7 Days in Tibet, Part 1 Mountains and Monasteries

Tibet is a fascinating place. It is as rich in culture and legends as it is in high mountain vistas. There is much to see on a visit to Tibet.

Our 7 day tour of Tibet began at the border town Kerung. From there we headed to our first destination, Everest Base Camp (EBC). On the drive we passed small towns, with traditional Tibetan flat-roofed, compressed-mud buildings. The disheartening part was seeing the newly built Chinese homes, high rise apartments and strip malls that surround them. Some of the new homes were constructed in the spirit of traditional Tibetan homes but were clearly pre-built developments as the houses were all exactly the same. Chinese ‘progress’ has taken away a lot of the character of these villages.

Tibet is located on a high plateau in southwestern China with an average elevation of 4,500 m. It is in the rain shadow of the Himalayas and is therefore very arid. The landscape consists of barren, brown hills in shallow valleys. The rocky ground is difficult to farm. Nevertheless people have been farming in these valleys for generations.

As we drove further the roads climbed in elevation and hills became mountains. Our van drove up and up a winding road of switchbacks to the top of Gyatchu La (Pass) (5,220 m). As we neared the pass it started to snow; a sign of the start of monsoon season. We were hoping for views of Everest, Cho Oyu and other 8,0000 m peaks from the pass. Unfortunately though, we could not see any mountains because of the snow and thick clouds.

From the pass we drove down another series of switchbacks as we travelled down the other side. Just before the turn off to Everest Base Camp is Rongbuk Gompa. Located at an elevation of 5,009 m (16,434 ft), this old Buddhist Monastery is the highest monastery in the world. Climbers from early Everest expeditions stopped at this monastery before attempting an ascent of the mountain.

The Chinese government is very strict with entry to this part of China. In order to visit Tibet, you have to join a guided tour. Tour agencies are required to adhere very closely to approved itineraries. There are police and army check points at the entrance to all tourist and important sites. As well, there are regular check points along most highways. We had hoped to visit Rongbruk Gompa, but the gompa and a few other sites we were interested in were not on our itinerary, so we were not allowed to enter. We could only look at the monastery from the outside.

The summit of Everest is on the border between China (Tibet) and Nepal. Climbers can begin their ascent of the mountain from either country. Unlike basecamp in Nepal where you have to reach it by foot, Tibet’s Everest Base Camp (EBC) is almost accessible by car. The road ends at a tourist camp which is only a couple of kilometers from the climbers’ base camp. At 4,900 m, tourist camp is a series of sultan style tents with yak-dung burning stoves and attached basic kitchens. We should have seen Everest from this camp, but by the time we arrived it was snowing and blowing so hard there was no visibility.  We couldn’t even see the tents at the end of camp.

After a restless sleep at nearly 5,000 m we woke with excitement at the anticipation of seeing Everest. But as soon as we stepped out of the tent and into 5 cm of fresh snow our heart’s fell. Looking toward Everest, was a huge disappointment. All we could see were thick, low monsoon clouds. There would be no North Everest view for us this trip. It was especially disappointing for Richard since he summited Everest from the Nepalese side a few years earlier. You can read about his Everest climb here.

Back in the van, the arid landscape was covered in snow. Even Rongbuk Gompa looked different that morning, covered in a layer of fresh snow.

Tibet is the birthplace of the doctrine of Tibetan Buddhism. Having travelled to many areas which base their beliefs on Tibetan Buddhism we were excited to finally visit the area for ourselves.

We spent the next 3 days driving toward the capital city of Lhasa, stopping at a few interesting towns on the way. In the town of Shigatse, we visited Tashi Lhunpo Gompa (monastery), built by the 1st Dalai Lama. It is a massive complex with 3 very large shrines: one for Future Buddha, a second for the 4th – 9th Panchen Lama and one for the 10th Panchen Lama. Panchen Lama is the second highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism after Dalai Lama.

Tashi Lhunpo Gompa is a very important Buddhist site. During our visit we saw many Tibetans at the monastery on pilgrimages. Most were performing Koras around a group of chortens. They carried prayer beads and prayer wheels. Many were chanting Buddhist mantras. The ladies were dressed in their traditional attire wearing long black skirts covered in colourful aprons. A Kora is the clockwise circling around a Buddhist structure, such as: mani stone, chorten, monastery complex or even a mountain or lake. Performing a Kora is a way to gain merit.

