Ancient Kingdoms of Tibet Tour -22 Days

Arrival On : Kathmandu Nepal
Max Altitude : 5,211m/17,096ft.
Accommodation Types : Hotels, Camping
Trip Duration : 22 Days
Maximum Group Size : 12
Meal Arrangement : All meals included from breakfast on day 3 to breakfast on day 21, departure day.
Difficulty : Easy
Duration on trek : 5
Land Only Joining City : Kathmandu
Departure From : Kathmandu Nepal

Trip Overview

Due to various complications with obtaining visas for Tibet at this time, we are regrettably having to cancel our Tibet trips this year. Wehope to be able to run them in 2024 and will be monitoring the situation with our partners in Tibet closely.


Beyond the holy mountain of Kailash in the far western corner of remotest Tibet, are a handful of amazing and mysterious kingdoms. Many of them existed long before the days of the Dalai Lamas, including the almost mythical kingdom of Shangshung, which was the centre of the animalistic religion of the Bonpo. Around the 9th century AD, after the assassination of the Tibetan anti-Buddhist King Langdarma, part of the Tibetan royal family fled to the western end of Tibet and set up another larger kingdom called Guge, which had its capital at an extraordinary  place called Tsaparang.


Our trip starts with a pretty three day trek in the Nepalese Himalayan foothills for acclimatisation, followed by an in-depth exploration of the best sights in Lhasa. We then fly west to the small Tibetan town of Ali and start our trek,  exploring Shangshung and Guge, long-abandoned kingdoms with crumbling castles and temples, before finally driving out past Mount Kailash back to Kathmandu.


To create this incredible journey our Managing Director, Steve Berry, followed in footsteps of the Tibetan explorer Peter Van Ham, and this fabulous trek, unique to Mountain Kingdoms, is the result of his summer.


  • Take a three day acclimatisation trek in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal.
  • Tour the fascinating sights of Lhasa and visit the cave hermitage of Drak Yerpa.
  • Fly 800 miles across Tibet and past Mount Kailash to land at the airport of Ali, giving easy access to the ancient kingdoms west of Ali.
  • Explore the mysterious kingdoms of Guge and Shangshung.
  • Enjoy walks to visit cave dwellings, remote monasteries and ruined castles and visit the holy hot springs at Tirthapuri.
  • Drive west to east across just part of the great Tibetan plateau, using the new road to Kathmandu from Tibet driving past Kailaish and through Kyirong and part of Langtang.

Short Itinerary

Day 01-02:

Fly to Kathmandu. Transfer to hotel in Bhaktapur.

Day 03-05:

Circular trek from Bhaktapur via Namo Buddha Ridge, Balthalli Village and Panauti Bazaar.

Day 06:

Fly from Kathmandu to Gonggar in Tibet. Drive to Lhasa.

Day 07:

Sightseeing in Lhasa including visits to the Potala Palace, Barkhor Market and Sera Monastery.

Day 08-09:

Visit Drak Yerpa and Ganden. Return to Lhasa. Day at leisure.

Day 10-11:

Fly to Ali. Drive to Tholing. Full day at Tsarparang with walk. Return to Tholing.

Day 12-13:

Drive to Xapuk and explore caves. Drive to Dunhang and view monastery. Trek to Chiwang.

Day 14:

Visit Shaye Ko Castle and rock formations at Shangze. Return to Tholing.

Day 15:

Drive to view Dawa Dzong. Continue to Khyunglung.

Day 16:

Explore the Kingdom of Shangshung and walk up the Red Canyon.

Day 17:

Drive to Tirthapuri Hot Springs via Guru Gem and walk to ancient hill fort.

Day 18-19:

Drive to Drongpa past Mount Kailash, then to Saga and Kyirong.

Day 20-22:

Drive to Kathmandu. Overnight flight to Home.


Day 01 Fly Home to Kathmandu
Overnight: In flight

Depart Home on your overnight flight to Kathmandu.

Day 02 Arrive Kathmandu. Group transfer to the hotel.
Overnight: Heritage Hotel, Bhaktapur

On arrival in Kathmandu you will be met and transferred to the Heritage Hotel, Bhaktapur.

