that you can walk across and visit an old Bonpo monastery known as Yungdrungling.  Bonpos are the earliest of Buddhists and actually more animistic.  It should be interesting.  Afterwards, drive 4-5 hrs to Lhasa.
Saturday, April 17/LHASA/SAMYE MONASTERY/TSEDANG  An early morning departure will allow enough time for an afternoon trip to Samye monastery. The adventure begins by crossing the Yarlung Tsangpo River in a wooden boat propelled by a converted tractor engine (usually filled with chanting pilgrims with prayer wheels spinning), followed up with a rugged 30-minute bus or truck ride across sand dunes to Samye. As a victim of the Cultural Revolution, this historic monastery has been in a state of reconstruction since 1984 as the devoted strive to make it the most beautiful shrine in the country. Temples and chortens (reliquaries and symbols of Buddha’s mind) are configured around the main monastery as a mandala. You can follow the kora (meditation path) through this complex of shrine rooms. You can still find a few old murals as you explore this revered site. Cross the river by boat again in the late afternoon. Before you return to Tsedang late in the afternoon, stop to visit the Trandruk Monastery. Upstairs in one of the small shrine rooms in a far corner of this little temple, is a beautiful thangka with a portrait of Chenrezi, made up of 30,000 pearls. Return to Tsedang Hotel for the night.

Sunday, April 18/TIBET TO CHENGDU Today you will depart Tibet for Chengdu and beyond.