My interest in travel to Tibet is not so much for the tourist stops in Lhasa, or even in the surrounding autonomous region itself. But more for the journey through the remote regions of the Himalayas and the mysterious Roof of the World. A region which is still somewhat contentious in parts, with 4 bordering countries in the higher Himalayas, and it’s just a difficult area to navigate with various permits and complications along the way. Meaning it’s more of a challenge than a simple holiday break to Visit Tibet. And, while it is possible to fly direct to Lhasa from various airports in the region. I just don’t see the fun in that?
The Borders of Tibet?
Instead I will try to simplify the possible routes for travel to Tibet, the capital of Lhasa being the ultimate destination to reach, where there are 4 nearby borders within a near enough reach to the capital. These are China, Nepal, India, and Bhutan. First off, Bhutan is a no-go for Tibet Travel, as border crossings are pretty much impossible except by indirect flight (Kathmandu a potential stopover). And it’s just hard to even travel to Bhutan in the first place. (Note, Myanmar (Burma) also borders Tibet in the south, but the route is the furthest and by far the most complicated, if even possible).
India to Tibet?
The first time that we considered travelling to Tibet was when in Sikkim India, when we travelled from Gangtok to Lake Tsomgo (Lake Changu), located just 5-kilometres from the Chinese borders at Nathulu Pass. But, again, this is a no-go, as this border is only really open for trade between China and India. And to reach for travel from India to Tibet you must first cross into Nepal at the Panitanki – Kakarbhitta border crossing. It’s a relatively easy border crossing, with pretty much visa on arrival with western nationals, before bussing on from Kakarbhitta to Kathmandu (up to 18 hours).
Nepal to Tibet?
This is not going to be a quick or easy ride, as the overland journey from Kathmandu to Lhasa takes at least 7 days. But it is only 90km to reach the actual borders of Tibet from Kathmandu, then it is always worth considering a visit to the North Everest Base Camp in Tibet, which you can literally drive to along the “The Friendship Highway” to Lhasa. And there are some rather fascinating temples and excursions to make the most of these further-flung parts of the world. However, independent travel is not allowed from the borders in Tibet and a private (or group) guide and driver is necessary.
China to Tibet?
Tibet is in China, so China seems like the easy route for travel to Tibet. Yet even travel from China is complicated as pretty much all foreign travellers will still need visas and travel permits, and private (or group) guides, vehicles and drivers (which I will outline soon). Otherwise, the Qinghai–Tibet railway is the main route within China, where it follows a 24-hour train ride from Xining (Qinghai). And then you will likely have to reach Xining from other ports and cities in China. And China is big.