Home Eco Trails Cross Culture Grand Tour Of Kingdom

himalayan cross cuture tourTouching down in Nepal, we spend some time touring the plethora of sights in this multi-ethnic country that boasts a spectacular geography and a rich cultural diversity. In Kathmandu, we explore the vast halls of temples that reflect a variety of architectural style dating from the 11th century and which boast splendid views of the city and its valley, as well as having the privilege to watch devout Buddhists performing their complex prayer rituals whilst chanting mantras. Before leaving for Tibet, we browse Nepalese and Tibetan art and craftsmanship and mingle with a multitude of nationalities in the bustling local markets. After crossing the border into Tibet, we check out the most important temple in the world for all sects of Tibetan Buddhism-- Jokhang Temple-- and the country's biggest bazaar, wherein can be found everything from silver jewellery, to yak butter. Grand palaces inhabited by successive Dalai Lamas, fascinating chapels and sacred lakes are among the many attractions as we travel through striking sceneries back to Nepal, and then on to Bhutan, where we find a land unchanged since medieval times. The least modernized and most mysterious country in South Asia, Bhutan gives the impression of a destination that time forgot; its capital is the only capital city in the world where there are no traffic lights and only three roundabouts. Travelling through valley forests of pine and cedar, we visit numerous dzongs, temples and museums to learn about the fascinating history and contemporary culture of this unique region, before crossing into India for the final leg of our tour. Aside from the not minor attractions of the Taj Mahal and the many things to see and do in the magnificent Delhi, we pay visits to UNESCO-restored palaces, 500-year-old monasteries and try to catch a glimpse of yaks as we ascend up the Himalayas and towards the heavens.
Day 1   Arrive in Kathmandu
Today we arrive in Nepal, a country with spectacular geography and a rich cultural diversity. Within its narrow borders we will find a complete climatic range, from tropical to temperate, alpine to arctic. As many as 30 different languages and dialects are spoken among the many ethnic groups. NOTE: Due to variables such as festival dates, internal flights, and ever-changing entry (visa) requirements, our published tour dates and / or itinerary can shift change right up to departure. As such, we will not accept any LAND ONLY bookings for this tour. Booking your air with Adventures Abroad offers you protection from the possible costs and complications associated with tour changes. Exceptions to this rule will only be granted to those passengers who are willing to fully accept the risks of booking their own air tickets given the above circumstances. Overnight in Kathmandu. Dinner if required.
Day 2   Kathmandu: City Tour
Today begins with a visit to the Swayambhunath Temple, Nepal's most significant centre of Buddhist worship. There has been a temple on this site since at least the 5th century. Swayambhunath Temple is also known as the "Monkey Temple" due to the large population of monkeys that make the grounds their home. The temple buildings are set atop a hill and offer an excellent view of Kathmandu and its valley. Many shrines surround the central stupa, its sacred eyes peering out in all directions. Here we can observe devout Buddhists following their complex praying rituals at the shrines, walking clockwise around the stupa, and chanting mantras. Later this afternoon we travel to Kathmandu's central meeting area, Durbar Square, a profusion of temples reflecting the different architectural styles dating from the eleventh century. The area also includes the Royal Palace with its gilded gates and elaborate statues. The square is alive with a multitude of nationalities, intermingled with stalls displaying a wide variety of Nepalese and Tibetan handicrafts. We will also see "Freak Street" -- a famous hippie meeting place from the 60's. Overnight in Kathmandu. Breakfast and dinner.  
Day 3   Kathmandu, Nepal - Lhasa, Tibet
