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13 Days Lhasa to Pangong Tso Birding Tour

13 Days Lhasa to Pangong Tso Birding Tour

(TBT002) Lhasa - Shigatse - Saga- Darchen -Saga - Shiquanhe - Pang Gong Tso Birding - Darchen - Saga - Shigatse - Lhasa


An amazing adventure that takes you to some of the best bird watching sites in Tibet, from the highlights of the Lhasa River and Yamdrok Lake to the delights of Lake Manasarovar and the amazing turquoise Lake Pangong Tso, one of the most ideal places for birding on Tibetan Plateau. As well as visiting some of the most amazing scenic and tourist attractions of the plateau, from the Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple to the delights of the Gyantse Kumbum and the awesome Guge Kingdom in Ngari. While it may involve a lot of driving to reach this far into western Tibet, it is worth it for the amazing birds and panoramic Tibetan view that would below your mind away.

Day to Day Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Lhasa (3,650m)

Receive the auspicious White Hada and Tibet Travel Guide from your local Tibetan guide;
Get a glimpse of Potala Palace and holy Lhasa city;

Tashi Delek! Welcome to Lhasa, the modern utopia as well as the spiritual heart of Tibet; Your hospitable Tibetan guide and friendly drivers have already been expecting you at the designated places at the Lhasa Gonggar Airport or Lhasa Railway Station.

As you receive our auspicious white Hada, simply leave everything to our staff to take care of and enjoy the scenic ride to your hotel in Lhasa City. Our helpful Tibetan guide will help you check in and inform you of the travel plan for the next day. Then you can have a good rest at the hotel, ready for tomorrow’s exciting tour.

Meal: No Meal is included today

Accommodation: Lhasa Yak Hotel (3 star), Cang-Gyan Lhasa Hotel (4 star), upgrade available when needed.

Insider Tips: For new-comers to Tibet, you should never rush to visit the attractions downtown, as your body needs time to get acclimatized to the high altitude of the Tibetan Plateau. Mild headaches, dizziness, and rapid pulse are pretty common signs of minor altitude sickness, and will disappear in a couple of days. If there is anything you need, please feel free to reach out to your Tibetan guide. Please pay special attention to sun protection when staying out in the sun in the wilderness in Tibet, as sunburn is a real possibility, even at this altitude.

Day 2: Lhasa Tour: Potala Palace, Zongjiao Lukang Park, And Norbulingka Palace

Explore the White House and Red House in Potala Palace;
Enjoy the bird’s eye view of Lhasa city from Potala;
Visit the sandalwood statue of Sakyamuni in Potala;
Join the kora around Potala;
Enjoy bird watching at Zongjiao Lukang Park, Norbulingka;
Take photos in traditional Tibetan clothes in Norbulingka.

The day starts with a trip to the amazing Potala Palace, sitting high on the Red Hill above the city, where you will be able to explore both the Red palace and the White palace of this iconic monument to Tibetan architecture. The view from the palace looking out over the city and the distant Lhasa River is one of the best in the world. The Palace is also the home of the famous Sandalwood Statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, a gilded wooden statue thought to have come from Nepal in the 7th century.

After coming back down from the palace, we will take a pleasant stroll around the kore route that encircles the foot of the Potala Palace hill. Then it is on to the Norbulingka Palace in Lhasa for the first bird watching session of the trip. The Zongjiao Lukang Park is one of the best places in Lhasa to see the winter migratory birds. A favorite place for locals to get their daily exercise, the park becomes the home of thousands of migratory black-headed gulls in winter. While in the spring, you still can see plenty of Ruddy Shelducks, Bar Headed Geese hunting for food or just lazing on the waters of the small lakes with the Potala behind is an amazing shot.

If you are so inclined, the Norbulingka is one of the favored tourist spots for having your photo taken in traditional Tibetan clothes. Local photographers with a wide range of Tibetan outfits can take your picture in front of the palace or in the park, with the Potala Palace in the background as a momentous souvenir of your trip. You may also take a leisurely stroll and find lively birds in the woods inside the Norbulingka.

Meal: Breakfast

Accommodation: Lhasa Yak Hotel (3 star), Cang-Gyan Lhasa Hotel (4 star), upgrade available when needed.

