Map of SW China & Eastern Tibet, including Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai, Kham, Amdo & Central Tibet (U-Tsang).
DETAILED MAP OF THE TRAIL
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Kham, U-Tsang & Amdo - The 3 Nations of Tibet (011)
20 days, 4WD Overland

D1-8 Zhongdian to Lhasa
Zhongdian to Deqin  4WD, Hotel
to Yanjing (Tsakhalho) 4WD, Camp/Hotel
to Mangkang (Gartok)   4WD, Camp/Hotel
to Zuogong (Wamda)   4WD, Camp/Hotel
to Basu (Pasho)   4WD, Camp/Hotel
to Ranwu (Rawok)   4WD, Camp/Hotel
to Bomi (Tramog)   4WD, Camp/Hotel
to Linzhi (Nyangtri)   4WD, Camp/Hotel
to Basong (Draksum Tso)   4WD, Camp
to Gongbujiangda   4WD, Camp/Hotel
to Lhasa   4WD, Hotel
D9 Lhasa   Hotel
D10 Namu Cuo (Namtso)   4WD, Camp/Hotel
D11 Naqu (Nakchu)   4WD, Camp/Hotel
D12 Baqing (Tartang)   4WD, Camp/Hotel
D13 Dingqing (Tengchen) 4WD, Camp/Hotel
D14 Leiwuqi (Riwoche)   4WD, Camp/Hotel
D15 Nangqian (Sharda)   4WD, Camp/Hotel
D16 Yushu (Jyekundo)   4WD, Hotel
D17 Yushu   4WD, Hotel
D18 Huashixia   4WD, Camp
D19 Xining   4WD, Hotel
D20 (spare day)


Zhongdian - Deqin
The trip kicks off from Zhongdian (3344m) - now optimistically renamed Shangri-La - home of the grand(iose?) Songzanlin monastery. This sprawling and, in historical terms, very key monastery was commissioned in 17c by DL5, and was the central monastery in the Gelukpa order’s south-eastern expansion. Since the retreat of the Tibetans from the Lijiang area in the 19c, Zhongdian (Tib. Gyalthang) has pretty much marked the south-eastern border of Kham Tibet in Yunnan. Up until a few yeas ago, it had the rough reputation of a classic frontier town - but now things have calmed down, and its markets and the old town make for a fruitful stroll.

leaving Zhongdian, after 2 hours trail reaches low-lying Benzilan (2240m), on the banks of the Yangtze, facing Sichuan on the opposite side. A Tibetan village, for centuries another important stop on the old trading route into Tibet. Makes for a good lunch stop/tea break. Between here and Deqin are a few monasteries, including Waterside monastery, Dongzhulin and Shusong nunnery (a much rarer animal indeed). The last two are both sub-monasteries of the huge Songzanlin in Zhongdian. The road climbs to heights of 4500m+, skirting the edge of the Baima Nature Reserve, before reaching Deqin (3480m) - the last stop before the TAR. It’s worth a walk around, and a fantastic hot pot to be had here. Or can by-pass the bright lights of Deqin and head 10 km further out to Feilai, the nearest viewing point from Deqin for the Meili snow mountain range. Once the site was marked by just a lot of prayer flag-covered chörtens and a little shop across the street; these days there are a few guesthouses and restaurants catering to those who want the possibility of waking up to a snow-covered mountain vista.
4WD, Hotel

Feilai (Deqin)
After 2 hours trail reaches Benzilan, on the banks of the Yangtze, facing Sichuan on the opposite side. A Tibetan village, for centuries another important stop on the old trading route into Tibet. Makes for a good lunch stop/tea break. Between here and Deqin are a few monasteries, including Waterside monastery, Dongzhulin monastery and Shusong nunnery (a much rarer animal indeed). The last two are both sub-monasteries of the huge Songzanlin in Zhongdian. The road climbs to heights of 4500m+, skirting the edge of the Baima Nature Reserve, before reaching Deqin (3480m), the last large town before the TAR. It’s worth a walk around, and a fantastic hot pot to be had here. Or can by-pass the bright lights of Deqin and head 10 km further out to Feilai, the nearest viewing point from Deqin for the Meili snow mountain range. Once the site was marked by just a lot of prayer flag-covered chörtens and a little shop across the street; these days there are a few guesthouses and restaurants catering to those who want the possibility of waking up to a snow-covered mountain vista.
4WD, Hotel

