Immerse yourself in Tibetan culture in this seldom-visited corner of China
Tibet is one of the most ancient kingdoms on earth and the highest point on the planet at over 16,000 feet above sea level. Long heralded as the former home of the Dalai Lama and spiritual center of Tibetan Buddhism, the majority of Tibet has changed irrevocably since its annexation by China in 1950. Fortunately, in the Chinese provinces of Qinghai and Gansu have been left relatively untouched. The holy region that straddles these two provinces is the heartland of some of Tibetan Buddhism’s most sacred sites and monasteries as well as the birthplace of the current Dalai Lama, and its strategic situation on the old Silk Road has fostered a diverse tapestry of ethnic and religious minorities who also call this place home. In addition to its holy sites and gracious people, Tibet is a place of incomparable beauty, where wildflower-strewn grasslands, awe-inspiring mountains and clear lakes cannot help but bring calm and a sense of perspective.
MTS’ 45-year legacy traveling to the world’s most far flung locations has paved the way for this extraordinary journey to a rare part of Tibet that has managed to preserve its culture despite outside influences. Considered more Tibetan than even Lhasa, this holy land offers an unusual glimpse into the traditional lifestyle of the Tibetan people. Throughout the trip, you’ll learn about Tibetan Buddhism while marveling at age-old monasteries and temples, visiting the 700 Buddhas of Binglingsi Temple’s caves, and learning about the artistry behind colorful thangka paintings. You’ll also learn about the Tibetan people by witnessing the nomadic life of Buddhist and Muslim pilgrims, visiting a village school, spending the night in a traditional yurt, watching a Guozhuang dance performance, and enjoying a homestay with a family in a typical Tibetan village. With easy to moderate hikes in Kanbula National Forest, along the Yellow River and Qinghai Lake’s Bird Island, and in the sand dunes of Sand Island, you’ll also experience the magnificence of Tibet’s landscapes. Immerse yourself in this ancient spiritual heartland, embrace the warmth of its hospitable people, and open your eyes to a beauty you’ve never experienced before.
Hiking, cycling, cultural exploration
- Discover the spiritual heartland of Tibetan Buddhism, the region where the current Dalai Lama was born, and one of the few places where monks are free to observe the ancient traditions
- Through interactions at schools, in villages and at monasteries, learn about the deep spiritual traditions of Amdo Tibetans
- Visit ancient monasteries and mosques, and learn about traditional art forms such as thangka painting
- Immerse yourself in the culture and hike through changing landscapes from lush mountains to undulating sand dunes
Duration: 11 days Start Location: Lanzhou, China End Location: Xining, ChinaDownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Arrive in Lanzhou (5,000')
Arrive in Lanzhou, China. You’ll meet your guide at the airport and transfer to your deluxe hotel in Lanzhou, the capital city of the province of Gansu. After taking time to freshen up after your long journey, we’ll meet up with our group for a visit to the celebrated Gansu Museum, best known for its ancient horse sculpture, Silk Road artifacts, and a skeleton of a woolly mammoth. We’ll gather tonight to kick off our adventure with a festive welcome dinner. (1.5 hours driving)
Day 2 : Lanzhou - Xiahe (9,200')
After breakfast, we’ll head out to Binglingsi Temple. The temple was created during the Jin and Tang Dynastys and was a famous site along the Silk Road in its heyday. Its series of grottoes with 700 enormous, carved Buddha statues situated along the Yellow River is a site to behold! While some of the sculptures, statues and frescoes have been destroyed throughout the ages, the ruins are still outstanding. Later, we’ll drive to Xiahe, visiting Linxia Mosque (the “Little Mecca” of Linxia’s large Muslim population) and the Hui (Chinese Muslim) market along the way. This evening, we’ll check into our boutique hotel in town. (4 - 4.5 hours driving)
Day 3 : Xiahe - Tongren (8,200')
Today, we’ll have a chance to visit Xiahe’s Labrang Monastery, one of the six great monasteries of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism and a strong cultural centerpiece of Tibetan culture. After seeing the monastery, we’ll make our way into town to explore and browse the local market. This afternoon, we’ll drive to Tongren, stopping to hike the Ganjia Grassland along the way. Once in Tongren, we’ll explore Rongwo Monastery, where we’ll walk the pilgrimage route with the locals and see the monastery’s Tibetan and Han Chinese architecture and colorful thangka paintings. Tonight, we’ll have the opportunity to watch a traditional Guozhuang dance, one of three of Tibet’s famous folk dances. (2 hours driving; 2 - 2.5 hours hiking)
Day 4 : Tongren
Today, we’ll continue visiting Tongren, a county known for its Tibetan Buddhist temples and the center of Tibetan thangka painting. We’ll start the day visiting several monasteries, notably Gomar Gompa Monastery, a 400-year-old monastery that resembles a medieval walled village. Later, we’ll visit the ancient town of Goma and Kalachakra Pagoda to learn traditional thangka painting. We’ll then travel to the village of Shuangpengxi, where we’ll experience authentic Tibetan life, meet children at a Geng Dhunq Qiu Phelschool to play games, and then overnight with local families.
