Travel to Tibet and Nepal: Essential Guide to Planning Your Adventure

Driving by the mountain Gurla Mandhata in Burang, Tibet.

Tibet and Nepal are some of the most popular places in the Himalayan region and no surprise that many people want to visit both at the same time. They are located nearby, and there is a choice of a short flight between them or a beautiful road connecting Lhasa and Kathmandu. In this article you will find information about documents required to travel to both Tibet and Nepal, information about the ways of traveling, when to visit and where to start your adventure. 

VISA REQUIREMENTS

If you travel from Tibet to Nepal

UNESCO World Heritage site Potala Palace in Lhasa
Potala Palace in Lhasa, UNESCO World Heritage site

You will arrive in Tibet from China either by plane or on a train. First, most of the visitors will need to apply for a Chinese visa in their home countries. It typically takes about one week.

After you have your visa, your travel agency will arrange a special permit for you to visit Tibet. It will additionally take about 15 days.

That means you should start planning your trip 1 month in advance.

You will also need Nepalese visa when you enter Nepal (either at the overland border or in the airport). Most visitors are eligible for visa on arrival.

If you travel from Nepal to Tibet

Kathmandu's Durbar Square, Nepal
Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, Nepal

Nepal has a very relaxed visa policy. Most of the travelers can receive their Nepalese visa upon arrival at the airport.

When you travel to Tibet from Nepal, you will also need a Chinese visa. It won’t be a regular visa, but a Chinese group visa. It is a single entry visa, and it is issued on a separate paper. You can receive it as early as in 3 working days with urgent service or save some money and apply for 5 days service.

While waiting for your visa, you can travel in Nepal.

Even though it only takes 3-5 days to apply for a Chinese group visa, you still need to arrange your Tibet tour in advance. Your travel agency has to apply for an invitation letter for you, as well as Tibet travel permit. It can take approximately 15 days.

If you started planning your visit very close to your travel dates, traveling through Nepal can save you some time on processing required documents. It can take only 15 days to arrange all necessary documents for your visit. We still don’t advise to wait until the last moment.

WAYS TO TRAVEL BETWEEN TIBET AND NEPAL

There are two ways to travel between Tibet and Nepal: flying and going overland. Taking a plane will get you from Kathmandu to Lhasa or from Lhasa to Kathmandu in a very short time. If you are lucky, you will even get a beautiful view of the Himalayas. However, if you want to see the Himalayas from up close, you might want to opt for an overland tour.  

Below are the pros and cons of both ways of traveling.

Flight connecting Lhasa (LXA) with Kathmandu (KTM)

Plane flying towards Tibet above the mountain range
Plane flying towards Tibet above the mountain range

There is one daily flight between Lhasa and Kathmandu. Air China and Sichuan Airlines offer nonstop flights and their schedule alternates.

The flight is only 1 hour 30 minutes long. When the weather is clear, you can get an incredible view of the Himalayan mountains while flying over them on that route.

Because the weather in Himalayas changes quickly, delays and schedule changes are not uncommon. Allow some extra time when taking a plane.

Lhasa airport is one of the highest airports on the planet. It is surrounded by a mountain range. Flying from this airport or landing there is a wonderful experience on its own.

Overland Route Through Gyirong Port

Driving towards Tibet-Nepal border at Gyirong
Driving towards Tibet-Nepal border at Gyirong

The overland route between Tibet and Nepal goes through the Gyirong port border town. The road is wonderful, and the journey is pleasant. However, there is one major factor to consider while planning an overland tour. It is much easier to travel from Lhasa to Kathmandu than the other way around because the road goes through high altitude areas, and the order is essential.

When traveling from Tibet, most visitors start in Lhasa at an altitude of 3,650 meters above sea level. After initial acclimatizing that takes a couple of days, you are ready to continue to higher areas. On the way to the Nepal border, you will be gradually increasing the altitude. The highest point of the road is in the Everest region, where most visitors usually stay for the night. Rongbuk monastery lies at 5,000 meters, and you will be rewarded with a fantastic view of Everest. After that, altitude decreases to about 1,800 meters by the time you reach the border.

