Sacred Buddhist Sites and Ancient Trade Routes

in Eastern Tibet & Lhasa

with Michael Yamashita and Jock Montgomery

  • September 9 — September 23, 2018 (a 15-day tour)

Personal Invitation from Michael Yamashita


a nomad from eastern Tibet

In the area of eastern Tibet known as Kham, the sites are like no other: ritualized dance by thousands of chanting monks and nuns, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries perched on rugged hills surrounded by white stupas, prayer flags stretched across rugged mountain passes, prostrate pilgrims circumambulating temples, vast herds of grazing yaks, prayer wheels and mani walls, frescoed ceilings, gilded statues, colorful clothes, exotic hats, and burial platforms were the deceased are consumed by vultures.

We start our trip at Chengdu, the northern terminus of the ancient Tea Horse Roads where Tibetans and Chinese once traded tea for horses. Today, the trade continues with modern goods using motorized vehicles. One of the most unique items is yartsu gombu, a fungus-infected caterpillar that creates a medicinal herb more valuable than gold.

Along the way, we will be visiting spectacular and remote Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, some  the size of small cities. We end out trip in Lhasa, once the home to more than 10,000 monks, seat of the Tibetan government, and residence of Dalai Lamas.

Few are as qualified to lead our trip as Michael Yamashita, author the the book Shangri-La: Along the Tea Road to Lhasa, and Jock Montgomery who has been leading treks to this are for more than two decades.

Michael Yamashita

National Geographic Covers

Documentary about Michael Yamashita


This photography tour concentrates first and foremost on helping you see and shoot in new and exciting ways. Michael Yamashita and Jock Montgomery will personally help you define your composition, create compelling content, and help you see the light. As you work towards nurturing your shooting style, you will learn how to personalize breathtaking moments that range from sweeping natural scenery to colorful human activities.

Every other day, we will gather to review each other’s work. Michael and Jock will personally critique your photos and provide expert advice for improvement and growth.


  • Receive personal guidance from National Geographic photographer Michael Yamashita and adventure travel photographer Jock Montgomery
  • Travel through this rugged countryside by 4WD vehicles, 3 people plus a driver/car, with a small group size of up to 9 participants
  • Follow a portion of the Tea Horse Road through the eyes of Michael Yamashita, photographer and writer of the book Shangri-La: along the tea road to Lhasa.
  • Ancient Watchtowers of Danba
  • Seda Larong Monastery, world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist school, home to some 40,000 monks
  • Yaqin Monastery, one of the largest nunneries in the world, with upwards of 20,000 nuns
  • Sky burial stage, ancient Tibetan burial tradition
  • Gengqin Monastery, printing temple and UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site
  • The Potala Palace, center of Tibet and former residence of the Dalai Lama

Yaks the indispensable beast of burden and more to Tibetan nomads

Monks being served tea and breakfast in the main chanting hall, Shechen Monastery

Prayer flags fly over the turquoise waters of the sacred Lhamo Latso Lake.

Recommended Reading


China and Tibet

Shangri la: Along the Tea Horse Road to Lhasa

Compass Rose Expeditions’ Reading Lists



We make every effort to keep our plans, but we will also remain flexible so we can adjust to unexpected problems and take full advantage of opportunities as they arise.Please note: three meals a day are included in the cost except for first and last days.

Map of our Journey

A pilrgim spinning Buddhist prayer wheels, at Shechen Monastery

Day 1, September 9: Chengdu

Jock Montgomery and Michael Yamashita will meet you at our designated hotel in Chengdu for an orientation meeting at 6 p.m. followed by a group dinner and a discussion about your photography interests. Once a starting point in the trade between between the China and Tibet for tea and horse, respectively, Chengdu is now a modern city of 14 million. If you arrive early, we recommend a visit to the Chengdu Panda Zoo, a research base for giant panda breeding.

