Tsang Region, Tibet
Left breathless from the altitude you open your eyes to a surreal scene of rolling sand dunes, pristine blue lakes, and seemingly impossible mountains. As your heart struggles and labours after each beat, and the sky turns black you believe you’ve made it to Shangri La itself. When you come to, and everything becomes clear again its apparent that your still on the road, the long, bumpy, high altitude, and incredibly beautiful road to Everest. A journey to Tibet’s Everest Region is not to be taken lightly however, it’s a rugged exhibition, but those who endure it are rewarded with the riches that Tibet has to offer!
Getting Permits for Tibet
This is what puts off most travelers wanting to come to Tibet. There’s the Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) Permit, Travel Permits for outside of Lhasa, and multiple other goodies you may need to acquire for traveling here. Luckily the times have changed. Tour agencies within Tibet can arrange these for you with only a copy of your passport, and a down payment on a prearranged tour.
Yes, unfortunately you need a tour. No matter what anyone tells you, if you are not a Chinese citizen you will need a prearranged tour to visit Tibet.
Worlds Highest Train Journey – Beijing to Lhasa, Tibet
I came to Tibet by train from Beijing. It’s a long 40-hour journey, but you will cross the rolling green hills and sands of inner Mongolia, the high plateau grasslands of Qinghai and finally ascend the worlds highest train journey to Lhasa. Its an incredible ride and I recommend it as it gives you more time to acclimatise. Its also a wonderful way to meet other tourists, and locals who can give you your first insights into Tibetan culture!
Beijing to Lhasa by train costs about 170 USD. This does not include food which you either must bring with you, or be prepared to eat instant noodles for two days. Another great tip is to get the agency to book the ticket for you. You can only buy your tickets a few months in advance, and the moment they become available they sell out (when I tried they sold out in 2 minutes). Scalpers will sell agencies these tickets last minute, but you’ll pay extra, usually around 210 USD total.
Starting Point, Lhasa, Tibet
Whether you get here by train or plane, your port of entry into the land of snow is most likely going to be Lhasa. All adventurers on the Plateau start here, and end here, so you will get to know this beautiful city well.
When I arrived in Lhasa I was pleasantly surprised to find out that you are allowed to explore the city without a guide. You cannot enter main sights like Potala or Jokhang, but you can explore Barkhor Market.
After four days of roaming around Lhasa and the surrounding areas I set off with Tibetan Highland Tours to Everest Base Camp!
Hitting the Road, Yamdrok Lake
From Lhasa, we drove to the beautiful Yarlung Valley, famed for being the cradle of Tibetan culture and civilisation. After crossing the Yarlung River we began to ascend high up into the Himalayas. This pass is known as the Khamba-la, it sits at 4794 m and provides a stunning view down to Yamdrok Lake.
Yamdrok Lake is in the shape of a Scorpion and is one of Tibet’s holiest lakes. Tibetans believe that wrathful deities live here, and by walking the entire circumference of the lake you will erase sins, and calm these deities.
Descending into the emerald blue waters of Yamdrok, we made our first pit stop at a tourist view point. The view point is a wonderful place to get photos of or with Tibetan white yaks, and the massive Tibetan Mastiff.
From Yamdrok Lake we climbed higher once again passing by the Karo La Glacier before dropping down to the medieval town of Gyantse.
Gyantse is easily one of the most atmospheric, and best-preserved cities in Tibet. Apart from the recently renovated (and Built) Dzong the town itself has been saved from the modernization of Tibet.
The real draw here is the Gyantse Kumbum and the Pelkhor Chode Monastery. The Kumbum is a massive, intricate white stupa that resembles a mandala from above. As you circle its interior climbing to the top you pass by countless shrines that all feature beautiful Thangka paintings, butter lamps, and wafts of juniper incense.
Beside the Kumbum is the Pelkhor Chode Monastery. This massive monastery houses gigantic statues of the four guardians in its assembly hall. It flows with the ambience of Monks lighting butter lamps as they recite their prayers.
After we left the Monastery we wandered through Gyantse’s ancient streets. There are many small shrines and interesting shops here to explore. Outside the Monastery itself there is a small market selling religious items such as prayer wheels and incense. It is well worth a look.
The next day we left Gyantse to Shigatse. The road is long and bumpy, but makes up for it in incredible scenery. To your left the mighty Himalayas emerge, the contrast between Tibet’s moon like landscape, and the soaring peaks of the Himalaya’s is jaw dropping.
