Monasteries, pandas and the dalai lama's summer palace will highlight Crystal Cruises' new cruise tour to Tibet offered in 2014.
The luxury line is offering its passengers the opportunity to add a five-night extended land program to Tibet onto their Asia cruise next year, with a visit to Chengdu's pandas included for the first time.
The Crystal Symphony's April 9 Hong Kong-Beijing voyage and April 16 Beijing-Tokyo and Japan sailing each offer the add-on either pre- or post-cruise.
From Beijing, participants will fly first-class to Chengdu, China, and Lhasa, a Tibetan city perched at 12,000 feet; Lhasa means "place of the gods."
Highlights of the itinerary include a visit to Potala Palace, a seventh century Unesco World Heritage Site, visible from every direction, that served as the dalai lama's main residence until Tibet's 1959 uprising against the Chinese government; Drepung Monastery, once the world's largest monastery and home to more than 10,000 monks, set on a hillside accessible only by a steep, unpaved road; Jokhang Temple, the spiritual center of Tibet, enshrining the original gold Sakyamuni Buddha statue dating back 1,300 years; Barkhor Marketplace, the site of many Tibetan protests and a busy commerce center.
Activities will include a Tibetan-style dinner, showcasing traditional song and dance and a variety of yak-based dietary staples, from meat to tea, and a visit to the Sera Monastery where visitors can watch monks prepare for their monastic exams with renowned mock debates in the picturesque courtyard.
In Chengdu, passengers can visit the Giant Panda Research Base, where guests can snuggle with baby pandas and learn about the center's conservation and breeding efforts, and Jinli Street, an ancient market dating back to the Qing Dynasty, filled with Sichuan food stalls and local art and featuring traditional lantern performances.
John Stoll, vice president of land programs, pointed out the advantages of traveling with Crystal's land team include navigating Tibet's "remote, restricted, and still-developing land."
"From complex social mores, such as how to navigate sacred sites or pointing directions with one's lips rather than one's fingers, to how to dress or simply call home, Crystal … will be there to guide travelers every step of the way," he said.
The Timeless Tibet program includes accommodations, meals, and transportation for $7,400 per person, double occupancy. Accommodations include one night at the Sofitel Hotel Chengdu, three nights at the recently opened St. Regis Lhasa Resort and one night at the China World Hotel Beijing.
Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw.