Days 1, 2, 3, and 4 San Francisco/Bangkok/Tsedang, Tibet
Depart San Francisco for Bangkok, losing a day as you cross the International Date Line. Overnight in Bangkok. Transfer to Tsedang (11,152 feet), and visit its traditional bazaar.
Amari Airport Hotel (Bangkok)/Tsedang Hotel, Tibet
Day 5 Yarlung Valley/Samye
Explore the Yarlung Valley, the mythical birthplace of the Tibetan people. The Yarlung Valley was Tibet's capital before Lhasa, and generations of kings are buried there. Visit Samye, Tibet's first monastery, founded in A.D. 779 by Guru Rimpoche and built in three different architectural styles; and tour Trandruk Monastery, an important stop for Tibetan pilgrims.
Days 6 Tsangpo/Nangxian
Today, visit a region rarely seen by Westerners--the canyons of the south bank of the mighty Tsangpo, one of the highest rivers in the world. Tucked deep into a hidden land of first-growth trees at its "big bend," the Tsangpo wraps itself 180 degrees around the Namche Barwa mountain before entering India. Drive south across the 16,700-foot Potram La (pass), then east along a series of dramatic rapids to Nangxian.
Nangxian Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 7-8 Bayi/Lunang Valley
Continue your journey along the dramatic Tsangpo, crossing over to its north bank at Melling and entering Bayi. The following day, explore the spectacular Lunang Valley, a pristine environment of alpine forests, clear mountain streams and lakes, and flowering meadows. Snow-capped peaks and magnificent views of Namche Barwa complete the idyllic setting.
Nyingtri Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 9 Bayi/Lhasa
An epic journey today from Bayi to Lhasa (11,970 feet) brings to mind Tibetologist Cosmo de Koros' saying that Lhasa is "the furthest goal of all travel." Journey through forested valleys, across a 16,250-foot pass, and through small villages and farming communities, making stops to photograph along the way. Scanning the vast countryside, spot the fabled Potala Palace, rising in impressive tiers above Lhasa. Upon arrival, settle into our hotel for the next four nights.
Kyi Chu Hotel (B,L,D)
Days 10, 11, and 12 Lhasa
Discover the grandest rooms of the Potala: jeweled burial chortens of past Dalai Lamas, chapels and shrines full of statuary and thangka paintings. At Tibet's holiest temple, the Jokhang, walk beside pilgrims to the revered statue Jo Rimpoche, the symbol of the coming of the Buddha Dharma to Tibet. Bargain and banter at the Barkhor, Lhasa's ancient market. The next day, experience the Shoton Festival, which honors the return of the monks from their summer retreat of intensive training. Visit Drepung Monastery, where we may hear the booming chanting of the sutras. Below Drepung is Nechung Monastery, the seat of the State Oracle of Tibet, which historically advised the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government. Outside Lhasa visit the fabled monastery of Ganden, founded in 1409.
Day 13 Lhasa/Gyantse
Travel along river valleys to a hairpin ascent across a 15,700-foot pass and down to Yamdrok Lake for a picnic lunch. Descend to the green farmland of the Nyang Chu Valley and the old-fashioned town of Gyantse (12,956 feet). Visit the Palkor Chiode, a monastery complex in which each of the four major sects of Tibetan Buddhism had temples and small monasteries. The Palkor Chiode suffered during the Cultural Revolution, but its striking centerpiece--the giant chorten Kum Bum, topped with gold and a staring set of eyes--survived.
Gyantse Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 14 Gyantse/Shigatse
Shigatse's (12,792 feet) Tashilumpo Monastery is the seat of Tibet's second highest incarnation, the Panchen Lama. Explore the monastery complex, a rambling warren. Visit the dark and evocative chanting hall, and look into an adjacent kitchen where vats bubble with yak butter tea.
Shigatse Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 15 Shigatse/Lhasa
Stroll through the Tibetan Bazaar before returning to Lhasa.
Kyi Chu Hotel (B,L,D)
Days 16 and 17 Lhasa/Chengdu/Bangkok/San Francisco
Fly from Lhasa to Chengdu, and connect to Bangkok where you'll overnight. The next day, depart Bangkok, arriving in San Francisco the same day.
Amari Airport Hotel (Bangkok) (B)