10 Day Tibet & Beijing (2013)
Arrive in Beijing in the late afternoon. Meet your local representative and transfer to your hotel. Relax and enjoy the evening in China's historic and vibrant capital city. Traders Hotel Beijing By Shangri-La, or similar 4-star hotel
Bird Nest, the main venue of 2008 Summer Olympics
After a hearty breakfast and a tour briefing, you visit the Tiananmen Square. At 100 acres, it is the world's largest public square, flanked by an assortment of historical buildings, huge museums and Communist monuments, including Mao's Mausoleum. One visitor has written, "An army could be massed, and all the kites in the world could fly." You roam the Square; and walk through the Gate of Heavenly Peace, under the famed portrait of Chairman Mao, to enter the Forbidden City, the symbolic center of the Chinese universe and a lasing monument of dynastic China, from which 24 emperors of the Ming and the Qing Dynasties ruled the Middle Kingdom for nearly 500 years (1420-1911).
Last Emperor's Forbidden City
Visit old Beijing's Hutong on pedi-cabs
Completed in 1420, the Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the world's largest palace complex and China's most magnificent imperial architecture, consisting of many buildings with 9,999 rooms, on a 250-acre compound, protected by a 20-foot-wide moat and a 32-foot-high wall. Now known as the Palace Museum, the Forbidden City was the exclusive domain of the imperial court and dignitaries where outside visitors were forbidden for 5 centuries. Here you will explore the imperial treasures in the grand palaces and pavilions, exquisite courtyards and gardens in what was once the residence of China's rulers.
Afterwards, join our Culture InSites™ Program for a rickshaw ride along Old Beijing's Hutongs (narrow ancient alleys) to discover the sights and sounds of local Beijing life in these traditional Chinese neighborhoods. See the locals as they go about their daily activities; and tour the maze-like alleyways and courtyard houses before it's gone forever. Highlights include visits to a traditional courtyard home, to a local market, and a leisure walk along the "Lotus Lane" lined with bars, restaurants and tea houses. This unique tour features a delicious lunch served at a local family home with a Chinese dumpling-making demonstration.
Return to your hotel for some free time in the afternoon. In the evening, we are gathering for a welcome dinner of a specially prepared meal of Beijing Duck, cooked to crispy perfection. (B,L,SD)
A memorable day awaits with an excursion to the Sacred Way of Ming Tombs and the Great Wall of China at the less-visited Mutianyu section.
The Sacred Way of Ming Tombs
The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu section
After breakfast, you take a drive to the northwest of Beijing to visit the Sacred Way of Ming Tombs, regarded as China's finest example of imperial tomb architecture. Situated in a peaceful valley, the site was chosen by the Ming emperors as their burial place for its auspicious Fengshui alignment—a ridge of mountains to the north cradles the tombs on three sides, opening to the south and protecting the dead from the evil spirits carried on the north wind. Here you will walk along the elegant Sacred Way that leads to the tombs. Beginning with a grand marble gateway more than 400 years old, the long avenue is lined with 36 massive stone sculptures of officials, lions, elephants, camels and mythical beasts.
Lunch stop at a local jade workshop, afterwards, you take a scenic drive through the countryside and mountains to reach China's most renowned monument—the Great Wall. Since the Great Wall is the single greatest attraction of China travel, we take you to the less-visited and more original Mutianyu section and try to avoid other sections which are the most accessible and consequently the most crowded.
The wall was begun in the 5th century BC to keep out foreign invaders. Construction continued for centuries, eventually linking up the walls of the former independent kingdoms. The Great Wall meanders through China's northern mountain ranges from the Yellow Sea to the Gobi Desert—a distance of over 3500 miles! Chairman Mao once said "You haven't walked on the Wall, you haven't been a good Chinese".
And today, you'll not only visit the Great Wall, but experience it in more ways than one—Learning some of the fascinating history and legend of this engineering marvel, riding a gondola up to the highest point for panoramic views of this ancient edifice, exploring its impressive watchtowers, ramparts, carriageways at your own pace, or, hoping on a toboggan for an exciting ride down the curvy path. Today is a highlight of your China trip. (B,L,D)
In the morning, you visit the Temple of Heaven, the largest temple complexes in China and a paradigm of Chinese architectural balance and symbolism. One key element in China's architectural genius was the blending of the monumental with the delicate, and the Temple of Heaven is perhaps the finest expression of this mixing of near opposite.
