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Guide to Planning a Lhasa to Kathmandu Cycling Tour

Last Update: March 27, 2020

A trip from Lhasa to Kathmandu by bike is probably one of the most epic journeys you will ever undertake. Crossing over one thousand kilometers on the high altitude plateau of Tibet is the adventure of a lifetime, and is one of the most sought after cycling tours in the world. Following the awesome Sino-Nepal Friendship Highway, you will be transported to a land where mountains are part of everyday life, huge lakes are revered as holy, and the massive plains that stretch for hundreds of miles are just feeding grounds for their yaks.

But how can this be completed? It takes a lot of planning to make this trip, and there are many things to consider, such as altitude sickness, repairs, dehydration (which can happen even in this cold, inhospitable land), road conditions, weather, and so on… So, to get your started with your preparations for the adventure of a lifetime, here is a little information on the main things you need to know before going, and how to prepare for this epic trans-Tibetan journey.

Best time to cycle from Tibet to Nepal

Cycling in Tibet requires fitness and stamina, as you will be cycling up high mountains and along undulating plains. But the one thing you need more than anything else is good weather. Since you most likely do not want to be cycling in the rain every day, then it is best to avoid the monsoon season. While it is true that there is not much rain in Tibet, even in the monsoon, getting wet while cycling would be uncomfortable, and could lead to illness. Not to mention the slippery road conditions, possibility of mudslides caused by rains, and a greater chance of accidents.

The best times to go cycling in Tibet is when the weather is clear, and the skies are blue. April to mid-June is a perfect time to tour, as is the period from September to October. The weather in these shoulder seasons is pleasant and calm, with clear blue skies, good views, and warm weather, though it can still get chilly at night.

Avoid winter as well, as the icy roads and snow covering can be deadly to cyclists. Cycling routes in Tibet are often impassable through the winter months, due to ice and snow.

Highlights along Lhasa Kathmandu cycling route

The cycling route to Kathmandu from Lhasa passes by many of the most spectacular and popular attractions of the Tibetan Plateau, not least of all Mt. Everest.

Lake Yamdrok

The first attraction you pass on your route from Lhasa, after passing over Gampala Pass, which lies at an elevation of 4,790 meters, is the beautiful and calming Lake Yamdrok. This vast lake is considered to be holy, and is one of the three great holy lakes of Tibet. The clear blue water beautifully reflects the surrounding vista of the Nyenchen Thanglha, with their jagged, snow-capped peaks spearing towards the sky.

 Lake Yamdrok Lake Yamdrok

Gyantse Kumbum

As the road heads on towards Shigatse, you will pass through Gyantse, the third largest city in Tibet. There you will find the famous Kumbum, a huge stupa that is the size of a small monastery. This giant architectural stupa stands 34 meters high, and consists of nine floors, each with its own unique chapels. The nearby Gyantse Fortress, however, lies in ruins, but it has a certain old-world charm that one cannot resist.

 The Gyantse Kumbum Stupa in Tibet The Gyantse Kumbum Stupa in Tibet

Three Passes

Along your route you will cross over three, high-altitude passes on the way to Everest base Camp (EBC). The first, Tsola Pass, lies at an altitude of 4,600 meters, while the second, Gyatsola Pass sits at 5,200 meters. But they are not the highest pass you will cross. At an altitude of 5,250 meters, Gawula Pass is the highest pass in this area, and the highest you will traverse. What is more, the views from the peaks of these passes is astounding, giving you excellent vistas of the mighty Trans-Himalayan Ranges.

Cycling through Gawula Pass of Tibetan PlateauCycling through Gawula Pass of Tibetan Plateau

Rongbuk and EBC

After a long time riding, Rongbuk Monastery is a welcome sight, and a sign that you are close to the pinnacle of the Tibetan mountains, Mt. Everest. The highest monastery in the world, at 5,000 meters above sea level, Rongbuk Monastery is part of the Nyingmapa Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, and is unique in that both monks and nuns live together in the same monastery.

 The Famous Everest Base Camp The Famous Everest Base Camp

After Rongbuk it is on to EBC, the famous Everest Base Camp. Unlike the Nepal base camp, you can drive right up to the Tibetan side, so taking your bikes there is not a problem. The views from the tourist base camp are some of the best in the world, and although that is the closest you can get, with it being such a huge mountain getting closer would restrict the view more.

