Situated between Tibet Autonomous Region and India, Nepal is one of the best places in Asia to experience mountain climbing, trekking, and jungle adventures, all in one place. This landlocked Southern Asian country is well known for its snow-capped peaks, especially Mt. Everest, and has more than 90 peaks that are over 7,000 meters. The Nepal Himalayas also has eight out of the ten highest peaks in the world, but few people know that the country is mostly low-lying tropical jungle, with wildlife such as rhinos and tigers. Nepal is the perfect place to mix mountaineering with a tropical jungle safari.
Many of the people who want to travel to Nepal also visit Tibet first, to explore this ancient culture and unique land, high up on the Tibetan plateau. Set on the highest plateau in the world, Tibet is a unique place to visit, where the Buddhist religion is heavily interwoven with their unique culture, and where high mountains, crystal clear lakes, and lush prairies abound, making it one of the most unique landscapes in the world.
How to Get from Lhasa to Kathmandu
Train travel is the tourist’s most popular choice in getting to Lhasa, and traveling by train is the perfect journey. Trains to Tibet run from seven cities across China, and all travel through Xining, in Qinghai Province, the start of the amazing feat of engineering that is the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. Covering 1,956 kilometers across some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world, and traversing mountains and vast open prairies, this record-breaking railway was the first rail line to enter Tibet, finally connecting the high-altitude land with the rest of China.
Getting to Nepal from Tibet currently requires you to either fly from Lhasa to Kathmandu, or travel overland to Kathmandu by using the Sino-Nepal Friendship Highway, a 1,000-kilometer long road that links Lhasa to the Nepal border, at Zhangmu. Since the earthquake of 2015 caused immense damage to the highway through the mountains, and made the famous Friendship Bridge unstable, the route was moved to Gyirong Port, further south along the border. The border point at Gyirong was actually better for traveling to Kathmandu, as it is nearer to the Nepali capital, cutting down on the time travelers would spend on the road.
Qingzang Railway Extension from Lhasa
However, this is changing, and eventually one will be able to travel by train from the far east of China, all the way to Kathmandu, and one day, maybe even beyond that. Following the successful completion of the railway from Xining to Lhasa, the Chinese government started on their next projects: tracks that would link Lhasa to Kathmandu and Chengdu, in Sichuan Province.
Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon
The line from Lhasa to Kathmandu came first, and was started in September 2010. By the end of 2012, the line had been completed for the first 82 kilometers, covering more than 27% of the total distance it would run. In May 2013, the line was completed through what would be its longest tunnel, a distance of 1,041 kilometers through the Penyinla Tunnel. In September 2013, construction was completed on the bridge over the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon, which stretches across and along the canyon for 90 kilometers. In November 2013, the main construction work, including culverts, tunnels, and bridges were finally completed to Shigatse.
Train from Lhasa to Shigatse
During the construction work, engineers had to divert the route of the tracks to avoid nature reserves, water sources, and migrations route, to protect the natural environments of the wildlife of the plateau. The line from Lhasa to Shigatse covers a distance of 253 kilometers, and has 13 stations along its route. The route from Lhasa to Shigatse has been in operation since 2014, and is capable of transporting over 8 million tons of cargo every year, as well as thousands of passengers. With the line from Xining to Lhasa having transported more than 15 million passengers since its opening in 2006, this extension as far as Shigatse has opened up faster services to the west of the region, and increased the amount of goods that can be transported there, bringing more food, technology, and visitors to this remote area of Tibet.
Tashi Lhunpo Monastery
As Tibet’s second largest city, Shigatse is one of the main centers for tourism in Tibet, along with Lhasa and Everest, and is the home of the world-famous Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, the traditional seat of Tibet’s second highest incarnation, the Panchen Lama. Moreover, Shigatse is the closest major city in Tibet to Mt. Everest, known locally as Mt. Quomolangma, making it more convenient for people to get to the famous Everest Base Camp, one of the most popular tourist spots in the world.