Day 2, September 10: Danba

We take 4 wheel-drive vehicles along a deep river valley, pass through the Wolong Nature Reserve, home to over 4,000 different species, and cross the 4,500 meter Balang Mountain Pass, which offers spectacular view of the towering Siguniang mountains. We arrive late in the day at Danba, the entrance to the Kham Tibet and home to Tibetan nomads. The hillsides are covered with ancient watchtowers.

Day 3 – 4, September 11 – 12: Seda

We visit Garthar Monastery, where the Dalai Lama escaped in 1729 to avoid the chaos in Tibet. Later we drive to the Seda Larong Monastery, the largest Tibetan Buddhist school in the world. The central structure is covered with hundreds of small red huts for the 40,000 or so lamas and nuns, from different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, who study and worship here. We will have a full day to explore here.

Day 5, September 13: Ganzi

We drive to Dongga Monastery, a 17th century structure significant to the Ningma Religious sect and known for elaborate paintings. Nearby is a huge sky burial stage, a place where the deceased are offed as food to vultures as a final act of generosity to the living and a link to the cycle of life. Later we visit Ganzi Monastery, the largest monastery of the yellow-hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

Day 6 – 7, September 14 – 15: Yaqin Monastery

We visit the Yaqin Monastery, one of the largest nunneries in the world. The surroundings contain hundreds of small, thick walled wooden huts that house upwards of 20,000 nuns who spend close to 100 days in the winter inside meditating and studying without interuption. We will have a full day to explore this unique area.

Day 8 – 9, September 16 – 17: Dege

The very remote Baiyu Monastery, the largest of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, focuses on ancient translation. The temple contains gilded images, frescoes of deities, as well as an impressive library. Nearby the Gatuo Monastery, a 12th century building is located on a cliff 4,800 meters high. We travel across the flag-covered and spectacular Trola pass, a 5,000 meter high zig-zagging road. We visit Dege, a place filled with monasteries and well known as the home of famous Tibetan writers and singers. At the Gengqin Monastery there is a massive Tibetan Parkhang, a traditional printing temple famous for wood block printing by hand and library now listed as a UNESCO site. At the foot of Trola Mountain Range, we visit sacred Lhamo Latso, a important glaciel lake where Tibetan Bhuddist regents go for visions to assist in the discovery of reincarnated Dalai Lamas.

Day 10, September 18: Serxu

We explore the 17th century Zhuqin Monastery, a small but important center of study that is influential on hundreds of other monasteries. We visit Serxu, the highest town eastern Tibet, the Zhaxika Grasslands, home to vast herds of yaks and their nomadic owners.

Day 11, September 19: Yushu

The Bage Mani Wall is a 1.5 km structure made of stones inscribe with prayers. Shechen Monastery, a massive Gelupa monastery, is notable for the golden statue of Tibetan Future Buddha and many thousands of Buddhist prayer flags that adorn the adjacent hillsides.

Day 12, September 20: Xining

We fly to Xining and then board an overnight train to Lhasa. The scenery changes dramtically as we are now entering the Tibetan plateau, a high desert landscape with a miriad of colorful geologic features.

Day 13, September 21: Lhasa

Spend the day taking in the amazing scenery from the train. We arrive in the afternoon with free time to photograph the streets of Lhasa.

Day 14, September 22: Lhasa

Early the next morning, we visit the Potala Palace, the one-time home of the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s government. We visit Sera Monastery, a complex of structures that form a large university and watch the monks engage in animated fashion, debating precepts of various Buddhist scriptures. Depending on our timing there are more monasteries to visit and some great street photography near the Jokhang Temple. the holiest temple in Tibet which Tibetan Buddhist devotees hope to visit in their lifetime. The surrounding alleys and the Barkhor Square are full of pilgrmis from all over Tibet.

Day 15, September 23: Depart Lhasa, or consider a tour extension

In the morning, we transfer you to the international airport outside of Lhasa to continue your travels or return home. Contact Jock if you are interested in extending your time in Lhasa and central Tibet.