Today we transfer to Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport for our flight to Tibet. This remarkable trans-Himalayan flight that takes us over directly past the Everest group of peaks. In a little over one hour, the Kathmandu-Lhasa flight covers rugged terrain that once took trade caravans months to cross. On a clear day as many as eight of the world's fourteen 8000+ m (26,000+ feet) peaks can be seen. The landscape changes dramatically as we cross the great barrier of the Himalaya, from Nepal's green terraced hillsides to the high and dry, barren plateau typical of Tibet. We fly over deep-blue Yamdrok Lake to land at Gonggar Airport, 85 km (53 miles) south of Lhasa. We will be met by our Tibetan guide on arrival and drive along the flat valley of the Tsangpo River to our comfortable hotel in Lhasa (3650 m / 12,045 feet). Balance of the day at leisure to acclimatize to the altitude. Overnight in Lhasa. Breakfast and dinner.  
Day 4   Lhasa: Jokhang Temple
We have an easy morning to acclimatize followed by a visit to the Jokhang, the religious and geographical centre of Lhasa, and the most important temple in the world for all sects of Tibetan Buddhism. Pilgrims from across Tibet, many of whom have walked hundreds of kilometres to see the Jokhang once in their lives, queue for hours to enter the temple and perform a ritual circuit in prostration of its many sacred shrines. It is a moving experience to join them in the dark hallways, filled with the sound of low chanting, lit only by butter lamps. The main image worshipped here is Jowo Rinpoche, a gilded statue of Buddha Sakyamuni said to have been modeled during his lifetime. The Jokhang is encircled by the Barkhor, an 800m (2,645 feet) flagstone pathway that is both a sacred circumambulation route and the biggest bazaar in all of Tibet. Night and day, Tibetans walk clockwise around it, earning religious merit as they shop, people-watch and chat with friends. Here you find people from all corners of Tibet: striking, tall Khampa men from the east with big knives and red tassels wrapped about their heads; Golok women with their hair plaited in 108 tiny braids; nomad families bundled in sheepskins. The Barkhor is the real heart of Tibet, you can spend hours watching the passing parade or bargain for the trinkets and souvenirs, displayed in street stands, everything from prayer flags to silver jewelry to yak butter. Overnight in Lhasa. Shangbala Hotel or similar. Breakfast and dinner.  
Day 5   Lhasa - Potala - Sera - Lhasa
This morning we visit the fabled Potala Palace that rises above the city like a fairytale castle set atop its rocky pedestal. The Potala has been the home of successive Dalai Lamas. It was also the seat of the Tibetan government, and with chapels, cells, religious schools, and even tombs for the Dalai Lamas it was virtually a self-contained world. Begun in the 7th century, but not reaching its full glory until the 17th century reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama, the 13 storey Potala rises 117m (383 feet) high and is made entirely of wood, earth and stone. It has over 1000 rooms. We proceed to Sera, one of the two most important Gelugpa (Yellow Hat sect) monasteries. The monastery is the location of the famous ?monk's debate' on some afternoons every week. During this ritual ?question and answer' session, a senior monk quizzes a junior and there is much grimacing, clapping and mock threatening. The important part of this ritual is the passing of knowledge of on the theosophical questions of the Tibetan lamaistic Buddhist faith. Overnight in Lhasa. Shangbala Hotel or similar. Breakfast and dinner.  
Day 6   Lhasa - Drepung - Norbulingka - Lhasa
This morning we visit Drepung, a monastery which, during its peak, had 7,700 monks in residence and the single kitchen where food for them was cooked in enormous urns. It and Sera suffered damage in varying degrees during the turbulent days of the Red Guards and their Cultural Revolution but have now been restored and the monks have returned. During our time in Lhasa we will also visit the Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama's summer palace and currently the site of a simple museum. Overnight in Lhasa. Shangbala Hotel or similar. Breakfast and dinner. 

