Tibet is known for its breathtaking natural wonders and vibrant Buddhist culture that attracts thousands of travel enthusiasts every year.
Besides its natural beauty and the Buddhist charm, trekking is also one reason why Tibet is on the bucket list of every adventure freak. Trekkers and hikers come to Tibet to satisfy their craving for excitement and challenge.
Tibet offers a visual feast of beautiful landscapes, historical and religious sites, monasteries, etc, making it a remarkable tourist destination. From short trekking trips to real adventurous ones, trekking in Tibet is a perfect mix of peace, wildlife spotting, and physical challenge.
You can find some of world most remarkable trekking routes in Tibet, as it is the world’s most rugged place.
It can surely be a rewarding experience whether you are a novice or an experienced trekker.
Best Time to go Trekking in Tibet
The best time to go trekking in Tibet is in spring and autumn from April to May and September to October. During this time, the weather is not very harsh as there is no snow, and most of the treks are accessible. During these times, there is less rain that can stall your trekking tour in Tibet. Trekking in Tibet when the weather is bad is not a good idea, as you won’t be able to complete your trekking route.
Spring is an ideal time for trekkers when the snow starts melting, and it starts getting a little hot. After the snow melts, the remote areas also become accessible, and you can see the spring flowers blooming. The temperature in April can still be cold with day temperature reaching 8 degrees, whereas nights are even colder mostly below freezing.
Summer is the time of warm weather and significant rainfall in Tibet. Although some areas receive less rainfall still there is the danger of mudslides in some parts of the west. However, there are some treks which can be done despite the heavy rain. The rain mostly falls in the afternoon and evening, so the days are perfect for trekking in the warm sun. Summers are wet, but the mountains are lush and green, and wildflowers are at their full blossom in the alpine meadows.
Autumn is another perfect time for trekking in Tibet, as the heat of the summer and rains have all gone leaving lush greenery all around. The temperature in September can elevate to 12-13 degrees in the daytime with low temperatures at night. October again experiences a dip in temperatures with daytime temperature between 8-9 degrees and nights below freezing. The bright sun does make the temperature feel a lot higher. Autumn has less rainfall and overall pleasant weather perfect for a joyful trekking experience in Tibet.
Winters can be cold in the regions in the far west where the temperatures are below freezing during the daytime also and have extreme weather with snow on the mountains and passes. The east zones Nyingchi and Lhoka experience milder temperatures ( -7 -11 ) and are not so cold, although they do see below-freezing temperatures at night. The area around Lhasa is not that cold, and some fantastic treks can be done in the winter months here. The weather is clear, cold, dry and with strong sunshine.
It is important to acclimatize yourself to the high altitudes of Tibet to prepare yourself for the treks. So when you reach the capital city of Lhasa relax for 2 to 3 days and do some local sightseeing. Almost all treks in Tibet take you at an elevation of above 4000m. At such high altitudes, one can easily suffer from mountain sickness, so it is essential to acclimatize to the conditions first. So if you fly to Lhasa, there are chances that you may experience symptoms like nausea, shortness of breath and headaches. If you experience any of these symptoms, without proper time for acclimatisations, it may cause you to descend to lower altitudes immediately.No matter whichever month you decide to go trekking in Tibet, always pack warm clothes as it gets freezing at night in Tibet even in summers. During day time, you can dress up in layers, whereas warm sweaters, jackets, and pants are recommended at night. It is a good idea to wear light clothes if trekking from spring to fall as you can easily overexert yourself while trekking in the rugged terrain in heavy garments. The second most important gear is quality heavy-duty trekking boots with a good grip. A good hiking stick is also great for the trek. Some trails are rough, treacherous, slippery, and stony, and it is easy to lose your footing. Have a thorough medical checkup before you embark upon any of these treks. It is also imperative to bring some necessary medicines for altitude sickness, diarrhea, and sunblock to shield you from the intense radiations of the sun. The sun may not seem hot but can easily scorch your skin. Bring some high energy snacks to give you the required energy while on the trail. Your body uses up energy faster at higher altitudes than at sea level. Some other necessary gears are – sleeping bag, rain gear, tent, thermal underwear, knife, fuel stove, maps, lighter, water bottle, toiletries, torch, sunglasses, a rainproof jacket with a hood, or poncho, towels, gloves, etc. If you are not well prepared, your whole trekking trip can be ruined. And also, don’t forget to train yourself for the gruelling climbs to maximize your experience of the trek. Start some physical exercise at least a month before your trip to help you attain a certain level of fitness to walk up and down the hills and passes for most of the treks in Tibet.