Insider Tips: While exploring the Potala Palace and the Norbulingka Palace, as well as any other monasteries and temples in Tibet, it is wise to consider some of the Tibetan traditions. Always walk clockwise around Buddhist sites, never let the soles of the feet face other people or statues and shrines, and always respect the monks of the monasteries, never touching their heads or taking photos without permission. When birding, it is advisable to move slowly and do not wear flapping and colorful clothing, as it can scare them off. And you should never feed the birds.

Day 3: Lhasa Tour: Jokhang Temple, Birding at Lhasa River and Shongse Nunnery

Witness famous Barkhor Kora in the morning
Explore the life-size statue of Sakyamuni in Jokhang
Picnic at Lhasa River and then do bird watching at Lhasa River
Later Explore Shongse (also known as Shuksip) Nunnery and enjoy bird watching and overview of Lhasa Valley

In the morning, we will take on the famous kora route around the Jokhang Temple, which follows the five roads of Barkhor Street around the temple. One of the most popular pilgrimages in the region, the route is walked clockwise, and there are prayer wheels for those that are performing the kora around the temple. Inside, you can visit the life-size statue of Buddha Sakyamuni at the age of 12, one of the oldest gilded statues of Buddha in the world, brought to Tibet in the 7th century and believed to have been blessed by Buddha himself.

After departing from the Sacred Jokhang Temple, we will head out of the city to enjoy a delightful picnic on the banks of the Lhasa River. One of the most popular places in Tibet for enjoying  the migratory black-necked cranes in winter, a rare and endangered species of crane that winters on the marshes and rivers of the area, this is a great place to view and study these unique birds in their natural habitats. While in spring, you can also spot plenty of wild birds looking for food in the in Lhasa valley.

Next, we will head to Shugsheb Nunnery, the off-the-beaten-path for birding, which lies around 65 kilometers to the south of Lhasa, is the largest nunnery in Tibet, and is a great place for birdwatching. A 45-minute hike from the road up to the nunnery, with its cave and shrine, this unique nunnery has amazing views down over the valley and is home to a huge number of indigenous birds such as beautiful Tibetan Eared Pheasants, Tibetan snow cocks and pink Himalayan Rosefinches, etc. After spending the afternoon at the nunnery, we will drive back to the capital.

Meal: Breakfast

Accommodation: Lhasa Yak Hotel (3 star), Cang-Gyan Lhasa Hotel (4 star), upgrade available when needed.

Insider Tips: When birdwatching at the Lhasa River, it is wise to wear dull neutral colors, or camouflage if you have it, so that the birds are not scared off by bright colored clothing. Remaining hidden and out of earshot of the birds is very important, as this is their nesting ground, and they can be easily scared off their nests with eggs in them. Feeding of the birds to entice them is not permitted, and you should try to stay as quiet as possible. A zoom lens is best for these shots, as you get a better view from a distance.

When touring around the Jokhang temple, please remember to respect this most sacred of temples in Tibet. Jokhang is the heart of Tibetan Buddhism, and is a place of reverence for Tibetans. Please do not touch or take photos inside the temple, and you will need to take off your shoes when you enter, so thick socks can be useful when it is cold. And please turn off all cellphones, the temple is a place of peace and tranquility to allow monks and other Buddhists to pray.

Day 4: Travel from Lhasa to Shigatse (367km, 6-7 hrs.)

Visit Yamdrok Lake, take photos with tamed Tibetan Mastiff
Enjoy panoramic view of Yamdrok Lake and Mount Nyenchen Khangsar at Gampala Pass
Visit Karola Glaciers
Hang Tibetan prayer flags at Simila Pass
Visit Pelkor Monastery, esp. Gyantse Kumbum and enjoy the Far view of Gyantse Fortress.

After a good Breakfast, we will depart from Lhasa to head to Shigatse, the stop for today. The route takes us over the stunning Gampala Pass (4,790m), where you will get your first glimpse of Lake Yamdrok. The view of the lake from the pass is astounding, and you can see for many miles, with great views of the snow-capped mountains that fringe the lake, including the highest mountain near Lhasa, Mount Nyenchen Khangsar, at 7,191 meters.

After a short drive, we will arrive at the lake’s northern shores, where you can spend a few hours strolling around the lake. The peaceful and serene shores of this sacred lake are an ideal spot for relaxing and getting back in touch with nature. One of the highlights of Lake Yamdrok is the opportunity to have your photo taken with a huge Tibetan mastiff, one of the rarest dogs on the planet and a renowned guard dog for the Tibetan nomadic herders.

