Take an overnight from the UK, landing in China’s bustling capital of Beijing.
Beijing is where old China and new collide in the most intoxicating and chaotic fashion. After settling in at the Red Wall Garden, head out with your private guide to see the Temple of Heaven. Perhaps the city’s most magnificent ancient masterpiece, the explosion of colour that awaits you inside is a feat only China can pull off.
Bewitching in all senses, the city of Lhasa rests peacefully, at 3,500m above sea level, amid the drama of the high Himalayas Flying from Beijing (via Chengdu) you’ll think you’ve landed in another world. Checking in at the Shangri-La Lhasa will compound that sensation – the hotel has its own oxygen bar.
A private guide will help ground you in this almost mythical city. Visit the hilltop Potala Palace, once winter residence of the Dalai Lamas. This astounding architectural marvel has over 1,000 rooms. Next, explore the Sera Monastery, home to about 600 monks, the 1,300 year-old Jokhang Temple and the bustling, incense-swirled scents of Barkhor Bazaar.
Start early with a visit to the 15th century Drepung Monastery, once the largest in the world. Explore the palaces and chapels of the Norbulingka, the former summer residence of the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan Museum here has a rich collection of treasures from imperial jade seals to vibrant tangkas. Lunch at a traditional restaurant, sampling some local specialities such as steamed momos (dumplings) or delicious noodle soup.
It’s an epic drive from Lhasa to Gyantse. Golden fields give way to dramatic mountains as the road hairpins over high passes. Yamdrok Lake provides an atmospheric turquoise tinge to the rolling hills, and is followed by an unravelling of rivers, glaciers and yak-grazed pasture all the way to Tibetan town of Gyantse.
Wake at dawn for perhaps the best sunrise you’ll ever see. Head to Gyantse’s Palkhor Chode. This 15th-century monastery is home to the Kumbum. The largest stupa in Tibet, it is decorated with exquisite murals. Once you’ve had a chance to get clicking with your camera, hit the road and cross the plains to Shigatse, Tibet's second-largest city.
Shigatse is dominated by a huge hilltop dzong (fortress). It’s the 15th-century Tashilhunpo Monastery that really captures the imagination, however. Home to the opulent tomb of the fourth Panchen Lama, we can highly recommend walking the pilgrimage circuit around the monastery. At the market in the atmospheric old town you can hunt out a souvenir, before you start your journey back to Lhasa.
Hidden in the valley just outside Lhasa is the Pabonka Monastery. This is one of Tibet’s most ancient Buddhist sites, built in the 7th-century. Explore the ancient halls and caves that gaze towards Potala Palace.Your visit will be bathed in the hypnotically calming sound of chanting monks. A suitable end to your Tibetan adventure: bid your farewells before flying to Chengdu. One of China’s largest and most exciting cities awaits you.
Chengdu’s most adorable residents can be met at the Panda Research & Breeding Centre. Around 50 giant and red panda live here. Watch adults chomping bamboo as new cubs are reared (most likely in autumn). You’ll learn about the panda’s lives in the wild and the conservation efforts to save this iconic species. End your day in typical Chengdu style, at a gongfu teahouse or with a sizzling Sichuan meal.
Your camera packed with unique photos of panda, monks, Mount Everest and more yaks than can be deemed proper you’ll head to the airport and catch your flight back to the UK.