Traveling Restrictions to Tibet
Traveling to Tibet is restricted, and foreign travelers are not allowed to travel independently. Travelers from China, Hongkong, and Taiwan are allowed to enter Tibet free without any visa. Whereas, all the other foreign tourists are required to prearrange a tour to get a TTB ( Tibet Tourism Bureau) permit to be able to board a train or flight in Tibet. Citizens of many countries except Singapore, Brunei, and Japan are free to visit China for 15 days without obtain China visa. You will first need to get your Chinese visa, which is required to obtain a TTB permit. Therefore apply for your Chinese visa at least a month before your planned trip. TTB only allows access to Lhasa and suburb areas. For visiting other places like Shigatse, Ngari, Shannan, and Mount Everest, you need to obtain additional paper work. When you are visiting museums, monasteries, and other attractions, you should always be accompanied by a licensed tour guide. You will have to use the services of a Chinese travel agency. After your activities are over, you are allowed to walk around freely in towns such as Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse, and Nyingchi.
The other necessary permits required are:
1. Alien travel permit
Issued by the Tibetan Local Public Security Bureau, this permit is needed for the foreign tourists to travel beyond Lhasa city to other prefectures such as Shigatse, Nyingtri, Tsetang, etc. This permit can be applied for after your arrival in Tibet.
2. Border pass
If you are planning to travel to border areas such as Mount Kailash or Mount Everest, you should obtain a border pass. This pass is also required for transfer from Nepal and Tibet.
3. Military permit
If you want to visit sensitive military areas such as Ngari and Nyingchi, etc., then you will have to apply for a military permit.
Some of the popular treks in Tibet are given hereunder:
Mount Kailash Pilgrimage – Best Cultural Trek
The Mount Kailash pilgrimage trek is the most demanding and possibly the holiest mountain in Asia to trek by people from around the world. Mt. Kailash is a gigantic snow-covered mountain and looks somewhat like a pyramid in Egypt. Mount Kailash is one of the holiest spots on earth and is considered an unprecedented pilgrimage for people of different faiths such as Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Bon. The tourists and pilgrims circle the base of the enigmatic Mount Kailash to pay homage. A single circuit or kora is said to absolve you off all your sins and help you attain salvation or moksha. The kora route is about 52 km( 32 miles) and starts at 15,000 ft( 4600m). Despite the altitude, this spectacular landscape of Western Tibet is surprisingly accessible. This 52 km walk will be covered in a clockwise direction. If you want to follow some devout Tibetans who complete the circuit by prostrating themselves the entire way, then make sure you wear thick gloves and knee padding. It will take you approximately three weeks to complete one kora this way. It’s a long but quite picturesque journey. It’s a three day walk around the Mt Kailash and is not very taxing and still takes you to high altitudes. The Mt. Kailash trekking season starts from May and runs until mid-October, but trekkers should always be prepared for the fluctuating weather. The trekkers will come across snow on the Drolma-la 5650m at any time of the year. The temperatures also plummet below freezing point at night here. Trekkers can either camp on the way to Mt. Everest or stay overnight at the pilgrim accommodation at the Drira-puk and Zutul-puk monasteries. The best time to go for this trek is during the Saga Dawa festival, which starts in May and ends in June when the local Tibetans flock at the bottom of the mountain to celebrate Buddha’s enlightenment. During this time, the weather conditions are perfect, and visibility is also high throughout this time. Before May and after October, you will encounter a lot of snow. The summer months are best for the trek but be prepared for a massive rush of tourists to hike this sacred pilgrimage. To reach Mt. Kailash, you can either take a flight or train to Lhasa from China or Nepal. From Lhasa, it will take at least four days to reach Mt. Kailash. Whichever route you choose, you will need to rest at least two days in Lhasa to get acclimatized to the altitude.
