As a land with a unique culture, hospitable locals, towering mountains, and exceptional natural diversity, Tibet is a destination you must visit at least once in a lifetime. With the influx of domestic and foreign visitors, the local authorities initiated a large-scale improvement of the infrastructure not long ago. As a result, traveling conditions are growing better as we speak, which attracts many travelers to take an overland tour from Lhasa to Kathmandu.
Why Travel from Lhasa to Kathmandu by Road?
By taking an overland road trip from Lhasa to Kathmandu, you see spectacular landscapes, historical attractions, and fascinating flora and fauna of Tibet. The route from Lhasa to Nepal follows the Sino-Nepal Friendship Highway, which is the western part of the Chinese National Highway 318. The road takes you through high mountain passes and by large, sacred lakes. While traveling, you will acquaint yourself with the most important religious and cultural sites in Tibet and get to know friendly Tibetans.
The overland route from Lhasa to Kathmandu is one of the most popular ways for travelers to visit Tibet and Nepal. The Lhasa-Kathmandu highway is approximately 1,000km (620mi) long. If you drive from Lhasa to Kathmandu directly, you should cover the distance in 16 hours, plus an additional time you spend while crossing the border. To see Tibet, plan at least seven days for the Lhasa to Kathmandu overland tour.
Road Conditions from Lhasa to Kathmandu
Going through central Tibet, the road from Lhasa to Kathmandu is in good condition, in general. The asphalt road from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to Shigatse, the second largest Tibetan city, is well maintained, allowing you to cover the distance quickly. The same is true for the route to Yamdrok Lake, one of the natural highlights of Tibet, which you can find between Lhasa and Shigatse. Once you leave Shigatse behind, you will drive to Lhatse on a well-marked road.
The asphalt road along the Yamdrok Lake to Shitase is at a good condition.
Once you arrive in Tingri, the route that branches southward to the Everest Base Camp is not in such good shape. The overall distance is a bit over 100km/62mi, but you will need a few hours to reach the base camp while navigating through the winding, gravel road. Once you return to the Friendship Highway via the decent Old Tingri road, you head to the Tibetan-Nepali border via an excellent, asphalt road. When you enter Nepal via the Gyirong Port, you will find that the road conditions aren't as good as in Tibet. Plus, far more vehicles use the road between the border crossing and Kathmandu than you have encountered in Tibet.
Highlights along the Way from Lhasa to Kathmandu
Tibet boasts some of the world’s most spectacular mountain scenery and has a rich religious and cultural heritage. As you drive across the region, you will receive expert guidance by a local Tibetan guide to all main Tibetan monasteries, temples, monuments, and other significant sites. Guided tours usually begin with the tour of Lhasa. Before hitting the road toward Nepal along the Friendship highway, you will visit the local monasteries, some of which are the oldest in Tibet.
Potala Palace standing high in Lhasa city.
In Lhasa, the grand Potala Palace that resembles a fortress dominates the city skyline while safeguarding eight stupas of former Dalai Lamas. Jokhang Temple, the most sacred Tibetan temple, is the main pilgrimage site in Tibet. Barkhor Street is a commercial zone and a place where you can learn a lot about Tibetan culture.
After leaving Lhasa in a comfortable vehicle, you will travel through picturesque Tibetan towns and villages, and across vast prairies. There, you will see the nomadic Tibetan herdsmen wandering across the broad, arid plateau. The journey across the region takes you over mountain passes that give you spectacular views of the mighty Himalayan Mountain range, including grand Mount Everest, Shishapangma, holy Mount Kailash, and many others.
The adventure continues in the historic cities of Gyantse and Shigatse. As you explore the ancient forts and citadels and roam the great halls of the region’s devout Buddhist monasteries, you get a unique insight into this rich Tibetan culture and history. As you leave Tibet at the border crossing of Gyirong Port and head through Nepal to Kathmandu, you will be dreaming of the day when you can return to Tibet, the land of snows.
When to Travel Overland from Lhasa to Kathmandu?
The best times for taking the Tibet overland tour from Lhasa to Kathmandu are from April to June and from September to late October. You will have clear skies, little rain, and moderate warmth during the "golden travel season." Summers tend to get hot, despite the high elevation of the region (over 4,000 meters).
