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Self-Drive Tibet: guide to the classic 7-day adventure to Ngari via South Route

June,10 2023 BY Kham Sang 0 COMMENTS

Known as the Roof of the World, Tibet is a land of high mountains, lush valleys, and sacred lakes, and is a vast region that covers thousands of miles. Tibet is the ideal place for those that love to drive, and when it comes to long road trips, there is nowhere better than the vast plateau for that vacation of a lifetime.

The unique seven-day adventure from the Tibetan capital of Lhasa to the farthest northwestern prefecture, Ngari, is one of the most spectacular driving routes in the world. There are two routes to Ngari from Lhasa, and the southern route is the better of the two, with plenty to see and do along the road. So if you are looking for a self-drive vacation on the Tibetan plateau, then we can give you all the information you need to make sure your trip is unforgettable.

Self-Drive Tibet: Travel Documents Needed

For Tibet Entry: Chinese Visa and Tibet Travel Permit

The Chinese Visa and the Tibet Travel Permit (TTP) are the two main documents required for any tour of Tibet, and are also required for a self-drive tour of the plateau. For those entering Tibet from mainland China, the Chinese Entry Visa can be obtained from the Chinese Embassy before traveling to China, and is a simple three-day process to apply for.

Tibet Travel PermitFor our clients, we offer free service for processing Tibet Permit.

For those traveling from Nepal to Tibet, you will not need the standard Chinese Entry Visa, as the Chinese Group Visa is issued for you once you get to Kathmandu. When you arrive in the Nepali capital, we will get your passport and make the application for the Group Visa on your behalf with the Chinese Embassy. Processing normally takes just three days, and you will need to be in Nepal at least five days before traveling.

The Tibet Travel Permit is applied for once you have booked your tour with us, and we make the application with the Tibet Tourism Bureau in Lhasa on your behalf using scanned copies of your passport and visa. Once this has been approved and received, it will be sent or taken to your hotel in China or Nepal ready for your trip to Tibet. Processing can take up to 15-20 days, so you need to book your tour at least 30 days in advance.

For Self-driving Tibet

● The documents you require for self-driving in Tibet are:
● Vehicle Entry and Exit Formalities
● Valid Chinese Driving License or a Permission Letter stating the same
● Correct and Licensed Vehicle Plate Number
● Photocopies of your passport, and your Chinese Visa
● 3 photographs of your car from all the sides - document the condition of the vehicle
● 2 photos of yourself and the people travelling with you, with a white background

All of the above documents can be obtained with our help, and we can arrange the rental of the vehicle you require for traveling in Tibet, as well as insurance, driving permit for driving in Tibet, etc.

Self-Drive Tibet: Best Time for Driving from Lhasa to Ngari

IF you are planning a tour across the Tibetan plateau, then the best time to travel Tibet is from April to October, when the weather is neither cold nor snowy. Spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October) are the prime times for driving yourself across the plateau region, and he weather is mild and pleasant, with warm temperatures during the day. However, it can get a little cold at night, so it is a good idea to bring warm clothes for the evenings. Clear skies are expected most of the time, and there is very little to no rain at all in these periods.

The well-paved asphalt road in TibetThe well-paved asphalt road is perfect for self-driving in Tibet.

Summer, from June to August is also a god time to travel, despite it being the monsoon season in Tibet. While the eastern areas of Tibet can see many rainy days, in the west and central regions, there is very little in the way of rain. What little rain does fall normally comes in the late evening and overnight, which leaves the days free for driving and exploring the plateau.

Self-Drive Tibet: South Route from Lhasa to Ngari in 7 Days

Day 1-2: Tour Lhasa City and Get Acclimatized to Tibetan Plateau

The trip across the plateau to Ngari starts in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and you will need to acclimatize for a couple of days to get used to the higher altitude. At 3,656 meters above sea level, Lhasa is much higher than many people visiting the city have ever been. You will also be able to visit the highlights of the city whilst acclimatizing.

Potala Palace is larger than life experience that has become synonymous with Lhasa and is one of the most popular travel highlights in the Tibet. You can also visit the Jokhang Temple, the most sacred temple in the region, with its stunning statue of the Buddha Sakyamuni at the age of 12, and Barkhor Street, the amazing shopping street that runs around the temple and its buildings, making it the kora route for pilgrims to the temple.

