Shishapangma [8046 meters] is probably the least known of the world's fourteen 8000-meter peaks, despite being only 80 km. northeast of Kathmandu. The mountain is hidden from Nepal, tucked behind the Langtang Himal and the main Himalayan ridge. The round trip to Shishapangma takes us five days, it is one of Tibet's best-kept trekking secrets, and it is also one of Tibet's finest high alpine walks. This trek is one of the few trees that do not involve pass crossing, which makes it a bit easier than our other treks in Tibet, but none the less rewarding. Here on the southeast side of Shishapangma, the monsoon from the Indian subcontinent manages to push over the Jugal Himal, bringing some rain most nights from June until early September. Most days are clear and we will have nourishing lush meadows and an outstanding display of wildflowers high into the mountains.
After finishing Shishapangma trek we make our way towards Lhasa, in the towns of Shigatse and Gyantse where we explore monasteries and fully immerse ourselves in the Buddhist culture. Before we fly back to Kathmandu we spend a couple of days in Lhasa, the heart and soul of Tibet and an object of devout pilgrimage, it is still a city of wonders. The medieval push and shove of crowds, the street performers, the stalls hawking everything from prayer flags to jewel-encrusted yak skulls, and the devout tapping their foreheads to the ground at every step is an exotic brew that few newcomers can resist.
Day 01: Drive Kathmandu - Nyalam [3780m].
We leave Kathmandu early in the morning, driving for 123km through the beautiful Nepalese countryside to Kodari on the Nepal - Tibet border. After completing the border formalities at both the Nepalese and Chinese immigration posts we drive up a series of incredibly steep switchbacks, which passes through a mossy gully with cascading waterfalls to Nyalam on the Tibetan side of the border.
Day 02: Rest Day/ Acclimatisation.
We spend a day resting in Nyalam today in order to acclimatize before heading up higher. A short way out of town there is a small temple, Nyalam Pelgye Ling, which is associated with eleventh- and twelfth-century poet-lama Milarepa.
Day 03: Trek To Draabochhan [4110m].
On this our first day of trekking, we head out of Nyalam and up along the Tshongde Phu river valley. After a couple of hours, we have the choice to head directly up to Draabochhan or make a detour to the lake Tara Tsho. The pilgrimage route up to Tara Tsho is a long climb of two-three hours on a steep trail. The lake is quite large, though it remains hidden until you are fairly close. The shoreline is speckled with hundreds of small stone offering piles and larger Cairns with prayer flags. Tara Tsho has neither inlet nor outlet, it is said to be 40 meters deep. According to local legends, the lake manifested from a piece of ice brought here by a lama returning from Mount Kailash. We spend the night camping at the herders' camp at Draabochhan.
Day 04: Trek To Shingdip [4560m].
Today we start out by climbing to the top of a ridge; the climb is about one hour. From the summit, we walk parallel to the ridge, along with some nice hills thick with dwarf rhododendrons. We end up in Shingdip a beautiful meadow camp with a large boulder near the junction of converging moraine valleys. The south base camp is only two hours away, but it is nearly 450 meters higher in elevation, so we stop here for the night.
Day 05: Trek To Base Camp [4980m].
From Shingdip, we take a cross-country route west towards the Basecamp. Again today climb to a ridge and follow it for some time, with Jugal Himal towering across the valley to the south of us. We reach the base camp by a little glacial lake after two hours of walking. Shishapangma is out of view from the base camp, but we have plenty of time to head further up towards advanced base camp and explore around base camp, there are good views of Shishapangma on a boulder-plateau one hour above base camp.
Day 06: Trek To Draabochhan [4110m].
We walk all the way down to Draabochhan today; all the way we will have outstanding views of Jugal Himal. We will walk through the beautiful alpine meadows and the dwarf rhododendrons on the hills. After a long descent, we once again use the herders' camp in Draabochhan.
Day 07: Trek To Nyalam [3780m].
We again reach the lower and more fertile ground in the Tshongde Phu river valley, and soon we once again find ourselves in Nyalam.
Day 08: Drive To Lhatse.
Today's drive takes us from the lush, green lower hills into the dry, arid landscape of the Tibetan Plateau. We cross several high passes including the Lalung La [5050m] from which, [weather permitting], there is a breathtaking panorama of the Himalayan range including Mt Everest - a fitting backdrop to the vastness of the Tibetan Plateau. We stay overnight in the town of Lhatse.
Day 09: Drive To Shigatse [3900m].
Continuing along the Friendship Highway, we pass by lonely monasteries and the camps of nomadic herders. We then cross the highest pass of our journey, the Gyamtso La [5220m] before descending once more to the barren splendor of the plains. Tonight, we stay in Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet at either the Shigatse Hotel or Shandong Mansion.
Day 10: Drive To Gyantse [3950m].
This morning we have time to visit the Tashilhunpo Monastery, one of the largest functioning monasteries in Tibet, before setting off on the relatively short drive to Gyantse. Once in Gyantse, we can explore the Pelkor Chode Monastery and the Gyantse Kumbum. The Kumbum is a large gold-domed stupa and its many chapels house an impressive array of Tibetan Buddhist murals. Our overnight accommodation is at Hotel Gyantse or similar type.
Day 11: Drive To Lhasa.
A spectacular day's drive today will take us over the Karo La [5045m] where we are treated to the awesome sight of a huge glacier tumbling down to within a few hundred meters of the road. Beyond the small, developing town of Nagartse, the road follows the bank of a beautiful turquoise lake, the Yamdrok-Tso, for about 20 Km. We then cross the Khamba La [4794m.] and continue on to Lhasa, where we check in Hotel.
Day 12: In Lhasa.
Today will be spent visiting several of Lhasa's many monasteries in the company of a guide and interpreter. One of these is the Sera Monastery, one of the best-preserved monasteries in Tibet. Within its whitewashed walls and golden roofs, several hundred monks live and study. After lunch, we'll visit the Norbulingka, the summer palace of the Dalai Lama, as well as the Jokhang Temple. This temple is possibly the most sacred shrine in Tibet and there is always a procession of devout Tibetans through the complex. Surrounding the Jokhang is the Barkor - a maze of narrow cobbled streets, which is the central market of Lhasa.
Day 13: In Lhasa.
This morning we will visit the Potala Palace, which dominates the city of Lhasa. A spectacular building, it contains the private quarters of the Dalai Lama as well as numerous grand state rooms and many important chapels. There has been a palace on this site since the 5th or 6th century, but the present palace was constructed in the 17th century. A visit to the Drepung Monastery this afternoon will complete a truly awe-inspiring day. Founded in the 14th century, this monastery was once the largest in the world, with a population of around 10,000 monks. These days that figure is down to several hundred, but there is still much here of interest as it was left relatively unscathed during the Cultural Revolution.
Day 14: Fly Lhasa - Kathmandu.
Sadly we leave Lhasa early in the morning for the 2-hour drive to Gonggar Airport and our flight back to Kathmandu or your onward destination. The Air China Boeing 757 takes us right across the main Himalayan range and the mountain views are spectacular.