Yanjing (Tsakhalho)
From Deqin road follows Mekong upstream into the TAR, skirting lower reaches of Kawa Karpo (Meilixueshan) mountain range. Its highest peak, Kawagebo (6740m), is held very sacred by Tibetans. Cross a 3550m pass before reaching Yanjing (3109m). Set above Mekong, known for its salt pans, hot springs and Catholic church.
4WD, Camp or Hotel

Mangkang (Gartok)
Road leaves the Mekong to climb to Hung La (3550m). Excellent views along the way. Mangkang (3890m) is set on an expansive grass meadow, at a point where the Yunnan-Tibet ‘highway’ joins up with the Sichuan-Tibet highway.
4WD, Camp or Hotel

Zuogong (Wamda)
Pass a small, recently renovated monastery, before the road descends to the upper reaches of the Mekong. Cross 2 major passes (3908m and 5008m), on a clear day the second offering views of Mt. Dungri Karpo (6090m) - part of the Kawa Karpo range - before reaching Zuogong (3780m), the county capital, overlooking the Yu-chu river and surrounded by forests. Tsawa Sangkaling (Gelukpa) founded as part of the area’s conversion to the Gelukpa school.
4WD, Camp or Hotel

Basu (Pasho)
Trail runs through rolling grasslands along the Yu-chu valley. Pass a small monastery in village of Tiantuo which, along with Songzanlin, one of the 13 Gelukpa monasteries founded in the 17c in Kham’s far south-eastern corner. A bit further along, passing another Gelukpa monastery, trail slowly ascends to Gama La (4618m), then drops down 180 hairpin bends, crosses the Salween where landscape changes to alpine forests to the county capital of Basu (2600m).
4WD, Camp or Hotel

Ranwu (Rawok)
Road runs south-west along Ling-chu valley, passing Rangbu gompa before cresting at Ngajuk La (4468m) - watershed of the Salween and Brahmaputra rivers - where scenery around Ranwu (3500m) is once again lush alpine forests. Ranwu is set in pristine surroundings, located on the north shore of Rawok Lake, surrounded by glaciers and high mountains.
4WD, Camp or Hotel

Bomi (Tramog)
A very scenic stretch of road through country well known for its terma - treasure ‘texts’ hidden in time of Guru Rinpoche. The county capital of Bomi (2743m) is set deep in the forested gorge of Parlung Tsangpo, with views of Jiabawa peak.
4WD, Camp or Hotel

Linzhi (Nyangtri)
Descending from Serkhyim La (4515m), and crossing over the Parlung Tsangpo, trail follows upper course of Brahmaputra, landscape now virgin rain forests, to small jungle settlement where the Yi’ong Tsangpo and Parlung Tsangpo rivers converge. Trail ascends to cross several 5000m+ passes, view excellent. Just south of road into Linzhi is Mount Bönri (4671m), highest of 3 sacred Bön peaks on the north bank of Brahmaputra, which ranks along with Kailash as the most sacred pilgrimage peak of the Bön religion. Linzhi (3000m) is the old county capital, now a small town on the bank of Nyang-chu, set below Mt. Bönri in settings of primeval forests, plateau lakes, high mountains and deep fertile valleys.
4WD, Camp or Hotel

Basong Lake (Draksum Tso)
Road joins the Drak-chu river and follows it to its source, sacred Draksum Tso (Basong Lake) - especially sacred for Nyingmapa order - is surrounded by forest and soaring white-capped mountains. Huge Tibetan tents on its shores provide lodging. There’s a small 17c gompa on the island in the lake. Otherwise, time to sit on the shores and admire!
4WD, Camp

Gongbujiangda (Ngapo Zampa)
From the lake head back to the main road, following the Nyang-chu to reach Gongbujiangda (3200m), the county capital, a smallish town where the Dechen gompa is located, as well as some meditation caves in hills above town.
4WD, Camp or Hotel

D8 Lhasa
Today will cross the watershed pass of Mi La (4930), the last major one before Lhasa. Mozhugongka is the county capital, set at the confluence of the Kyi-chu and Meldrophu-chu rivers. Continuing on, the trail follows the Kyi-chu to the turnoff for Ganden gompa - first and foremost monastery of the Gelukpa order, founded 1409 by Gelukpa founder Tsongkhapa. Back to the main road, the trail continues following the Kyi-chu all the way to Lhasa (3658m), en route passing scattered gompas here and there.
4WD, Hotel