Mount Shishapangma

Also known as Gosainthan, Shishapangma is the 14th highest mountain in the world at 8,027 meters. It is a revered mountain to Tibetans, and it remains covered in snow the whole year round. The mountain exudes raw beauty, and it was the last of the 8,000 meter plus mountains to be climbed.

Gyirong Port

Hidden away in a beautiful little valley in the middle of nowhere is Gyirong Town. The valley where the town lies is a beautiful, vast stretch of lush grasslands and stunning wildlife. The comfortable climate in the valley makes for a nice place to relax, before the last stage of the journey to Kathmandu. The area has some amazing temple ruins, but it is the vast nature reserve that is most popular among its visitors.

What to pack for Lhasa Kathmandu biking tour

While the weather can be quite warm in the shoulder seasons, it can also drop to 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. 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.

 Mountain bikes are the best type of bicycle for this rough terrain Mountain bikes are the best type of bicycle for this rough terrain

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 be 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.

Accommodation and dinning in Tibet Nepal cycle trip

Majority of the trip is normally spent camping, as the weather is pleasant, and it does not get too cold at night. If you are tired of camping, there are affordable guesthouses all along the route, in almost every town and village you pass through. You guide will be traveling with you in the support vehicle, as it is required, and would be able to point you to the best places to stay.

Tibetan food is not to everyone’s tastes, and if you are unsure, then it is best to pack plenty of food for the trip. There are inns and hostels along the way where you can get Chinese meals as well as the traditional Tibetan dishes, and prices are reasonable. However, the further west you get, the less chance of non-Tibetan cuisine, so it is either learn to like it or bring your own.

Useful tips for biking in Tibet and Nepal

1. 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. The plateau altitude may be high, but the low oxygen content of the air means stronger solar radiation.

2. 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.

3. Spares are a must, since you are unlikely to be able to buy spare parts for the bikes out in the central and western areas of Tibet.

4. Take plenty of bottled water with you. While it may feel cool, the altitude means you can get dehydrated very easily.

Travel permits and visas needed

Before you can even enter Tibet, there are visas and permits that you have to obtain. Since Tibet is still a very strict region in terms of tourism, obtaining a visa and the permits needed to cross this high-altitude region is not possible without the help of a local tour operator, such as Tibet Tour. Regulations from the Chinese government state that tourists to Tibet must be accompanied at all times by a registered guide, and that all permits be obtained by a tour operator once you have booked your Tibet tour. Even for those cycling across the region, you are required to have a guide, driver, and private vehicle as a support group while you are in Tibet. Until now, there is no allowance for individuals to travel alone in the region.

Chinese Entry Visa

Your first requirement will be a visa for entry into China. This is easy to obtain from the Chinese Embassy in your home country. Unlike many countries, there is no way to apply for the Chinese Entry Visa online, and it requires a visit to the embassy to both apply and collect it. Once you have your Visa, you need to book the tour with an operator in order to obtain other permits.

Tibet Travel Permit

With a booked tour, the tour operator can then apply for your Tibet Travel Permit from the Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB). This permit can only be obtained by a registered tour operator, and is required to gain entry to Tibet, including boarding the plane or train, and will be checked at any of the checkpoints throughout the region. It is also required to obtain the other permits you will need while traveling through Tibet.

Alien’s Travel Permit

Another permit for traveling in Tibet, the Alien’s Travel Permit is required for anyone traveling outside Lhasa, and to the far west of the region. It is also required to enter places such as Everest Base Camp, which is normally part of an overland tour from Lhasa to Kathmandu.

Group Tourist Visa

If you are entering Tibet from Nepal, instead of obtaining the Chinese Entry Visa from the embassy, you can get a Group Tourist Visa that is valid for entry into China and Tibet from Nepal only. If you already have a valid Chinese Entry Visa, this will be canceled in order to make way for the Group Tourist Visa. While it does say “group”, it can be applied for by an individual, and if you are part of a group, you will all have to leave Tibet after the tour at the same time and through the same port of exit. The Tibet Travel Permit is also applied for at the same time as the visa.

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