We did a Kora around the outside of the entire Tashi Lhunpo complex. There were many Tibetans doing the same. The walk passes many prayer wheels and colourful mani stones. It was interesting to be a part of their customs.

On a hill above Shigatse is an ancient white fortress that looks similar to Potala Palace in Lhasa. We had a great view of Shigatse Dzong (fortress) from the Kora.

During the drive we saw many fields being plowed. Farmers guided wooden plows that we being pulled by yaks. Near the Tso La (Pass), the scene was a bit unusual. Many of the yaks and goats were decorated with colourful scarves and ribbons.

On the outskirts of the town of Gyantse, perched high up on a hill, are the ruins of Gyantse Dzong (Fortress). It was an important fortress built to protect the valley that leads to the capital of Lhasa.

Gyantse is also home to the 600-year-old Phalkor Monastery (1418). The monastery is unusual because it is now used by the 3 different sects of Tibetan Buddhism (Gelugpa, Sakyapa, and Butonpa) each with their own college. Inside, the audience hall is colourfully decorated with large draperies hanging from the ceiling and covering the pillars. A large golden Buddha has a prominent spot at the front of the hall.

Beside the monastery is a large 5 story chorten called Kumbum. It was built in 1427. Each floor has a number of small shrines with statues and paintings. It’s a beautifully designed and maintained structure. From the top we had a great view of Gyantse and its Dzong (fortress).

Our drive continued east passing the glacier covered Karola Mountain and Karola Pass. We stopped to look at the gorgeous Manla Reservoir below Simila Pass. If you look closely you can see a ruin on an island in the middle of the lake.

Closer to Lhasa is the very large lake Yamdrok Tso. From this lake, the terrain slowly became flatter and greener with fields growing rice, wheat, corn and other crops. When we reached the important Brahmaputra River we knew we were close to Lhasa and were excited to experience the mystery that surrounds it.

Coming up next: Part 2, Lhasa’s incredible Potala Palace

For extra pics from this trip go to Gallery/Tibet. For extra pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

To read more blogs from our travels around the world go to Destinations.

If you like what you read, please share it using the links below.

86 comments

  • Well done on the brilliant photos, have you read 7 Years in Tibet. Dr C and I spent many months in Kathmandu across 30 years and regret never going to Tibet!

    Like

  • It looks like this is a re-post, right? I was curious when you were there (2018?). I think I was in Tibet in 2013, and we did the trip from Lhasa to EBC also, stopping to see many of the same places. If I recall, we walked right into Rongbuk – not the private areas but there were parts we could enter. Maybe our guide had a permit that I didn’t even know about! I’m sorry you missed the view of Everest’s north face from the lower camp. It was a beauty. We, too, had low-hanging clouds when we arrived, but they cleared for a few hours that evening, and I got some great shots (my blog header has always been a photo I took from the climber’s base camp, which we walked up to, huffing and puffing in that thin air!). Thanks for a beautiful reminder of a most special trip!

    Like

    • It was April or May, we knew it was possible it would be too cloudy to see Everest, but we didn’t expect so much snow. Thanks for reading! Maggie

      Like

  • Beautiful photos with a rich culture and heritage. Fascinating reading about Buddhist tradition and philosophy. Just a shame that Tibet has become policitized with restrictions on where you can go and visit. The spoiling of High rise Chinese architecture alongside traditional Tibetan dwellings is a shame though

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really is a shame. So much of the culture is being taken over and apparently younger Tibetans find the new conveniences that the Cinese are bringing to be very appealing. I’m glad we got to see it before it’s completely lost. Thanks for your comments 😊 Maggie

      Like

  • Absolutely beautiful countryside and people. I hope the Chinese realize what they have before they take assimilation too far. That crazy hairpin road caught my eye. Looks like a wonderful trip Maggie. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Allan, I don’t think much of Tibet will be left unfortunately. It was interesting though, we drove from Nepal on bumpy, narrow, scary roads. In Tibet the Chinese built paved, wide, smooth roads. So some progress may be good. Thanks for reading! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Wow! Absolutely fascinating read on your visit to Tibet and your pictures are incredible. I love the colors and the details there on the buildings. What an amazing experience to follow along with today!

