17 Day Tibet Highland & Shangri-La (2011)
In the morning, you fly to Lhasa, the spiritual heart of Tibet. En route, you enjoy a fantastic view of the snowcapped mountain ranges as you fly over the Tibetan Plateau - the earth's highest ecosystem and one of its last remaining great wildernesses, also the source of Asia's greatest rivers. Half way to Lhasa you pass the great White citadel of Minya Konka at 24,783 feet, and fly over the Hengduan Range and the deep, gloomy valleys of three Asia's greatest rivers: the Mekong, the Salween, and the Yangtze. As you near the Plateau you'll likely to catch sight of another impressive peak, 25,439-foot Namcha Barwa, the easternmost rampart of the Himalaya.
Flying over snow-capped mountains to Lhasa
En route passing Tibetan villages
Upon arrival at Gongkar Airport, two hours outside of Lhasa, you will meet your Tibetan guide and driver, and together you take a scenic drive to the holy city. Stop en route to visit 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, continued the task initiated by his father of unifying Tibet. Songtsen Gampo moved his capital to Lhasa and build a palace on the site now occupied by the Potala. At this time the temples of Ramoche and Jokhang were established to Buddha images brought as the dowries of Songtsen Gampo's Chinese and Nepali wives. Your hotel in Lhasa is perfectly situated near the center of town. You enjoy a quiet, leisurely afternoon and evening acclimating to Lhasa's high altitude (11,796 feet). Lhasa Jardin Secret Hotel (B,L,D)
An unforgettable day begins with a tour to the monumental Potala Palace whose imposing presence dominates the entire region. Once the residence of the Dalai Lama, and seat of the Tibetan government, the 13-story structure has been a museum since the spiritual leader and head of state of Tibet went into exile in 1959. Initially built in the 7th century, the buildings were restored and expanded upon in the 17th century. There are two main sections. The Red Palace, completed in 1693, which dealt with spiritual matters, and the White Palace, completed in 1645, which housed administrative offices that ran the government.
Potala Palace, once the residence of the Dalai Lama
Vist a local Tibetan family home
In the afternoon, tour the Tibetan Museum to learn more about the history of this region referred to as the "roof of the world". Today's Culture InSites™ Program will offer you an insightful visit to a local Tibet family home where you have a people-to-people experience with the locals and enjoy the famous yak-butter tea. (B,L,D)
In the morning, you take 2 ½ hour scenic drive to the Yamdrok Yumtso (tso means lake) to enjoy the natural beauty of this mystical land. You follow the Kyichu, or the Lhasa River to Tsangpo River, the highest major river in the world. After crossing the Tsangpo, you begin a hairpin ascent to reach Khampa La (La means pass) at 15,700 feet. From the pass you make a one-thousand-foot descent and arrive at tranquil Yamdrok Yumtso. You stop here to enjoy a picnic... rarely included in conventional itineraries, This scenic excursion gives you a nice break from peering at Buddhist deities.
Visit Yamdrok Yumtso, the holy lake
Monks at Jakhang Temple
Later, you return to Lhasa, en route you make multiple photo stops. Your tour in the afternoon begins in the heart of the old city at Jokhang Temple, Tibet's holiest temple, which was often referred to by early Western visitors as Lhasa's cathedral. Built in 647 AD, the Jokhang Temple attracts pilgrims throughout the day and night. They will often be seen in full prostration on the flagstones leading up to the temple or in prayer. The pioneering Tibetologist Guissepe Tucci wrote: "An endless, three-story high flight of chapels surrounds the statue, decorated with the smiling and sneering Buddhist pantheon. Blissful and terrific gods fill the shade of the cells and peer unexpectedly out of their mystery."
