Planning a trip between Nepal and Tibet can be done in two ways. Do you go from Nepal to Tibet or from Tibet to Nepal? Which is a better way to travel? We recommend the route from Tibet to Nepal, instead of the other way around, as the best route to take.
Travel from Tibet to Nepal saves time on the tour
One of the main considerations people when people planning an overland adventure on the Tibetan plateau is time. And the overland trip from Nepal to Tibet will take you longer time than the overland trip from Tibet to Nepal.
If you are thinking of starting in Nepal and traveling overland to Tibet, then you will need an extra 3-5 days for the tour. This is because it takes at least three days to obtain the entry visa to get into Tibet from Nepal. The Chinese Group Visa can only be issued once you arrive in Kathmandu, as it requires your original passport and takes around three working days to process.
The visa can only be applied for by your travel agency. This means that instead of heading off to Tibet as soon as you reach Nepal, you need to wait at least three working days before your departure onto the plateau.
Altitude change and potential to get altitude sickness
As the highest region on the earth, Tibet Autonomous Region has an average elevation of about 4,500m. However, Nepal, which neighbors Tibet closely, has a low altitude. When traveling from Kathmandu to Lhasa, there is a very sharp increase in altitude all the way. This means that the risk of altitude sickness is increased, due to the faster ascent when entering into Tibetan plateau from Nepal.
Tourists enter into Tibet from Nepal via Gyirong Port, and go further into Tibet via Gyirong County which is about 100km away from the port. While Kathmandu sits at an altitude of 1,400 meters, Gyirong Port lies at an altitude of just 1,850 meters, Gyirong Town, which is about 25km away from the port, is increased to 2,700 meters above sea level. Usually, Kathmandu to Tibet tours have an overnight stop here, before heading to EBC or Kailash via Gyirong County which stands 4,200 meters high and about 70km away from the town.
For those visiting EBC during a Nepal to Tibet tour, there is an increase in altitude of 2,700 meters without a full day to acclimatize. After departing from Gyirong Town, you ascend quickly through the Gyirong Valley to more than 4,000 meters in just 70 kilometers of driving, and then head directly to EBC, at an altitude of 5,200 meters. Then, you will cross Gawula Pass (5,211m) again to Tingri (4348m) and stay overnight there. In the following days, you will pass Gyatsola Pass (5,248m) and Tsola Pass (4,600m) on the way to Shigatse (3,900m), and climb over Simila Mountain Pass (5,150m) and Gampala Pass (4,998m) on the way from Gyantse (3,977m) to Lhasa.
For those visiting Kailash from Nepal, after departing Gyirong Port, you will drive to Zhongba County (4,772m) via Gyirong County and stay overnight there before heading to Lake Manasarovar at 4,590m and Darchen at 4,575 meters.
However, if you travel from Tibet to Nepal, you have time to acclimatize the altitude change to EBC or Mt. Kailash. When you arrive in Lhasa, you are able to acclimatize to the higher altitude for a couple of days, before heading out across the plateau. This is important for the trip across Tibet to Nepal, as you will ascend to altitudes of more than 5,000 meters at various locations across the region.
After leaving Lhasa, you travel first to Gyantse (3,977m) and Shigatse (3,900m), and stay overnight there to ascend gradually. Then you will reach Tingri at 4,390 meters before reaching EBC itself. From EBC, it is all downhill to Kathmandu, which makes the trip easier in terms of altitude.
Nepal to Tibet means no overnight stay at EBC
When traveling from Lhasa to Kathmandu, because you are fully acclimatized to high altitudes before you depart from Lhasa, you will also acclimatize more as you travel overland, ascending gradually to reach EBC. This means that, as you should be well acclimatized by the time you get there, you can stay overnight at EBC, the base camp at the foot of the world’s highest mountain. This gives you the chance to get some great sunset and sunrise photos of the orange glow on the slopes of the mountain. You also get to see the multitude of stars that can be seen at this altitude, including the rest of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. And you can experience staying in a traditional nomad tent in the renowned tent guesthouses.
When traveling from Kathmandu to Lhasa, you will not have the added days to acclimatize to the higher altitudes, which means that you will not be able to stop overnight at the base camp. Instead, you will depart from Gyirong and drive to the base camp, then depart in the afternoon to stop overnight at Tingri, on the road to Shigatse. This means that you miss out on some of the most outstanding aspects of a trip to EBC.
Traveling on a Small Group Tour to Mount Kailash is not available from Nepal
Another option for small group tours that run from Lhasa to Kathmandu is the chance to take a longer tour to trek around Mount Kailash, before crossing the border into Nepal. However, small group tours from Kathmandu to Lhasa never take the extended trip to Mount Kailash for the trek around the sacred mountain, which means you have to book a private tour if you want to make this trip. A private tour to Mount Kailash and then on to EBC and Lhasa from Kathmandu is an expensive option, and not one that is budget-friendly.
There are other small group tours from Lhasa to Kathmandu that run all the way to EBC, as if you are taking the normal tour to Kathmandu. Then you turn north for an added trip up to the sacred mountain, to tackle the hardest trek in Tibet, before heading back south to Gyirong Port and across the border into Nepal. These amazing tours make traveling to the sacred mountain easier and cheaper than taking a private tour from Kathmandu.
Flexible traveling ways
For anyone that is keen on cycling, taking a trip across the plateau is one of the most outstanding cycling routes on the planet. The cycyling from Lhasa to Kathmandu is one of the most popular of all the cycling routes in Tibet, and takes you through several stunning locations to get to Nepal. A ride of more than 1,270 kilometers, the route begins in Lhasa and heads through Gyantse, Shigatse, and EBC, before heading to Gyirong Town and the border crossing into Nepal.
While a tour of Tibet from Lhasa to Kathmandu by bike is “possible”, it is not really feasible to take a tour in the opposite direction. Primarily, you cannot really cycle from Kathmandu to Gyirong Port on the border due to the extremely poor road conditions on the route up to the border.
Also, for anyone thinking they would be able to cycle across the plateau in the reverse order, from Gyirong to Lhasa, you will need to spend at least two days in Gyirong County before continuing on across the plateau towards EBC to acclimatize to the massive increase in altitude. Not acclimatizing leaves you open to more severe altitude sickness, which could be potentially fatal in the long run.
So, if you are thinking of whether to travel from Nepal to Tibet or Tibet to Nepal, it is pretty clear that the easiest, fastest, and most convenient route is to travel from Lhasa to Kathmandu, rather than the other way around. And with it being the cheapest option for almost every tour in Tibet that crosses the border, booking a trip from Tibet to Nepal is the obvious choice for anyone with a desire to cross the Himalayas.