Your Tibet permit will be finalised while you are in Kathmandu, so our local agents will ask you for your passport and Tibet Visa payment.

Day 03 Drive to Dhulikhel - approximately 1 hour.
Overnight: Namo Buddha Resort Or Similar, Namo Buddha

Walk up to Namobuddha, 1,985m/6,512ft, – approximately 3-4 hours. You will leave this morning by vehicle to  Dhulikhel and it will then take about 4 hours to hike to the ancient Namo Buddha Monastery, 1,750m/5,751ft. For centuries this has been a famous Buddhist pilgrimage site where the reincarnated Buddha offered his body to a hungry tigress in order to allow her to feed her cubs. Along the way you will see fantastic mountain vistas with the many Buddhist stupas on the hilltops. There are also beautiful views throughout the walk of terraced fields of rice, mustard and millet. You will also be surprised by the number of temples, the variation in landscapes and diversity of people living in harmony.

Day 04 Walk to Balthali village, 1,730m/5,676ft - approximately 5 hours.
Overnight: Balthalli Resort Or Similar, Balthalli Village

After breakfast, you will start your walk to reach Balthali village, offering excellent mountain views along the way at an altitude of 1,730m/5,676ft. We then visit a typical Tamang village called Dada Gaun, a very traditional Buddhist Community untouched by the modern world, with people and animals still living side by side. You will then walk to
Pada Gaun (2,100m/6,889ft), taking in extremely good views of the whole Himalayan range to the north and the beautiful green forest of Mahabharat. You will then walk on to Karnali, and follow the banks of the Ladku River back to the Balthali Village.

Day 05 Walk to Khopasi - approximately 1½ hours and to Panauti Bazaar, 1,400m/4,593ft - approximately 1 hour. Drive to Bhaktapur - approximately 1 hour. Afternoon tour of Bhaktapur.
Overnight: Heritage Hotel, Bhaktapur

After breakfast you will walk down to Khopasi (approximately 3km) where you will be picked by private vehicle for the return trip to Bhaktapur.

On the return journey, you will stop at Panauti to take a leisurely walk to the thriving Newari village which is rich in culture. You will also visit the Indreshwor Mahadev Temple, which some authorities believe is the original structure that was built in 1294 AD. You will then continue your journey back to Bhaktapur, where you will have a tour of the town centre.

Day 06 Fly from Kathmandu to Gonggar, Tibet, 3,600m/11,811ft – 1½ hours. Drive to Lhasa – 60km, 1½ hours.
Overnight: Kyichu Hotel or Similar, Lhasa

You will transfer to the airport for the flight to Gonggar in Tibet. In Gonggar (the airport for Lhasa) you will be met and will drive to Lhasa. Nowadays the road passes through three short road tunnels through the mountains so the drive takes just one and a half hours. Lhasa is today a very modern looking city but your first sight of the Potala Palace as you drive into town will still take your breath away. On arrival in Lhasa you will check in to your hotel which is situated in the centre of town. On arrival remember that you are now at altitude – 3,600m/11,811ft
so it is best to take it very easy for the afternoon.

Day 07 Morning sightseeing at the Potala Palace, and afternoon Sera Monastery.
Overnight: Kyichu Hotel or Similar, Lhasa

lease note that the schedule for the next two days’ visits may be
adjusted depending on events and ticket availability for the Potala, as
bookings can only be made with your passports once you arrive in Lhasa,
and sometimes it can be pretty busy.

However, the plan is that in the morning you will visit the Potala
Palace. Luckily the Potala remained largely undamaged throughout the
years of the Cultural Revolution. Songtsen Gampo was the first Tibetan
ruler to establish a palace on this outcrop, the ‘Red Hill’, but
construction of the grand palace that you see today began in 1645 during
the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama. The palace is named after Mount
Potala, a sacred mountain in South India, and has served as the home of
successive Dalai Lamas and their monastic staff. You will start your
tour by climbing up the steps at the south side of the building, take
your time doing so. There is even an oxygen station half way up for
those who are struggling with the altitude! You then work your way up
through successive storeys and through a maze of rooms – through the living quarters of the Dalai Lama and through numerous highly decorated chapels and colourful assembly halls. Walls are decorated with intricate
murals and hung with painted thangkas. One of the most awesome rooms in the Potala is the Chapel of the Dalai Lamas’ Tombs, which contains the
massive golden stupa of the Fifth Dalai Lama and smaller stupas
containing the relics of other Dalai Lamas. When you have completed your tour you will come out at the roof level where the views are stunning,
and will walk down on the northern side, where you will join the Kora path, and as there will be many Tibetan pilgrims making their Kora (circuit) right around the building, you may like to do the same. Please note that although photography is not permitted inside the Potala, you
may take photos on the approach up the steps, and once you emerge at the

