There are, essentially, only two ways to get from Nepal to Tibet, either overland by car or by flight to Lhasa Gonggar International Airport. The trip from Kathmandu to Lhasa is an amazing experience, whether you go by car or by plane, and the routes, while very different, have their own unique charms for different travelers.
A tour of Nepal and Tibet together gives you the ultimate Himalayan experience, staying in the amazing mountains on the edge of the world’s highest plateau. Combined tours in Nepal and Tibet are a popular choice for tourists today, giving them the chance to explore the various mountain regions of Nepal and the stunning landscapes and scenery of this beautiful landlocked country. Then traveling on to Tibet, the land of Buddhist monasteries, unique Tibetan culture, vast open plains, high lofty mountains, and huge sacred lakes, taking a tour across the immense plateau is one of the most exhilarating journeys in the world.
Nepal to Tibet by Overland (7-8 days, 1,084km)
Traveling overland from Nepal to Tibet usually means starting in Kathmandu, the Nepali capital, and then taking a car over the border to head across the plateau to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. Usually, the tour from Kathmandu to Lhasa takes around 7-8 days, when traveling overland. The road from Kathmandu to Lhasa is long, covering around 1,084 kilometers (673 miles).
The normal tour from Kathmandu to Lhasa is split up into several days of travel, with various attractions to visit along the way, including the Gyirong valley, Mount Everest and the Everest Base Camp (EBC), Shigatse’s Tashilhunpo Monastery, the Kumbum Stupa in Gyantse, and the amazing Lake Yamdrok.
Kathmandu to Gyirong Distance (173 km) and How to Travel
The first part of the trip is the road from Kathmandu (1,294m) to Gyirong Town (2,800m), in western Tibet, just across the border between Nepal and China. The total distance from Kathmandu to Gyirong Town is around 173 kilometers (108 miles), and the average travel time for this part of the trip can be between 8-10 hours.
The first part of the trip is from Kathmandu to the Sino-Nepal border at Gyirong Port/Rasuwa Gadhi (1,814m). There are a few ways you can get to Gyirong Port, and the best option depends on your needs. Private cars can take you to the border, but are the most expensive option at around US$60 for the trip. Shuttles also ply the route, carrying up to 12 people for as little as 30 dollars. However, they are very cramped, and it is a six-hour drive to Rasuwa Gadhi on the border. Buses are convenient for the trip to the border, and cost as little as 25 dollars each. They are actually no slower than the cars and shuttles, as the roads are not in the best of condition as you head up into the foothills of the Himalayas. They also stop for a meal along the way, but can be bumpy and uncomfortable if you are not used to traveling by bus in Nepal.
The route heads out of Kathmandu and northwest to Bidur, where it picks up the Pasang Lhamu highway that runs all the way north to the border. The route also passes through the western edges of the Langtang National Park, one of the most stunning national parks in Nepal, before finally reaching the border at Rasuwa Gadhi.
After crossing the Resuo Bridge into China, you will pass through immigration and be met by your guide, who will transfer you the 24 kilometers to Gyirong Town for the night.
Gyirong to EBC and Shigatse Distance (671 km) and How to Travel
The next leg of the route takes you from Gyirong Town to Shigatse, stopping at the famous Everest Base Camp along the way. From Gyirong to EBC is a distance of around 330 kilometers (205 miles) and takes around six hours to drive. The route passes through Old Tingri, on the G318 Friendship Highway, which runs all the way to Lhasa. At 5,200 meters above sea level, EBC is the highest stopping point on the route to Lhasa.
After spending some time viewing and photographing the world’s highest mountain, and staying the night in the Rongbuk Monastery or the local tent guesthouses, you will depart EBC to head for Shigatse, Tibet’s second city. The distance from EBC to Shigatse is around 341 kilometers (212 miles), and can take around five hours of driving, with a break along the way.
The route heads north from EBC to reach the friendship Highway at Tingri, and then follows the road east to Shigatse City (3,842m), and the famous Tashilhunpo Monastery.
Shigatse to Lhasa Distance (357 km) and How to Travel
From Shigatse, it is around 357 kilometers (222 miles) to Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the route passes through the city of Gyantse (4,029m), previously the third largest city in Tibet. Lhasa lies at an altitude of around 3,656 meters above sea level, so there is no acclimatization needed when making the trip from EBC to Lhasa, as this is a descent in altitudes.