Surrounding Jokhang is the Barkhor, the Pilgrim's Circuit, Lhasa's old market. This area is full of activity with monks chanting, vendors selling their wares, yak butter wafting in the air and hundreds of people 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. In today's Barkhor you can bargain good-naturedly for dorjes, phurbas, thangkas, and other religious implements. You'll get to know the proud, red-tasseled Khampas from eastern Tibet, the monks, mendicants, pilgrims who circumambulate the Jokhang, and enjoy bantering with the astute and engaging merchants of this bit of old Tibet. (B,L,D)
In the morning, you are free to explore this mystic city on your own. In the afternoon you fly to Chengdu. Chengdu is the capital city of China's most populous Sichuan (Literally, Four Rivers) Province and home to China's most notable Sichuan cuisine. With 2,500 years history, Chengdu has managed to preserve some of its older characteristics and traditions, and today you still find famous teahouses, numerous markets and some of China's the most interesting and spicy food.
Giant Panda Breeding Center
Chengdu has long been famous for its steamy teahouses, where locals recline on bamboo armchairs, play mahjong and meet with friends. For a relaxing afternoon with our exclusive Culture InSites™ Program, you sample a Sichuan style afternoon tea with locals in one of the many traditional bamboo teahouses scattered in parks across the city. You can while away an afternoon sipping tea and watching the locals read newspapers, play Sichuan opera, debate, play chess, cards, and mahjong. You may even be invited to give it a try yourself. Chengdu is commonly regarded as the most laid back city in China and today's visit gives you the answer why. This unique experience concludes at the Park of Riverview Pavilion set along the river. Check out the ancient Chongli Pavilion dedicated to the 9th century poetess Xue Tao with its striking ornaments, green glazed tiles and red lacquered columns, surrounded by over one hundred varieties of bamboo. A leisure walk in the serene bamboo forest is an experience not to be missed.
No visit is complete without a meal in a local Sichuan restaurant. The cuisine is spicy, and peppercorns and chilies abound, but often in a surprisingly subtle way. Whether it's hotpot, meat or a vegetable dish, your mouth will water and your taste buds tingle with delight. After dinner, you will be offered an opportunity to attend an optional performance of "Changing faces" at the 200-year-old Sichuan opera. Full of local color and flavor, Sichuan Opera, is a combination of music, comedy, puppets and acrobatic performances, including Changing Face, Spitting Fire and Bowl-lamp Rolling. The opera is performed in old halls or courtyard buildings and is a feast for the eyes. Chengdu Tibet Hotel (B,L,D)
In the morning, you enjoy a rare opportunity to visit the Giant Panda Breeding Research Center to witness the conservation efforts being made to save this endangered species. The center is the largest giant panda reserve in the world. Whenever China dispatches its animal ambassadors to zoos around the world, they have usually started their life in Chengdu. Eighty percent of the world's 1,000 remaining giant panda reside in Sichuan Province. It's no surprise the Chengdu center is heavily involved in their preservation and research. Today you will see a dozen of pandas wandering through a sizable domain of bamboo groves and forest. There is also a panda museum that has detailed exhibitions on panda evolution, habits, habitats and conservation efforts. You are also allowed to make intimate contact with baby pandas and hug them for a photo. Giant Panda is officially considered "National Treasure" by Chinese government and is often used to cultivate relationships with other countries with "Panda Diplomacy". This massive ecological and zoological park offers a wonderful chance to get face-to-face with China's gentle giants. There are other rare species at the base, including the little-known red panda.
The Grand Buddha at Leshan
A Chinese saying goes "Buddha is a mountain, mountain is a Buddha". Leshan is the home of Dafo-the Grand Buddha, who recently celebrated his 1,200th birthday. Today, you take a scenic drive to visit the Grand Buddha in Le Shan, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The enormous 230-feet Buddha is carved into the red sandstone face of Lingyun Hill overlooking the treacherous confluence of three rivers in southwest Sichuan. A monk, Haitong, decided to safeguard passing boats by creating a protective icon in the cliffs. Building began in 713 AD and was completed 90 years later. This is the tallest stone Buddha statue in the world. You board a boat and head out into the Mingjiang River to get an overall view of the statue from afar, and then visit the beautiful forested park. There are numerous carvings and temples to explore before climbing down the path from the serene head to the enormous toes.
