Often mistaken for each other, Tibet and Nepal are both Himalayan kingdoms of old, sacred lands of Buddhist and Hindu temples, high mountains, and amazing views. These two stunning tourist destinations lie next door to each other, and share many things, not the least being the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest, as well as several others of the highest mountains on the planet. However, while they do share many similarities, they also have their differences, and anyone touring both of these amazing locations will soon see the differences between a tour of Tibet and a trip to Nepal.
Where are Tibet and Nepal?
Lying either side of the mighty Himalayas, in Southeast Asia, Tibet and Nepal are the closest of neighbors, and have been trade partners for more than a thousand years. Tibet Autonomous Region of China and Nepal share a border along the line of the Himalayas that stretches for around 1,414 kilometers (879 miles), from Ngari in northwestern Tibet to the southwest of Shigatse Prefecture.
Location Map of Tibet and Nepal
Lying between China and India, Nepal is a small landlocked country, around one-fourth of the size of Tibet. In direct contrast, while Tibet may also be landlocked, it is the westernmost part of the People’s Republic of China. Nepal is also the only country in the world from which you can enter Tibet, outside mainland China. A unique arrangement that these two locations share, this mutual neighborliness has prompted a unique relationship between China and Nepal, one which makes for a useful entry point to Tibet for international travelers and enables a combined tour of both Nepal and Tibet even easier.
What are the Differences between Tibet and Nepal?
The landscape is the most obvious difference between Tibet and Nepal. While the Tibetan landscape lies wholly on the vast Qinghai Tibet Plateau, the highest plateau in the world, Nepal’s landscape is varied, ranging from the high mountains of more than 8,000 meters to the lowland areas in the south of the country, along the border with India.
Tibet’s landscape is one of high altitudes, desolate deserts, lush valleys, and vast open prairies that all lie at an elevation of between 3,500 and 6,000 meters. While there are huge differences in elevations across the Tibetan plateau, wherever you go it is at high altitudes that mean a risk of altitude sickness for international travelers and tourists from mainland China.
Taking a rest during our trekking in high-elevation Tibet Plateau.
Nepal’s varying landscape starts with high mountains along its border with Tibet, dropping down to lower mountains and then foothills as you get further away from the border. These natural foothills, formed by the lifting of the Himalayas billions of years ago, drop down to rolling hills and lush valleys at altitudes of less than 2,000 meters, such as the stunning Kathmandu Valley, which averages around 1,500 meters. As you move closer to the border with India, the altitude drops even more, and the forests of the central region of Nepal give way to the dense sub-tropical jungles of the lowland Terai region, lying at altitudes of just a few hundred feet.
Different Religion and Culture
Tibet is a mainly Buddhist land, where Tibetan Buddhism is the main religion. Introduced to Tibet in the 7th century, and taking over from the ancient animistic Bon religion of the plateau, Buddhism has spread across the plateau in such a way that it is a major part of the Tibetan culture, and Buddhist rituals and ceremonies can be found in every aspect of the daily lives of most Tibetans. Bon, the original religion of the plateau, has a small number of followers still, largely thanks to the anti-Buddhist King Langdharma from the 9th century. There is also a small community of Roman Catholic Tibetans in the region, though they are very few and make up for less than 0.01 percent of the population. However, Buddhism remains the predominant religion of the Tibetan people wherever they live.
Nepal is a predominantly Hindu nation.
Nepal is a predominantly Hindu nation, albeit with a number of other religions mixed in, including Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity and Catholicism, Islam, and others. A very multi-cultural country, even the predominance of Hinduism in Nepal is not enough to keep it pure. Hinduism in Nepal has aspects from many other religions incorporated into it these days, especially from Buddhism. Buddhist ceremonies and rituals have been adopted by Nepali Hinduism, and it is common to see Buddhists at Hindu ceremonies, and vice versa.
Different Everest Base Camp in Tibet and Nepal
Mount Everest lies on the border between China and Nepal, and both Tibet and Nepal have basecamps for climbers and tourists. In Nepal the base camp lies at an altitude of around 5,364 meters and is the higher of the two base camps. However, there is no view of the summit of the world’s highest mountain from the base camp in Nepal, and visitors need to trek up to the site at Kala Patthar to get a view of the peak. Getting to the base camp in Nepal is also a lot harder than in Tibet. Lying more than 60 kilometers from the nearest accessible town, visitors to the southern base camp need to fly to Lukla and then trek to the base camp, a hike that takes around 12 days round trip.
The Tibetan base camp on the northern side of the world’s highest mountain, however, is much more easily accessed. A road runs from the G318 Friendship Highway (from Lhasa to Zhangmu) and tourists traveling to the northern base camp can get there by road vehicle, without the need to trek at all. Even the section from the Rongbuk Monastery (the closest you can get by private vehicle) has an eco-bus that runs to the base camp and back several times a day. The only time you trek to EBC in Tibet is when you want to.
Taking in great summit view at Everest Base Camp in Tibet.