When you travel overland from Nepal to Tibet, it is the opposite. You gain altitude very fast, and you cannot acclimatize properly for the elevation of Everest Region. You start at the Gyirong port border (1,800 meters), then ascent to Gyirong town (2,800 meters), and on the next day, you reach an altitude of 5,000 meters in the Everest Region. This route is a good option if you did some trekking in high mountain areas of Nepal. Then you will already acclimatize for altitude and can travel to Tibet.

Overland Route Through Purang/ Taklakot

Burang county in Tibet
Burang county in Tibet
Nepal Map Kathmandu to Purong Tibet via flights and helicopter
Kathmandu to Purong Tibet via flights and helicopter

One of the most adventurous ways to cross the border between Tibet and Nepal is to travel through Burang or Purang (also known as Taklakot in Nepalese). If you start traveling in Kathmandu, you will first need to take two short flights: Kathmandu to Nepalgunj, and from Nepalgunj to Simikot. From Simikot, you will take a helicopter for a short flight to the border village Hilsa. Once you cross the border, it will be a short ride to Burang.

This gateway takes you directly to the most revered places in Western Tibet – Manasarovar lake and Mount Kailash. That’s why this route is very popular among pilgrims traveling to Kailash from both Nepal and India.

This is also a great option if you love views of the mountains, and the helicopter ride is very picturesque. You will be flying over mountains, river canyon, and forests. It is best to travel during the dry season to enjoy the view and to minimize chances of flight delays.

How long is the overland route

Tibet to Nepal tour map
Tibet to Nepal classic tour map

The reasonably paced tour from Lhasa to Tibet-Nepal border takes at least 7 days. It includes the time necessary for acclimatizing to the high altitude of Tibet, and the actual travel time. Almost no one takes the shortest possible route to the border. Instead, visitors combine travel time with sightseeing in Tibet.

The typical itinerary starts in Lhasa, where you will stay for three days acclimatizing. After that, you will travel to Shigatse through Yamdrok Lake, Karola glaciers, Gyantse monastery, and Kumbum Stupa. At the end of the next day, you will reach the Everest region and stay for the night at Rongbuk monastery. On day six you will drive to the border town. In the morning of the seventh day, your Tibetan guide will take you to the Tibet-Nepal border.

Once you cross the border, you can hire one of the jeeps that are always there waiting for tourists. You can share the ride to lower the cost.

From the border, it usually takes one full day to drive to Kathmandu. However, road conditions in Nepal sometimes won’t allow traveling that fast. It is always better to have some extra time before your scheduled departure from Nepal. The situation on the road varies depending on the time of the year and the weather. We explain it in detail in the next section.

Weather consideration

The road from Lhasa in Tibet to the border is usually good. Sometimes there is construction on a road, often near the border area, but generally, there is a little delay in the travel plans. In Nepal, the landscape is different, and the road is rough. During the dry season, it takes one day to drive from the Tibet-Nepal border to Kathmandu.

During the monsoon season in July – August, the road in Nepal becomes less pleasant, as mudslides occur along the way. It can delay traveling on the road. If you travel during those months, have some extra free time and be prepared to adjust your plans.

PRIVATE VS GROUP TOUR BETWEEN TIBET AND NEPAL

Group Tour stops by the Kumbum Stupa in Tibet
Group Tour stops by the Kumbum Stupa in Tibet

All overland group tours go only in one direction: from Tibet to Nepal. Because you can acclimatize better traveling from Tibet, a lot more people travel in this direction.

For those who did some trekking in high altitude in Nepal, the option to travel overland from Nepal to Tibet is also available. In most cases, it will be a private tour (unless you are traveling as a group).

If you are planning to fly to Tibet and take any tour withing Tibet only, you will have a wide choice of both group and private tours.