In the evening, you return to Chengdu and board a flight to China's southwest wonderland, Yunnan Province. Yunnan, (means "South of the Clouds") situated high up on the Yungui Plateau, is overlooked to the north by the roof of the world - Tibet. The jungles of Myanmar encroach from the west, while the flavors of Laos and Vietnam spill over from the south. The province's sheltered relief endows it with clement weather in both winter and summer; Yunnan is a world of a magnificent patch work of minority cultures stitched into a lush and dreamy landscape. The southwest's secret lies with its unique combination of geography and ethnic culture, and Lijiang is known in China as the "Shangri-la". (B,L,D)
Lijiang, often related to China's Shangri-la, served, for centuries, as the capital of the mountain kingdom of the Naxi, an indigenous people whose origin is a mystery, whose language and way of life are unique, whose rulers are women rather than men. Untouched by any civilizations, Lijiang was the equivalent on Earth of the Western Paradise evoked in Buddhist scriptures.
Lijiang's signature landscape
Kids of minority groups
In the morning you visit the remarkable Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. At 18,000 ft, this mighty mountain rises raggedly above Lijiang, encrusted with snow and set against a sharp, blue sky. You travel by cable car to the Yak Meadow, which commands a magnificent view of the glacier. Back to the foothill of the mountain, you visit the Yufeng Monastery, dedicated to Tibetan Buddhism. Later, tour the Baisha Naxi village for a visit to its religious frescoes.
After lunch, you tour the Old Town of Lijiang - a maze of traditional Naxi architecture, in a valley sheltered by rugged ridges, right at foot of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain whose peaks tower over 18,000 ft. The Old Town is shophouses, market squares, cobbled lanes, canals and arched bridges. Stroll through the Old Market Square and then visit the Black Dragon Pool with the superb vistas of the nearby Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Later tour the Dongba Museum that holds a remarkable collection of Naxi relics and cultural display. After dinner, you enjoy the timeless Naxi music at a traditional Naxi Folk Music Orchestra Performance. Naxi people developed unique written records and pictographs to pass their culture from generation to generation, tonight you discover the essence of this ancient culture.
The Old Town is a marvel at night, when the Chinese roofs in the new Lijiang city are festooned with lights and sparkle against the evening sky; the old quarter is a dreamscape of dark cobbled streets, gushing canals and paths trailing away from the main street. Wooden doors are thrown open to reveal the cozy interior of Naxi homes. All these remind you of the surreal Shangri-la when you are lost among the cobblestone streets and alleys of the small old town, with its icy, fast-flowing stream and charming arched bridges... (B,L,D)
Today, you embark on a scenic ride north to the "Tiger Leaping Gorge". You travel along the Golden Sand River, the beginning of the mighty Yangtze. You stop for pictures for the amazing view of the spectacular "First Bend" where the Yangtze, cutting through several mountains, changes its directions in several 90 degree turns. You visit the ancient "Stone Drum Town" and stroll on an old cobble stone alley surrounded by century-old buildings and bridges. You stop at the stupendous Tiger Leaping Gorge where 34 rapids of the Yangtze River rage beneath the 18,355 food head of the Jade Dragon, making it one of the deepest and most spectacular gorges in the world. The Gorge is 12 mile long, with a natural drop of 623 feet. Legend says a fleeing tiger once escaped a hunter by leaping across the 98-feet gap to safety. You descend to the bottom of the gorge following an ancient trek, and enjoy a magnificent close-up view of sharp cliffs and roaring rushing water. In the evening you return to Lijiang. (B,L,D)
Tiger Leaping Gorge
Take a scenic motor coach ride to Dali, passing the lush, flower-laden grassland, rice terraces, and snow capped mountains. Stop en route to visit the well-preserved Dayan Ruin where time freezes for many hundred years. Then explore Xizhou Ethnic Minority Village and a "Bai" minority bazaar, where you relax and sip a "Three Course Tea"; enjoy the singing and dancing show performed by local "Bai" people; and shop the famed wax-print souvenirs and other ethnic handicrafts.
