Explore Tibet, a locally-owned Lhasa-based travel agency, now offers a 14-day road trip across Sichuan and Tibet. This journey takes those travelers who plan to visit Tibet along legs of both the northern and southern overland routes from western China into Tibet, encompassing a remarkable diversity of landscape, climate and culture.
“On the northern route travelers will get to experience the culture of Kham, one of the ethnic sub-groups of Tibet,” Explore Tibet said. “On the southern route they’ll see the natural beauty of the deep-cut gorges, with waterfalls and lush vegetation. This twisty route over the mountains is one of the world’s most exciting road trips. In central Tibet they’ll cross the nomadic grasslands, dozens of famous rivers, see ancient forests and traditional villages, all with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.”
The Tibet tour begins in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu, renowned as China’s “gateway to Tibet.” There are many cultural attractions in the area, and travelers will get to visit the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center, which was founded in 1987. The center has 6 rescued Pandas from the wild and about 83 Pandas that were bred in the center.
From Chengdu travelers will drive to Kangding, traditional capital of Tibetan Kham. After an overnight stop and sightseeing, travelers will drive over Zheduo pass (4,270 meters) to Tagong village, where they will visit the ancient and venerated Tagong Phalhakang monastery. From Tagong the route winds into a valley and the village of Bamei, known for its beautiful sunsets.
The road passes on through scenic nomadic land, and in summer there are large herds of yak grazing in the open valleys. At the city of Ganzi travelers will visit the area’s famous hilltop monastery, which houses over 500 monks. In the afternoon the monks carry on philosophical debates, and visitors are invited to watch.
From here the route passes into the heartland of Khampa culture: through plateau grassland, over the Tro-la mountain pass and by Lake Yilhun Lhatso. The lake is decorated with thousands of rocks called mani stones, into which is carved the traditional Tibetan Buddhist mantra “Om Ma Ni Pad Mi Hum.” The nearby city of Dege has a famous printing house that has been producing woodblock-printed scriptures since the 18th century.
After leaving Dege travelers will enter central Tibet (officially the Tibet Autonomous Region), go through a document and travel permit check, and head towards the city of Chamdo. The route turns south and ascends dramatically, following the watershed between the Mekong and Salween rivers. The rugged road passes through several small villages, including Basho, Ranwu and Pomi.
The climate starts to change after passing into this area; the air is moist and there are thick forests. The route passes several lakes ringed by photogenic snow-capped mountains. This area is known as “Tibetan Switzerland.” The road follows the Parlung and Rongchu rivers, crosses over the Yigong Tsangpo River on a suspension bridge, then enters the Rongchu Valley. This area features abundant patches of rhododendrons and a cypress forests known as the Lulang forest sea.
The route travels south over switchbacks and mountain passes, through the city of Nyintri then on to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. During this leg of the trip the climate changes again, the mountains here are bare and the air is dry and arid.
Travelers will spend several days touring Lhasa. Sites include the Potala Palace, the monasteries of Sera and Drepung, the holy Jokhang Temple and the Barkhor market and pilgrimage circuit. From Lhasa the route goes overland again northwest by holy Namtso lake and then through the high-altitude Changtang, the large barren land in the north, most of which is designated as a wilderness preserve. After leaving Namtso Lake, travelers will return to Lhasa.
Explore Tibet is a Tibetan-run travel agency focused on Tibet visa, responsible tourism and sustainable practice.