Trekking in Tibet is the ultimate goal for avid hikers. If the lofty heights don’t scare you, check out my guide to trekking in Tibet to plan your adventure.
For hikers with lofty ambitions, Tibet will sure to satisfy any kind of craving for adrenaline and challenge.
Often dubbed the ‘Roof of the World’, Tibet is home to some of the world’s tallest mountains. Geography in Tibet is on a humbling scale —dramatic mountains topped with colorful prayer flags loom over vast plains, while glittering turquoise lakes stand in the shadow of centuries-old glaciers.
With its dramatic moonscapes and stunning vistas, Tibet has the power to impress even the most hardened trekker. Best of all, there are much less trekkers here than in neighboring Nepal — but the landscapes are equally, if not even more spectacular!
While Tibet is hard to get in (on a tour only!) and even harder to trek (due to the altitude), the rewards of trekking in one of the world’s most rugged countries are well worth it. Whether you are a beginner hiker or an experienced mountaineer, trekking in Tibet is sure to challenge and reward you at the same time. Here is a detailed guide for those who are interested in trekking in Tibet.
Table of Contents
- Trekking in Tibet Guide
- How to Travel to Tibet
- How to Get to Tibet
- By Air
- By Land
- By Train
- When to Go Trekking in Tibet
- Things to Know Before Trekking in Tibet
- Best Treks in Tibet
- Mount Kailash Pilgrimage Trek
- Everest Kangshung Trek
- Gyama Valley Trek
- Ganden to Samye Trek
- What to Pack for Trekking in Tibet
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Trekking in Tibet Guide
How to Travel to Tibet
Travel to Tibet is highly restricted and independent travel is not allowed. Foreign travelers need to prearrange a tour in order to obtain a Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) permit. Only Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong travelers are free to enter without a visa. Without a TTB permit, you won’t even be able to board a flight or train to Tibet.
Most visitors also require a Chinese visa in addition to a Tibet permit — except citizens of Singapore, Brunei and Japan. Make sure to get your Chinese visa at least a month before your trip, as your tour operator will need it to get the TTB permit. When applying for your Chinese visa, don’t mention Tibet. In addition, you’ll need extra permits to go to trekking, which can only be arranged by a tour operator.
Read about things to know before you travel Tibet.
How to Get to Tibet
You will have to fly via other cities in China or Kathmandu (the only international transit point) to get to Lhasa. Flights to Lhasa are not cheap, and a lot of people suffer from altitude sickness when flying straight into Lhasa. BUT the views of the Himalayas when flying to Lhasa are out of this world.
Flying from Kathmandu to Lhasa is the cheapest, at around US$300-500 return and the flight only takes 1.5 hours. Return flights from Singapore to Lhasa are around US$400, strangely cheaper than flying from Beijing to Lhasa which generally costs US$600.
Alternatively, you can also travel overland from Kathmandu to Lhasa on a tour. Combining the two is a good idea for those who have lots of time and prefer slow travel. The journey is absolutely epic, with stunning views on rugged highways. A Kathmandu to Lhasa tour generally costs around US$500+ and takes around 4-5 days.
Another way of getting into Tibet is on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the highest rail tracks in the world. The journey starts in Beijing, the Chinese capital, taking a total of 40 hours to get to Lhasa. But the landscapes only begin to impress from Xining onwards — traversing tunnels, high-altitude lakes, vast plains and mountain passes.
Train tickets are not cheap, at around US$280 for a soft sleeper and $200 for a hard sleeper (prices can change depending on season) each way. You can book only this through a tour operator.
When to Go Trekking in Tibet
Tibet can be visited all year round — but the best time to go trekking in Tibet is in spring and summer (from April to October). During this time, the weather is not too harsh and most treks in Tibet are accessible. In general, any time without snow is a good time to go trekking in Tibet.
Most Tibetan festivals take place in spring and summer too, including the month-long Saga Dawa (mainly to celebrate the birth of Buddha, enlightenment, and Nirvana), the week-long Shoton festival(Tibetan opera performance and Buddha Thangka unfolding ceremony) and Nagqu horse racing festival.
Things to Know Before Trekking in Tibet
Trekking in Tibet requires good fitness condition, good preparation and strong perseverance. I wouldn’t advise beginner hikers to attempt trekking in Tibet. You need to have at least some multi-day hiking experience and preferably experience traveling to high-altitude regions before you attempt a trek here.
This is because the whole of Tibet is perched on a plateau and the average altitude if 4,000m (13,000 ft) above sea level. Almost all treks in Tibet bring you above 5,000m (16,400 ft). At such dizzying heights, it can be easy to suffer from AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) if you don’t take the time to acclimatise to the conditions. If you’re flying into Lhasa, there’s a high chance of getting AMS. Symptoms include light-headedness, nausea, short of breathe and headaches.
Make sure to get some Diamox (Acetazolamide) before your trip and start the medication at least one day before landing in Lhasa. Give yourself plenty of time to rest and take at least 2-3 days to acclimatise in Lhasa before you start your trek in Tibet. If you find yourself showing symptoms of AMS during the trek, you’ll need to descend to lower altitudes immediately.
Best Treks in Tibet
There are many treks in Tibet, but here are some of the most popular ones.
