Traveling to Tibet: how we did it!

– Thuthukile Mbanjwa & Nothando Khumalo

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The Road to Tibet

All aboard to Tibet!! (photo source: Yowangdu, 2012)


The road to Tibet is a steep one… One may consider taking the Qinghai-Tibet railway train or a flight. However, according to Youwangdu (2012) taking the 40 hour ride from Beijing to Lhasa does not neccessarily mean you are acclimatizing. The reason for this is simply because along the route, the altitude is mostly either too low or too high to help with acclimatization. Thus, if you are looking to acclimatize quickly, the best way to achieve this would be to stay at an intermediate altitude (such as the city of Xining) for about 1 to 2 days before continuing to Lhasa.

Typical Costs

Tour Package: The total cost for our tour package (from Snow Lion Tours) was 2850RMB, with a 1000RMB deposit paid earlier on before departure. This cost included Tibetan travel permits, Tibetan English speaking guide, private tourist bus both inside and outside Lhasa, Tibetan driver, Guide and driver’s expenses, accommodation for 2 people sharing with breakfast, and liability insurance. The price did not include lunch and dinner, entrance tickets to places in the itinerary, transport tickets to/from Lhasa and travel insurance.

Itinerary Activities:

  • Potala Palace (Lhasa) – 200RMB;
  • Jokhang Temple (Lhasa) – 85RMB;
  • Sera Monastery (Lhasa) – 50RMB;
  • Kamba la pass, Karo la pass and Yamdrok Lake – 90RMB;
  • Pelkor Chode Kumbum and Gyantse Monastery (Gyantse) -60RMB;
  • Tashilhunpo monastery (Shigatse) – 85RMB

Food: Food is inexpensive in Tibet. Typically, the cost ranges from 35RMB to 50 for each meal, excluding any extra additions such as the famous sweet/milk tea whose price also ranges depending on where you are in Tibet (3RMB to 10RMB). Yak meat dishes are a particular favourite in Tibet.

Transportation: Transportation to Lhasa included a flight from Beijing to Xining (600RMB) and a 20hr train from Xining to Lhasa (530RMB). Transportation from Lhasa to Beijing was a 40hr train which costs 740RMB.

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Arrived in Lhasa. 

20hrs + altitude sickness  = no child’s play!…..but mama we made it!!

Day 2: Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Sera Monastery

  • In the morning, visited the Potala Palace, the greatest monumental structure in all of Tibet. The Potala is 13 stories high and holds countless treasures in its many rooms. Built in 637 AD, the Potala has been home to the Dalai Lama lineage for more than a thousand years.
  • In the afternoon we visited the Jokhang Temple, the holiest temple in all of Tibet. From the rooftop you will see pilgrims from all over Tibet prostrating in front to the Jowo Buddha statue inside the monastery.
  • Afterwards, we visited Sera Monastery to famous debating monks.

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The Majestic Potala Palace in Lhasa (photo by Emily Tsui)

Day 3: Lhasa – Yamdrok Lake – Gyantse [3950m], 268km, 5.5 hours

Began our adventure out of Lhasa, driving to Gyantse. Along the way we crossed over the Kamba la (4794m) and the Karo la passes (5010m), which boast spectacular views. After Kamba la, we arrived at Yamdrok Lake, a holy turquoise-colored lake with stunning scenery. Stayed the night in Gyantse.

Day 4: Gyantse – Shigatse, [3836m], 90km, 1.5 hours

Before the 2hr drive to Shigatse, we visited the Pelkor Chode Kumbum and Gyantse Monastery in the morning. In Shigatse we saw the giant Buddha in the famous Tashilhunpo monastery. This was followed by a few hour of free-exploring, walking the long circumambulation path around the monastery and exploring the city streets. Spent the night in Shigatse.

Day 5: Shigatse -Yurlung Tsangpo River – Lhasa, 280km, 5 hours

Arrived back in back to Lhasa. We wondered around Barkhor street and a couple of markets for souvenir shopping.

Day 6: Depart Lhasa

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