D9 Lhasa
Briefly, the major sites include Jokhang gompa - houses famous image of Shakyamuni (that tradition has it was brought to Tibet by Princess Wencheng, thus considered most sacred temple in Tibet); Ramache Temple; Barkhor street (itís the inner pilgrimage circuit surrounding Jokhang, with hundreds of market stalls); Norbulingka Palace (DL's former summer residence); Potala Palace (DL's former principal residence); Chakpori (Medicine Mountain); Sera gompa and Drepung gompa (along with Ganden, these are Lhasa's 3 big monasteries); Tsurphu gompa; Nechung gompa.
Hotel

D10 Namu Cuo (Namtso Chukmo)
Heading north away from the delights of Lhasa to delights unknown, at the truck-stop town of Dangxiong make a detour north-west, passing the Jangra gompa (Gelukpa) set high above the road, and crossing Lhachen La (5150) before eventually reaching the town of Tashidor - the hermitage caves here are rumoured to have been used by Guru Rinpoche and his consort, and are still used today by Nyingmapa and Kagyüpa devotees - on the shores of Namtso Chukmo (Namu Cuo), Tibet’s biggest lake (4718m), with clear views of the Niangqian Tanghula mountain (7162m) - considered the son of the lake - in a wide open grassland. Held very sacred by Tibetans, every year thousands of pilgrims come to do a kora around its perimeter. For bird lovers, there’s a nearby bird sanctuary.
4WD, Camp or Hotel

D11 Naqu (Nakchu)
Back to the main road, the first pass is Zangzhung La (4727m) - watershed between Brahmaputra and Salween rivers - and the trail heads into the more barren Jangtang region. The large city of Naqu (4507m) looms large out of its wilderness setting, and receives a lot of traffic by way of its position on the Lhasa-Xining highway. It’s a booming transit-stop city - ktv, brothels, tea houses. Its population exploding as people descend upon town for work building the Golmud-Lhasa railway. Every summer Nakchu plays host to one of the biggest horse festivals in Tibet. In town are a Nyingmapa and Gelukpa gompa, and Xiaodeng gompa (Bön) - biggest of the area.
4WD, Camp or Hotel

D12 Baqing (Tartang)
Today’s drive crosses 3 major passes - Langlu La (4300m), Jakhyung La (4700m) and Shara La (4744m) - driving through the barren landscape of the Sok region. The county capital Suoxian is home to Tsanden gompa (Gelukpa), built by Mongols in the 17c. In the old Tibetan quarter is a 12c Nyingmapa temple, destroyed by the very same people who built the Gelukpa temple, though it’s since been restored. Another small stretch to Baqing, also host to a large horse festival, befitting its roots as the centre of the Horjyad nomads.
4WD, Camp or Hotel

D13 Dingqing (Tengchen)
Cross the major pass of Chak La (4502m) before the trail drops down to Rongbu, set at the base of the 6000m+ Pugyel Gangri snow range on the banks of a Salween tributary. Monasteries around town belong to the Nyingmapa and Gelukpa, a pattern common throughout this area. The trail then climbs up to the spectacular views of Shel La (4830m). With dusk closing in arrive the farming valley where Dingqing (3750m) straddles the river, the old Tibetan quarters on one side facing the new town on the other bank. A couple of Bön gompas in the area.
4WD, Camp or Hotel

D14 Leiwuqi Zhen (Riwoche)
Today the trail leaves the barren plateau, passing through a gorge into forested landscape. Pass Zezhol gompa – the biggest Bön gompa in Kham. Just west of the county capital Leiwuqi (not much to see here, unless you’re a trucker), turn north to Riwoche (3600m), home to the famed Tsuklakhung gompa, founded 13c by the Taklung Kagyüpa sub-order. A huge affair that once was home to upwards of 2000 monks, it’s long captured the imaginations of hard core gompa stompers, but owing to red tape (in the way of permits) and bad roads, has long remained unseen by outsiders. In a remote valley here are the recently ‘discovered’ Riwoche Horse, possible a survivor from the Stone Age, just over a metre high.
4WD, Camp or Hotel

D15 Nangqian (Sharda)
The trail today is really getting off the beaten path, heading further into the unexplored areas near the Qinghai-TAR border. A morning’s stretch to Chakzamka (Jiasangka) township where the Dzi-chu river is crossed, and then another hop to Chichu in Drukpa Kagyü country, located on the TAR-Qinghai border. From here to Treltsa the trail crosses three 4000m+ passes, before arriving in the little market town of Nangqian, capital of this area, set alongside the upper Mekong.
4WD, Camp or Hotel

