For adventurous families looking for an off-the-beaten-path escape Tibet is the final frontier. Start in Chengdu and journey overland by train to this staggeringly beautiful and very authentic region that is so different from the rest China.
Upon arrival in Chengdu your guide and driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel. After settling in, head out to spend the afternoon learning all the tricks of Sichuan cooking. Begin in the market where your guide will explain the various types of Sichuan spices, teach you how to pick out the best products and haggle with the shopkeepers. Afterwards, head to your chef’s home and learn how to prepare a few famous local dishes. In the evening, attend a traditional Sichuan Opera show. Contrary to what the kids might think, it’s actually hugely entertaining as the actors switch face masks at lightning speed!
This morning get up early for a visit to Chengdu’s Panda Breeding Centre. Arrive just as the park opens and before the crowds arrive, and walk through the park when the pandas are at their most active. If you’re lucky there may be panda cubs, which are a real treat to see!
After lunch depart for the train station and begin your 2-day train journey to Lhasa. Whilst this is a long journey, if you have the time it is recommended when travelling with children as it allows for gradual acclimatization to Lhasa’s altitude. It is a lovely journey and the countryside scenery, particularly as you reach Tibet, is spectacular.
Today you will spend a full day on the train – games, books and iPads are a must!
Upon arrival in Lhasa, you will be greeted at the train station by your Tibetan guide and taken to your hotel where you can rest and freshen up after the long journey.
In the afternoon, walk around the charming streets of Lhasa’s Old Town and then visit a Thangka master who will introduce the history and details of Thangka art – a unique form of Tibetan Buddhist art that involves painting on cotton.
Jokhang Temple is the most sacred shrine in Tibet, built in the 7th century and located near Barkhor Street. The kids will no doubt find the many pilgrims prostrating themselves at the temple’s entrance fascinating and your guide will tell them stories that bring the temple to life.
Head next to the Potala Palace, the most iconic site in Tibet. Start by joining the hundreds of pilgrims in their kora or prayer circuit around the palace walls. Turn prayer wheels as you go and just soak up the atmosphere surrounded by these highly religious people. Afterwards, explore the palace interior. This palace holds an entire world within its walls, and exploring its various rooms will an adventure in itself.
Drepung Monastery was the seat of the government prior to Potala, and was once the world’s largest monastery with over 10,000 monks hailing from all over Tibet. Sera Monastery is famous for its practice of detabing Buddhism and philosophy at the daily debate session that take place in the afternoon The clapping sounds and aggressive expressions of the monks are all well worth seeing. It certainly provides a contrast to what the kids will have experienced at school!
Whilst today requires a lot of driving, it can be sold to the kids as a road trip adventure. You will drive over the Kampala Pass at 4,794 metres where you will get your first glimpse of Yamdrok Lake. Here, challenge the kids to a brisk walk to see the effects of altitude as they no doubt will quickly end up panting in the thinner air. If the family is up to it, set off on a short hike to Samding Monastery along the shores of the lake. On the way back to Lhasa, visit a local Tibetan family and learn more about their customs and how they live. You will be invited to try butter tea – an acquired taste but certainly something you should at least try once whilst in Tibet!
This morning your family will be transferred to Lhasa Airport in time for your flight home.
The above itinerary can be booked through bespoke tour operator Lightfoot Travel. Prices begin at USD8,750 for a family of four and includes all accommodation (Temple House Chengdu, Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa), Chengdu-Lhasa train, all transfers, entrance fees and an English-speaking local guide throughout. Please note cost fluctuates depending on season. Call +852 2815 0068 to speak to a Tibet specialist or visit www.lightfoottravel.com for more inspiration.