Day 7   Lhasa - Shigatse
An early departure takes us from the high Tibetan plateau southerly to Shigatse. We pass colourful rock carvings of Buddha as we approach the outskirts of Lhasa at the start of a long road journey. The road turns to gravel as we leave city limits and follow the course of the Tsangpo River which, entering India, becomes the Bramahp. From the Kamba La there is a spectacular view of the blue waters of Yamdrok Tso, one of Tibet's sacred lakes. Now we travel the zigzag road to cross the mighty Yarlung Tsangpo River on our way to Lhasautra. The road then drops down to Yamdrok Tso Lake and follows the twisting northern bank for hours, prior to climbing up to the 4800 m (15,724 foot) high Kamba La Pass. The road descends slowly after crossing the Karo La, 5020 m (16,549 feet). Either side are gigantic peaks including 7260 m (23,958 foot) high Nazin Kang Sa. Overnight in Shigatse (3900 m / 12,870 feet). Breakfast and dinner.  

Day 8   Shigatse Area
We visit the main site of interest in Shigatse, the Tashilhunpo Monastery. Tashilhunpo, the principal monastery of Tsang Province, is one of the Great Six centers of the Gelugpa sect. The others are Sera, Drepung, and Ganden, all in or near Lhasa, and Labrang and Kumbum in Amdo (southern Gansu / Qinghai provinces). Tashilhunpo is the largest, most vibrant monastery in Tibet, the only one that does justice to the term 'monastic city'. Founded in 1447 by Tsongkhapa's nephew and disciple, Gedundrub, the First Dalai Lama, it was substantially enlarged under the Fourth Panchen Lama, Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662). This afternoon is free to explore Shigatse town and the market. Overnights in Shigatse (3900m / 12,870 feet). Breakfast and dinner.  
Day 9   Shigatse - Lhasa
This is a long day mainly driving across the vast Tibetan Plateau on a different and more northerly route back to Lhasa. Overnight in Lhasa. Breakfast and dinner.  
Day 10   Lhasa, Tibet - Kathmandu, Nepal - Bhaktapur
Today we fly back to Nepal and, upon arrival, transfer to the nearby old town of Bhaktapur, a World Heritage Site. The town stretches along a ridge above the sacred Hanumante River and grew from a collection of villages strung along the old trade route between India and Tibet. Depending on flight times and punctuality, you may have some leisure time before dinner. Overnight in Bhaktapur. Breakfast and dinner.  

Day 11   Bhaktapur & the Kathmandu Valley
Today we have a tour of the fascinating Kathmandu Valley, the cultural and economic heart of Nepal. Our tour concentrates on Bhaktapur, a charming settlement that rises from lush green fields of rice and red-tiled roofs punctured by the soaring spire of the five-storied Nyataponla temple, all set against the movie-set backdrop of the snow capped Himalaya. Bhaktapur's deep roots in the land are apparent in the people on its streets: farmer women in their characteristic red-border black saris pleated in the front and raised high in back, revealing blue tattoos above their ankles. Farmers carry double baskets of giant radishes suspended from their shoulders. Bhaktapur is virtually 100% Newari and adamantly rural at heart. Our tour also includes the giant reclining Vishnu statue at Budhanilkantha, the Hindu pilgrimage site of Pashupatinath, and the stupa of Boudhanath. Overnight in Bhaktapur. Breakfast and dinner.  
Day 12   Kathmandu, Nepal - Paro, Bhutan
Today we fly to Paro, set in what is considered to be the most beautiful of the main valleys (2280 m / 7,500 feet). The dominant feature of Paro is undoubtedly the Paro Dzong set above the glacial Paro Chu River. It is a particularly important and historic dzong having played a part in Bhutan's history since it was first constructed. On arrival we will check into our hotel. Bhutan's official name, 'Druk Yul', means the 'Land of the Thunder Dragon', which is officially portrayed on the country's flag. Bhutan is perhaps the least modernised and most mysterious country in South Asia and remains very cautious in its contact with the outside world. The flow of tourists into the country is regulated and the government makes great efforts to preserve and strengthen the country's religious and cultural traditions. NOTE: Our Bhutan programme usually varies from trip to trip and will likely operate in slight variance with this document. Overnight in Paro. All meals.  