Summer is the rainy season in Tibet. Tibet is in the monsoon zone, and the rains come and go daily from early July to the end of August. Certain parts of the southeastern region receive very little rain during the monsoon. Others receive more intense rainfall, although the precipitation is lower when compared to other monsoon countries. Still, if you like warm weather and don't mind a little rain as you hike and drive around, you shouldn't avoid summer for the overland tour. Most travelers prefer a visit outside summer because the lower levels of the cloud cover sometimes obscure the views of the mountains in summer.
Even visiting Tibet in winter has its merits since there is nothing more beautiful than the sight of mountains covered in snow and frozen lakes. However, touring western Tibet near the border could be problematic since snows block the roads and mountain passes sometimes.
How to Travel Overland from Lhasa to Kathmandu?
Lhasa to Kathmandu Overland Route Map
You will need about four hours to cover the distance of around 200km/124mi from Lhasa to Yamdrok Lake. Gyantse, the next major stop on the overland tour of Tibet and Nepal, is about 170km/105mi away. The drive between these points of interest usually lasts about three hours. The duration of the journey from Gyantse to Shigatse (95km/65mi) is a bit less than two hours.
Route Map from Lhasa to Kathmandu
The next stage of the journey is the longest until now. To cover the 235km/146mi distance from Shigatse to the intersection where the road branches to the Everest Base Camp, you need to drive approximately four hours. Albeit the next leg of the journey isn't particularly long, you will need a few hours to reach EBC because the road is gravel for the most part.
The next stage of the overland tour takes you to Gyirong Port, a border crossing between Nepal and Tibet. Upon your return on the Friendship road, you will drive between several hours and half a day until reaching Gyirong Port. Finally, the journey from the Tibetan border to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, will take you between four and six hours, in general.
Classic Itinerary of Lhasa to Kathmandu Overland Tour
Most overland tours from Lhasa to Kathmandu allow you to relish the sights as you drive around. Tours such as this one give you a unique opportunity to discover the real Tibet, from the bustling old cities to the ancient settlements and villages. You get the chance to observe and take part in Tibetan lifestyle up-close. The optimum time you need to tour the region to Nepal is between eight and 11 days. The longer the tour, the more you see and experience. Still, an eight-day tour is enough to introduce the real Tibet and its unique culture. Tours usually begin in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet and its largest city. Lhasa is an ancient city with thousands of years of history and is the place where you can visit the largest number of unique monasteries. The most revered temple in Tibet, Jokhang Temple, is also here.
For an eight-day overland tour of Tibet, which takes you from Lhasa to Nepal, this is the best in-depth itinerary available. It gives you the best perspective of what this land offers to its visitors. Getting to Lhasa is best by train since it allows you to see amazing sights along the way. After you arrive in Lhasa, it is best to have a good rest, which helps you to acclimatize to the high altitude. Visitors may roam around the city without the need for a guide as long as they remain in it since Lhasa is not restrictive as the rest of Tibet in this regard.
Stage 1: Lhasa to Shigatse via Gyantse
The Lhasa-Kathmandu overland tour begins with visits to the local temples and monasteries of Lhasa, which are quite a few to visit over the first two days. Jokhang temple is the most revered Buddhist temple in Tibet, dating back to the 7th century. This ancient temple is also the home to the most revered and sacred object in Tibetan Buddhism, the statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha brought from China 1,300 years ago. Potala Palace is another prominent Buddhist monastery in Lhasa. It sits on the top of Red Hill, locally known as Moburi.
Lhasa is a great place to visit, and Barkhor Street is one of its most famous attractions. Surrounding Jokhang Temple, it is the route of the Buddhist kora, as well as the busiest shopping street in Tibet. There, you can buy almost anything from across the region. Before moving out to the Sino-Nepal Friendship Highway for the rest of the adventure, you will visit Sera and Drepung monasteries, two of the “great three” monasteries of Tibet. These ancient monasteries are continuously in use since the 15th century, inhabiting large populations of Buddhist monks and young disciples.