The base camp in Tibet is a little lower in altitude than in Nepal, at just 5,200 meters above sea level. However, this is still high altitude, and altitude sickness is still a major concern. Moreover, the summit of the mountain can be viewed clearly from the base camp, as well as from Rongbuk Monastery and several parts of the road to the site, and actually has the best view of this massive peak than anywhere else in both Nepal and Tibet.
Different Travel Highlights in Tibet and Nepal
Traveling to Nepal and Tibet is a very different travel experience as well. Tibet is a land of Buddhist monasteries, vast open prairies, high mountains, and stunning lakes, all of which can be seen on any of the many tours that run across the plateau. Monasteries and mountains are the main highlights of the tours of Tibet, and the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, is renowned for its sacred Jokhang Temple, a 7th century temple that was built to house one of the oldest remaining statues of Buddha. The plateau also holds many secrets, from the beauty of the Great Three Sacred Lakes of Tibet to the stunningly beautiful lush green valleys that can be found in a number of places across Tibet. Traveling in Tibet is an experience of culture, religion, discovery, and adventure.
Meanwhile, Nepal has a different idea of what it means to be adventurous, as it is the trekking capital of the world. The most popular reason for travelers visiting Nepal, trekking is bug business and has become the largest part of the country’s tourism industry. Hundreds of thousands of international travelers head to Nepal every year to make the treks to EBC and around the Annapurna Massif, as well as to many other places in the Nepali Himalayas and the lower foothills. Nepal also has a lot of other adventure sports you can try there, from kayaking and mountain biking to white-water rafting and paragliding.
Nepal is the trekking capital of the world.
Nepal does have a cultural side to its tourism industry as well, and there are a good number of temples and monasteries that can be visited, for those that enjoy discovering more about the local cultures and religions. Majority of these are in the famous Kathmandu Valley, known as the “real Nepal”, though there are a few outside, such as the site at Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.
Why Travel to Tibet and Nepal Together?
Nepal and Tibet are often traveled together as part of a longer tour of the area, and there are very good reasons to do so. Lying side by side in the Himalayas, it is easy to travel from one destination to the other, and this can be done from either side of the mountains. Transport from Nepal to Tibet or Tibet to Nepal is easy and convenient, and the border crossing at Gyirong Port (Tibet) and Rasuwa Gadhi (Nepal) is well set up to give tourists to both destinations an easy way to transfer from the border to the nearby towns and even the respective capitals.
It is also a great way to discover the differences that exist between the two neighbors, from the different religions and cultures to the differences in landscapes and scenery. It is also fun to see the similarities between Nepal and Tibet, in the monasteries and temples, the high mountains, and the uniqueness of the two cultures.
Professional tour operators like us can also handle both aspects of your combined tour of Tibet and Nepal, from the requirements of the tour in Tibet to the transport to Kathmandu from the border, as well as the options of how to travel between both locations.
How to Enjoy a Tibet and Nepal Tour?
Permits Required for Tour Tibet and Nepal
While all you need for a tour in Nepal is the Nepal Entry Visa, which can easily be obtained once you arrive in Nepal, there are more requirements for a tour of Tibet. Not only do you need to have a visa for China, which is a different visa for entering from Nepal than from mainland China, you will also need certain permits in order to enter Tibet from any direction and travel around the region. As independent travel is not permitted in Tibet, all tourists must be on an organized tour, and need permits to visit the different areas of the plateau region.
The main permit you need is known as the Tibet Travel Permit, and must be obtained before your trip in order to be able to enter Tibet. Only a registered tour operator can make the application for the permit, and you need to have booked your pre-arranged tour before the permit can be applied for.
Tibet Travel Permit is a must to enjoy a Tibet and Nepal tour.
Tourists entering Tibet from mainland China can get their own visa from their nearest embassy before they book the tour. However, for those entering from Nepal, the visa is a Group Visa, and can only be applied for by the tour operator once you arrive in Kathmandu.
Travel between Tibet and Nepal by Overland or Flight
There are two ways to travel between Nepal and Tibet, by flight or by overland tour. Flights run daily between Tibet’s Lhasa Gonggar international Airport and Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, but are expensive despite it being just a 90-minute flight.
Overland travel is the best way to enter Tibet from Nepal, as you have the opportunity of acclimatizing to the higher altitude of the plateau on the first days in Tibet, instead of having to acclimatize in Lhasa after the flight, and then travel overland for your tour. The trip from Kathmandu to Lhasa is an amazing journey that allows you to see the Himalayas from both sides, as the trip to the border from the Nepali capital is by car and is done over two days. After crossing the border, you will be met by your own personal guide and driver, who will give you the tour of a lifetime for your journey through Tibet.
Tibet and Nepal are completely different places in the Himalayas, and should not be confused for each other. The wealth of differences actually outweighs the similarities of these two stunning destinations, which makes it well worth visiting both instead of just one or the other. If you are still unsure of whether to visit both Tibet and Nepal together, then come and speak to our professional tour advisors, who can help you with any other queries you may have.