Tibet is a land where extreme altitude meets stunning scenery, and ancient Buddhist temples nestle among huge mountains and immense lakes. Snow-capped mountains give way to grand glaciers, which in turn give way to vast prairie lands full of migrating birds and wild animals. It is a place where traveling is an adventure in itself, and where there is something new around every corner.
Potala Palace in Lhasa
Thousands of people visit Tibet. every year, touring with guides in vehicles to visit famed sights such as Mt. Everest, holy Mt. Kailash, the vast Lake Namtso, and the world’s most ancient and revered monasteries. And while it is an amazing adventure driving down a road past the highest lakes in the world, and seeing wild animals roaming the grasslands, there is nothing better than doing all of that on a bicycle.
Cycling tours of Tibet have become an increasingly popular way to see the most spectacular sights in the world. And while your tour will mean you facing some of your biggest challenges – the roads are long and arduous, the altitude is a force that will sap your strength, and the winds can literally take your breath away – there is no greater adventure that taking a mountain bike and doing what the name suggests; riding up mountains!
Cycling from Lhasa to Ganden Monastery
Ganden Monastery is one of the oldest of all the monasteries in Tibet. It has over 600 years of history since its construction in 1409, it is the prime monastery of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Founded by the great Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug sect, it is not only the first temple of Gelugpa, but one of the Three Great Temples of Tibetan Buddhism, the other two being Sera Monastery and Drepung Monastery.
View of Ganden Monastery
It lies almost 60km to the northeast of Lhasa, in Dagze County, Chengguan District. The monastery sits atop Mt. Wangpo, 4,300 meters above sea level and has played an important role in Tibetan religious culture.
The Lhasa to Ganden Monastery cycling tour is an easy-level cycling route that is suitable for novices and families, and can be taken throughout the year. The route starts and finishes in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, and gives you a chance to visit some of the city’s amazing sights and experience more of the unique Tibetan culture.
Highlights of the route and itinerary
While the tour is normally only for six days, there are many things that can be seen in that time. Lhasa is not just the capital of Tibet, it is also an area with many monasteries and temples, with lakes and mountains nearby. When you arrive in Lhasa by train in the first day, our guide will meet you at the station and bring you to the city, a short 30km trip. On the way you will be able to see the Yarlung Tsampo River, the longest river in Tibet.
View of Yarlung Tsampo River
Once in the city you will have the day to help get acclimatized to the increased altitude, to prevent altitude sickness, and you will be able to walk around inside the city freely and visit some of the sights and colors, and get your first experience of Tibetan culture. Day two of your tour will be spent in Lhasa, where you will be taken to visit the amazing sights of Jokhang Temple, a 7th century Buddhist temple, and the Potala Palace.
Tibetan Lamas in Ganden Monastery
Around Jokhang Temple runs the most famous of Tibetan streets, Barkhor Street. Not only is this a place of market stalls and great gift ideas, it is also the route of the kora, or holy trek, around the Temple itself. Buddhist pilgrims who travel to religious sites such as this will walk the kora around the holy site, whether it is a temple, lake or holy mountain. This is done as part of the ritual of prayer, and the route must always be walked clockwise.
Buddhists in Ganden Monastery
Your third day in Tibet will be spent visiting Drepung Monastery, one of the Three Great Monasteries of the Gelug Sect that dates from the 15th century. The second half of the day will be spent at Sera Monastery, another of the Three Great Monasteries, which was founded in 1419 by one of Tsongkhapa’s disciples, Jamchen Chojey. Afternoons are the best time to visit Sera, as this is the time when the monks come out to the gardens and you can experience their famed “debates”, with all the extravagant gesticulation and philosophical arguments.
The fourth day is the real start of your cycling tour, and our guide will take you on the 56km ride to Ganden Monastery. The hardest part of this ride is the climb up Mt. Wangpo to the monastery at the top, but the uphill struggle is well worth it for the amazing sights in and around this ancient site. There is a kora that circumambulates the religious site, and you can take the trek if you are not feeling too tired after the strenuous climb. The kora takes around two hours to complete, traversing some rough and rocky terrain, and is another achievement that you would not be able to accomplish in any other country but Tibet. While walking the kora, you will get some amazing views of the surrounding countryside, as well as a perfect view of the peak of Nyenchen Thangla, which overlooks the Kyu-chu valley. Your fourth night will be spent in Ganden Monastery, which has rooms for traveler, and you can rest in the peace and tranquility of the monastery, ready for the following day’s ride.