Day3: Drive from Lhasa to Shigatse via Gyantse

The 356km drive from Lhasa to Shigatse takes you through Gyantse (4,000m), one of the major cities in Tibet, which lies to the west of the beautiful Lake Yamdrok. The route passes by the lake, which lies at an altitude of 4,441 meters, and heads west along the main road to Gyantse. This city is the home of the famous Gyantse Kumbum, which is the only stupa of its kind in Tibet, standing 32 meters tall.

Turquoise Yamdrok Lake As you pass turquoise Yamdrok Lake, do balance your attention.

You can also see the beauty of the white Karola Glacier along the road to Gyantse, and can take a while to stop and explore the tongue of the glacier as well as taking photos. After stopping to tour the Kumbum Stupa and the Pelkor Chode Monastery in Gyantse, it is on to Shigatse (3,800m) to visit the famed Tashilhunpo monastery.

Day4: Drive from Shigatse to Saga

Tashilhunpo monastery (4,800m) is known as the seat of the Panchen Lama. It was built in the year 1447 and is one of the six grand monasteries in Tibet. This monastery houses a giant statue of the Maitreya Buddha, which is the biggest gilded statue of Maitreya, which when translated means the Buddha of the future in China. It is also the tomb to the 4th Panchen Lama.

After visiting the monastery, you will head out on the road, driving to Saga via the renowned Everest Base Camp, which can take around 8 hours to travel the 342km to the mountain. At 5,200 meters above sea level, EBC is one of the highest places most people will experience in Tibet, so you should be careful of altitude sickness whilst there. You can also stop at the Sakya Monastery, in Sakya County, which was built on the site where the Buddhist master, Atisha, once stopped and foretold that a great monastery would one day be built there. After the monastery, you will continue to Saga for the night, a total distance of around 644km.

Day5: Drive from Saga to Darchen via Manasarovar

Heading from Saga (4,640m) to Darchen, at the foot of Mount Kailash is a long drive that can take all day, and covers around 493 kilometers. Darchen is the starting point of the Mount Kailash Kora Trek, a 52-kilometer trek that takes three days o complete. If you are intending to make the trek around this sacred mountain, then you need to add at least three or four days to the duration of your Tibetan trip. One of the most stunning sights of the trip to Darchen is the first sight of Mount Kailash in the distance as you drive along the road.

Mt.KailashAdmire the lofty Mt.Kailash at a great distance

Day6: Drive from Darchen to Zanda

In the far west of Tibet, around 235 kilometers from Mount Kailash, lies the town of Zanda, the county seat of Zanda County and relatively close to the location of the Gunsa Airport in Ngari. The area was once ruled by the Shangshung peoples of western Tibet in the times before Buddhism and is the location of the ruined Guge Empire. Zanda County is also the home of the Tholing Monastery and the unique earth forests of Ngari Prefecture, both amazing attractions that are worth visiting. - Check the classic Mt.Kailash tour in Tibet.

Day7: Drive from Zanda to Gunsa Airport for the onward Journey

From Zanda, it is a short drive of around 143km to the Ngari Gunsa Airport, where you can get the flight back to Lhasa, and continue your travels onward to your next destination. Your guide will help you with your luggage at Gunsa Airport, and see you off, before taking the vehicle back to Lhasa for you. At 4,274 meters above sea level, Gunsa Airport is the third highest airport in the world, and is only used for domestic flights within Tibet.


A self-drive trip across the Tibetan plateau from Lhasa to Ngari is the ultimate in plateau driving experiences, taking you from the delights of the most populated city in Tibet to the remote and arid region of Ngari, with fewer people in the whole prefecture than can be found in Lhasa city alone. An isolated and remote land, the far west of Ngari Prefecture is the westernmost point in China, and is one of the most unusual and amazing areas to visit, filled with unique natural wonders and the mystery of the “Empire That Vanished”, the Guge Kingdom. Thrill in the stunning landscapes and scenery as you take on the world’s highest roads on the world’s highest plateau.

Potala PalacePotala Palace

Barkhor StreetBarkhor Street

Tashilumpo MonasteryTashilumpo Monastery

Mount KailashMount Kailash

Lake ManasarovarLake Manasarovar

The ruins of Guge KingdomThe ruins of Guge Kingdom

Kham Sang

About the Author - Kham Sang

With fluent English skills rivaling a native English speaker, Khamsang often impresses our travelers with her gifted language capacity and deep understanding of Tibetan culture and history.

Professional, flexible, and attentive, throughout her 10+ years of guide experience, Khamsang has received zero complaints from her guests. Besides, as a mom of two lovely sons, Khamsang is also a devoted mother and loves writing expert travel articles to help travelers longing for a Tibet adventure.

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