In the afternoon, we will continue our journey to Shigatse, stopping at the famous Karola Glacier, one of the many pristine glaciers in Tibet. On the way to the glacier, we will pass over Simila Pass (4,200m), where we can stop for you to hang prayer flags, in the tradition of most devout Tibetan pilgrims.

After we arrive in Gyantse, we will head straight for the Pelkor Chode Monastery, the location of the famous Gyantse Kumbum, a 32-meter stupa that is the only one of its kind in Tibet. You can climb up to the upper levels of this 9-storey stupa, and after we will take a walk around the rest of the monastery.

After another 90 minutes of driving from Gyantse, we will arrive in the second city of Tibet, Shigatse, where we will stop for the night.

Meal: Breakfast

Accommodation: Manasarovar Hotel (3-star), Tashi Choeta Hotel (4-star), Shigatse Gesar Hotel (4-star), upgrade available when needed.

Insider Tips: Gyantse lies at an elevation of 4,500 meters, so it is best not to hurry when wandering around the monastery and the old streets because of the increased altitude from Lhasa. Lake Yamdrok has very little shade around it, so you need to take care when meditating in the open air, and cover up to protect yourself from the harsh sunlight.

Day 5: Visit Tashilhunpo Monastery and Move from Shigatse to Saga (447kms, 7 hrs.)

Explore Tashilhunpo Monastery and enjoy world’s biggest future Buddha and Monk’s assembly hall

In the morning, we will visit the famous Tashilhunpo Monastery. Built in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama, the monastery is the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, the second highest Buddhist incarnation in Tibet.

After touring around the monastery, we will enter the assembly hall, where the monks of the monastery practice their ritual chanting, and spend some time enjoying the relaxing vies of the mesmerizing chants. Then we will head out on the long road to Saga, in the northwest of Shigatse Prefecture.

The route to Saga takes us right past the stunning Lake Peiku Tso, which lies at 4,591 meters above sea level, which is surrounded by the high mountains of the Himalayas. One of those high mountains is Mount Shishapangma (8,012m), the 14th highest peak in the world, and the only peak above 8,000 meters that is wholly inside Tibet. As we drive along the highway towards Saga, the mountain is clearly visible to the south.

After departing from the shores of Peiku Tso, we will take the final leg of the journey to Saga, the seat of Saga County in the Shigatse Prefecture. Saga lies at an altitude of 4,640 meters in the upper reaches of the Yarlung Tsangpo River Valley, surrounded by spectacular mountains in all directions.

Meal: Breakfast

Accommodation: Grand Hotel of Western Post (3-star)

Day 6: Saga to Darchen via Manasarovar Lake (493km, 6-7 hrs.)

Stunning view of the Yarlung Tsangpo Valley
Brief stopover at picturesque desert at Zhongba County
Stroll along holy Manasarovar Lake and enjoy seagull there
Get amazing vista of Mt. Kailash

Before departing from Saga in the morning, we will take a short time to explore the views of the Yarlung Tsangpo River Valley, the longest river in Tibet and the source of the mighty Brahmaputra River. Then we will head out on the road to drive the 493 kilometers to Lake Manasarovar and Darchen, at the foot of Mount Kailash.

The valley between the mountains of the Himalayas and the Gangdise ranges quickly changes from lush grasslands to a desolate desert valley, and the road to Darchen skirts along the edge of this as it passes through Zhongba County, the largest county in Shigatse Prefecture. The views of the massive peaks on either side of the valley are a stark contrast to the desolate landscape in the valley itself, and the scenery in this remote desert area is spectacular.

While the area may be remote, the road passes through several small Tibetan village communities, in both the grassland area and the desert area, and we will have the chance to stop briefly at some and get out to take a look. One of the best ways to experience Tibetan culture is the interaction with villagers in these remote areas.

Before reaching Darchen, we will pass through the small town of Hor Qu, on the northeastern shores of Lake Manasarovar. We will stop at the lakeshore for a while to enjoy the beauty of what is considered to be the most sacred lake in Tibet. Lying at an altitude of 4,590 meters, and is said to be the location where Maya Devi conceived Buddha.