Day 13   Paro Area (Paro Festival, Spring Departure)
During our time in Paro we will visit the National Museum of Bhutan which displays thangkas, artifacts, costumes, stamps (even talking stamps), and objects from archaeological excavations. Located further up the valley is the famed Takstang or 'Tiger's Nest' monastery which burned down in 1998. The monastery has been rebuilt and you will have the option today to drive to a viewpoint in the valley from where you can see Takstang high up on the cliff opposite. OUR SPRING TRIP will participate in the annual Paro Festival. Only a few Westerners have enjoyed the fascinating 'Tsechus' of Bhutan. The Tsechus are Buddhist religious festivals where masked dances depicting the events from the life of Padmasambhava, the eighth century Nyingmapa Buddhist teacher, are staged. The Tsechu provides the local populace with a wonderful occasion to gather, dress up, and enjoy in a convivial light-hearted atmosphere. It is also an occasion to renew their faith and receive blessings by watching the sacred dances or receiving 'empowerment' from a lama or Buddhist monk. The dances are performed by trained monks wearing ornate costumes and impressive masks. Overnight in Paro. All meals.  
Day 14   Paro - Haa
Today's journey takes us deep into the heart of Bhutan. The drive will give you an insight into a medieval way of life that has changed little over the centuries. Modern development has brought better education, health care and electricity to these remote areas but the local small farm-based economy that has kept the local people self sufficient over the years is largely unchanged. Our destination is the Haa Valley, one of the 20 'dzongkhag', or districts comprising Bhutan. Red mountain rice, potatoes, chillies, and other crops are grown on the valley floor, along terraced hillsides, and in some of the more accessible side valleys. The name Haa (pronounced "hah"), as well as the more ancient name Has (pronounced "hay"), connotes esoteric hiddenness. We start the day early for the drive to Haa via the Chele-la pass driving through blue pine and rhododendron forests. On a clear day there are superb views from the pass of two of Bhutan's highest and best known peaks -- Mount Chomolhari and Jichu Drake. We will stop here briefly to enjoy the lovely mountain scenery and then continue down to Haa town(2670m / 8,811ft). After a picnic lunch by the river near the newly built Haa Dzong, we visit two famous monasteries, Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple) The central shrine in Lhakhang Nagpo is said to be almost identical to that of the Jowo temple in Lhasa. Legend has it that local deities assisted in the construction of Lhakhang Karpo and as a result, the place came to be locally known as 'Hay' (meaning 'surprise') which later became 'Haa' due to varying interpretations and pronunciations over time. Overnight in the Haa Valley. All meals. 

Day 15   Haa - Thimphu
This morning we depart Haa for Thimphu via a forest of pine and cedar with panoramic views of the Himalaya. Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital (2320 m / 7,609 feet), is situated on a broad green valley surrounded by terraced rice fields. This town of about 40,000 people built along traditional lines is the administrative centre of Bhutan and was only established in the 1950s. The main street of Thimphu, Norzim Lam, is lined with shops of all descriptions mainly stocking goods imported from India and China. This is the only capital in the world where there are no traffic lights, only three roundabouts, and police boxes decorated with dragons! Overnight in Thimphu. All meals.  

Day 16   Thimphu (Thimphu Festival, Fall Departure)
Today we drive to the impressive Tashicho Dzong (which we may be allowed to enter), the traditional summer capital of Bhutan and now the seat of the Bhutanese government. The present building is a rebuilt version of a dzong or monastery-fortress that was erected here by Nawang Namgyal in 1641 and it retains many of the features of the old dzong. It is now an impressive sight and it houses all the government deparments and ministries, the throne room of the King, the National Assembly chambers and the nation's largest monastery with over 2,000 monks in residence. OUR FALL DEPARTURE coincides with the Thimphu Tsechu, an annual festival held at the Tashichho Dzong. The Tsechu reflects the deeply rooted religious sentiments of the people. For three days various types of masked dances are performed. Many depict the story of good triumphing over evil, the day of judgment, matrimonial fidelity etc. Overnight in Thimphu. All meals.  