In the afternoon you will drive 40 minutes to Sera Monastery, one of the three great Gelukpa monasteries near Lhasa. This monastery dates back to the 15th century and was formerly a monastic township housing over 5,000
monks. Although many of the outlying buildings have been destroyed the
principal buildings were left relatively intact and nowadays the
monastic population is again over 300 monks. Sera is particularly famous for its great monastic debates and monks can still be seen debating in
the debating courtyard. More prosaic but equally fascinating are the
large monastic kitchens where monks prepare industrial quantities of
food in huge copper cauldrons. It is quite a sight to see Tibetan tea
being blended with a mixer the size of a road drill! Please note that cameras are not allowed to be used in the debating courtyard itself, but bizarrely taking photos with cell phones is perfectly acceptable! So we
highly recommend you bring a phone with you to photograph this
interesting experience. Please also note that imitating a monk is also strictly forbidden, so please watch them but don’t copy!

Day 08 Drive to Drak Yerpa Hermitage, 4,885m/15,929ft - 16 miles/26 km, approximately 2 hours. Drive to Ganden Monastery - 1 hour drive. Return to Lhasa.
Overnight: Kyichu Hotel or Similar, Lhasa

Today you drive from Lhasa to Drak Yerpa Hermitage, 4,800m/15,750ft located in a wonderful site with great views. There are meditation caves built in the mountainside. These shrines and hermitages in the cliffs are some of the earliest known meditation sites in Tibet, some dating back to pre-Buddhist times. Anybody who was anybody in Tibet meditated here! So for instance, Songtsen Gampo, and his two queens meditated here as did Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche). Also the very famous legendary hero, Gesar of Ling, is said to have visited the valley. The holes his arrows left in the cliffs are believed to be evidence of his presence. After the visit, you continue driving for another hour to Ganden Monastery, 4,300m/14,100ft, which is another of the three most important monasteries in Lhasa (along with Sera and Drepung). Ganden sits high on a mountain ridge. You explore the monastery prayer halls, then hike around the ruins at the base of the mountain and do a kora (circumambulation) around the monastery. Ganden has extremely delicate and fine murals and sculptures. The most important and valuable arts here are the paintings of Buddha.

Day 09 At leisure in Lhasa, 3,597m/11,800ft.
Overnight: Kyichu Hotel or Similar, Lhasa

We have included a day here for you to ‘do your own thing’. We believe a good tour should be a mixture of free time and guided sightseeing. There is so much to see and do in Lhasa. We suggest, perhaps, an early morning kora of the Barkhor Market. There is also a very nice walk that can be done all around the old quarter of Lhasa, or you might like to hike up the Medicine Hill for grand views of the Potala Palace. This is all excellent acclimatisation before you fly tomorrow to the far western end of Tibet.

Day 10 Fly to Ali, 4,411m/14,471ft - 2 hours. Ddrive to Tholing, 3,723m/12,214ft – 200km, 5-6 hours.
Overnight: Zanda Castle Hotel Or Similar, Tholing

There are now daily flights from Lhasa to Ali (also known as Ngari Gunsa) which take about two hours. In this age of flying anywhere in the world at the drop of a hat, we rarely look out of the window. However, this is one flight where you may be glued to it! It is not often you get the opportunity to look out over the Tibetan plateau and get an idea of its vast expanse. As you get closer to Ali, you will see Mount Kailash on the left hand side. The scenery on this flight is otherworldly.