D16 Yushu
A long day on the road, seeing some fantastic out-of-the-way sites in route to the hopping city of Yushu. Rather than heading due north for Qinghai, instead veer east along a rough road, crossing the nail-biting Yigu La (5000m) before descending to the Tsi-chu river valley to reach the remote 15c Surmang Namgyal-tse, largest of the Surmang gompas with upwards of 700 monks based here. It’s a major Karma Kagyüpa gompa, and suffered heavily at the hands of Gushri Khan’s Mongols, bent on converting the whole of Tibet to the Gelukpa school. Largely destroyed, over the years it’s being gradually renovated. Just north of Surmang Namgyal-tse, the road forks; take the eastern path to Dordu Gon (Sakyapa). Shortly beyond this is a detour south to visit Surmang Dutsi-til, another 15c Karma Kagyüpa gompa with a long history, also heavily destroyed so but a shadow of its former self, it’s also undergoing reconstruction. Again hitting the road, now heading north towards Qinghai through landscape of deep valleys and high mountains, the road rises to cross Gela Pass into the drier landscape north of it, before reaching the site of the very old (14c) Benchen gompa (Karma Kagyüpa), which has also recently undergone renovation. About half an hour before Yushu is Wencheng Temple.
4WD, Hotel

D17 Yushu
A day to rest up in Yushu (3700m) - providing the roads just travelled haven’t used it up!. The biggest town in these parts, there’s plenty of street life to entertain oneself, and even a few internet cafes. Jyekundo gompa (Sakyapa) sits on a hill behind town.
4WD, Hotel

D18 Huashixia
Leaving Yushu, the trail soon leaves the gorge country of Kham, created by the 3 rivers – the Yangtze, the Mekong and the
Salween – which flow off the plateau in close proximity. Shortly out of town is Gyanak Mani - a football field-sized pile of mani stones which must surely be the largest such mani dui from here to Lhasa. An early lunch in the tiny hamlet of Xiewu, with perhaps a visit to the Sakyapa gompa which overlooks town. The trail then is soon leaving Kham and crossing into the vast rolling plateaus of Amdo Tibet, birthplace of many of the DLs and an area strong in Mongol influence. It’s a great road dotted by yaks and the black-haired yak tents of the Golok nomads, amid vast rolling plateaus surrounded by distant mountains The road climbs steeply to Drubgyuling gompa, well worth a visit, with hundreds of young student lamas. Sightings of the Asiatic wild ass (kiang) and the Tibetan Gazelle relatively common around here. The unmistakable profile of Machen Gangri (6282m) - the highest peak of the Amnye Machen (Magyel Pomra) range, held sacred by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism as well as by Golok nomads and followers of Bön - looming above the horizon signals the night's destination. The nearby town of Huashixia is a one-yak truck stop providing only the most basic of accommodation, so it might be more desirable to camp within sight of the solitary peak of Machen Gangri.
4WD, Camp

D19 Xining
An early start for the long haul north over the high grasslands to the major metropolis of Xining. A high remote road (generally over 4000m) through empty land populated only by the Golok people, offering vast views, small towns, and the ubiquitous Muslim Hui restaurant. Closer to Xining, can visit Kumbum gompa, famous and revered as the site where Tsongkhapa (founder of the Gelukpa order) was born. Rather museum-like and touristy compared with what we’ve seen so far, it’s interesting for a visit if just to note the contrast. The city of Xining dates back to early Qing dynasty, when it was established to serve as imperial China’s administrative seat for this region. Today’s it’s still a major hub, and a place where comfortable beds and hot showers are in abundance.
4WD, Hotel

D20 (spare day)
On a trail of this length, over roads like these, it’s advisable to allow an extra day for unforseeables, or simply to allow extra rest time.

The delux trip! Accompanied by a guide and personal cook, this is a comprehensive exploration of some of eastern and central Tibet’s landscapes and monasteries, covering well over 3000 km and driving through Kham and U-Tsang territory to Lhasa, before heading NE towards Amdo. This is an epic 24-day journey through the three nations of Tibet, not without reason coined by early explorers as “the roof of the world”. This route is designed to have a lot of flexibility in its pacing; consequently, as with many of our trips the itinerary should be seen as providing markers along the way as opposed to an etched-in-stone itinerary. In fact, as much of the accommodation in this part of the world is fairly rough and/or characterless, the default option on this trip will be to find scenic, convenient spots to set up camp, which is often more comfortable - certainly more rewarding - and avoides the necessity of having to “make the next town”.

GROUP
SIZE

Min    4 Max 12

PRICE
(approx.)

Optional single supplement £151

£2950 (4-5 people)
£2650 (6-7 people)
£2500  (8-10 people)
£2450  (11-12 people)

BARE - 
BONES

£2160  (4-5 people)
£1990  (7-9 people)

SCHEDULED
DATES