East Tibet Route (Lhasa & Kham)



Kham is a land apart from the rest of Tibet. Its climate, geography, flora, funa and isolation all lend it a unique, almost magical atmosphere. Traditional life seems less disturbed here than in central Tibet. The stone village and vertical prayer flags resemble those in Bhutan and the unusually shaped chortens (stupa) seem more at home in Mustang. The scenery often resembles more the Swiss Alps or Rocky Mountains than the high Tibetan plateau.

The area around Chamdo was one of the first settled in Tibet, as attested to by the 5000-years-old Neolithic remains at nearby Karo. Fossilised millet hints at a 5000-years tradition of agriculture in the region.

Kham was the home of many holy men including the founders of the Drigungpa and Karmapa School. In 1070 many Buddhist fled persecution in central Tibet to Kham, where they set up influential monasteries, later returing to central Tibet to apearhead the so-called second diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet.


Lhasa-> Basum-Tso -> Bayi-> Pomi-> Pashu-> Markham -> Litang-> Ganzi-> Manigango-> Dege-> Chamdo-> Tengchen-> Sok-> Nagchu-> Namtso Lake -> Rateng -> Phondo-> Lhasa 

Notice:Foreigners may have to omit the Sichuan parts from Litang to Dege(in italic), as they are only allowed to use the Nepal and Qinghai land routes entering to Tibet. Re-entry from Dege to Chamdo may be a problem. Pls check with your travel aency when applying for a Tibet permit.


D1: Lhasa to Basum-Tso (3540 m)
This beautiful alpine lake, also known as Bagsum-tso and Basong Cuo, is a long day's ride from Lhasa and a 41km detour off the Sichuan-Tibet Hwy. Apart from the sheer beauty of the lake and its surrounding 6000m-plus peaks, the site has strong connections to Gesar of Ling, the semimythical ruler of eastern Tibet, and Guru Rinpoche, the Indian sage, both of whom are said to have resided at the lake. Many pilgrimage sites are connected to the place as well.

D2: Basum-Tso to Bayi (2990 m)
Bayi is a large Han Chinese military town of minor interest, except perhaps as a base from which to visit the surrounding sights or restock your supplies. 'Bayi' in Chinese means '1 August', the founding date of the PLA. It is 125km from Basum-Tso. 

D3: Bayi to Pomi (3000 m)
Formerly known as Tramo, this small country capital has well-stocked shops and several hotels and restaurants, making it a logical place to spend the night. In clear weather the surrounding scenery is strpendous.

D4: Pomi to Pashu
Pashu (Chinese: Basu), fromerly known as pema (Baima), is a pleasant town that makes for a good overnight stop. Explore around Pasho visit Neru Monastery & Dola Monastery.
D5: Pashu to Markham 
Markham, traditionally known as Garthog Dozong, is where the Vigilant PSB commonly catches permitless hitchhikers from Sichuan and Yunnan. At Markham the road spilts. The southern branch runs 112km over a pass to Yanjing (salt well) and the border with Yunnan, continuing on the Seqin. Yanjing used to be Tibet’s major source of salt, once an essential commodity in these parts.

D6: Markham to Litang (4680m)
Surrounded by snowcapped peaks and resting on open grassland, Litang is a pleasant and friendly place to hang out for a couple of days. A horce-racing festival from 1 to 7 August sees the town swells with Tibetan visitors.

D7: Litang to Ganzi (3400m)
The noisy market town of Ganzi (also spelled Kandze and Garze) sits in a valley at 3400m, surrounded by the sleeping giants of the Trola (Chola) range, and is a natural place to break the Trip. The gergeous surrounding countryside is peppered with Tibetan villages and resrgent monasteries.
D8: Ganzi to Manigango 
The road winds through deep gorges and preety Tibetan villages before ascending to the wild and craggy scenery of the 4916m Trola(Chola) Mt. in the east of Derge. From the pass, the road descends to the crossroads of Manigango. Yilhun La-tso, a stunning, holy alpine lake bordered by chortens and dozens of rock carvings is about 13km before reaching Manigango.The lake is backed by the huge glaciers of 6018m Trola peak and it's possible to walk 1~2hrs up the left side of the lakeshore for glacier views. 

D9: Manigango to Derge (4000m)
Resting in a valley between the Tibetan border and the Trola range to the east, Derge forms the cultural heartland of Kham. While the Chinese influence is evident and growing ripidly in the town, the old town and surrounding villages are very much Tibetan. There are many historically important monasteries in the valleys south of Derge, namely at pelpung (chinese: Babang), Dzongsar, pewar (Baiya), Kathok and pelyul (Baiyu). 