When we finally pulled into Shigatse it felt as if we had crossed Tibet, but in actuality we were not even half way! Shigatse town is the last place to truly get a decent meal and good nights sleep. From here Tibet gets decisively remote.
The main reason travelers make Shigatse a pit stop (other than decent food), is the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. This massive Monastery complex makes for a great afternoon to wonder and explore its many brick shrines, mink living quarters, and cobble stone alleyways. One shrine stands out in particular, as it houses the world tallest bronze structure.
The Road to Everest
The moment every Everest bound traveller has been waiting for, the final stretch of road before it ends at the foot of Mount Everest! First, we drove to New Tingri, a small trucker town from where we got our first views of Mount Everest. The vast and empty plains reveal all the massive peaks near to Everest from Tingri. Its well worth the stop here to get a perspective on how big they really are.
Leaving Tingri you ascend in altitude fast, very fast! From just under 4000 m you will climb the 5248-meter-high Gyatso La Pass in just under an hour. From here, you can see 5 of the world’s 15 highest peaks, including Everest, the view point in which all the jeeps stop at is incredible on a cloudless day. If you get motion sickness in even the slightest form I highly recommend brining medication as this is one of the windiest roads I have ever been on.
Closer to Everest Base Camp we stopped at a small village for lunch. I don’t recall the name of the village, but you must pass through it on route to Everest. Here we sampled some local delicacies like Yak tongue, and Yak curry. It was also a great place to see traditional Tibetan culture as this area is very remote.
Finally, as you near the beast you get to see how grandeur and beautiful Everest really is. All around you the mountains are dwarfed by this legendary peak. Before we entered Everest Basecamp we stopped at Rongphu Monastery.
Sitting at 4,980 metres, Rongphu is considered the worlds highest monastery. It sits just before base camp and offers dramatic views of Everest. The resident monk will happily show you around during the day, including the alter that has human skulls used as wine cups that are presented to wrathful deities.
Outside the monastery is small hill, I highly recommend climbing to the stupa that is set on the top of it for some great pictures of Rongphu with Everest as its backdrop!
EBC (Everest Base Camp), Tibet Side
From Ronghpu Monastery the road continues another 6km to the yak hair tent camp. This camp is where the vast majority of travelers stay. The simple yak hair tents are set out in the traditional Tibetan Nomad manner and offer simple meals.
From here company transport is not permitted to go any further. To Everest Basecamp its another 3km uphill. You can either take the designated Basecamp shuttle or walk. To be honest walking is not great, the road is very dusty and the mini vans only make this worse.
That afternoon we took the shuttle up to base camp. Base camp is simple, it’s a small hill covered in prayer flags and offers one of the best views of Everest. Unfortunately, most people make it here in the afternoon when the views of Everest are blocked by clouds. This was the case for my tour. Disappointed by the clouds, I returned to the Yak hair tent for Yak butter tea, and some rest from the altitude.
At 4:30 am I woke up and set back out towards base camp for sunrise. Even at this early morning time I could see Everest in all its glory. Leaving the Yak hair tents I walked up the road about 1km to a hill as the shuttles to base camp were not going at this hour. Climbing the hill, I found a small temple which offered stunning views and contrasts of Mount Everest. From here I watched the sun rise over Everest, and I was completely alone! The Mountain changed from blue to pink and finally ended in a stunning gold array. In the distance prayer flags fluttered and I could here monks groaning the morning prayer. This was one of the highlights of my entire trip to Tibet!
Tibet Highland Tours
Tibet is a land many wish to see, but, because of the current political situation travel seems near impossible. Tibet Highland Tours can make travel here seem like a synch. They arranged all my permits, hotels and transport while being here. They also never said no to any destination within Tibet. Another thing I love about this company was that it is a Tibetan company, and run by only Tibetans! My guides were very informative as well, being Tibetan born they gave me the best insight into local culture, sights, history and food! Check their company out here!
Location: EBC, Tibet
Costs: Per Day – 25 – 40 USD (excluding tour costs)
Recommended Guide: Lonely Planet Tibet
Camera: Sony A7
Tips: Make sure to acclimatise well, take Diamox if you get symptoms, drink plenty of water.
Tour Company: Tibetan Highland Tours