Hall of Supreme Harmony, Temple of Heaven
The Summer Palace for Empress Dowager Cixi
During each winter solstice, the Ming and Qing emperors would perform rites and make sacrifices to Heaven praying for good harvest for their empire. The most striking edifice is the Hall of Prayer of Good Harvests, which according to the emperor's Fengshui masters, is the exact point where heaven and Earth met. Built in 1420 (without the use of a single nail), this masterpiece of Ming architecture, features triple eaves, dramatically carved marble balustrades, and gorgeous glazed azure roof that symbolizes the color of heaven. This 120-foot-high structure is fixed by four inner pillars represent the seasons, and two sets of 12 columns denote the months and the traditional Chinese division of a day.
Time permits, you take a photo stop at the Bird Nest and visit the exterior portion of this huge complex—the main stadium of 2008 Beijing Olympics. In the afternoon, you tour the idyllic Summer Palace, once the summer retreat and playground for the imperial family and royal court during the late Qing Dynasty. Considered the finest Chinese imperial garden, the Summer Palace spans over 700 acres with breathtaking views, temples, pavilions, palaces and halls including the lavishly painted "Long Corridor". It is most associated, however, with the Empress Dowager Cixi who paid for the extravagant Marble Boat with funds meant for the modernization of the Imperial Navy. Weather permitting you enjoy a dragon boat ride across the picturesque Kunming Lake. (B,L,D)
Today takes us on a spectacular morning flight over the Himalayas to Lhasa, Tibet, the roof of the world at an altitude of 12,000 feet (3,700 m)! En route, enjoy the stunning views of "the hundreds of snow peaks in all directions" as we fly over the great White citadel of Minya Konka at 24,783 feet, the impressive 25,439-foot Namcha Barwa, the easternmost rampart of the Himalaya, and the Hengduan Range and the deep, gloomy valleys of three Asia's greatest rivers: the Mekong, the Salween, and the Yangtze.
Fly over the snow-capped moutains of Tibetan Plateau
Visit to a local Tibetan family home
We land at the Gongkar Airport, greeted by your Tibetan guide and take a scenic drive to Lhasa, capital city and spiritual heart of Tibet. Stop en route to take a peek at the Tibetan villages and schools; and make photos of the Tibetan houses, yaks, Buddhist carvings, and the remarkable landscape of streams and snowcapped mountains. Lhasa means "country of the gods" and it rose to prominence as an important administrative center in the 7th century AD, when Songtsen Gampo, a local ruler in the Yarlung Valley, united Tibet, and then moved his capital to Lhasa and built a palace on the site now occupied by the Potala. During his reign, the temples of Ramoche and Jokhang were also established to Buddha images brought as the dowries of Songtsen Gampo's Chinese and Nepali wives.
Spend the rest of the day at leisure to acclimatize yourself to the high altitude of Lhasa (11,796 feet). Later in the afternoon, a lecturer will enlighten our group about Tibetan history and folk customs, followed by an insightful visit to a local Tibetan family home where you have a people-to-people experience with the Tibetans and enjoy their home-made yak-butter tea. This evening, join your fellow travelers for a welcome dinner.
*Your flight to Lhasa may connect to Chengdu. The flight duration is about 6 hours. Jardin Secret Hotel Lhasa (B,L,D)
An unforgettable day begins with a tour to the monumental Potala Palace whose imposing presence dominates the entire region. Built at an altitude of 12,000 feet (3700 meters), on the side of Marpo Ri in the center of Lhasa Valley, the Potala Palace has vast inward-sloping walls broken only in the upper parts by straight rows of many windows, and flat roofs at various levels, giving it an appearance of a fortress. Once the residence of the Dalai Lama, and the seat of the Tibetan government, the 13-story structure has been a museum since the spiritual leader went into exile in 1959. The palace complex includes the White Palace, which was built for secular uses and contained the living quarters of Dalai Lama, offices, the seminary and the printing house. A central, yellow-painted courtyard known as a Deyangshar separates the living quarters of the Lama and his monks with the Red Palace, the other side of the sacred Potala, which is completely devoted to religious study and prayer. The Red Palace, hosting the sacred gold stupas—the tombs of eight Dalai Lamas, consists of a complicated layout of many different halls, over 10,000 chapels and libraries, and a labyrinth of mysterious dungeons on many different levels with a complex array of smaller galleries and winding passages. Of particular note is the rich gold and jewel-encrusted stupa containing the mummified body of the Fifth Dalai Lama. This stupa was built of sandalwood and was remarkably coated in 3,727 kg (8,200 lb) of solid gold and studded with 18,680 pearls and semi-precious jewels. It took 7,000 workers and 1,500 artists and craftsmen more than 50 years to build the adjoining White and Red palaces. Perched on Red Mountain, the Palace offers sweeping views of the city and the surrounding immense peaks that are as extraordinary as its interior.