Even at this high altitude, Lake Manasarovar is an ideal location for certain sea birds and water fowl in Tibet, and it is a common sight to see thousands of brown-headed gulls flying around the shores and settling on the serene waters of the lake. The ultimate high-altitude fliers of the bird world, these amazing geese fly over the Himalayas to their winter feeding grounds in Europe.

Before it gets dark, we will make the last part of the journey to Darchen (4,575m), the small village community that lies at the foot of Mount Kailash.

Meal: not included

Accommodation: Darchen Chongqing Hotel (3-star), Himalayan Kailash hotel (3-star), upgrade available when needed.

Insider Tips: Darchen and Lake Manasarovar are at much higher altitudes than most of the rest of Tibet, with the exception of the passes that we travel over and EBC itself. You need to be aware of your condition at higher altitudes like this, and be conscious of the possible symptoms of altitude sickness. Hotels in Ngari this far north can be a little basic, far from the luxury of even the lowest rated guesthouse in Lhasa. However, it is well worth a little hardship for the amazing encounters of the gulls and geese on the most sacred lake in Tibet.

Day 7: Visit Guge Kingdom and Tholing Monastery and Drive to Gar (Shiquanhe) (248km, 10 hrs.)

Enjoy the magnificent Zada Clay forest while driving
Explore mysterious Guge Kingdom
Visit small Tholing Monastery

While it may only be a shorter distance to Shiquanhe, the seat of Ngari Prefecture, it can be a long drive, as the roads are slower this far out in the west of Tibet. Today’s route is an exploration of discovery, as we will pass through the stunning Zada Clay Forest, a stunning land formations that is the result of movement of the earth’s crust under the plateau.

After a few hours, we will stop to explore one of the most stunning examples of western Tibetan ruins. The Guge Kingdom existed in around the 10th century, and lasted for hundreds of years, until it was wiped out and the people all disappeared more than 400 years ago. Now, all that is left are the ruins of the city near Purang, which was partially carved out of the rock of the hillside.

The Tholing Monastery, in the county seat of Zanda County, is a 10th century monastery that was founded by Richen Zangpo and was the most important monastery in western Tibet for more than six centuries. Tholing was the center of the Buddhist religion in the Guge Kingdom, in part due to it being visited by the great Indian Buddhist master, Atisha.

Then we will continue our long drive to Shiquanhe, also known as Gar in Tibet, where we will stop for the night.

Meals: not included

Hotel: Local guesthouse

Day 8: Full Day Birding at Pangong Tso and its Bird Island (126km, 2 hrs.)

Enjoy enchanting Pangong Tso Lake
Enjoy boating at Pangong Tso Lake photograph diverse birds at its bird island

Today is the highlight day of the entire tour, and we will leave early in the morning after Breakfast to head for the stunning Pangong Tso, with its bird island. Pangong Tso is the longest lake in Asia, stretching for 134 kilometers from Tibet, across the Aksai Chin Disputed Area and into the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. The eastern part of the lake in Tibet is fresh water and is teeming with fish, while the western end in Ladakh is salty and brackish, with no plant or animal life.

In the Tibetan side, the lake is home to a huge number of local and migratory birds, and the rocky outcrop in the lake is known as Bird Island due to the huge number of birds that nest there annually. The lake is a common feeding and breeding ground for several migratory ducks (Brahmini duck included) and cranes, including the black-necked crane in the summer months, as well as more than half a dozen species of gulls, both local and migratory. Bar-headed geese are a common summer visitor to the lake, arriving in late April and congregating in large colonies, departing in late September.

It is also possible to hire a boat to get out onto the lake for better views of the birds on the Bird Island, though we will not be permitted to land anywhere on the islands to protect the breeding grounds. Boat trips usually cost around 150-250 yuan per person, depending on the season.

After leaving the stunning lake at the end of the day, we will take the 126km drive back to Gar where we will stay for another night.

Meals: not included

Hotel: Local guesthouse

Insider Tips: Pangong Tso is a protected area for the local and migratory birds, and while there are normally thousands of birds in residence along the shores and on the island in the summer months, tourists do need to be careful. It is not uncommon to find nesting sites along the shores, in the dunes and grasses alongside the lakeshore, and these should be left undisturbed.

Day 9: Drive back to Darchen from Pangong Tso Lake (248km, 5-6 hrs.)