Barkhor Street in Lhasa
The tour becomes quite interesting as you get farther away from Lhasa, for travelers fond of scenery in particular. The highway takes you cross-country to Gyantse, Tibet’s third largest city. The altitude of Gyantse is about 300 meters higher than of Lhasa. The 262-kilometer route traverses Gampala Pass, one of the region’s high mountain passes. The pass rises to staggering 4,790 meters above sea level before dropping down to Yamdroktso, one of the most prominent lakes in Tibet. High mountains surround the lake, and the beauty of the Tibetan landscape will fascinate you as you drive along the highway.
Gyantse is the home of the famed Pelkor Monastery, the only monastery in Tibet to house three different sects of Tibetan Buddhism. Gyantse Kumbum is a giant stupa consisting of nine floors. Each of them features a unique chapel.
Stage 2: Shigatse to Rongbuk (Everest Base Camp)
After you leave Gyantse, it is a 90-kilometer drive to Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet. In Shigatse, you will find the seat of the Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s second highest incarnation. Tashi Lhunpo Monastery contains the biggest statue of the “future Buddha,” or Jampa, in the world. The area around Shigatse has numerous monasteries. Shigatse is the starting point for visitors going to Mount Everest, Mt. Kailash, Lake Manasarovar, and those traveling to Nepal.
Get to see the glorious summit of Mount Everest at EBC.
The distance from Shigatse to Mount Everest is 334 kilometers, and the drive takes around seven hours, not including sightseeing stops and lunch breaks. For anyone visiting this part of Tibet, seeing Mount Everest and a trip to the famous North Base Camp are must-do activities. The view of the mountain from the base camp is spectacular, and it is the perfect place to see the world-renowned Everest Cloud-flag that flutters in the wind from the peak of the mountain. Traveling to the mountain is much easier than it has ever been as the Friendship highway runs most of the way. Recently paved, the road from the 318 to the Everest Base Camp and Rongbuk Monastery makes for a smooth drive.
Stage 3: Rongbuk to Gyirong Point
Standing 5,000 meters above sea level, the Rongbuk Monastery is the highest monastery in the world and the main stop for travelers visiting Mount Everest. You can see the mighty mountain from the monastery grounds with ease. Wake up early in the morning to see the rising sun touching the top of the mountain and coloring the snow in a shade of orange.
Gyirong Port at the border of Nepal and Tibet
The final leg of the journey used to run to Zhangmu on the Nepalese border. After an earthquake in 2015, though, the border crossing at the Friendship Bridge remains closed. The current crossing point is Gyirong Port, in Gyirong County, which is a drive of 325 kilometers from Rongbuk. Gyirong Port is a little further northwest along the border from the Friendship Bridge at Zhangmu.
Stage 4: Gyirong Port to Kathmandu
When you return to the Friendship highway, you gradually decrease the altitude until you reach the Gyirong Port border crossing. Upon entering Nepal, you have a couple of hours to drive before reaching Kathmandu, the nation's capital city, which is about 160km distant from the border. This stage of your Lhasa to Kathmandu overland tour features much denser traffic than you experienced while traveling Tibet, so be cautious.
Altitude Acclimatization from Lhasa to Kathmandu
Since Lhasa lies over 3,600 meters above sea level, significantly higher than most cities, acclimatization to high altitude is something travelers need to count on. To avoid uncomfortable manifestations of the altitude sickness, plan to spend some time in the area where the oxygen starts to decrease, which is between 2,000 and 2,500 meters above sea level.
If you fly to Lhasa, book a hotel room in lower parts of the city. Furthermore, acclimatize yourself by resting as much as possible in the first days upon your arrival. Finally, eat high-calorie food, don't drink alcohol, don't smoke, don't bath too often to avoid catching a cold, and stick to the advice of your local tour operator.
To join a Tibet-Nepal overland tour and have a chance to tour Tibet, most foreign visitors need to secure the China Visa and Tibet Travel Permit. Contact the official authorities of China for the former, and reach out to the Tibetan tour operator for the latter. Note that you can't apply for the TTP on your own, which is why you need a local travel agency. Only after you set the dates, an itinerary and other essential things with the tour operator, they can apply on your behalf for the Tibet Travel Permit.