Potala Palace, once the residence of Dalai Lama
Witness the debate between monks at Sera Monastery
Lunch at a local Tibetan restaurant, followed by a visit to the Sera Monastery, one of the most important centers of the Yellow Hat sect and also a pillar of the theocratic state. The history of the monastery is strongly connected to Master Lama Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), the founder of the Yellow Hat, the much venerated and highly learned guru in Buddhist scriptures. Ordained at the remarkable age of three, he traveled widely to study with his era's greatest teachers and to train thousands of monks. Sera Monastery features three monastic colleges, which served in past centuries as magnets for thousands of monks who traveled from all over Tibet to study, train, and mediate. In the Tibetan language, sera means "wild rose garden." The monastery earned the name for the opulent wild roses that grew all around the site centuries ago. At its peak, the monastery was the home for more than 7,000 monks. While the numbers of roses and monks have diminished with the passage of time, the monastery and its grounds have only increased in cultural significance and emotional power.
The highlight of your trip to the Sera Monastery is a debating session held between the monks, that attracts pilgrims and visitors alike. The debate among monks unfolds in the presence of their teachers, with a very well set rule of procedure for the defender and the questioners. The tradition of such debates is traced to the ancient 'Hindu Orthodoxy' in India and this practice permeated into Buddhist orthodoxy in Tibet in the eighth century. Such debate is integral to the learning process in the colleges in the Sera Monastery and it facilitates better comprehension of the Buddhist philosophy to attain higher levels of study. This exemplary debating tradition supplemented with vigorous gestures which enliven the ambience of the occasion, is said to be exclusive to Sera Monastery. Visitors also attend to witness these debates that are held as per a set schedule, every day in the Debating Courtyard of the monastery. Dinner tonight is mixed Tibetan and Chinese dishes. (B,L,D)
Start your tour in the heart of the old city at Jokhang Temple, the most celebrated temple in Tibet, which was often referred to by early Western visitors as Lhasa's cathedral. Throughout the day and night, Jokhang Temple attracts pilgrims from all over Tibet, who are often seen in full prostration on their hands and knees in reverence to one of Tibet's most sacred sites. Thousands of yak-butter candles flicker inside beneath the enlightened gaze of the golden Jowo Shakyamuni, the seventh-century Buddha statue that the temple was built to house.
The view from the roof of Jakhang Temple
Tibetan Lama at Barkhor
Proceed to the Bakhor Street, the Pilgrim's Circuit and Lhasa's oldest market. With its narrow, cobblestone streets lined with kiosks, thangkas, and prayer wheels, this colorful shopping area is full of activities with monks chanting, vendors selling their wares, yak butter wafting in the air and hundreds of pilgrims moving in a clockwise direction. Much has been changed in Tibet in the past few hundred years, but the Barkhor still has the air of a medieval bazaar. Bargaining for typical Tibetan goods and getting to know the proud, red-tasseled Khampas from eastern Tibet, the monks, and enjoying bantering with the astute and engaging merchants of this bit of old Tibet—this experience is unforgettable.
Continue to the Norbulingka, the former Summer Palace of Dalai Lama, for a leisurely afternoon visit. The largest and grandest garden of the Tibet Plateau, it is a masterpiece of Tibetan art and covers an area of 89 acres with an audience chamber of bright murals depicting events from Tibetan history, from the tilling of the first field to the building of the great monasteries. (B,L,D)
Bid farewell to Tibet as you are transferred to the airport for a flight to Beijing. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel and enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure for independent exploration.
Prayer flags and views of Tibet
*Your flight from Lhasa to Beijing may connect to Chengdu. The flight duration is about 6 hours. Traders Hotel Beijing By Shangri-La, or similar 4-star hotel (B,IM)