    Liked by 1 person

  • I like the Tibetan-style buildings (it’s a shame about the ‘progress’ that takes away the authentic style). I was also hoping to see Everest ☹️ (and quite amazed that you can almost drive to Tibet’s Everest base camp). Your pictures towards the end of the post, are beautiful … those views are amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Cora, the scenery is quite different but very stunning, glad it came through in the pictures. Tibet is slowly being taken over, it’s very sad. Thanks for reading! Maggie

      Like

  • Wow, this looks like an amazing trip! The combination of colourful traditional buildings and costumes with such stunning landscapes would send my camera into overdrive! A shame you didn’t see Everest but it looks fantastic nevertheless.

    Are you there now? How did you find the altitude so high up? We’re going to Nepal in October and I hope we’ll get to see Everest – fingers crossed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sarah, Tibet is an amazing place. In Nepal if you do the hike to Everest basecamp or Annapurna you’ll see similar people and buildings. This was a blog from our Asia trip a couple of years ago when I had no followers so thought I’d re-post it. We didn’t have problems with the elevation. Our first stop at elevation was Bhutan then Everest basecamp, each if which we slowly acclimatized. By the time we got to Tibet we were well acclimated. I have a few posts from Nepal that you may want to look at when planning your trip. Ive been twice and Richard 3 times so ask us if you have any questions. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh right, I didn’t look at the date and assumed it was new. I’m glad you reposted it and hope you’ll do so with part 2? And I’ll certainly look at your Nepal posts, although our trip is largely already planned!

        Like

  • Wonderful how your pictures tell a beautiful story alongside your great share of adventure commentary. Thank you.
    I was surprised to hear that the construction in China appears to be slowing departing from its traditional roots…very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Amazing trip Maggie! So fortunate you were able to learn and be part of their culture, even for few days😊
    I have recently (re)watched 7 years in Tibet lol The buildings and the scenery are mesmerizing. Beautiful captures!

    Liked by 1 person

  • This reminds me of a class I took in university called Spirituality and Sustainability. We talked about Tibetan Buddhism and also the problems of oppression from China, especially when it comes to environmental activism

    Liked by 1 person

      • That makes sense. They actually aren’t allowed to speak openly about environmental impact, but environmental activism ties in with their spiritual beliefs. In my class, I saw a video that was made by Tibetan activists and they said at the end that these activists were arrested by China for making it

        Like

  • A fascinating part of the world, but depressing that there was no freedom to explore on your own. A compulsory guided tour for days would deter me from ever journeying to such an amazing but sad location. I can barely last a day on a guided tour!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes a guided tour is far from our type of traveling but we were lucky to have a really good group of travelers and a good guide. We were the oldest in the group! Unfortunately it’s the only way to see Tibet.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I conquered WordPress! The homes in Tibet are so rugged but colourful and beautiful in their own way. Thanks for coming back to read it today Jo! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

    • I know, it would have been so amazing to see it before the Chjnese invasion. I’m glad though that we didn’t wait another 10 years. It will mostly be gone by the. Thanks for adding to the discussion. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • We were there in Tibet and Kathmandu a several years . Such an amazing site we explored. We saw the Living Godess in the window at Nepal.These are great images and brings back memories of our visit there. Thanks Anita

    Like

  • As I was reading your description about the newly built homes in Tibet, I couldn’t help but think of Bhutan where the government imposes a strict building law which in part helps preserve Bhutanese architectural style. Speaking of the landscape, majestic is probably a word used far too often to describe Tibet, but I guess it is a place that suits every single superlative people use to describe it.

    I’m sorry that you and Richard were unable to see Mount Everest from this side. But at least the weather was perfect when you were in Shigatse and Gyantse. Those shots of Tashi Lhunpo Gompa and the monastery & dzong in Gyatse are just marvelous! This really makes me miss traveling to that part of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What’s happening in Tibet is the opposite of Bhutan. It’s very sad. I’m glad we saw it when we did because in a few years it won’t look much like Tibet. Between the landscape, the people and the buildings, the real Tibet is an incredible place. We miss traveling there too. You’ve probably guess I’m just reposting this from our trip in 2018. I didn’t have many followers then so thought it was worth reposting. Maybe Tibet will be one of your upcoming trips?! Maggie