Day 17   Thimphu - Phuntsholing
Today we travel by road through southern foothills, through lush forested valleys and around the rugged north-south ridges of the inner Himalaya. It is a scenic journey; forests festooned with orchids cover the mountains on either side, and exciting hairpin curves greet us with colourful sculptures of Tashi Tagye (eight special Tibetan symbols that reflect the teachings of the Buddha). We continue descending the lower Himalayan hills to the border town of Phuntsholing, a fascinating mixture of Bhutanese and Indian and a lively centre for mingling peoples, languages, costumes and goods (150 km / 94 miles, +/-6 hours). Overnight in Phuntsholing. All meals.  
Day 18   Phuntsholing, Bhutan - Dooars - Darjeeling, India
Today we complete border formalities en route to the Dooars Valley (400 m / 1,312 feet), the 'Gateway to the Himalaya.' Here an unending stretch of virgin forests is crisscrossed by the River Teesta and its innumerable tributaries. Roads cut through deep forests, rich with wildlife. Mauve hills host wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, tribal settlements and valleys carpeted with tea gardens.Today we travel to Darjeeling, surrounded by tea plantations on the lower hills. Driving close beside the narrow gauge Darjeeling Hill Railway drawn by century old steam engines, we reach the halfway point of Kurseong where we stop for a tea break before driving to Ghoom at about 2400 m (8,000 feet). There is a descent into the busy town of Darjeeling (2134 m / 7,000 feet). Darjeeling or 'the place of the thunderbolt' and the surrounding area once belonged to the rulers of Sikkim. In 1833 the British gained control of the hill on which Darjeeling stands after considerable political manoeuvring in return for a small annual payment to the King of Sikkim. It soon grew to a popular health resort after a pony road and some houses were built and tea growing introduced. Later in the 19th century, the remarkable mountain railway from the plains was built and Darjeeling boomed as a resort and holiday destination for the British bureaucracy wanting an escape to cooler climates. Built on a crescent shaped ridge, Darjeeling faces the Himalayan peaks and is surrounded by cultivated slopes, thick forests and tea plantations. Overnight in Darjeeling. Breakfast and dinner.  

Day 19   Darjeeling Area
We are woken before dawn with a cup of tea before boarding British built Land Rovers for the 15 km drive to Tiger Hill to see the amazing colours of sunrise on Kanchenjunga. At 2550 m (8,500 feet), Tiger Hill commands superb views of the mountains and valleys of the eastern Himalaya with Everest, Lhotse and Makalu visible in the far distance on clear days. We stop at Ghoom Monastery on the way back; this monastery built in 1875 belongs to the Yellow Hat (Gelugpa) sect lamas and has a five metre high statue of the Maitreyi (future) Buddha. In the afternoon we will tour the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute; the small zoo beside it has several interesting Himalayan species including snow leopards and red pandas. The institute itself houses a considerable collection of items used by the early Everest explorers and also has a fine topographical model of the Eastern Himalaya. Later we drive to a nearby tea plantation for which this region is famous and see the picking and processing of tea leaves. Local train schedule permitting, we will aim for a train ride on the 120 year old steam run Darjeeling Hill Railway, now a UNESCO World Heritage entity. The rest of the day is free to browse the 'Chowrasta' or town square and explore the well-known Oxford Book Shop with its excellent collection of books on the history and cultures of the Himalaya. You could also walk down to the Lower Bazaar where the local residents shop for produce, fabrics and spices. We may have time to visit the Tibetan Refugee and Handicraft Centre where Tibetan refugees live cooperatively and their children attend school while their parents work on wool making, carpet weaving, and handicraft production. Overnight in Darjeeling. Breakfast and dinner.  

