As one of the most iconic journeys across the Himalayas, the overland trip from Kathmandu to Lhasa is an amazing journey that takes you over the world’s highest mountain range and across the world’s highest plateau to the highest capital city on the planet, Lhasa, in the Tibet Autonomous Region. This 1,200-kilometer adventure takes you to the top sites in Tibet, including the famous Mount Everest Base Camp, the city of Shigatse, the sights and sounds of Lhasa, and many other fabulous attractions as well. And while it may be more convenient to get to Lhasa from Kathmandu by flight, there is nothing to compare with the stunning beauty of the Tibetan plateau as you travel across it by bus.
Kathmandu to Lhasa by Road Distance and Condition
In a straight line, the distance to Lhasa from Kathmandu is around 607 kilometers, but with an overland trip, which includes an added trip to the Everest Base Camp (EBC), the actual trip distance by road is around 1,205 kilometers.
The roads in Tibet are well paved, thanks to the construction work on the Friendship Highway, which has made the route faster and easier to travel, especially in the winter months. Even the road to EBC, which turns off the Friendship Highway at Tingri to travel south for more than 100 kilometers, is a paved road right up to the Rongbuk Monastery, close by the base camp itself.
However, the route from Kathmandu to the Sino-Nepal border at Gyirong Port is a very different matter. While the road from Kathmandu to Syabrubesi is relatively decent, and paved for the majority of the route, as you climb into the mountains it gets steadily worse. As the route heads up through the Langtang National Park, the road turns to gravel and dirt in many places, and is often just wide enough for one vehicle, with passing places dotted along the route. In the summer monsoon months, this can make the road impassable in many places, and often subject to mudslides and road damage.
How to Travel from Kathmandu to Lhasa by Bus
Kathmandu to Syabrubesi Distance and Highlight
The route to the border at Gyirong Port lies around 150 kilometers from the city of Kathmandu, following the road to Trishuli Bazaar and through Syabrubesi, along the renowned Pasang Lhamu Highway. Non-stop, the route can be done in around 9 hours, but with the time difference, a stop is normally made at Syabrubesi, close to the border, so that you can cross in the morning. The actual distance to Syabrubesi is around 134 kilometers, and takes around six hours to reach by bus.
Syabrubesi to Kyirong Distance and Highlight
After Syabrubesi, the route then heads to Gyirong Port, and across the border to Gyirong Town where most people will stop for a day to acclimatize to the increased height of the plateau. It is a mere 15 kilometers to the border from Syabrubesi, and once across, the trip to Gyirong Town, which is another 25 kilometers, takes around an hour.
One of the major advantages of crossing the border into Tibet by land is the drive up through the stunning Gyirong Valley, which has been called the most beautiful valley in Tibet. A stunning natural landscape of verdant green vegetation, surrounded by high mountains, the valley is lush and green due to its lower altitude in relation to the rest of the plateau. The trip to Gyirong also includes traveling through the Langtang National Park, the largest and oldest national park in Nepal, and one of the most beautiful areas of alpine forest in the small landlocked country.
Kyirong to EBC to Tingri Distance and Highlight
The route to Lhasa once you are in Tibet follows the length of the G318 National Highway, also known as the Friendship Highway. For those stopping off at Everest Base Camp along the way, the next section of the trip covers a distance of 330 kilometers, which takes around 5-6 hours to drive.
After leaving Gyirong, the road heads north in a loop past the beautiful Lake Peiku and Lake Langjang, to join the G318 near the Tibetan town of Old Tingri. From there, you turn off the Friendship Highway, to head south to the famous EBC and Rongbuk Monastery. One of the most beautiful scenic trips in the world, the road passes through high Transhimalaya mountains, and crosses several high passes over 5,000 meters, from which a number of the world’s highest mountains over 8,000 meters can be seen.
EBC is one of the most iconic attractions in Tibet, and is the most popular site on the plateau for international tourists. Located just a short distance from the Rongbuk Monastery, the “official” highest Buddhist monastery in the world, the base camp has the best view of the summit of Mount Everest of any other place in the Himalayas. After the stop at the base camp, it is a trip of around 100 kilometers back to old Tingri and the Friendship Highway.
Tingri to Shigatse Distance and Highlight
After rejoining the Friendship Highway at Old Tingri, the route to Shigatse is around 242 kilometers, and can be done in a single day, with time to spare once you reach the plateau region’s second city. Renowned for the Tashilhunpo Monastery, the seat of the Panchen Lama, Shigatse is one of the biggest and most populous cities on the plateau, and has a wealth of things to see and do while you are in the city.
As well as being able to explore the unique Tibetan culture and the local farmland around the area, which is some of the most fertile on the plateau, you will also get to tour inside the monastery. The monastery is the seat of the second-highest Buddhist incarnation in Tibet, and is a unique monastery in that it houses several of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. It is also the home of the Maitreya Buddha, also known as the future Buddha, who is said to be coming to earth around 30,000 years after Gautama Buddha. The belief is that the Maitreya will appear when the Buddhist belief is dying out, in order to save mankind.
Shigatse to Gyantse to Lhasa Distance and Highlight
The last leg of the trip is from Shigatse to Lhasa, but it is far from being the most uneventful part of the trip. The route to Lhasa from Shigatse heads southeast to Gyantse first, and then on to Lake Yamdrok at Nagartse, before heading northeast up to the Tibetan capital. A total distance of around 364 kilometers, you will normally arrive in Lhasa in the evening.
The route heads first through Gyantse, where you will get time to visit the Pelkor Chode Monastery, and the famous Gyantse Kumbum. The Kumbum is a 32-meter high stupa that is the only one of its kind in Tibet. Built and sponsored by a local prince in the year 1427, this unique structure contains thousands of images and statues inside its nine stories of 108 chapels.
After leaving Gyantse, you will head for Nagartse for lunch, before following the shores of the beautiful fan-shaped Lake Yamdrok to its northeastern corner. The lake is renowned in Tibet as being the lifeblood of the plateau, and it is believed that, if the lake should ever run dry, it will be the end of all life on the plateau. One of the most stunning of the Great Three lakes, Lake Yamdrok is one of the most iconic sights close to Lhasa. The final leg of the trip to Lhasa takes a couple of hours, and you will soon be resting in your hotel.
Best Time for Nepal Tibet Overland Tour
The Tibetan plateau is one of the few places in the world that can be visited easily throughout the year. However, while the trip to Lhasa from Kathmandu can be done at any time of year, it is harder in the monsoon season, due to the heavy rains in Nepal and across the Himalayas.
The best time to take this trip from Kathmandu to Lhasa is from April to October, When the plateau landscape is at its best. The weather and climate of the plateau from spring to autumn is ideal for touring, and with clear skies and bright sunshine most of the time, there is no better time to take any tour of Tibet.
Dining and Accommodation along Kathmandu to Lhasa Tour
For much of the route to Lhasa from Kathmandu, you will be accommodated in local hotels and guesthouses, which, while comfortable, can sometimes be a little basic when it comes to facilities. However, with a few exceptions, most hotels you will stay in have running water, electricity, and Wi-Fi, so it is not as bad as many people think it will be. The major exception is the stop at EBC, where there are no rated hotels, and just the monastery guesthouse or the tent guesthouses to stay in. There is no power or running water, and heating is only provided by the stove in the guesthouse or tent. And you should not expect good toilet facilities either. The toilet is a hole in the ground with a structure around it.
For food, there is always plenty of Tibetan cuisine to eat, if you like the Tibetan foods. Most of the Tibetan dishes contain noodles and tsampa, as well as being filled with yak meat or mutton, and vegetables, where available. Tibetan cuisine is more refined in Lhasa, and very basic in the hinterlands out west, but is delicious and nutritious for travelers. If you are not into Tibetan food, you can find a few places that have other cuisines in the major towns and cities, or you can bring a packet and tinned foods with you.
How much does a Kathmandu to Lhasa overland tour cost?
On average, a tour from Kathmandu to Lhasa can cost from around US$ 1,060 per person. However, this does depend on the season in which you are traveling, the number of people in your group, and other major factors. In the low season, from December to March, the price of most things in Tibet is a lot lower, so you can get the same tour for less money, and have fewer tourists crowding the major attractions. It can also be lower depending on the number of people in the party, If you join a Kathmandu to Lhasa small group tour, then you can pay less for the cost of the guide, driver, and vehicle, which are shared between all the members of the group. This reduces the overall cost. For more exact details of the tour costs, our friendly and professional tour advisers are waiting to help you out.
Travel Permit and Visa Needed for Nepal Tibet Tour
If you are traveling from Nepal to Tibet, then you do not need to apply for a Chinese Entry Visa. The visa for the trip into China from Nepal is known as the Chinese group Visa, and is only issued once you arrive in Kathmandu ready for your trip to Tibet. On your arrival, we will collect your original passport and application form, and process the application for you with the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu. Processing takes three working days, so be sure to be in Nepal at least five days before your scheduled departure date.
You will also need certain permits to enter Tibet, which includes the Tibet Travel Permit, the Alien’s Travel Permit, and the Frontier Pass. All of these are arranged by us on your behalf, and will be given when you arrive in Kathmandu, after processing your visa. The Tibet Travel Permit is the main permit to enter Tibet, while the Alien’s Travel Permit is required to travel to the areas of the tour that are outside Lhasa. The Frontier Pass is required by all tourists in China that are traveling in the restricted border areas, which includes the Gyirong border crossing and EBC.
The long and delightful trip across the plateau from Kathmandu is one of the most outstanding tours in Tibet, and is a popular tour with many international travelers. Not only do you get to travel across the plateau to Lhasa, but you can also continue on into mainland China to visit some of the thousands of amazing cultural and historic sites this vast country has to offer. So if you are thinking of planning a trip to Lhasa from Kathmandu, there is no better way than to go overland, and explore the plateau the way it was meant to be seen, close up.`