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Travel: Spend two weeks in Tibet and Nepal

August 21, 2008

Guided tour offers breathtaking views of Himalayan mountains, much more
MSNBC
August 19, 2008

The Real Deal: Fourteen nights' accommodations, transportation by
plane and private and local bus, and the services of a guide, from
$2,035 per person — including taxes.

When: Depart Sundays, Sept. 7, 21, 28, Oct. 12, 26, 2008; April 5,
12, 26, May 3, 10, 24, 31, June 7, 21, 28, 2009.

The fine print: The starting rate includes a local cash payment of
$300 that is due on arrival. Taxes, entrance to Sagaramatha (Mount
Everest) National Park, and airport-hotel transfers in Lhasa are
included. Intrepid recommends allowing $200 per person for meals, as
none are included. Mandatory travel insurance can be booked through
Intrepid from $54; the cost varies based on trip length, time of
year, and the traveler's age. Travelers must purchase a multi-entry
visa for Nepal, which is $25 for 15 days or $40 for 30 days. Visas
can be obtained at Katmandu's Tribhuvan Airport, but Intrepid advises
applying for one prior to departure through Nepal's embassy to avoid
long lines at the airport. Upon your arrival in Katmandu, Intrepid
will arrange for a group Chinese visa, required for entrance into
Tibet (the cost is $63 for US citizens). You're required to send a
clear scanned copy of the front page of your passport to Intrepid at
least 60 days prior to travel. Prices are per person; no additional
fees for single travelers. Group size is 4 to 16 participants. When
booking, refer to trip code FRE. Read these guidelines before you
book any Real Deal.

Book by: No deadline; based on availability.

Contact: Intrepid Travel, 800/970-7299, intrepidtravel.com.

Why it's a deal: The $2,035 rate breaks down to about $145 per person
per night and covers accommodations, a flight between Katmandu and
Lhasa, ground transportation, the services of a group leader, and
taxes. You'll benefit from the expertise of a tour leader and the
small group size. Plus, you'll spend part of the trip staying at
traditional monasteries, which will give you an authentic glimpse
into the life of Tibetan monks and nuns — something that would be
tough to arrange on your own. And Intrepid Travel takes care of
travel arrangements for the entire two-week stay for you, which is
convenient and ensures lower rates than you'd get if you booked independently.

Trip details: The Tibet Unplugged package includes a total of three
nights in Katmandu, Nepal, and 11 nights in Tibet at various
guesthouses and monasteries (the names of which Intrepid doesn't
release in advance since they are subject to change).

An airport-hotel transfer is not included in Katmandu, so your best
bet is to take a cab (250-500 rupees or $4-$8) to Hotel Marshyangdi
where you'll meet your group leader and fellow travelers. At this
time, you'll turn in your $300 local payment and $63 visa fee and
complete the Tibet entry permit.

The 55-room hotel, your home for the next two nights, is located in
the heart of Thamel, an area popular for its restaurants, shops, and
nightlife. There are no scheduled activities, so you can stroll the
narrow streets of the Nepalese capital at your own pace, stopping by
the crowded markets and bazaars in the Old City, paying a visit to
the palace of the goddess Kumari Devi at Durbar Square, or riding a
bike to the ghats that line the holy Bagmati River.

You'll catch a short flight on Air China from Katmandu to Lhasa, the
capital of Tibet. You'll spend the next four days sightseeing on your
own while getting acclimated to being more than 12,000 feet above sea
level. Major attractions include Potala Palace — with its pavilions,
stupas, and Buddhist artifacts — as well as Jokhang Temple and the
surrounding Barkhor devotional circuit, which has a bazaar where you
can haggle for prayer wheels, images of the Buddha, wood carvings,
and carpets. Try to squeeze in a visit to the Dalai Lama's summer
palace and check out the private zoo. In the evening, head to the
Drepung or Sera monasteries for a debate session with the monks.

On the morning of day eight, you'll go on a scenic 10-hour drive to
Gyantse, a small town in the Nyang-chu Valley southwest of Lhasa.
There's an attention-grabbing hilltop fortress, Gyantse Dzong, that
overlooks the town. You'll spend a night in the former wood-trading
center packed with historic landmarks like the site of the
15th-century Pelkor Chode Monastery and the Gyantse Kumbum, a
three-dimensional model of the Buddhist universe whose five stories
represent the five steps to enlightenment.

Next is a two-hour drive to Shigatse, the seat of the Panchen Lama,
the Dalai Lama's number two. Shigatse is home to the well-preserved
ancient Tashilhunpo monastery, where you can encounter hundreds of
devotees at any given time. Looking for an authentic souvenir? Browse
the stalls at the busy Shigatse bazaar for yak wool and butter,
antique jewelry, and fur hats.

The following morning, you'll travel for four hours by bus to Sakya,
the base of the Sakya sect of Buddhism, where you'll spend a night
before proceeding to the Rongphu Monastery. Perched at an altitude of
over 16,000 feet, the early 20th-century monastery built by the
Nyingma Lama has (not surprisingly) spectacular panoramic views.
While staying at the monastery's simple guesthouse, you may even get
a chance to join the nuns during their evening prayers. This part of
the trip includes admission to nearby Sagarmatha (Mount Everest)
National Park and a two-hour hike to the Everest base camp.

A four-hour drive then brings you to the village of Lao Tingri, where
you can experience rural Tibetan life and take in views of imposing
Mount Everest. Stay overnight before proceeding to Zhangmu on the
border with Nepal. You can expect to notice the landscape and
humidity levels change as you near the border — where the Tibetan
plateau abruptly ends.

You'll cross into Dhulikhel, Nepal, at the foothills of the Panchkhal
Valley, an old Newari settlement that resembles a Victorian town.
Spend the night and then make your way back to Katmandu. You'll stay
one more night at Hotel Marshyangdi before heading home.

Before you go, visit the tourism Web sites of Tibet and Nepal.

Getting there: This package doesn't include international airfare.
Here's an idea of what you might pay for a round-trip flight to
Katmandu, departing on Sept. 7 and returning on Sept. 21, 2008:
$1,503 from New York City (Qatar Airways), $2,034 from Chicago
(Qatar), $2,119 from Houston (multiple carriers), $2,148 from L.A.
(Qatar), and $2,510 from Miami (multiple carriers). Prices are based
on a recent search on Kayak.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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