Day 5 : Tongren - Xining (7,200')
In the morning, we’ll transfer to Kanbula National Forest, to get as close to the source of the Yellow River as we can and see its red cloud landforms, sculpted by the wind and sand. The Kanbula Forest is known as the sacred birthplace of Tibetan Buddhism, and we’ll have a chance to experience why as we wander along the Yellow River for a few hours on dirt roads. This afternoon, we’ll head to Xining, the largest city and capital of Qinghai. (4 hours driving; 2.5 - 3 hours hiking)
Day 6 : Xining - Qinghai Lake (10,500')
Today, we’ll visit the scenic Qinghai Lake, the largest salt-water lake in China, stopping at the quiet and less visited east side for a short hike and admiring the stunning wildflowers. We’ll be staying at the hotel inside the parkland, allowing us access to an easy loop trail around the lake and the possibility for bicycle rentals. (3 hours driving; 1.5 - 2 hours hiking)
Day 7 : Bird Island (10,700')
After breakfast, we’ll head to the western side of Qinghai Lake to Bird Island, a breeding ground for thousands of wild geese, cormorants, and the rare black-necked cranes—a must-see for avid birders! A half-day hike will lead us along the road towards the Heima River township with incredible views of the highlands at the best time of the year to see them. (2.5 hours driving)
Day 8 : Bird Island - Gangcha (12,100')
In the morning, we’ll transfer to Gangcha County, where we’ll stop and hike in its subartic alpine highlands, peppered with colorful wildflowers. We’ll overnight in a local yurt in Gangcha, the traditional dwelling of choice on the ancient Silk Road. (1.5 hours driving; 4-5 hours hiking)
Day 9 : Gangcha - Xining
After breakfast, we’ll transfer to the spectacular and remote Sand Island to enjoy a half-day hike in its fine sand dunes. The desert sand dunes cascade from the far mountains all the way down to the shore of this beautiful lake. We’ll then return to our hotel for dinner in Xining City. (1.5 hours driving)
Day 10 : Xining
After a relaxing morning, we’ll visit the Dongguan Mosque, the largest mosque in China. First built in the 14th century, it has since been restored. We’ll explore the local market before heading to Kumbum Monastery, considered one of the great monasteries of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism and the center of both lay Buddhists and monks in Gelugpa. This evening, we’ll return to Xining for a fabulous farewell dinner at a local hotspot. (1.5 hours hiking)
Day 11 : Xining - Departure
Say farewell to your fellow travelers and then transfer to the airport for your homeward-bound flights.
DATES: Best time to go: July - August Departures: Jul 5 - 15, 2015 Aug 2 - 12, 2015
$3,695 (10-15 members)
$4,695 (4-5 members)
$600 internal airfare – Beijing/Lanzhou and Xining/Beijing
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
Expert leadership is the key to an exciting, unforgettable experience. Our trips feature gifted leaders for whom leading trips is a true vocation. Besides showing you wonders you’d never find on your own, they make sure everything runs smoothly and safely without a hitch. They are knowledgeable about all aspects of your trip, and take great pleasure in sharing their insights with you. More than just guides, they positively elevate your experience by being teachers, companions, and the best of friends. You’ll be in good hands with them every step of the way.