For many people, traveling to Tibet or Nepal also means a trip to the other as well. Many tours operate that run from Tibet to Nepal and vice versa, and many travelers use the overland route that crosses the border between Nepal and Tibet at the Gyirong Port border crossing. As the only major border crossing point for international tourists and major trade transport, Gyirong Port is now one of the most important transport and tourism hubs on the Chinese borders. Lying only 64 kilometers from the Nepali capital as the crow flies, the trip to Kathmandu from Rasuwa Gadhi, on the Nepali side of the border, is just 148 kilometers, passing through the Langtang National Park. Since it was re-opened in 2017 for international travel and trade, the route through Gyirong County has proven to be more reliable than the original crossing at Zhangmu, not to mention closer to the Nepali capital.
History of the Nepal-Tibet Border
In 2012, Nepal and China agreed to open extra ports of entry for international and local travelers, to promote trade between the western areas of Tibet and Nepal, and to facilitate entry of foreign visitors to Tibet for tourism. The crossing between Zhangmu and Kodari was first opened in 1968, and in 2014, the crossing between Rasuwa Gadhi and Gyirong was opened for commerce only, with the aim of it also being used as the proposed rail crossing into Nepal.
On April 25, 2015, a massive earthquake hit Nepal, on the border between Nepal and Tibet around 200km northwest of Kathmandu, at Barpak, in Gorkha. It was the worst national disaster to hit Nepal since the 1934 Bihar Earthquake, and it triggered an avalanche on Mt. Everest that killed 21 climbers. The earthquake damaged the border crossing at Zhangmu, partially destroying the Friendship Bridge and causing landslides that cut the port off from both Nepal and the rest of Tibet.
The Newly-opened Gyirong Port as the crossing border of Nepal and Tibet
The border crossing at Gyirong Port, between Gyirong and Rasuwa Gadhi, opened officially on December 1, 2014, was also damaged in the earthquake, with landslides closing the port for entry from Nepal. It was more than two years before the border crossing at Gyirong was deemed safe to re-open, with the crossing at Zhangmu being unsafe, making Gyirong the new major crossing from Nepal to Tibet.
Getting to Gyirong from Nepal or Tibet
For international travelers to Tibet from Nepal, the reopening of the crossing at Gyirong Port has made travel much more convenient. The distance from the Nepali capital to the border is much shorter when traveling to Gyirong than to Zhangmu, though not really by as much as is claimed.
Location of Gyirong Port
The border crossing at Rasuwa Gadhi and Gyirong Port lies around 64.17 kilometers (39.88 miles) due north of the Nepali capital of Kathmandu, though getting there does take a more roundabout route. From Tibet, Gyirong Port is situated around 24.4 kilometers (15.16 miles) by road from the small Tibetan town of Gyirong. Gyirong Town, which lies in Gyirong County of Shigatse Prefecture, is approximately 543 kilometers from Shigatse, Tibet’s second city.
Tibet to Gyirong Port
Lying in the westernmost part of Shigatse Prefecture in western Tibet, Gyirong Town is around 808 kilometers (502 miles) from the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, by road. Part of the immense journey across the plateau from Lhasa to Kathmandu, this is the longest stretch of road on the journey, though the normal route to Gyirong for tours is a little longer. As most tours travel through Gyantse on the road to Shigatse, as well as a side trip to Mount Everest, the actual distance to Gyirong Port from Lhasa, for tours, is around 1,057 kilometers (657 miles).
Getting to Gyirong from Lhasa means a long drive along the Friendship Highway, which stretches from the Tibetan capital to the Nepal border. The route follows the road to Lake Yamdrok, to the southwest of the capital, running along the shore to Nagarze, before heading west out to Gyantse and then on to Shigatse. From there, the route continues on to Tingri, along the Friendship Highway, where it turns south for the excursion to the Everest Base Camp at 5,200 meters.
From Tibet to Gyirong Port, the roads are mostly well-paved highway.
After visiting EBC, the route then heads back to Tingri to pick up the Friendship Highway again for a short distance, before heading west through Gyirong town and turning south once more to reach the border at Gyirong Port.
From EBC, the road to Gyirong is long and winding, especially as it heads back north to the Friendship Highway, with lots of switchbacks and hairpin bends running up and down the sides of the mountains. Not long after heading west from Tingri, the road departs from the Friendship Highway, which runs to Zhangmu, and takes the S214 to Gyirong, and on down to Gyirong Port. The route is a total distance of around 356 kilometers (221 miles), and is normally done over two days, to ensure the border is open when you arrive.