The route takes you southeast from Shigatse, to visit the city of Gyantse, and stop to admire the Pelkor Chode Monastery and the famous Gyantse Kumbum. Then it is on eastwards to pass along the edges of the stunning Lake Yamdrok, one of the Great Three Sacred Lakes of Tibet. After stopping to admire the lake and the views, it is on to Lhasa, and the amazing experience of the city tour, which includes the awesome Potala Palace and the sacred Jokhang Temple.
Nepal to Tibet by Flight
The other way to get to Lhasa from Kathmandu is to take a flight from the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu to the Lhasa Gonggar International Airport in Shannan Prefecture. One of the simplest and fastest ways to travel to the Tibetan capital, the flights from Kathmandu are not only the only international flights to Tibet, but they pass directly over the world’s highest mountain, so you get a good aerial view of the summit in good weather.
Kathmandu to Lhasa Flight Schedule
There are currently only two flights from Kathmandu to Lhasa per day, which are run by Air China, Tibet Airlines, and Sichuan Airlines. Air China has daily flights that depart from Kathmandu at around 12:10pm NPT daily, arriving in Lhasa at 4:00pm Chinese Time. The flight takes around 90 minutes and crosses the peak of Everest on the way to Lhasa. Sichuan Airlines operates only three flights a week to Lhasa, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11:10am. Tibet Airlines is the newest carrier for Lhasa flights from Kathmandu, and runs two flights a week that stop in Lhasa on the way to Chengdu.
How to Get to Kathmandu Tribhuvan Airport
Located around 6 kilometers to the east of the center of Kathmandu, the Tribhuvan International Airport can be reached by bus, taxi, or private car. Buses run the route between Thamel District and the airport for the cost of around 20 rupees. Taxis are a lot more expensive, costing around 400 rupees for the trip if you get a normal taxi or around 700 rupees for an airport taxi through your hotel. However, some of the normal taxis do not have much luggage space, so if there are four of you, you may not all fit in the car. Some hotels offer a private transfer service to the airport from the hotel, which can be much more costly, but if there are four of you in the car, which will have enough room for luggage, then it is cost-effective.
How to Get to Lhasa Downtown from Lhasa Gonggar Airport
Lhasa is around 62 kilometers from the Lhasa Gonggar International Airport in Shannan Prefecture. One of the best ways to travel to Lhasa from the airport is to use our free airport shuttles, which we provide for tourists traveling to Lhasa from Kathmandu for one of our tours. Our shuttles depart from the taxi station outside the airport, and the current schedule is 9:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 4:30 pm.
Taxis run the route between the airport and the city, though it can be hard to get a taxi sometimes, especially in the peak season. You can expect to pay between 160 yuan to 200 yuan for the 1-hour drive to downtown Lhasa, and the drivers do not usually use the meter. It is best to haggle a little and agree the price before you get in, to get the best deal.
Regular buses run from the airport to the city, and these airport shuttles are a good way to travel from the airport to downtown Lhasa. There are more than 20 shuttle buses every day, in both directions, and the bus fare costs around 30 yuan per person. Travel time is around 2 hours, and seats are in high demand, so you may have to queue for the bus in the peak seasons. However, the buses do not move until they are full, so in the low seasons, you may have something of a wait before departing.
Nepal to Tibet by Train
Unfortunately, there is not yet a train that runs all the way from Kathmandu to Lhasa. Plans are in place to extend the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway all the way to Kathmandu, crossing the border at Gyirong Port, but this extension is still several years away from completion. At the moment, you can travel to Shigatse overland, and then take the train from Shigatse to Lhasa.
What documents do I need to visit Tibet from Nepal?
For travelers from Nepal to Tibet, there are certain documentary requirements that are needed to be completed before you can travel. The main document is the Tibet Travel Permit, which is only available from the Tibet Tourism Bureau in Lhasa once you have booked your tour. The permit is applied for by us on your behalf using a scanned copy of your passport, and can take up to 15-20 days to process.
You will also need the Alien’s Travel Permit, which is required for travel in the “unopened” areas of Tibet outside Lhasa, which includes Shigatse Prefecture. The Frontier Pass is also required, as all tourists, both international and domestic, need this to travel in the area of the border between China and Nepal. This is also obtained by us before you depart.
When traveling to Tibet from Nepal, you do not need a regular Chinese Entry Visa, as a Chinese Group Visa will be issued once you arrive in Kathmandu. The visa is applied for by us with the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Nepali capital, and takes three working days to process. We will collect your original passport from you and use the other documents we will already have obtained to make the application.