At the foot of Mount Kailash is Lake Mansarovar, which is revered by both Hindus and the Tibetans. At an altitude of 4,588 meters, Lake Mansarovar is among the world’s highest freshwater lakes. There are five Buddhist monasteries around Lake Mansarovar- Langbona monastery, Chiu Monastery, Trupo Monastery, Gossul Monastery, and Seralung Monastery. The Buddhists in Tibet always start the kora from the Chiu Monastery. The Buddhists believe that the lake is a gift of the Buddha that can cleanse the souls and hearts of all their filth and also prolong their lives.
Distance: 52 kmDuration: 3 daysHighest point: Drolma La Pass( 5630m)Challenge: Medium to difficultBest time to go: April to June and mid-September to early October.
Tingri to Everest Kangshung – Best Physically Challenging Trek
If you want to get up close to the stunning Kangshung face of Mount Everest, and not just drive to the Everest base camp, then this trek is perfect for you. This is a nine days trek and follows a more remote route to reach the Mount Everest. The trek starts from Kharta valley and passes the beautiful Karma valley to reach the Everest Kangshung face. The trek crosses two passes- Shao La (4,915) and Langma La ( 5200m) to complete a circuit trek. This trek is visited by only a handful of trekkers every year. The trek reaches the foot of the Kangshung Glacier, which is the east face of Mount Everest. On the way back to Kharta, you cross Langmma La ( 5318m) from where you can get spectacular views of Kangchenjunga, Makalu, Chomo Lonzo, and Everest. From Kharta, under the north face of Everest, is the Rongbuk valley. In this valley, there is the highest monastery in the world, the Rongbuk Monastery.
Distance:56 kmDuration: 9 daysChallenge: Moderate to difficultHighest point: Langma La(5330)Best time to go: April to October
Gyama Valley – Most Beautiful Trek
This trek will take you to the beautiful Gyama Valley. The lower elevation of the valley is replete with many wildflowers and orchids and also forested slopes. The Gyama Valley lies on the east slope of Mt. Everest and is full of diverse vegetation and some rare animals. Gyama Valley along with the other three valleys – Gyirong Valley, Zhangmu Valley, and Ya Dong Valley make the ‘Four Great Valleys’ in the Shigatse region. Spring and autumn are the best time to travel to Gyama Valley. The visibility is excellent during these seasons, and you can get a clear view of Mount Everest and other mountainous ranges. There is an explosion of orchids also from May to June. The Gyama Valley trek starts from Tingri. So you can rent a car to reach Tingri either from Shigatse ( 6 to 7 hours) or from Lhasa( 10 to 11 hours). Because of the high altitude of the Gyama Valley, it is recommended to rent yaks to carry your bags and hire a licensed guide. The orchid valley is a breathtaking attraction of the Gyama valley where trekkers and tourists can enjoy seeing orchids at such high altitudes. The orchid valley is no less than a magical land. Due to its flat terrain and low altitude, the valley is relatively warmer and has ample moisture. Orchid valley makes a beautiful camping site for the trekkers at night and allows relishing the unrivaled beauty of the lush vegetation and rich forests.
Another major attraction of the Gyama Valley is the Juniper forest that covers a vast area of the virgin forest. Juniper trees are rarely found in clusters, but Gyama Valley has the entire forest of juniper trees covered in mosses. The juniper forest has an ancient appearance and will take you back in time. If you are lucky, you can also spot the Himalayan blue sheep or bharal. Gyama Valley region is the original home of Sherpas, who have lived here for thousands of years and have adapted themselves to the extreme environment and make the best trekking guides.