Mount Kailash Pilgrimage Trek
Mount Kailash is a holy mountain considered by Buddhists as the center of the world and by Hindus as the home of Lord Shiva. Many pilgrims from all over Tibet and India make the long journey here in hopes of being freed from an endless cycle of births and deaths.
The Mount Kailash kora is a 52km (30 mile) circuit that normally takes 3 days to complete. It’s a long but exceptionally scenic journey just to reach the mountain that requires 4 days of driving from either Kathmandu or Lhasa. The best time to do the Mount Kailash trek is during the Saga Dawa Festival, when thousands of pilgrims gather to pay homage to the mountain.
Mount Kailash Pilgrimage Trek Details
- Distance: 52km
- Duration: 3 Days
- Start: Darchen (4675m)
- End: Darchen (4675m)
- Highest Point: Drolma La Pass (5630m)
- Difficulty: Medium to difficult
Flickr image by ccdoh1
Everest Kangshung Trek
This Everest Kangshung Face trek is perfect for those who want to get up close to Mount Everest and not just drive up to Everest Base Camp like most tourists do. The 9-day Everest trek starts from the Kharta Valley and brings you up the spectacular Kangshung face of Mount Everest.
The trek from Kharta Valley into the beautiful Karma Valley to the Everest Kangshung Face is one of the most unusual and interesting approaches to Mount Everest following a more remote and different route.
Everest Kangshung Trek Details
- Distance: 56km
- Duration: 8 Days
- Start: Kharta Valley (3650m)
- End: Kharta Valley (3650m)
- Highest Point: Langma La (5330m)
- Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Gyama Valley Trek
This 8 day trek takes you to the Gyama Valley, which many claim to be one of the most beautiful mountain valleys in Tibet. The valley has a gorgeous area filled with orchids and many wildflowers as well as forested slopes at the lower elevations. Since the area is remote and seldom visited, trail conditions can be quite be difficult.
The Gyama trek is much like stepping back in time as you will meet locals from a variety of cultures such as the Monpa, Lhoba and Sherpa who still live in the traditional ways.
Gyama Valley Trek Details
- Distance: 33km
- Duration: 8 Days
- Start: Tingri (4348m)
- End: Tingri (4348m)
- Highest Point: Shawula Pass (4900m)
- Difficulty: Medium
Ganden to Samye Trek
The Ganden to Samye trekking route in Tibet is considered to be the most popular. It is a beautiful route beginning from Ganden Monastery, one of the famous Gelugpa Monasteries. The trekking route takes you through beautiful alpine scenic views and across various lakes and green meadows. The journey usually takes four to five days.
The trek passes through two mountain passes at more than 5,000m above sea level, before descending to Samye Monastery at 3,540m. This ascent and descent in the trekking route makes it an extremely challenging trek.
Ganden to Samye Trek Details
- Distance: 80km
- Duration: 4-5 Days
- Affair Permit, Froniter Pass
- Start: Ganden Monastery (4180m)
- End: Samye Monastery (3540m)
- Highest Point: Shogula Pass (5250m)
- Difficulty: Very Difficult
What to Pack for Trekking in Tibet
This depends on which month you’re traveling Tibet. Regardless, you’ll need to bring warm clothes whether you’re traveling in summer or spring/autumn as temperature drops a lot once you’re at higher altitude.
Be sure to invest in some high quality winter gear to stay warm. I recommend wearing 4-5 layers: thermals, wool bottom, fleece and a thick winter parka. It’s not essential to bring hiking poles, as your tour operator will most probably provide them. You can also rent thick sleeping bags from them (usually at $10 for the whole trip) and save you the hassle of carrying them.
1. Long Sleeve Moisture Wicking Tees: The key to staying warm while trekking in Tibet is layering. Bring some long sleeve t-shirts that are great for hiking, that you can easily remove throughout the day. I brought three of them for my one-week trip.
2. Fleece-lined Long Sleeve Thermal Underwear: Mine turned out to be very useful and I wore it several days in a row. Temperatures can dip below zero at above 4,000m – they are particularly useful and comfortable to sleep in when camping.
3. Fleece Base: This is my favorite gear for cold climates. It’s thick but lightweight, and keeps me warm even in sub-zero temperatures. Plus most fleece are cheap and easy to find everywhere. I usually get one that can be zipped all the way down, so I can easily remove layers when I’m warm.
4. Waterproof Ski Jacket: It may be heavy and a pain to travel with, but you’ll need it if you’re trekking in Tibet. Don’t skimp on a quality coat as it’ll keep you comfortable.
5. Quick-Dry Pants: These are something I wear on almost every trip. They’re lightweight, thin, comfortable and waterproof. I can wear them in winter and summer, without feeling too warm or cold. If you feel cold in them, you can always wear your leggings beneath.
6. Fleece-lined Leggings: For ladies, these are brilliant to keep warm and comfortable, being looking too shabby.
7. Beanie:You’ll definitely need something warm on the top of your head at cold temperatures.
8. Ski Gloves: Bring thick ski gloves as they’re good for snow and rain. I would recommend getting a pair of gloves with touchscreen pads so you don’t need to take them off to snap photos on from your smartphone.
9. Wool Socks: Invest in some high quality wool socks that can keep your feet dry and warm when hiking in the snow.
10. Microfibre Towel: You won’t be able to shower during the trek, but a small towel will be useful to freshen up in the evenings. Buy a thin, quick-dry one that can be rolled up into a small bundle.
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