Monday, 21 May 2012 8:33 AM
If you're searching for a holiday that combines fantastic walking and the chance to uncover ancient culture, it's worth taking the overland trek from Kathmandu to Lhasa. Starting from the Nepalese capital before passing the border into Tibet, this is regarded as one of the world's greatest journeys, in part due to the stunning scenery.
Embarking on such a holiday in Tibet is certainly suited to those with a head for heights. Not only will you travel along roads that are over 3,600 m above sea level, but you'll also pass towering mountains and get a glimpse of the world's tallest peak – Mount Everest.
The starting point of your trek is Kathmandu, a vibrant destination that is steeped in ancient culture. Durbar Square is one of the most popular attractions in the city and it is where you'll discover a number of historic monuments, including the 16th century Jagannath temple – famous for its intricate carvings that cover the building's exterior – and the Kal Bhairav, a large stone statue of the Hindu god Shiva.
From here, you can hike up to Swayambhunath Stupa, a temple complex perched on a hill overlooking Kathmandu. Both Buddhist and Hindu temples are located here and although the trek is challenging your efforts will be rewarded with the wonderful views of the city below.
After you've explored the many sights of Kathmandu, your journey to Lhasa can begin in earnest. On your way to the Tibetan border, you'll pass by the valley of the Sun Kosi river, which translates as the 'river of gold', and soak up beautiful rolling countryside.
Stunning scenery can be seen from the moment you pass into the Chinese region and as you go through the Bhote Kosi Valley you have the opportunity to take in towering views of several mountains, including Phurbi Chhyachu and Madiya, which are 6,637 and 6,257 m high respectively.
As you ascend ever higher through Tibet, you'll come to the Lalung La Pass which stands 5,050 m above sea level. While this altitude is not to be sniffed at, you're still likely to feel overwhelmed when you take in the sight of Mount Everest, an astounding 8,848 m high, and other peaks in the region that are over 8,000 m tall.
From here, you travel on towards the charming town of Gyantse, although it is worth first stopping off to explore the Tashilhunpo Monastery. Established in 1147, this has served as the home for the Panchen Lama – the second most important spiritual leader of Tibet behind the Dalai Lama – for centuries. Here, you can see the Great White Wall – an expansive partition which is covered in traditional silk paintings known as thangkas during festivals and special occasions – and observe Buddhist monks.
Upon arriving in Gyantse, you'll come across the Gyantse Kumbum. This mound-like shrine of Buddhist relics is the largest in Tibet and consists of more than 100,000 paintings and a crown-like golden dome. Nearby is the astounding Pelkor Chode Monastery – also known as the Shekar Gyantse or Palcho Monastery – a large compound that contains golden prayer wheels and bronze statues of Buddha.
The journey concludes in Lhasa, Tibet's capital and largest city, where you can explore the many buildings used by the Dalai Lama before the leader went into exile to India. You can see Norbulingka, his former summer home, although it's likely to be his winter residence, the Potala Palace, that catches your eye. Built in the 7th century, this stunning complex sits on top of the Red Mountain in the Lhasa Valley and has been used as the headquarters of Tibetan leadership for many years.
There's plenty to explore here, partially as the structure consists of two palaces, numerous temples, halls and other buildings, and you can even see the Dalai Lama's throne. Today, Potala Palace is considered to be symbolic of Tibetan Buddhism, something which is cemented by its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Of course, there are plenty of other things to see in the city – among them the astounding Mani Lhakhang prayer wheel, while monks can be found praying on the streets surrounding the Barkhor public square.