D10: Derge to Chamdo (3600m)
Chamdo, located at the strategic river junction of the Aza-chu and the Ngon-chu, is a surprisingly pleasant town. It is dominated by the hilltop Jampaling Monastery, below which huddle the Tibetan old town and the Chinese new town. Over 1000km from Lhasa and 1250km from Chengdu, the town is the major transport, administrative and trade centre of the Kham region. Chamdo has had a troubled relationship with nearby China. The Chinese warlord Ahao Erfeng captured Chamdo in 1909 and ruled the region until the Tibetans recaptured in 1917. Chamdo fell to Communist troops in 1905. 

D11: Chamdo to Tengchen (4200m)
Tengchen (Chinese: Dingqing) is an unremarkable but reasonably pleasant two-street town. It’s possible to make calls at the town’s telecom office. BothTengchen and the surrounding rigion of Khyungpo are strong centres of the Bon religion. The main reason to stop here is to visit Tengchen Monastery, on a hillside 4km west of town. This interesting Bon monastery is actually made up of two separate institutions.

D12: Tengchen to Sok D ZONG (Suo Xian/索县)
Sok's claim to fame is the impressive sok Tsaden Monastery, set on an outcrop in the northwestern suburbs. The monastery, founded by the Mongol leader Gushri Khan, brings to mind a miniature potala. The road from Tingdhen swings north and starts to climb up to the stunning shel-la (4830m), the highest and most dramatic pass along the northern route. The road continues past the village of Gubengda, Gyaruptang and Wengdaka and then climbs yet again to the 4500m Chak-la, where turn a corner for a dramatic view of one of the Salween's many tributaries.

D13: Sok D Zong to Nagchu (4500m)
Nagchu (Chinese: Naqu) is one of the highest, coldest and most windswept towns in Tibet. Perched on the edge of the Changtang (northern plateau), it is a dismal town of mud and concrete, but is still an important pit stop on the road between Qinghai and Tibet. It’s a literally breathtaking place: Oxygen levels here are only 60% of those at sea level, so be prepared for headaches and watch for the symptoms of altitude sickness. Bring extra clothes, even in summer. Nagchu has a horseracing festival from 10 to 16 August, when the town swells with up to 10,000 nomads and their tents from all over the Changtang. Accommodation can be very tight at this time.

D14: Nagchu to Namtso Lake (4718m) 
The road south of Nagchu is the Qinghai Tibet HWY, the busiest and most strategic highway in Tibet.The road cross the Goluk Bridge, 109km from Nagchu, and climbs to the Chokse-la, where Tibetans throw into the air the paper prayers they bought at Nagchu bus station. 128 km from Nagchu and 40 km from Damxung is the Chorten Rango, a line of eight chortens that commemorate the eight main events in the life of Sakyamuni (Sakya Thukpa). Damxung is the turn-off Nam-tso. Approximately 190km northwest of Lhasa is the second largest saltwater lake in China, the first being Koko Nor (Qinghai Lake) in Qinghai province. It is over 70km long and reaches a width of 30km.The Nyenchen Tanglha (Tangula) range, with peaks of more than 7000m, towers over the lake to the south. Nam-tso is a tidal lake and the ring marks of earlier lake levels are clearly visible by the shoreline.

D15: Namtso Lake to Phondo(旁多) via Reting Monastery (热振寺/4100m)
The monastery dates back to 1056. It was initially associated with Atisha (Jowe-je) but in its later years had an important connection with the Gelugpa order and the Dalai Lamas. Two regents – the de facto rulers of Tibet for the interregnum between the death of a Dalai Lama and the majority of his next reincarnation – where chose from Reting abbots. The fifth Reting Ringoche was regent from 1933 to 1947. He played a key role in the search for the current Dalai Lama and served as his senior toutor. He was later accused of collusion with the Chinese and died in a Tibetan prison. It was devastated by Red Guards and its present remains hammer home the tragic waste caused by the ideological zeal of the Cultural Revolution. Still, the site is one of the most beautiful in the region. The Dalai Lama has stated that should he ever return to Tibet it is at Reting, not Lhasa, that he wold like to reside. Reting is 28 km from Phongdo village, which has a ruined dzong.

D16: Rateng to Lhasa 

D17-19: Sightseeing around Lhasa
These days you will be engrossed with sightseeing and excursion of the Potala Palace (A great museum with its proportions and priceless treasures) Jokhang Temple (the holiest of Tibetan shrines, houses two images of the Buddha brought as dowry by Songtsen Gampo's Nepali and Chinese queens) along the bustling street of Barkhor Market. In Lhasa you will also visit Norbu Lingka (the summer palace of the Dalai Lamas), Drepung and Sera Monasteries. Overnight at Lhasa.

D20: Departing

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