Took photo at the landmark of Tibet Everest Base Camp
Not only does this line mean an increase in goods transportation to the western areas of Tibet, but it also means that travel in Tibet is easier, cutting down the pollution caused by hundreds of cars and truck traveling along the Friendship Highway. In addition, it will also cut down on the cost of tours in the region for foreign tourists. For those wishing to tour only the western areas, including Mt. Everest and holy Mt. Kailash, they will be able to get the train direct from China to Shigatse, via Lhasa, and their guides can meet them at Shigatse station for the start of their tours. This extension can cut the cost of the tours to Mt. Kailash and Mt.Everest drastically, and possible increase the number of visitors to the area.
Proposed Kathmandu Extension
Following on from the extension of the Qingzang Railway to Shigatse, the next stage will extend it to the Nepal border, and then on to Kathmandu. According to a report on the visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, to Kathmandu back in 2014, the line would eventually be extended to the border with Nepal, and beyond. Any line that linked China to the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, would provide a crucial link between China and the huge markets of India.
Known as the “Belt and Road Initiative”, the proposed railway to Kathmandu is in response to requests from the Nepalese government, and is an act of affirmed friendship between the two nations. The railway echoes China’s “One Belt and One Road” strategy, which is intended to provide better transportation along the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st century, and improve relations with Nepal and the Indian nations, including Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The proposed route will start in Shigatse, where the current extension of the Qingzang Railway ends, and will follow a route that includes the towns and cities of Lhatse, Tingri, and Gyirong, before crossing the border and terminating at Kathmandu. While many rumors circulated about Chinese engineers proposing to tunnel under Mt. Everest, the project is actually going through Gyirong Pass, to deliberately avoid the Everest National Park area and the Zhangmu Pass.
Gyirong Pass (also known as Gyirong Port)
The route will cover 540 kilometers from Shigatse to the Nepal border, and then another 120 kilometers to Kathmandu. As the line is expected to cross the Himalayas to get into Nepal, and on to Kathmandu, engineers are expected to build several long tunnels through the mountains, as well as running the line over some of the lower passes in the area. Following on from the latest reports in May 2017, the China and Nepal Co-building committee pointed out the urgency of the construction, and it is expected to be completed by 2022. The construction is set to be done in two sections: the first section will be from Shigatse to Gyirong, and the second from Gyirong to Kathmandu. Once in Kathmandu, the Nepali authorities also have plans to link the line coming into Kathmandu with extension lines to Pokhara and Chitwan, the other two major cities in the country, and two of the most popular tourist destinations, after Kathmandu.
Once open, this will facilitate a huge influx of travelers to Tibet, allowing easier and more convenient travel to Lhasa and Shigatse, and reducing the cost of getting to Tibet from Nepal. Moreover, it will also make it easier for cross-border trade between China/Tibet and Nepal, improving relations and making it easier to transport goods between the two nations. With this expected increase in tourism in Tibet once the line is open, facilities should also improve in the western areas of the region, especially those designed for use by foreign visitors.
Another project for improving transport to Tibet, and a further extension of the Qingzang railway line, is the plan to build a railway along the old route of the 318 National Road, that currently links Lhasa with Chengdu. Construction has already started on both ends of the line, and the section from Kangding to Nyingchi has started to construct in 2018. This is the longest, toughest, and final section of the line to be built, and passes over some of the roughest terrain in Asia.
318 National Road
As a major corridor into Tibet from China, the 318 National Road is inadequate for the task of transporting goods and passengers from China to Tibet. The railway starts in Chengdu, and will terminate in Lhasa, via the towns and cities of Ya’an, Kangding, Gangtuo, Chamdo, Nyingchi, and Lhokha. The total length of the line, once completed, is 1,838 kilometers, and 1,413 kilometers of that are bridges and tunnels.
While this line will be shorter than the Qinghai-Tibet line, it requires much more engineering skill, and a lot more money to fund it. The estimated total cost of the line is expected to be around 216.6 billion Yuan, and it is expected to get passengers from Chengdu to Lhasa in around 13 hours, as opposed to the three-day long travel by road in the 318 National Highway.