Kathmandu to Gyirong Port
Getting to Gyirong Port from Kathmandu is relatively easy, as there is no travel restriction in Nepal for foreign tourists. The distance from Kathmandu to the Resuo Bridge at Gyirong Port is around 149 kilometers (92.7 miles), though this does depend on the route your driver takes. Most private cars take the shorter route that heads northwest out of Kathmandu and picks up the old Kathmandu-Trishuli Highway. The road can be a little winding, but it is shorter, and follows the main Pasang-Lhamu Highway all the way to Rasuwa Gadhi. Even by car, this route still takes over six hours to travel.
The other route, taken by the buses that run the route between the capital and the border, is rather longer, though only takes around 30 minutes more of travel time. The route follows the Swotantra Marg out of the city heading west, joining the Prithvi Highway at Pureno Dharke. From there, it runs due west to Galcchi, where it connects with the Pasang-Lhamu Highway (south) to head north to Rasuwa Gadhi.
Scenery of Gyirong Valley
The total distance of this route covers around 155 kilometers (96.8 miles), and takes around six hours by bus. The bus stops on the route for breaks and food, and costs around 2,500 Rupees each way. The buses from Kathmandu depart from Thamel every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 3am and 4am local time. Passengers with valid entry permits and visas can buy or reserve tickets from the bus station in Thamel.
While there are still stretches of road that come down from the border checkpoint at Rasuwa Gadhi that are just dirt roads, the majority of the route is on good paved roads, at least by Nepali standards.
Travel Documents to Cross Tibet Nepal Border at Gyirong Port
Whether you are traveling from Tibet to Nepal or Nepal to Tibet, there are certain documents that you are required to have to travel from one destination to the other. Crossing any border requires the correct documents, and the Sino-Nepal border at Gyirong is no different.
Travel from Tibet to Nepal
Getting to Nepal from Tibet is actually a lot easier than going the other way, in terms of the amount of documents you need, though you will already have all the same documents you would need if you were traveling the other way. Before you can travel from Tibet to Nepal, you must have the documents required to enter Tibet, which are obtained by the travel agency on your behalf.
Nepal promotes tourism in the country by making the visa the only document you need, along with your passport, and makes it easy to obtain one at the border, so you do not need to get it in advance. The visa to enter Nepal is applied for once you cross the Resuo Bridge into Rasuwa Gadhi, and requires just a valid passport, one photo, the completed application form, and the fee. Processing takes around an hour, though this can be faster in the low season.
Travel from Nepal to Tibet
Getting to Tibet from Nepal does require a few more documents than traveling the other way, and while there are a number of permits you will need, they are all obtained beforehand by us on your behalf. Independent travel in Tibet is not permitted, and all travelers must be on pre-arranged tours with a registered Tibet travel agency.
The Tibet Travel Permit is the main document you need, which is obtained by us from the Tibet Tourism Bureau in Lhasa. The permit application is made using a scanned copy of your passport, and can take around 15-20 days to process. The permit is required for all tourists to Tibet, and it is not possible to cross the border without it. The buses to Rasuwa Gadhi from Kathmandu even require the permit in order to book or buy the tickets in Thamel.
Aside from the Tibet Travel Permit, there are also other permits you will need, as well as a visa. The Alien’s Travel Permit, which is required for all tourists traveling to the “unopened” areas of Tibet outside Lhasa, is obtained in Lhasa by us on your behalf, and can be processed within a day. The other thing you need is the Frontier Pass, which is required by all tourists, both international and domestic, who are traveling in the border areas of China in Tibet, which includes the area around the border with Nepal. The pass is available in Lhasa or Shigatse, and is processed by us before you come to Nepal for your tour.
Tibet Travel Permit for Entering Tibet from Nepal
As well as permits and passes, you will also need to have a visa to enter China. However, the standard Chinese Entry Visa that you would normally use to enter China from anywhere else is not valid for entry from Nepal into Tibet. Instead, you will be issued with a Chinese Group Visa, which is only available from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Kathmandu. The visa is applied for once you arrive in Nepal, and we will make the application on your behalf as the embassy does not accept personal applications. We will collect your original passport once you arrive at your hotel in Kathmandu, and process the application with the embassy. Processing take around three working days, so you should plan to be in Kathmandu at least five working days before departure.
Once all of the documents, including your visa, are complete, we will deliver them to you at your hotel, so that you can start your journey to Tibet.
Gyirong Port has become a major cross-border port for China, and is instrumental in the major increase in tourist travel and trade across the border with Nepal. Not only is it a much easier route to travel into Tibet across, with a more gradual rise to the mountains and a much lower pass through them, but it is a little closer than Zhangmu, so saves a little in travel time. And with the coming of the proposed Sino-Nepal Railway, which will run from Lhasa to Kathmandu, crossing the Himalayas at the same place, Gyirong Port is set to be the biggest overland border crossing into China anywhere.