As 2016 draws to a close we take a look back at our new trips launched this year and explore the highlights of each route.
Trans Himalaya China Loop - Xi-an to Xi-an via Tibet
Lhasa - Potala Palace
Now a museum and World Heritage Site, the Potala Palace was built as the centre of Tibetan Government in 1645, and was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until 1959. The palace towers over Llasa and at 3750m above sea level, is said to be the highest ancient palace in the world. It consists of the White Palace and the ‘golden-roofed’ Red Palace, and each have their own fascinating histories. The amazing stone and wood structure is home to an incredible array of artefacts from Tibetan history, religion and culture.
Rongbuk Monastery & Tibetan Everest Base Camp
Perched at an altitude of 5100masl at the foot of Mount Everest; Rongbuk Monastery claims to be the highest Buddhist Temple on the planet. There are spectacular views of the North Face of Everest from the monastery, from here it is a 2hr walk to the Tibetan Everest Base Camp or you can even take a shuttle bus. Get up close and personal with the mightiest mountain on earth, without the hard work!
Xi-an - Terracota Warriors
The Terracotta Army is a must-see for visitors to the region. This subterranean army of thousand of life-size warriors was constructed over 2200 years ago to protect and guard the first Emperor Qin in the after-life.
Sudan Loop - Khartoum to Khartoum
Wild camping at Wawa - The Temple of Amun, Soleb
The Soleb Temple was constructed in the 14th Century BC by Amenhotep III, the same Pharaoh who built the famous Temple of Luxor across the Nile in Egypt. The temple played a central role in Egyptian mythology; it was believed to be the site where the eye of Horus was lost in a battle with Seth. The site is also home to a vast necropolis of small tombs decorated with pyramids. After visiting the ruins we spend the night wild camping in the desert nearby, experiencing the quiet magic of the desert night skies.
Pyramids of Meroe
Around 300BC the Capital and Royal Burial Ground of the Kingdom of Nubia was moved South to Meroe, chosen for its advantageous location on the Nile, at a junction of river and caravan routes connecting Central Africa with Egypt. A succession of leaders constructed over 200 pyramid tombs containing the remains of more than forty Kings, Queens and other VIPs. Meroe is the largest archeological site in Sudan, extended over a square mile area and according to UNESCO, Meroe's decorations linking to Egypt, Greece and Rome, make the site a priceless relic. In 1834 an Italian explorer destroyed the tops of many of the pyramids in a search for gold and treasures, however many remain intact and some have been reconstructed to demonstrate their former glory.
Southern Ethiopia – Addis Ababa & Arba Minch
Omo Valley Region
The remote and rarely-visited tribal area of the Omo Valley was declared a World Heritage Site after the earliest known Homo Sapien fossil fragments were found there. The area is home to over 40 different tribes who have inhabited the area for centuries. Each tribe is recognisable by their incredible decorations used for hunting, special visits, ceremonies and festivals, with each tribe having its own unique trait such as white body paints, red hair braids, ornate beaded jewellery or huge lip and ear plates.
Home to dramatic mountain scenery, lush fairytale cloud forest and an unworldly lunar landscape, the Bale Mountains National Park is spectacularly diverse. The undulating Sanetti Plateau rises to over 4000m and is dotted with glacial lakes, volcanic ridges and peaks and its Southern slopes are covered by the dense Harenna Forest. The park is one of the best places to spot the rare and endangered Ethiopian Wolf as well as many endemic species such as the Mountain Nyala, Starck’s Hare, Bale Monkey and the Giant Molerat, not to mention 310 species of birds and endemic chameleons, toads and frogs.
Nepal Loop – Kathmandu to Kathmandu
The former royal enclave of Nuwakot is nestled in the central hills of Nepal and boasts a spectacular Himalayan backdrop. It was from here that in 1744, Prithvi Narayan Shah (the King who unified Nepal), devised his strategy to conquer Kathmandu, and thus founded the new Shah dynasty that would rule the country for 240 years. The Nuwakot Durbar is a fascinating 7-storey palace fortress where steep wooden stairs lead to the Queen’s dressing room, the King’s Bedroom and a bird’s eye view of the surrounding countryside from the seventh floor. Hindu temples of Vishnu and Narayan stand side by side in the courtyard in front of the former royal armoury and the King’s entertainment hall.
At 8091m Annapurna is the tenth highest mountain in the world and the highest peak in the Annpurna Massif. With 8 peaks above 7000m, the Annapurna Region is an incredible area for hiking and provides no end of stunning vistas of peaks, valleys, forests and rhodedendrons, as well rural villages where life has barely changed for the past 100 years.
Iran – Ashgabat to Tehran
Iran’s most-popular tourist spot and described by some as ‘the most-beautiful city in the world', Esfahan boasts tree-lined avenues, Persian gardens and historic Islamic buildings. The city was the Capital of Persia from 1592 to 1722 and was once one of the largest cities in the world, sitting on a major intersection of the North-South and East-West routes crossing Iran. Must-see sights include; the Naqsh-e Jahan Square (or Imam Square), one of the largest city squares in the world; Si-o-seh Pol, Esfahan’s famous 33-arch bridge, and the Shah Mosque, a masterpiece of Persian architecture.
Founded by King Darius the Great in 518BC, more than two and a half thousand years ago, Persepolis was the mighty capital of the Achaemenid Empire and once the richest city on Earth. Inspired by Mesopotamian models, the King of Kings created an impressive palace complex on a huge part-artificial, part-natural terrace. Much is known about the city thanks to the thousands of stone tablets found here that document day to day life. With the majestic ‘Gate of all Nations’, imposing stone columns, elaborately carved marble walls and the King’s Tomb, located in the hills overlooking the city, Persepolis is a fascinating and mesmerising step back in time.