Distance: 33kmDuration: 8 daysDifficulty: MediumHighest point: Shawula Pass ( 4900m)Best time to go: April to June and September to October
This trek in Tibet is the most popular one and starts from the Ganden Monastery, one of the famous and first monasteries of the Gelugpa sect. The Ganden Monastery was built in 1409 by Tsongkhapa and is 60 km away from Lhasa. A circuit around the Ganden Monastery will give a magnificent view of the Kyichu Valley. The spectacular trek will take you through several lakes, green meadows, and amazing alpine scenic views. You can see the nomads as well as some beautiful birds in the Alpine areas of the trek. The whole trek usually takes 4 to 5 days and is the most adventurous treks in Tibet. The trek passes through two mountain passes – Shogula Pass and Chitu-la Pass, that are more than 5,000m above the sea level, before going down to Samye Monastery at 3540m. Samye Monastery was built in the 8th century and is the first monastery of Tibet. The total ascent on the trek is 1600 m, and total descent is 2100 m. On this trek, you will encounter three seasons on the same day itself. After getting a wintry feel at Chitu-la, you will go down to witness the springtime rhododendron blooms of the middle valley until you finally reach Samye, where it will be a little warm.
Distance: 80kmDuration: 4 to 5 daysChallenge: Medium to difficultHighest point: Shogula pass( 5250m)Best time to go: Mid-May to mid-October
The trek starts at Tsurphu Monastery and crosses many high valleys before reaching the Yangpachen Valley. If you plan to trek during summer, expect rain and even snow at any time. The guesthouse at Tsurphu Monastery is an excellent place to spend some time getting acclimatized. It is recommended to spend two days at Lhasa before heading to Tsurphu. This trek will give an authentic taste of Tibetan culture, landscape, and the ways of the nomadic people of Tibet, the Drokpa. This provides an altogether different experience and will allow you to learn about the Tibetan herders and their semi-nomadic lifestyle. These herders have their own permanent homes, but they still prefer camping with their animals throughout the year. En route, you will also witness alpine tundra, monasteries, hot springs, and a remote nunnery. At the end of the trek, you will reach Yangpachen. Unlike the other treks while on this trek, you are not on the Himalayas, but you have endless views of them in the distance.
Duration: 3 to 4 daysDistance: 45 kmChallenge: Medium to difficultHighest point: Lasar-la( 5400m)Best time to go: Mid-April to mid-October
Shishapangma means ” the god of grasslands” and lies west of Mt. Everest, behind the Langtang range. Mount Shishapangma is at an altitude of 8046m and is the 14th highest mountain in the world. You can trek to its base camp, which is at 4980m, and later continue to the advanced base camp at 5400m. This trek will get you a close look at the Mt. Everest and also enjoy the incredible beauty of the Tibetan Plateau. You will encounter lush green meadows and wildflowers in their full blossom during the summer. You will not pass any high passes on this trek.
Duration- 5daysChallenge: ModerateHighest point: 4980mBest time to go: March to May and September to November
Nyenchen Tanglha Cross – Best Trek to Sight the Wildlife of Tibet
Tibet is home to some rare and endangered plants and animals. There are approximately 800 species of wild animals and around 5800 species of plants in the Tibetan plateau. The northern regions of Tibet have a huge ecological diversity. If lucky you can sight some rare species of Tibetan animals like Tibetan antelopes, Tibetan wolf, Himalayan blue bear locally known as Dom Gyamuk, snow leopards, wild yaks, Thorold’s deer, etc. While following this trek you will pass Damxung valley and come across various streams, forested mountains, pasturelands, and gorges. On the way, you can also encounter the camps of nomads.
Duration: 3 daysChallenge: Moderate to very difficultHighest point: Kyang-la (5350)Best time to go: May to October
Tibet has some last rare, untamed, natural places left in the world, which are still untouched by modernization. There is a vast diversity of landscapes, flora, and fauna, and trekking is the only way to experience the beauty of this mysterious land called ” the roof of the world.” Away from the hustle and bustle of the growing Tibetan cities trekking will allow you to experience high altitude, remoteness, boulder crossing, river and stream crossing, sacred sites, and most crucial solitude and contemplation.