If you like adventurous vacations, here’s one sure to get your juices flowing: an 18-day tour across the Tibetan Plateau featuring stops at sacred cities, ancient palaces, prehistoric caves, a lake said to be the home of a goddess, outdoor markets (where you can bargain for Tibetan fur hats), underground tombs, a camel ride and the fabled 2,000-year-old city that greeted Marco Polo as he entered the Middle Kingdom.
Put together by the MIR Corporation, the tour starts with a flight from Beijing to rural Tibet. Over the next eight days, a MIR spokesman says “...you’ll spend a night in Tsetang and visit the country's first monastery, its first palace and the Yarlung Valley, home of its early kings. You’ll continue to Lhasa and experience Tibetan culture at the massive UNESCO-listed Potala Palace, where yak-butter candles flicker in front of thousands of altars.”
Next, “You’ll take a breathtaking drive over Khampa Pass at 15,700 feet to Gyantse's celebrated Kumbum, stopping to enjoy the views from the shores of turquoise Yamdrok Lake, said to be a goddess incarnate. Drive to Shigatse to discover the traditional home of the Panchen Lamas, Tashilhunpo Monastery, whose gleaming golden roof can be seen flashing from afar.”
The tour goes on for 10 more days packed with stops at exotic cities and places like these across Tibet. It ends at Kashgar, visited by Marco Polo on the ancient Silk Road and today China’s westernmost city.
Called “China's Silk Road & Tibet: Route of Monks & Merchants,” the tour is scheduled twice this year: May 16-June 3, and Sept. 26-Oct. 13. The tour price starts at $5,895 per person, plus $1,400 per person for trans-Tibetan air hops. You’re on your own for travel to the start of the trip at Beijing and back home from Kashgar.
Seattle-based MIR Corporation, whose name means "peace" and "world" in Russian, has specialized in tours of Russia and neighboring countries since 1986. MIR has twice been named one of National Geographic Adventure's "Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth."