Should I Take the Overland Trip from Lhasa to Kathmandu, or Kathmandu to Lhasa?
An epic adventure that gave travelers the best of the Himalayan cultures, stunning landscapes, and revered temples and monasteries, the overland trip between Nepal and Tibet combines the rich experiences of both destinations together in what is considered to be the trip of a lifetime. The only thing left to decide now is which way do you travel? Nepal to Tibet or Tibet to Nepal? Please follow our Tibet travel expert's scrutiny and choose the right way you find most suitable with.
Lhasa to Kathmandu Overland VS Kathmandu to Lhasa Overland
There are many differences in the route to travel from Lhasa to Kathmandu or Kathmandu to Lhasa, and while each has its major bonuses and benefits for travel, there are also cons to taking both routes across the Himalayas.
Lhasa to Kathmandu Road Map
Different Travel Documents Required
Travel documents when traveling between Nepal and Tibet are one of the most important considerations in deciding which way to travel. While both directions do require the same documents, such as the Tibet Travel Permit, Alien’s travel Permit, and Frontier Pass, how to get them does differ greatly when traveling one way or the other.
Tibet Travel Permit is an indispensable travel document for Tibet entry.
When traveling from Tibet to Nepal, the documents are arranged at different times, and before you can even book the tour, you will need to apply for the Chinese Entry Visa to get into China to start the journey to Tibet. Once this is approved and received, only then can you book your tour of Tibet and we can arrange the permits you require.
The Tibet Travel permit is the main permit for travel into Tibet, and when traveling from mainland China, requires scanned copies of your passport and Chinese Entry Visa in order for us to make the application on your behalf. In contrast, travel from Nepal to Tibet actually only requires us to have a scanned copy of your passport in order to make the application for the China Group Visa and Tibet Permit, as the group visa is not issued in advance for travelers entering Tibet from Nepal. However, all of the documents you will need for the trip in Tibet are required to be obtain in advance of your travel dates.
Known as the Chinese Group Visa, the visa for entering Tibet from Nepal is applied for using your original passport and Tibet Travel Permit once you reach Kathmandu. The application is made by us on your behalf at the Chinese Embassy in Nepal, and takes just three working days to process.
While the Alien’s Travel Permit and the Frontier Pass can be obtained once you arrive in Lhasa when entering Tibet from mainland China to travel on to Nepal, when traveling the other way from Nepal to Tibet, all of the required documents must be processed in advance of your travel dates. Since both of these documents are required for travel in Shigatse Prefecture and around the area of the Sino-Nepal border, you cannot cross the border into Shigatse from Nepal without them. Different Altitude Change
As we all know, Tibet is known as the “Roof of the World” and sits on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the highest and largest plateau on the planet with an average elevation of around 4,800 meters above sea level. Therefore, acclimatizing to the high altitude properly is very important.
In Lhasa, Tourists can get used to acclimatization and drop by attractions
If you choose to travel from Lhasa to Kathmandu you have the chance to get better used to acclimatization. Generally, tourists will stay for 3 nights in Lhasa for acclimatization, at an altitude of over 3,600 meters. Meanwhile, you can pay a visit to the most interesting Buddhist temples in the city. These include the legendary Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple, and the kora route on Barkhor Street. To observe the unique Tibetan Buddhist faith, you will also visit monasteries from that area, such as Sera and Drepung.
When traveling at higher altitudes, it is always better to acclimatize to the altitude and then travel from high to low, as this will not require additional acclimatization as you travel. Heading from Lhasa to Kathmandu takes you from high to low, albeit with a little additional ascent along the way for the first half of the journey from Lhasa to EBC. However, overall, the route heading west is generally downhill, and is a much better option for those cycling across the plateau.
The overland trip between Tibet and Nepal
Traveling from Kathmandu to Lhasa means climbing almost constantly, which can make acclimatizing to the increasing altitude a little more difficult and can increase the risk of getting Altitude Sickness along the way. On the standard 7-day tour across the plateau, your days in Lhasa will be at the end of the tour, which is no good for acclimatizing to the altitude. However, we have an answer for that problem for those that prefer to travel from Kathmandu to Lhasa. Instead of being a 7-day tour, we offer and 8-day tour from Kathmandu to Lhasa, which includes a day for acclimatizing after you cross the border to Tibet at Gyirong Town (2,700 meters ASL). Having this additional day for acclimatizing as you ascend to the high-altitude plateau makes the trip much easier and reduces the chance of altitude sickness along the way.
Consider How to Combine the Extended Tour
While the trip across the plateau in either direction can have its advantages, if you are planning an extended tour to other destinations after Nepal and Tibet, then where you are heading next can influence your decision on which way to travel. One of the most popular destinations after Tibet and Nepal is to travel on to mainland China to continue exploring this vast and ancient land at its lower altitudes. By taking the tour across the mountains from Nepal to Tibet, you can then continue on by train or flight down into mainland China to explore such amazing destinations as Chengdu, Xi’an, Beijing, and Shanghai, to name just a few. You also have the option of taking your overland tour even further, and following the fabulous G318 National Highway down off the plateau to Chengdu and beyond. And our amazing Lhasa to Chengdu Overland tours are a great way to explore the beautiful region between Lhasa and Sichuan Province.
Tibet Sichuan oberland tour via G318 National Highway
Mainland China is not the only post-Himalayan destination you can visit though. A trip across the Himalayas can only be enhanced by taking an additional jaunt into Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, another great Himalayan kingdom and the last true Shangri-La of these vast mountains. However, as there is no direct access to Bhutan from China or Tibet, the best option is to travel across the Himalayas from Lhasa to Kathmandu. From Kathmandu, you can get a direct flight to Bhutan, as Tribhuvan International Airport is one of only nine airports in five countries that has direct access to this isolated mountain kingdom. A devout land of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, Bhutan is one of the most stunning destinations on the planet, and has an environmental tourism policy that ensures they protect their delicate ecosystems while providing one of the most outstanding tour experiences in the world. - Check the most classic tours to Bhutan.
Punakha Dzong, one of the landmarks of Bhutan
Different Travel Cost for You to Consider
Cost can be a considering factor in deciding which way to travel between Nepal and Tibet, and for many travelers, saving a little money on the cost of the tour can be an important consideration. Overall the tour from Lhasa to Kathmandu is generally less costly than traveling the other way round, mainly because of the additional day spent when traveling to Lhasa from Kathmandu. As you will spend an additional day in Gyirong Town to acclimatize, there is an additional night of accommodation and food to take into consideration, not to mention the cost of the driver and guide for the extra day.
Before leaving for Lhasa, touring scenic spots in Kathmandu is a wise decision.
However, while the prices may be different depending on the direction in which you are heading, they are also going to be affected by the changing seasons. Traveling in the summer months from June to September, the peak months in Tibetan tourism, costs are going to be much higher for hotels and other expenses. When traveling in the low-season months, normally from November to March, these costs are much lower, saving sometimes as much as 50% on the cost of the hotels and other additional expenses. Even the cost of the tour itself can be lower in the low season for tourism in Tibet, and you can save well by choosing to travel between November and January.
Gyirong Port, the Sino-Nepal border
As far as the additional expense is concerned, the trip from Kathmandu to Gyirong port can be a little more costly than the trip from Gyirong Port to the Nepali capital. While the six-hour run down from the mountains to the city is normally done in just one day, the trip up into the mountains to the border normally stops overnight in Syabrubesi, as the border would be closed by the time you reached it if the trip was made in one go. This can incur an additional cost for the hotel accommodation overnight.
However, other than these two additional expenses for the trip from Kathmandu to Lhasa, the difference is not as high as you might think. Overall, you can expect to pay an additional 100 dollars or so for the different tours prices, and the cost of the hotel in Syabrubesi is not usually more than 15-20 dollars per night.
Deciding on whether to take the trip from Kathmandu to Lhasa or Lhasa to Kathmandu is entirely up to you. It is always best to weight up the pros and cons of both directions of travel, which can help you make your decision. You should also take into consideration where you are going next or the cost of the flight back home from your final destination in Asia, which can be a major difference in cost depending on where you fly home from and to. And for those planning on cycling across the plateau, it is definitely better to cycle “downhill” than “uphill”.