You last full day in Lhasa will be spent riding back to the city, and here you can take your time and view some of the amazing scenery as you ride along. The route follows the Lhasa River, as it flows down towards the city, and passes through seemingly endless grasslands as it winds its way between the lofty mountains.
Once back in Lhasa, you will have the rest of the day to tour around the city on your own, and do whatever shopping you need to do before your journey continues on to your next destination.
High altitude change from Lhasa to Ganden Monastery
With the altitude in Lhasa at around 3,656 meters above sea level, the trip to Ganden is one that takes you another 650 meters higher. Most of the route is relatively level as you travel along the Lhasa River valley. However. Once you turn off the main highway, and into the valley below Ganden Monastery, the climb gets steep.
Ganden Monastery sits on the top of Mt. Wangpo, at an elevation of 4,300 meters, and the climb is made all the harder with the increase in elevation. It is advised not to try and take the mountainous road too fast, and stop to rest if you feel the effects of altitude sickness creeping up on you.
Best time for cycling
The best time to visit Tibet, and more especially Lhasa, for cycling tours is from April to October. In the spring, from April to June, and fall, from September to October, the weather is milder, and it never rains, so you are guaranteed dry, comfortable days for cycling. Winter is definitely not the best time to go, as the roads can get icy and dangerous. Summer, from mid-June to August is a lovely time to visit Tibet, as it is the rainy season, and the grasslands and prairies turn a lush green with the new growth caused by the monsoon rains. If you plan to travel to Tibet for a cycling tour during summer, be prepared for some hot days and very cold nights. While the nighttime temperature can still drop to freezing, the days can get very hot, and the oxygen content of the air is higher in summer months.
Tibet travel permit
As travel in the region is not permitted without a special permit, in order to get into Tibet you will need to apply for a Tibet Travel Permit. This is required on top of your Chinese visa, as the region is under strict control for foreign travelers. At Tibettour.org, we can arrange your Tibet Travel Permit for you, once you have your Chinese visa. The permit allows you to travel around certain parts of the region, accompanied by our guide at all times. For some areas, other permits may be required, as there are different regulations in different areas of Tibet. However, for the Lhasa to Ganden tour, only the Tibet Travel Permit is required.
Tibet Travel Permit
Once you send us a copy of your passport and Chinese entry visa, we can apply for the Tibet Travel permit through the Tibet Tourism Bureau. It normally takes between 2-5 working days for us to get your Permit from the Tibet Tourism Bureau, and once we have it, we can send it to your hotel in China, to be there when you arrive. Access to trains and airplanes to Tibet is not permitted without the Tibet Travel Permit, so please make sure you keep it on your person at all times. Only a registered travel agent for Tibet can obtain the Tibet travel permit; it is not available in any other way.
What to pack, and other tips…
What to pack is an essential need-to-know list for a region such as Tibet. While the weather can be quite warm in summer, it can also drop to below freezing at night and for visitors not used to such extreme changes in temperature it can be dangerous. Warm clothes are always necessary for traveling in Tibet, but you can also bring lighter clothes for warmer days if you are coming in the summer months. Waterproof clothes and shoes are a good idea as well, as there are times when it may rain, and a windproof jacket for cycling would help, as it can get quite windy in such a mountainous region.
Packing for Ganden Monastery
Mountain bikes are the best type of bicycle for this rough terrain, although you will probably not be doing any cross-country riding on this tour. However, they are sturdier than a normal cycle, and better built for this kind of riding. You have the option of bringing your own bike, or you can buy or hire one in Lhasa. If you buy, you have the option of selling it once your tour is over, but renting would be your best option. You should also have some spare parts, such as inner tubes, brakes, chain, cables, spokes, pump, and tools. Servicing for bikes in the region is rare, and you do not want to get stuck miles from anywhere with a broken wheel.
If you are intending to do any camping, a good strong tent and warm sleeping bag are a must. You can bring your own, or again, rent them in Lhasa. You should also bring a map, compass, elevation watch, torch, spare batteries, high-altitude stove for cooking, some food (in case you do not like Tibetan cuisine), water bottle and water, and a backpack or saddlebags for the bicycle.
Please also remember to bring a hat, lip balm, and sun block, as the sun and wind can damage the skin, and leave lips dry and chapped. A basic first aid kit (available in most pharmacies throughout the United States and Europe, as well as many other countries) would be useful for any cuts or scrapes you may get while riding.
Riding the high roads at the roof of the world is an exhilarating, and life-changing experience, and one that will never be forgotten. So take the time to plan your trip, and we look forward to seeing you soon, in Tibet.