Sample Tibet Overland Itinerary
Kathmandu - Lhasa by Road, Return by Air
Day 1 KATHMANDU - ZHANGMU (2300 meters)
An early start around 6 am from Kathmandu should mean arrival at the border by 11.30 am, Nepal time. If clear en-route there are fine mountain views of Langtang, to the north, and Gauri Shanker, Melungtse and the Khumbu Himal (range) to the east. Driving east the road drops down and joins the Sun Kosi (river of gold) which after about two hours changes its name to become the Bhote (Tibet) Kosi higher up. From the Kodari border and Friendship bridge there is often a 530 meter climb to Zhangmu (porters are provided), the customs and immigration check post, and the famous (infamous!) Zhangmu Hotel. The guide will meet the group in arrival at the check post. Note - the bank here is usually closed. Also we hope to be using another hotel situated 1 1/2 hours drive above Zhangmu.
Day 2 ZHANGMU - XEGAR CHECK POST (4350 meters)
From Zhangmu the road follows the deep valley of the Bhote Kosi on a spectacular road with lots of waterfalls on both sides of the valley. After 2 1/2 hours drive Nielamu pass (3800m) is reached, from where there are views of the Jugal Himal. Fifteen minutes after crossing the great barrier of the Himalayan range, Nielamu is reached, the starting point of the Xixapangma trek. The road follows the valley passing some Tibetan villages where we often stop. The Lalung Leh (5050m) is about 2 1/4 hrs drive from Nielamu, and from this pass a very long range of mountains may be visible - Langtang (7245m), Xixapangma (8013m) and Dorje Lakpa (6980m) in the west. And in the east, Makalu (8463m), Everest (8848m), Lhotse (8516m), Cho Oyu (8201m) and Gauri Shanker (7134m). From the pass the descent is down to the plateau of Thingri which takes about 2 hours, then another 2 hours to Xegar Check Post. New hotels have been opened, and the accommodation and food is better than the old Xegar Dzong rest house.
Day 3 XEGAR CHECK POST - XIGATSE (3900 meters)
Lhatze is 3 hours away over a 5220 meter pass. There is a small restaurant in front of the petrol station where tea and snacks are available. If the road condition is good there is a possible 2 1/2 hour detour to Sakya Monastery, 26 km off from the main road. Sakya is one of the oldest and most important Bon Po monasteries. On the direct route from Xegar, Xigatse is reached in about 7 hrs. The famous Tashi Lumpo monastery, seat of the Panchen Lama until his death in 1989, with its huge thangka wall, lies clearly visible on the north side of the road. The hotel is large and inefficiently run, and alternatives to the hotel restaurant can be found the hotel main gate.
Day 4 XIGATSE - GYANGTSE (3950 meters)
We visit the Tashi Lumpu Monastery in the morning. The tour includes the temple of the large future Buddha, which is 26 meters high and is gilded with gold and decorated with valuable jewels. The main and biggest monastery has prayer halls, printing blocks and alters of different gods and goddesses. Below it monks and lamas can be found studying and debating. Afterwards it is interesting to visit the market and old town. After lunch the drive to Gyangtse is a pleasant 2 hours.
Gyangtse is small bustling town steeped in history. It lies 264 km southwest of Lhasa on the northern bank of the Nyang Chu river. In the 15th century it served as the capital of a small kingdom. The beautiful Kumbum chorten built around 1400 AD and the huge ruined castle bear witness to the powers that ruled then. It later became the main center for trade with British India and the focal point of Younghusband's British Expedition to Tibet in 1904 when his soldiers defeated some 5000 Tibetans and destroyed the fort by cannon fire.
The Gyantse hotel has two styles of rooms -- Tibetan and Chinese -- and usually immediately after arriving, a tour of the Kumbum and Pelkor Chode monastery is made. Then it can be very rewarding to have a look around the fascinating typically Tibetan town or even climb to the top of the fort if you can find the gatekeeper. There are restaurants and shops in the main street and closer to the hotel, as well as the usual hotel restaurant. Try eating traditional momos, balls of meat encased in dough, and chang, a "beer" made from barley.
Day 5 GYANGTSE - LHASA (3650 meters)
It takes 8 hours to drive from Gyangtse to Lhasa crossing the Karo La (5010m) and Kamba La (4794m). The Karo La climbs between two lofty mountains, Nozin Khang Sa (7223 m) and Ralung (6236 m). Look out for Nozin Kang's big hanging glacier on the left side 300 meters away. The descent leads to Yamdrok Tso (Turquoise Lake). A beautiful drive of about one hour around the lake is followed by a steep climb away form the north side of the lake to the Kamba La pass. From here the Lhasa valley is visible to the north. From the pass it takes at least an hour to twist and turn down the mountain side to the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahamaputra river), where the hard top road is met. A bridge takes the road to the north bank and the main road leading east to Lhasa, an hour away. Ten km before Lhasa the road meets the 1,165 km highway that crosses the Qhinghai plateau en-route to Golmud. Watch out for the first views of the Potala Palace.
Three nights are spent in the Lhasa Holidays Inn. The guide will reconfirm the airline tickets. Meals can be arranged with reception, or eaten at outside restaurants.
Days 6 & 7 LHASA (3650 meters)
The hotel is foreign managed and of a high standard. The Hotel has a coffee shop (continental food), a good buffet style lunch and dinner in the restaurant, several bars and a typically Chinese disco close by, also a bank, massage service, beauty salon and shops. Arranged sightseeing includes visits to the Potala palace, the Jokhang and surrounding Barkhor market, Drepung monastery and perhaps Sera monastery or Norbulinka, the Dalai Lama's summer palace (Potala was his winter residence).
Day 8 LHASA - KATHMANDU FLIGHT
The drive to the airport takes about 2 hours. It is often not possible to re-exchange FEC here. The flight is one hour ten minutes and it is one of the most beautiful flights in the world. First the flight follows the Yarlung Tsangpo river west. Then the aircraft flies over Lake Yamdrok and across the mountain range of Nozin Khang Sa. The flight takes a sharp turn southwards between Kanchenjunga (8586 m) and Makalu (8463 m). The east face of Chomolungma (Everest, 8848 m) and Makalu can be seen on the right side, and the whole Kanchenjunga massif including Chomo Lhari (7315 m) in Bhutan on the left side of the aircraft. After flying south for some 15 minutes following the line of the Arun valley, the flight turns west again towards Kathmandu flying along the southern flanks of Makalu, Everest, Lhotse and Cho Oyu (8210 m) before passing Gauri Shanker and Jugal Himal. Xixapangma lies behind Dorje Lakpa. Approaching Kathmandu is also possible to see, to the west, Manaslu and Annapurna 1 making a possible 8 out of 14, 8000 m plus peaks visible on this flight.