Day 20   Darjeeling - Gangtok (Sikkim)
We have an early departure for our steep descent through a series of tea plantations to the tropical Teesta Valley. Passing through sal forests and cinchona (quinine bark) plantations, we stop briefly at the Teesta Bridge checkpoint to show our Sikkim entry documents before continuing onwards to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. Located in the Eastern Himalaya, Sikkim forms a natural border between Nepal to the west and Bhutan to the east. To the north lies Tibet and to the south the Teesta and Ringgit rivers form a natural boundary with the Indian state of West Bengal; to the east lies the Kingdom of Bhutan separated by a tongue of Chinese controlled Tibet. The climate is subtropical in the lower valleys, but changing fast to temperate and alpine with increase in elevation. Vast rhododendron forests cover most of the slopes between 3300-4000 m (10,800-13,000 feet) and the Himalayan cypress is widely found near the tree line. Mixed forests of bamboo and dozens of orchid species are common between 1500-3000 m (5,000-9,850 feet) -- 660 varieties of orchids are known to grow in Sikkim. The cardamom spice is a cash crop that grows wild extensively around Yuksum and Phodang. The original inhabitants of Sikkim are the Lepchas who may have migrated to Sikkim before the 8th century; later migrations brought Tibetan Lamaistic Buddhism which is presently followed by 30% of the Sikkimese people. The central and northern areas of the province are home to the Lepcha people; the lower valleys are inhabited by Nepalese immigrants. Other ethnic groups are the Magars renowned as warriors, the Bhotias, who came to Sikkim from the Kham area of Tibet in the 13th century and who form the core of the monastic system. Overnight in Gangtok (1700 m / 5,600 ft). Breakfast and dinner.  

Day 21   Gangtok Area
Gangtok lies on a ridge with fine views of the Kangchenjunga Range. After breakfast we will visit the Institute of Cottage Industries where young Sikkimese people are taught traditional crafts. There is a sales centre attached for a number of local handicrafts, most with a strong Tibetan look to them. Woollen carpets, shawls and traditionally painted tables are good buys, all at government regulated prices. Later we will visit the Enchey Monastery located on the ridge top above the town; the present building dates from 1909 though the monastery itself is over 200 years old. Also visited is the Institute of Tibetology which was established in 1958 as a major centre for research on Tibet and Tibetan Lamaistic Buddhism. It houses many rare books, thangkas, statues and manuscripts smuggled out of Tibet after the Chinese occupation. We will also visit the permanent 'Flower Show' that exhibits a number of native Sikkimese orchid and flower species. The afternoon is free to explore the town; we recommend a visit to the busy vegetable and spice market. Overnight in Gangtok. Breakfast and dinner.  

Day 22   Gangtok - Martam
Today we have a brief drive to Rumtek Monastery on the opposite side of the valley from Gangtok. Rumtek is the seat of the Tibetan Kagyugpa sect of monks and a major centre for Tibetan religious studies. The 16th Gwalpa Karmapa, the head of the Kagyugpa sect, took refuge in Rumtek after the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950's; he and his followers escaped with whatever statues, 'thangka' paintings and scriptures they could and built Rumtek Monastery as a replica of the Chhofuk Monastery that they had left behind in Tibet. We continue for a further 10 km (6 miles) to Martam village (1450 m / 4,428 feet) where we stay in comfortable cottages built in the local style with impressive views over a quiet valley of terraced rice paddies. The nearby village and the school offer a glimpse of an idyllic lifestyle in a perfect rural setting. Overnight in Martam. Breakfast and dinner.  