Dali is a wonderful lakeside town considered by many one of the loveliest places in all of China. It is located at the crossroads to Burma and Tibet with an exquisite setting, pinched in a narrow band between a lake of Erhai and a snowcapped mountain range of Cang Mountains. Dali was the capital of an indigenous minority kingdom, for centuries independent of Chinese control. Today Dali is an antique village, home to the Bai minority. (B,L,D)
Visit the Bai Minority State Museum to learn the history and custom of this ethnic group. Then stroll through the bustling bazaar to the Old Town. Tour the South Gate Tower to the old city and enjoy a complete view of the town, the nearest mountains, and the Erhai Lake heading north. Lunch at a local restaurant. In the afternoon, visit the Three Pagodas - Dali's most famous historic landmark, at the foot of the 10th peak of the Cang Mountain range. Admire the beauty of the brick towers and their setting against the snowcapped peaks of Cang Mountains - these 19 peaks (10,000 ft - 13,000 ft) high form a screen of stone and snow paralleling the city walls of Dali and the shores of mile-wide Erhai Lake. Unpaved roads and trails run straight up the mountain from downtown Dali. Then enjoy a boat cruise on the scenic Erhai Lake. Later visit a living Catholic church complete with Chinese decorations - influences of the West reached here in late Qing Dynasty. After dinner stroll on the shopping street in the old town or enjoy a relaxing time at a local cafe. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, you fly to Kunming, the capital city of Yunan Province. Kunming and Yunnan is a world of a magnificent patch work of minority cultures stitched into a lush and dreamy landscape. The southwest's secret lies with its unique combination of geography and ethnic culture. Yunnan, (means "South of the Clouds") situated high up on the Yungui Plateau, is overlooked to the north by the roof of the world - Tibet. The jungles of Myanmar encroach from the west, while the flavors of Laos and Vietnam spill over from the south. The province's sheltered relief endows it with clement weather in both winter and summer; Kunming is known as China's "City of eternal Spring". Upon arrival visit the Western Hills, a band of sheer cliff faces, rise 2,000 ft. above the shore of Lake Dian, with a series of paths, stairways, and tunnels that carved into the faces of the cliff, spiraling ever upward to Dragon's Gate - the Cliffside grottoes with Buddhist carvings, at the summit. After dinner, relax or explore Kunming's exotic night market. (B,L,D)
Enjoy a day excursion to the Stone Forrest, a myriad of pinnacles of limestone formed some 270 million years ago. This geological wonder is composed of closely knit outcrops of dark gray limestone karst that have weathered into various shapes since their formation beneath the sea. Their twisted and shattered forms have been given names to describe their resemblances to animals and people (e.g., Buddha Stone and Rhinoceros Gazing at the Moon). The journey to the "forest" is as beautiful as the landscape that surrounds it. Scatted around the Stone Forrest are villages populated by local Yi minority. Visit a Sani minority village and admire their colorful ethnic dress and unique life style. This evening, you enjoy a local flavor dinner - Cross-bridge Noodles and Steam-pot Chicken, followed by a musical and dancing performance. (B,L,D)
Today is particularly arranged as a free day for you to explore this magnificent city on your own. (B)
After breakfast, you board the Maglev, the world's fastest magnetic levitation train, for your trip to the Pudong International Airport. The Maglev travels at a speed of 287mph and will cover the 20 mile distance in less than 8 minutes! Then take your home-bound flight to U.S. via Beijing. You arrive in U.S. later today. (B,IM)
Take maglev train to Pudong International Airport
Air China Flight Schedule