Jock Montgomery

Jock Montgomery

In 1983 Jock moved to Nepal to train raft guides and lead river expeditions and treks across much of the Himalayas. He was based in Kathmandu for twelve years and now makes his home in Bangkok, Thailand.

Jock is in demand as a commercial and editorial assignment photographer. He teaches and leads private photography workshops throughout Asia.

He shoots magazine features, resorts, industry, portraits, products, and specializes in adventure sport photography.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, National Geographic Adventure, CNN Traveler, Travel + Leisure (SE Asia), Discovery Channel, GEO (Germany, Russia), Outside, The North Face, Patagonia Inc., Oriental Hotel (Bangkok), Marriott Hotel (Bangkok), Kodak, IBM, UNICEF, UNESCO and Thai International. Visit his photography website at:  Jock Montgomery Photography

More about Jock Montgomery …

Michael Yamashita

Michael has been shooting for the National Geographic magazine for over three decades, combining his dual passions of photography and travel. His particular specialty is in retracing the paths of famous travelers, resulting in stories on Marco Polo, the Japanese poet Basho, and the Chinese explorer Zheng He.

Michael has been photographing this area since 1996 for National Geographic. Recently he has written and taken photographs for a book about this area entitled Shangri-La: Along the Tea Road to Lhasa

He has received numerous industry awards, including those from the Pictures of the Year, Photo District News, the New York Art Directors Club, and the Asian-American Journalists Association. Major exhibits of his work have opened throughout Asia, in Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Taipei, and Singapore, as well as in Rome, Venice, Frankfurt, and Perpignan, France. His work has been exhibited at galleries in Los Angeles and at the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

Michael has published nine books (most inspired by his thirty National Geographic stories): The Great Wall From Beginning to End; New York: Flying High, an aerial portrait of Manhattan; Zheng He: Tracing the Epic Voyages of China’s Greatest Explorer; Japan: The Soul of a Nation; Marco Polo, A Photographer’s Journey; Mekong: A Journey on the Mother of Waters; In the Japanese Garden; A Pictorial Tribute to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy; Lakes, Peaks and Prairies: Discovering the U.S. Canadian Border.

More about Michael Yamashita…


September 9 – September 23, 2018 (a 15-day tour)

Prices (in US $)

  • $11,400 with 6-7 participants
  • $10,700 with 8-9 participants
  • 10,600 with 10 participants
  • $10,450 with 11-12 participants
  • $800 Single Supplement
  • $380 domestic flight Yushu to Xining (economy class, and subject to change)

Payment Schedule

  • Deposit: $500 (non-refundable)
  • Balance Due: 90 days prior to departure

Cancellation Fees

  • 61-90 days prior to departure 50% of trip cost
  • 60 days or less prior to departure 100% of trip cost


What is Included

  • All ground transportation
  • All entrance fees
  • All meals, except on the first day (only dinner is included), and on the last day (only breakfast in included)
  • Bottled water
  • Accommodations as specified

What is not included

  • International airfare and visas
  • Customary and optional tips for local guides
  • Immunizations
  • Personal expenses including laundry, snacks, drinks, alcohol, etc.
  • Overweight luggage charges


1) Send Deposit

An invoice will be sent by email with instructions for payment. A non-refundable deposit is required to hold your place on a trip. If paying the full amount, an itemized invoice will be sent. (Same price for cash or credit.)

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2) Complete Trip Application Form

Download and complete the form below. Send it using the email on the form.

Download Trip Application

 3) Purchase Travel Health Insurance

Traveler’s health insurance is required for all Compass Rose Expedition trips.

We strongly recommend trip cancellation insurance.

Traveler’s Insurance

 4) Send Copy of Passport

We need a copy of your passport to make reservations. Send a copy of the main page (the one with your photo) to the same email as listed on the Trip Application Form.

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