Day 23   Martam - Kalimpong
A scenic drive past forest covered slopes and fast flowing rivers to Kalimpong (1250 m / 4,100 feet), an important market town located strategically at the crossroads of Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal and Bengal until the 1960s when the Indo-China war put an end to cross border trade. It is now well known for its numerous flower and orchid nurseries. We stay in the Himalayan Hotel, run by Tim MacDonald, grandson of the Tibetan explorer David MacDonald, who accompanied many of the early British Younghusband expeditions to Tibet around the turn of the century. The MacDonald family home is something of a museum to the early exploration of this part of the Himalaya; its 16 rooms decorated with memorabilia donated by notable Himalayan explorers who have stayed at the hotel over the years. The main house was built in the 1920s and has a mature garden with dozens of varieties of flowering trees and shrubs and views of the Himalaya from the verandahs. During our time in Kalimpong, we may also have time to drive to the monastery that overlooks superb views of Kalimpong town (and the Himalayan peaks) and visit the historic Dr Graham's home. The extensive boarding and day school facilitiy was established over a century ago. We will see its classrooms and boarding houses to get an idea how students of both sexes from all over India and neighbouring countries like Bhutan spend their days during the study year. There is an Anglican church with fine stained glass windows nearby and you can also visit one of the flower nurseries for which Kalimpong is well known across India. Overnight in Kalimpong (1247 m / 4,100 ft). Breakfast and dinner.  

Day 24   Kalimpong - Bagdogra - Delhi
Today we drive down to the plains of North Bengal and the airport of Bagdogra from where we fly to Delhi. Time permitting we will have a panoramic tour of Delhi taking in the breathless pace of this sprawling city and viewing some of the ancient Indian, medieval Moghul, and 19th century British heritage. The name Delhi, Dehali or Dilli is derived form Dhillika, the name of the first medieval township of Delhi, located on the southwestern border of the present Union Territory of Delhi, in Mehrauli. This was the first in the series of seven medieval cities, also known as Yoginipura, the Fortress of the Yoginis (female divinities). Overnight in Delhi. Breakfast and dinner.  

Day 25   Delhi - Leh: Area Tour
Early this morning we transfer to the domestic terminal of the airport for the flight up to Leh. This surely is one of the most sensational scheduled flights in the world, taking you right over the top of the Greater Himalaya before dropping down in a series of steep turns, to land at the small airport at Leh. We will be met on arrival and embark on a full day of sightseeing (you will already be acclimatised to altitude). Leh is very Tibetan in many respects; the national dress, 'stove-pipe' hats and felt boots with turned-up toes are much in evidence. The Royal Palace which dominates the town is very reminiscent of the Potala in Lhasa and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, large chortens, prayer flags and mud brick houses with flat roofs are a dramatic culture change from the hot, teeming frenetic rush of Delhi. We visit Sankar Gompa (monastery), the one nearest to Leh. This gompa belongs to the Gelukpa order and houses a beautiful impression of the Buddhist deity, Avolokiteshwara Padmahari with a thousand arms and heads. The hill offers excellent views of Leh, parts of the Indus River Valley and the imposing 6100 m (20,100 ft) high peak of Stok Kangri that overlooks Leh. Not far is the Peace Stupa on a hill commanding superb views of the town and the Indus Valley. Finally we visit Leh Palace. This captivating building rises from the edge of a hill overlooking the town. Built in the 17th C, Leh Palace was occupied by the Ladakhi royal family until the 1830's. Today the palace is deserted and is being restored by UNESCO. Note: The actual order of Leh area sightseeing may vary due to weather and other logistical considerations. Overnight in Leh (3500 m / 11,500 feet). All meals.  