You then drive from Ali to Zanda Xian (Tholing) through grand scenery on a bumpy road, especially at the end when you enter the grand canyons near Tsarparang. Tholing was west Tibet’s most important monastery. It was built c.1020 by Rinchen Zangpo, who, together with Atisha from India, led the revival of Buddhism in Tibet. Badly damaged in the Cultural Revolution but worth visiting, Tholing Monastery is 13km from Tsarparang.

Day 11 Visit Tsarparang, 3,800m/12,467ft – 13 km, ½-1 hour. Return to Tholing.
Overnight: Zanda Castle Hotel Or Similar, Tholing

You drive to the ancient city of Tsarparang, which takes about an hour. Tsaparang sprawls all over the slopes and the top of a ridge bounded to the north by the Sutlej River. Mountains surround it to the east, south, and west, providing a natural and impregnable fortification. The entire ridge is covered with temples, chortens, houses, cave dwellings, all in varying degrees of ruin. Remains of the royal castle and its temples stand at the top, 170m above the valley floor, and can only be reached by a secret tunnel dug within the innards of the mountain. Tsaparang is one of the most important art-historic centres in Tibet, the repository of stunning West Tibetan-style murals and statues. Within the Lhakhang Karpo and Lhakhang Marpo (White and Red chapels) are resplendent Kashmiri-inspired works of art, interpreted in the local artistic idiom.
At the end of your day at Tsarparang you drive back to Tholing.

Day 12 Drive to Pedongpo, 4,300m/14,107ft – 30km, 2 hours. Trek to Barko – 15km, approximately 4 hours.
Overnight: Camp

Drive to Pedongpo. It is about an hour’s drive to reach a pass of
4,670m/15,321ft where you may well see wild antelopes and have the most
fantastic views over the Tibetan plateau and mountains. You then drop
down into canyon land to reach Pedongpo. The oldest WestTibetan wall   paintings surviving inpresent-day Tibet date from the middle of the
eleventh century and can be found in numerous mountainside caves in this area. In this little explored part of Tibet, you will have a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in the original Shangshung culture.

Pedongpo has a decorated cave known to date from the Chidar era and is located south-east of Dungkar in another side valley of the Langcheng
Tsangpo. The name Pedongpo means ‘stalk of the lotus’. It is an east facing cliff with a considerable number of caves. The main painted cave probably dates to the first half of the 12th Century. If the keyholder can be found, it is worth visiting the Gompa at the village which has a
small lump of rock in the shape of Mount Kailash as well as original
statues saved from the Chinese Cultural Revolution and hidden away at
that time in the mountains. At the time of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama
there was a monk here who cured the people of the village of leprosy.
His funeral chorten is kept in the Gompa.

You then start your trek to Barko (or Xapuk). From the village you trek
up a gorge for nearly 4 hours which gets more and more interesting the
further you go. A stream runs in the bottom and you frequently need to
bolder hop. You might well see blue sheep on the cliffs. Finally youarrive at a beautiful campsite enclosed by hills. Above the campsite are
two caves dating back to the 1100s. Again these are worth visiting if
the man with the key can be found. The approach is across quite steep

Day 13 Trek to meet vehicles on road. Drive to Dunhang - 2 hours, and view monastery. Visit Dunhang Caves. Trek to Chiwang.
Overnight: Camp

The small village of Dunkar (Bliss) is approximately 4,100m/13,450ft
backing onto a ravine encrusted cliff face that houses scores of manmade caves. Four of the caves date from the early period of the Guge kingdom with wall paintings of exceptional quality and luckily they escaped the destructions of the 1960s and 70s. From camp it is an easy 1 to 1½ hour
walk from the campsite up on to the plateau where there should be full
views of Nanda Devi and the other string of Himalayan peaks to the south. You may now follow the road to a junction where your vehicles
should pick you up. There is then a 2 hour drive to Dunhang. The
monastery on the hill is well worth a look before driving a very short distance to visit the Dunhang caves. These are bigger than the Pedongpo
caves, with 11th Century murals. It is then less than 2 hours walk through more magnificent scenery to finally arrive at Chiwang. In 2019 the group saw what they thought was either an Argali or Marco Polo sheep
(also a type of Argali) with huge curly horns, both species are