      Like

  • It’s such a shame to hear that the new development is taking away from the charm and character of some of the villages you visited. I’m not sure it’s progress either. Sounds like you had an amazing seven day tour of Tibet. Your pictures are beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes we knew that China was moving in to the area but to see it in person and how extensive it is was awful. It’s definitely not progress, but young Tibetans like a lot if what the Chinese are bringing such as internet, reliable electricity. But with those amenities they want to erase the culuture. It’s very sad. I’m glad we saw it while there is still a strong Tibetan presence. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Tibet is arguably one of the most fascinating and intriguing places on earth. Add political and spiritual controversy, and Tibet becomes irresistible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes It’s an incredible place with fascinating people and culture. Seeing the devotion of pilgrims at the monasteries is inspiring. I’m not sure which Buddhism you follow but I think you would love Tibet. And go soon before it’s completely taken over. M

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have ties to the Dzohchen school of Tibetan Buddhism. I spent a month at Sera Je Monastery in Karnataka State in India. I sponsor two of the monks there.

        Like

    • It is definitely worth the effort to visit, even with the strict Chinese guidelines for visiting. Tibet is a special place. Thanks for your comments! Maggie

      Like

  • Such a special place! I love the colourful architecture and the landscape is so fascinating. The travel limitations imposed by the Chinese government are shameful. Hopefully Tibet manages to preserve its unique identity despite pressures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope they do too, but it’s doubtful that their culture will remain as strong as is now for the next generation. It is a beautiful place though, in the people, the landscape, the architecture and the culture. Thanks for adding to the conversation Leighton! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Great photos, brings back memories of colorful places and a moving culture struggling to stay alive. I only spent a few days in Lhasa and up north to a high lake on a 3 week trip around China. We had a wonderful young man as a guide in Tibet, just my son and I and the guide. He was willing to talk about changes under China, but very careful, out in open areas, so as not to be overheard. I see you had a clear blue sky later in your journey! We had the same problem in Sicily, never did see Etna.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tibet is such a special place, my heart breaks for the people. We did have a few locals tell us privately how bad things are, but never in an open area. It’s so sad. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • I’ve never been to Tibet, but it’s one of those places I would very much visit as it has so much to offer travellers seeking the paths less travelled, with vast high altitude landscapes, untouristed trails, colourful festivals and a fascinating ancient culture to discover. I’ve just started reading 7 Years in Tibet and have a chance to see the deeply religious land with an ancient culture through the eyes of Heinrich Harrer. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • The authentic Tibet that is left is everything that you want it to be. It’s kind of like stepping back in time. The people, the culture the landscape and the buildings are so special. I do hope you get there Aiva, you would love it. The parts where China is moving in, which is a large part, are so depressing though. But the people are resilient. Thanks for adding to the conversation, Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Driving to within a kilometer or two of base camp – now THAT I can get behind! 😉 What an amazing journey! I loved seeing the buildings – there has been a dearth of Asian blog posts coming from my blog buddies since COVID began, so thanks for this. Did you like the tour company/group that you used?

    Liked by 1 person

    • We used a tour company from Nepal and they were awesome. Maybe I should have included their name, which I’d have to look up in my notes. We were the oldest in our tour group so we thought it was great, but maybe the younger people didn’t!! As you know we don’t usually take tours but the guide and of course the other tourists were awesome. It probably was because it was booked in Kathmandu and not with an international company.

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s one thing with a tour is you do get to a lot of places in a short time. Our group was really good and fun and the guide was Tibetan so we learned quite a lot too. Since you have to take a tour we lucked out with a good one. Maggie

      Like

  • Oh my goodness. Reading this was so incredibly interesting, thank you for sharing it. I absolutely love the colours, the mountains, the completely ‘other’ from what I’m used to seeing day to day – the decorated yaks also made me smile. And then I’m really saddened to read about the new houses and development, I feel that will take away a bit part of what Tibet is today.

    Liked by 1 person

  • The scenery is so stark and makes Colorado look green by comparison, even during our drought. It’s remarkable how people have adapted to and even thrived in such harsh conditions.
    Sorry you didn’t get your view of Mt. Everest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really is. To see the yak plowing the arid fields makes you realize how difficult life is there. It was an eye opener. Thanks for reading Tanja, Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Ack, so disappointing to hear Everest was shrouded by cloud.

    I agree with the previous commenter who noted the harsh environment and how well the people have adapted to it. I feel like a pampered princess by comparison – and let’s face it, I am.

    Thanks for sharing so many photos!

    Liked by 1 person

Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s