The journey back to Lhasa begins today, and we will take the long road back to Darchen from Shiquanhe, in the morning after Breakfast. The road is winding and narrow in parts, constantly heading up and down over the small mountains of the area. We will reach Darchen in the afternoon, and you can spend the day resting and enjoying the views of the world’s most sacred mountain.

Insider Tips: If you prefer, you may opt for the 3-day Mt.Kailash trek. Our travel consultants will help you arrange the trek.

Meal: Breakfast

Accommodation: Darchen Chongqing Hotel (3-star), Himalayan Kailash hotel (3-star), upgrade available when needed.

Day 10: Travel back from Darchen to Saga (493km, 7-8hrs)

The road from Darchen to Saga is a long one, and travels back along the same route we took to come to Darchen, passing over the Mayomla Pass (5,112m), where we can stop for photos of the nearby Mt. Naimonanyi (7,694m). We will also pass through several small local villages on the beautiful grasslands to the south of Manasarovar, in the Saga valley between the Gangdise and Himalaya Ranges. We will reach Saga in the lake afternoon.

Meal: Breakfast

Accommodation: Grand Hotel of Western Post (3-star)

Day 11: Saga to Shigatse (448km, 8-9 hrs.)

The long drive back to Shigatse from Saga can be arduous, even for those not driving. However, the delights of this stretch of the road is the amazing panoramic views of the mighty Himalayas to the west as you drive east. The views include those of the 14th highest peak, Mount Shishapangma (8,012m), which lies wholly in Tibet, the beauty of Lake Peiku Tso, and the amazing sights of wild kiang and Tibetan antelopes.

Meal: Breakfast

Accommodation: Manasarovar Hotel (3-star), Tashi Choeta Hotel (4-star), Shigatse Gesar Hotel (4-star), upgrade available when needed.

Day 12: Take Shigatse-Lhasa train back to Lhasa (248km, 3 hrs.)

The train from Shigatse to Lhasa is the fastest and easiest option for you to get back to Lhasa. The train takes around 2:52hrs to reach Lhasa from Shigatse. You may have a good rest or wander around in the daytime and board the train in the later afternoon. The train ride is smooth and comfortable, and takes you along a slightly different route back to the Tibetan capital, giving you great views of the landscapes and the famous Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains and closer encounter with local Tibetan passengers.

Meals: Breakfast

Hotel: Lhasa Yak Hotel (3 star), Cang-Gyan Lhasa Hotel (4 star), upgrade available when needed.

Insider Tips: If you are planning on taking the train back to Lhasa, you can cut down on travel time, as it is around 2 hours less by train than by car. However, tickets can be hard to get in the peak periods, as the train is a popular travel route for locals as well as tourists.

Day 13: Depart from Lhasa

Your guide will transfer you to the airport or train station for the next onward flight or journey.

Meal: Breakfast

Service Guide

Service Included:

  • Tibet travel permit and all other necessary permits to Tibet;
  • All entrance ticket fees for all tourist sites listed in the itinerary;
  • Personal knowledgeable English-speaking Tibetan local tour guide;
  • Personal comfortable, clean and safe vehicle with reliable Tibetan local driver; vehicle ranging from 4WD land cruiser to minibus depending on your group size;
  • All lodging listed in the itinerary; it’s your decision about the accommodation class: luxury 5-star international hotel, comfortable 4-star hotel, economic 3-star hotel or budget hostel, guesthouse or tent. Please tell us your accommodation preference when submitting the enquiry; we will arrange the best-value hotels for you.
  • Domestic flight/train tickets listed in the itinerary;
  • All meals listed in the above itinerary;
  • Tourist accident/casualty insurance;
  • First aid kit;

Service Excluded:

  • International flight to and out of China;
  • Chinese visa (Note: we could help you with the Chinese visa application, like providing the invitation letter, presenting the hotel or domestic flight reservation copies, etc that you may need. )
  • Domestic flight/train not listed in the itinerary. (We can provide you the domestic flight/train ticket booking service at the BEST discount price; please contact us our travel experts for the details.)
  • Meals not specified in the itinerary; usually it costs about USD3-15 per person for one meal in TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region).
  • Tips and gratitude to tour guide and driver;
  • Personal expenses, like laundry, phone call, snacks, soft drinks (please do the best to avoid the alcoholic beverages during your Tibet trip), optional tour activities, etc.

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