Day 14 Day visit to Shaye Ko Cliffs and Castle at Shangze. Return to Tholing – 40km.
Overnight: Zanda Castle Hotel Or Similar, Tholing

It is worth getting up early for the dawn light on the Chiwang cliffs.
It is a great drive across what the Ladakhi people would refer to as the Changtang plateau. On and on with the Himalaya in the background, the plateau is broken occasionally by small inset valleys, lots of great
rock formations, mountains and fluffy clouds. It is very beautiful.
Reaching thenvillage of Shangze, people direct you onwards to the weird  valley containing extraordinary rock formations. In 2019 the group
walked for 2 hours in this area to just explore and look at the huge eroded pinnacles. Returning to Shangze, they walked up to the ancient castle which is a 60m ascent with 769 steps to a despoiled cave and castle at 4,345m/14,255ft. Return drive back to Chiwang and then on for another 1¼ hours to reach Tholing.

Day 15 Drive to Dawa Dzong - 2½ hours. View monastery and castle. Drive to Khyunglung - 3 hours.
Overnight: Camp

With great sadness you are leaving now to drive the long way back to
Kathmandu, but before leaving the west there are still several ancient
places to see. The first of these is Dawa Dzong which is about 2½-3
hours’ drive from Tholing.

Leaving Tholing, you start on the road as though you are going towards
Tsarparang but turning left you climb up in a huge valley to the Tibetan plateau and after 45 minutes’ drive, there is a fine viewpoint. There
are two police checkpoints before reaching Dawa Dzong, which in fact, is quite a large town and sitting up high above it is a castle and some sets of ancient caves. It is a very nice walk up to take a look around. This place must have been massive in its heyday and you may well have a picnic lunch up near the fortress. From Dawa Dzong, it is a further 210
km to Khyunglung. Some of this drive is on an old rough road, but much
of it is on new blacktop. You may well see several herds of wild ass in
this area. There is one point on the road where you reach a height of
4,955m/16,256ft. There is also a point where you can see Mount Kailash way off in the distance. You spend tonight at an excellent campsite near the extremely important centre of pre-Buddhist Bompo religion.

Day 16 Explore the kingdom of Shangshung and walk up the Red Canyon.
Overnight: Camp

Until recent times, Kyhunglung was a completely restricted area. It is
not far from the hot springs of Tirthapuri and was the capital of the
former ancient kingdom of Shanghung. In its day Shangshung would have
been a very powerful and large kingdom with a vast array of fortresses controlling the trade routes to India, Kashmir, Gandhara and the Tarim Basin and beyond. Again there are a great many caves and a castle dating
back at least from the 11th Century, although probably long before that
as well.

From camp it’s about half an hour to a bridge. In 2019 there were 3 dead
yaks hanging from this bridge, head down. This is an ancient traditional
practice done when a yak has died accidentally. There are in fact two
bridges, a very ancient bridge and a newer version next to it. Ahead of
you now is a cliff of layered colours and furrowed erosion channels. Caves, old buildings and forts pepper the landscape. You can climb up and look at many of these caves. Some with piles of old bones as well as scraps from old prayer books. Some are totally blackened and tarred inside with rudimentary hearths. In 2019 the group found a small chapel cave with ancient paintings of Buddhas and later they found a hermit’s cave which had extremely fine paintings. Really the essence of
mysticism. Having explored to your heart’s content you come back down
towards the Sutlej River below, and it is worth exploring a side valley which the 2019 group called ‘The Red Canyon’. Go up as far as you dare
and have a picnic. You may possibly see wild geese here honking loudly,
possibly jack rabbits and herds of yaks. You can spend hours exploring this fascinating area.

Day 17 Drive to Tirthapuri Hot Springs via Guru Gem. Walk up to ancient hill fort.
Overnight: Camp

Tirthapuri is the third most important pilgrimage site in Western Tibet.
The hot water just wells out of the ground here, leaving white deposits.
Steam, colourful Tibetans, chortens, prayer flags, various holy caves,
all painted ochre and white – all these sights add up to a truly
beautiful place, next to the Sutlej River. Watch for huge jackrabbits
and wild asses (kiang) along the route.