Even if you are traveling from Tibet to Nepal, you might still prefer the private tour option.  While the group tour visits only the highlights, you can extend your visit to Tibet for better acclimatizing or traveling to other areas. One of the great options can be extending your visit to see Mount Kailash or possibly even trek around the mountain.

SHOULD YOU VISIT TIBET OR NEPAL FIRST

You can start your trip in either Kathmandu or Lhasa. However, there are some situations, when direction matters.

Here are some of these individual cases:

  1. If you are planning close to your vacation dates, it might be easier to start your tour in Nepal. As explained in the visa section, it generally takes a little less time to arrange all paperwork for a visit if you start from Nepal
  2. If you want to travel in China as well, it is best to start your tour in China or Tibet and then go to Nepal. If you travel from Nepal, you have to apply for a Chinese group visa. This visa is typically valid for less than a month, and you cannot extend it. That’s why it is best to start a tour in China or Tibet and then travel to Nepal.  
  3. If you want to take an overland route, it is generally much more comfortable to take an overland route from Tibet to Nepal than the other way around. The reason is easier acclimatizing and choice between private and group tours.  
  4. If you want to spend only a day or two in Nepal, you should start your trip in Tibet. It takes at least 3 full business days to process your Chinese group visa necessary to enter Tibet. If you are staying only a short time in Nepal or your 3-4 days stay includes weekends, you should plan traveling from Tibet to Nepal.  
  5. If you travel during long Chinese holidays, you might be better starting your tour in Tibet. During the holidays, the Chinese Embassy in Nepal doesn’t work, and you might have to wait for your group visa for more than a week. There is no way to pre-process your group visa before your arrival in Nepal. If you are not planning to stay in Nepal for long,  you should start traveling from Tibet. The long Chinese holidays happen in May, beginning of October and during Chinese New Year (usually falls on the end of January- February).  

TOURS CONNECTING TIBET AND NEPAL

View on Potala Palace in the evening

7 Days Group Tour from Lhasa to Nepal

During this 7 days tour you will see the most beautiful places in the Himalayas. We start in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, where we visit UNESCO World Heritage sites Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple, and two important monasteries – Sera and Drepung. After that we will drive to Shigatse through Yamdrok Lake, Karola Glaciers, Gyantse monastery and Kumbum Stupa. On the following day, we reach the world’s highest mountain Everest to spend one night by the Rongbuk monastery. Finally, the road will take us to Nepal border at Gyirong port.

Boudhanath stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal

Nepal to Lhasa Tibet 7 Days Tour

This private tour will take you from Tibet-Nepal border at Gyirong port to the heart of Tibet, it’s capital city Lhasa.  On the way, we will spend one night at the world’s highest mountain Everest. After that, we will drive through Shigatse and Gyantse to Lhasa. In Lhasa, we will visit Potala Palace, Jokhang temple, Sera, and Drepung Monasteries.

Stupas of The Dira Puk Monastery by the Kailash Mountain in Tibet

Lhasa to Mt. Kailash to Nepal

The tour takes you from Lhasa across the Tibetan plateau to the Western part. On the way, we will visit all highlights in Lhasa, Gyantse and Shigatse, and spend one night by the Everest. We will walk the three-day pilgrimage trek around Mount Kailash and visit Manasarovar lake. After that, you will continue your journey to Tibet-Nepal border at Gyirong port.

helicopter in Hilsa, Nepal
helicopter in Hilsa, Nepal

Mount Kailash from Nepal by Flight and Helicopter

This tour will take you from Kathmandu across almost the entire Nepal to the North West town of Hilsa. From Hilsa, you will take a scenic heli flight to the border with Tibet. Your first stop in Tibet will be in a Purang village, where you will stay for the day to acclimatize. From there you will continue to visit Manasarovar lake and to Mount Kailash pilgrimage kora. When we will finish the kora, you will return back to Nepal.

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