One of the classic routes of the exotic east; The journey from China’s Beijing to Kathmandu in Nepal, attracts countless travellers every year. Whilst the short-on-time traveller may prefer to fly key legs of the journey, travelling overland by a mixture of road and rail offers a chance to embrace the journey, not just the destination, and truly savour the spectacular scenery along the way.
From the capital of Imperial and modern China to the glacial landscapes of the Himalayas, this famous trail is steeped in history, culture and beauty. Here are just a few highlights of this legendary trip.
Vibrant Beijing is a fascinating combination of cutting-edge modernity and ancient sensibilities. This can be seen in the juxtaposition of magnificent temples and palaces with contemporary architecture such as the NCPA concert hall and the Olympic Stadium as well as the food scene where one night you can dine on succulent Peking duck in the most glamorous restaurant in town and the next have an equally delicious experience sampling spicy noodles at the local street market. Innovative entertainment stands alongside traditional Chinese performing arts in Beijing, and the bright lights of the big city conceal six UNESCO World Heritage sites including the vast and impressive Forbidden City, the Ming Tombs and, in the northern hills, the Great Wall of China.
The Qinghai-Tibet railway stretches 1,956 kilometres on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and set a new world record for the world’s highest railway at 4,000 metres above sea level. As you can imagine, from this lofty height, the panoramic views of majestic mountain ranges, sparkling blue lakes, wide open prairies and emerald rivers are nothing short of breath-taking.
Lhasa makes for the ideal introduction to spiritual Tibet seeing as it’s been the centre of the Tibetan Buddhist world for more than a millennium. In fact, the name itself means ‘Land of the Gods’, and in the eastern part of the city you can expect to see a strong Tibetan influence with people in traditional dress, observing religious rituals. The Jokhang Temple with its gilded rooftop and vast collection of religious artefacts is a highlight of Lhasa, as is the luxurious Potala Palace where the living quarters and golden tombs of the Dalai Lamas of the past are housed.
Gyantse and Yamdrok Lake
Head off on the road for Gyantse and you will come across the sacred Lake Yamdrok. A body of water that shimmers in different shades of turquoise, nestled amongst the dark silhouettes of the mountains. During the summer, migratory birds flock around this fresh water lake, creating a picture perfect natural scene. Spend a few nights in historical Gyantse, renowned for its small-town charm, laid-back ambience and excellent selection of restaurants.
Tashilhunpo Monastery and Tingri Dzong
Although there are a number of beautiful monasteries to explore in Tibet; Tashilhunpo is revered as the largest functioning religious institute in the country. Look out for the glittering golden statue of the Future Buddha, the darkly atmospheric assembly hall, and visit in the morning to see inside the chapels – monks are early risers and start locking up the chapels for lunch after midday. Continue the journey on to the ruins of Tingri Dzong, perched on the side of a mountain with glorious views out over the Himalayas.
Mount Everest and Rongbuk Monastery
A trip to this renowned mountain range wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Mount Everest; the highest mountain peak in the world. Captivating the imagination of intrepid explorers since the 1920s, a trek to Everest Base Camp has become a much more achievable goal in the modern age. Although it requires a certain level of fitness to hike up, it’s also possible to take the bus or drive; so, even if you’re unable to tackle the climb, you can still experience sunrise or sunset in this magical destination.
Arriving in bustling Kathmandu can be an intoxicating yet exhausting experience due to the sheer assault on your senses the city can have. The capital of Nepal is a thriving traveller hub where hotels, restaurants, bars and bookshops lie alongside the medieval architecture of the old town whilst traffic and rickshaws clog the streets. However, Kathmandu does have its charms with mouth-watering momos, the incredible views from the 1500-year-old Swayambhu stupa (watch out for the mischievous monkeys!) and the grandiose Durbar Square where hawkers, holy men and street urchins cluster in the heart of the city.
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