Only half an hour from the hot springs is the amazing cliff monastery of
Guru Gem. It is a Bonpo Gompa and, according to a re-incarnate head lama
whom Steve met in 1996, it has stood there for 2,800 years! When Steve’s
group visited in 1996 the lama told them that he was young at 75 years –
his previous incarnation lived to be 250 years old. It may be possible
to visit the cliff temple, but certainly the monastery at its foot.

These days permission is needed to actually go up and visit the cliff
temple, but the temple at the foot is a very lavish affair, probably
built with Chinese money to impress.

Leaving Guru Gem behind, you begin the drive to Tirthapuri and look out
for a path on your left shortly after leaving Guru Gem that leads you up
to the bare remains of an ancient hillfort. This is well worth the hike
as the views from the top are excellent. This minor detour takes about 2
hours walking with a picnic lunch perhaps. From here it is a further
half hour drive to arrive at the hot springs of Tirthapuri.

Day 18 Drive past Mount Kailash. Stop for lunch at Hor County. Drive to Drongpa, 500km, 7½-8 hours.
Overnight: Yajiangyuan Hotel Or Similar, Drongpa

From Tirthapuri, it is about an hour’s drive to the junction that leads
east to the town of Darchan. About a quarter of an hour before this junction is a very good photo stop place for pictures of Mount Kailash.
The plan is not to visit Darchan as you need a specific permit for this,
and there is very little to see there. Therefore, you will carry on for another hour to the end of Lake Manasarorar. Travelling on for another 50 minutes you come to yet another large lake with mountains to its north. This is Toktso Lake, a salt lake where black-necked cranes are
migratory inhabitants, flying south in the winter. The road now climbs to cross the Mayum La 5,211m/17,096ft – the highest point on your trip,
but by now you will be well acclimatised. Dropping down from here it’s
about an hour to the bottom of the pass where there is a checkpoint. It
is amazing scenery every step of the way.

Day 19 Drive to Kyirong, via Saga - 350km, 6-7 hours.
Overnight: Kyirong Hotel (Gyirong), Kyirong

Ever onwards and the next big place on the road is the town of Saga. You
drop down into this town from the mountains and cross the Yarlung
Tsangpo River on the newly built bridge. Saga is a 2½ hour drive from Drongpa. It is here at Saga that you leave the main road leading to
Lhasa and turn south on the ‘new road’ to stop the night at Kyirong.

Day 20 Drive to border and cross into Nepal. Drive to Kathmandu.
Overnight: Nepali Ghar Hotel, Kathmandu

After the earthquake in 2015, the road that was used previously to go into Tibet from Kathmandu, the Friendship Highway, was closed due to
landslide damage. However, this ‘new road’ provides a much better and
more direct route to Kathmandu. It crosses the border just west of
Langtang and then from the border it is only a few hours into Kathmandu.
No doubt you will be very keen to enjoy hot baths, Nepalese food and
perhaps a beer or two to celebrate your huge adventure.

Day 21 At leisure. Late afternoon transfer to airport for overnight flight to London.
Overnight: Overnight: In flight

This day has been left free for you to doyour own thing, and a late checkout from the hotel will be arranged as the flight home takes off in the evening. Your transfer to the airport will be in the late afternoon.

Day 22 Arrive Home.


  • Arrival & Departure Transport By private Car/Van/Bus.
  • Three meals a day during the Trekking (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
  • Accommodation in Tea House during the Trekking.
  • Trekking Guide with Insurance
  • Trekking Porters if needed with Insurance
  • Three nights' Accommodation in Kathmandu with bed- and- breakfast basis, (If you like to have standard Hotel accommodation please do let us know).
  • Tims card (Trekking information management system) is like a permit.
  • Free use Company's duffel bag.
  • Emergence of helicopter rescue (pay by your insurance)
  • Day sightseeing around Kathmandu Valley, car/van/bus and tour guide.
  • All needed Government fees.
  • nternational Airfare.
  • Any kind of drink. (tea, coffee, hard and soft drinks, Drinking water, etc)
  • Tips for Guide and Porters
  • Extra night accommodation in Kathmandu (late departure or early arrival from the mountains.
  • Donation Items of personal expenses like hot shower, battery charge, telephone etc.




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