Day 26   Leh: Palaces & Gompas
Our first stop this morning is Shey Palace, the old 'summer palace' of the kings of Ladakh, built about 550 years ago by Lhachen Palgyigon, the first king of Ladakh. It stands next to the remains of a larger construction on the east side of a hill, which runs southeast towards the Indus. From the palace you can see over the fertile Indus plain northeast to Tikse Gompa and over the Indus to the Zanskar mountain range. From Shey we continue to Thikse Gompa. This 500-year-old monastery, perched on a hill high above the Indus, has the largest contingent of monks in Ladakh. On the right of the entrance to the main courtyard a new chapel houses an enormous 15 m (50 foot) high-seated Buddha figure. About 100 yellow-cap monks belong to the gompa. Driving further along the Indus Valley to visit Hemis Gompa which is dramatically hidden in a cleft the mountains. Hemis has a gigantic thangka, one of the largest in the world, and the largest and one of the most important in Ladakh. It was founded about 350 years ago by Stagtshang Rinchen, who was invited to Ladakh by King Singe Namgyal. Overnight in Leh. All meals.  

Day 27   Khardung La Pass OR Alchi
OUR AUTUMN TRIP features a half-day jeep tour up the hairpins of the Nubra Valley road to the Khardung La Pass (5470 m / 18,400 feet) -- the highest vehicular accessible pass in the world. The views of the Zanskar Range and the Indus Valley on the way up are amazing as are frequent sightings of yaks on the high pastures below the pass. For most tour participants, this will perhaps be the highest point that they would have travelled to in their lifetime. The road to the pass that crosses the Ladakh Range and provides access to the Nubra Valley and the Karakoram region was built at great human and financial cost by the Indian Army following frequent incursions into the area by the Chinese Army following the occupation of Tibet in the late 1950's. OUR SPRING TRIP (snow levels in spring prevent us from travelling the pass) features an excursion across the arid and high plateau to Alchi, one of the largest ancient monastic complexes and an important Buddhist centre in all of Ladakh. Founded in the 11th century by Rinchen Zhangpo, one of the early Tibetan preachers who spread Lamaistic Buddhism to this part of the world, Alchi is undergoing major restoration work under UN sponsorship. The 1000-year-old paintings inside the main temple are some of the oldest of their kind and quite distinct from the murals present in the later built gompas. On our return to Leh we will stop to see the location where the grey waters of the Indus meet the blue waters of the Zanskar River flowing from the remote Zanskar region of the Greater Himalaya. We will also visit Likir Gompa set on an isolated ridge. This magnificent gompa, overlooking the village of Likir, was founded in the 14th century and belongs to the Yellow Hat Sect. The head lama here is the younger brother of the Dalai Lama. Overnight in Leh. All meals.  
  Day 28   Leh - Delhi - Agra
This morning we fly to Delhi, we continue to Agra (either by road or air-conditioned train, schedules permitting). This evening we can explore the markets of Agra on foot. Overnight in Agra. Breakfast and dinner.  
Day 29   Agra: Taj Mahal - Delhi - Depart
Today we travel to Agra and visit its main attraction: The Taj Mahal, one of the world's most beautiful buildings. Called "A dream in marble," the Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jehan as a memorial to his queen Mumtaz Mahal. Shah Jehan built the Taj to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal (elect of the palace), who died shortly after giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. Construction by a work force of 20,000 men from all over Asia commenced in 1632 and the tomb was completed in 1653. Marble was brought from Makrana, near Jodhpur, and precious stones of onyx, amethyst, malachite, lapis lazuli, turquoise, jade, crystal and mother of pearl were carried to Agra from Persia, Russia, Afghanistan, Tibet, China and the Indian Ocean. We will also visit the imposing Red Fort. Built principally as a military establishment by Akbar in 1565, the red sandstone Agra Fort was partially converted into a palace during the Shah Jahan's time. Our last visit will be the awesome Moghul city of Fatehpur Sikri, built by the Emperor Akbar and abandoned after only sixteen years of use when the citadel's water supply ran dry. We return to Delhi later in the day (by fast air-conditioned train, or bus, depending on group size and seat availability).
PLEASE NOTE: Many flights from Indian cities depart after midnight, ie just into TOMORROW. If this is the case re your departure, you may consider booking an extra hotel night so that you will have a place to rest prior to your flight tonight. Breakfast. BON VOYAGE!!

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