Photos & Text © 2003-2008 Haiwei Trails
Road to Lhasa (010)
7 nights/8 days, 4WD Overland
While all our routes have in-built flexibility, it’s especially true of this one, where the trail alternates between fast and slower sections, with multiple and various stopping points along the way. So while you can choose to fix the route beforehand, you may also leave it open, in this way spending longer in some places and then making up the time in later days. You could also opt to take more than 8 days getting to Lhasa. Below are major towns along the way. Note that the Southern Route is one day longer (more to see).
Minimum one week lead time to arrange for permits.
Zhongdian to Deqin 4WD, Hotel
Yanjing (Tsakhalho) 4WD, Hotel
Mangkang (Gartok) 4WD, Hotel
Zuogong (Wamda) 4WD, Hotel
Basu (Pasho) 4WD, Hotel
Bomi (Tramog) 4WD, Hotel
Linzhi (Nyangtri) 4WD, Hotel
Gongbujiangda 4WD, Hotel
Ganden gompa 4WD
Lhasa 4WD, Hotel
Langxian (Nang Dzong) 4WD, Hotel
Zedang (Tsedang) 4WD, Hotel
Zhanang (Dratang) 4WD, Hotel
Lhasa 4WD, Hotel
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.
Deqin to Yanjing (Tsakhalho)
From Deqin road follows Mekong upstream into the TAR, skirting lower reaches of Kawagebo (Meilixueshan) mountain range. Its highest peak, Kawagebo (6740m), is held very sacred by Tibetans. Foshan is the last township in Yunnan; the actual Yunnan-TAR border is 1-2 hours beyond. It’s quite subtle, just a simple concrete gate. Road gradually climbs higher away from the Mekong on its way to cross a 3550m pass before reaching Yanjing (3109m), which is decent-sized village, divided into a lower village and an upper village. Set above Mekong, it’s known for its salt pans, hot springs and Catholic church. The hot springs are located right alongside the Mekong, a super way to spend one’s evening.
Yanjing to Mangkang (Gartok)
Landscape becomes forested hills now, many birch, rhododendrons and evergreens, plus some snowy peaks off to the west. Pass the new Zunabo gompa (Geluk) en route. Up up up to Hong La (4200m), then long descent, road meeting up with Drong-chu river valley. Pass a couple more villages before Mangkang. Mangkang (3890m) is a relatively bustling town set on an expansive grass meadow, at a point where the Yunnan-Tibet ‘highway’ joins up with the Sichuan-Tibet highway.
Mangkang to Zuogong (Wamda)
After crossing a 4400m+ pass, road then descends to cross the Mekong, and will pass a small, recently renovated monastery at Rumei. Then a couple more high passes, a couple large monasteries, gorge country, to Zuogong. On a clear day the second pass (Dongda la) offers views of Mt. Dungri Karpo (6090m) - part of the Kawa Karpo range. Zuogong (3780m) is the county capital, overlooking the Yu-chu river and surrounded by forests. The monastery here founded as part of the area’s conversion to the Gelukpa school.
Zuogong to Basu (Pasho)
Just leaving Zuogong is the small town of Wuya, where there’s a small monastery. Trail runs through rolling grasslands along the Yu-chu river valley (Yu-chu is a major tributary of the Salween). Further on, just north of the road, pass the active Zougou gompa (Geluk). In village of Tiantuo is Tiantuo gompa which, along with Songzanlin, was one of the 13 Gelukpa monasteries founded in the 17c in Kham’s far south-eastern corner. A bit further along pass through Bangda, which is just a crossroads ‘town’ (head due north to get to Chamdo airport) which has grown up to supply the largish military base nearby. Continuing straight through town, road leaves the Yu-chu and begins climbing Yala Mountain to Gama La (4618m), then drops down 180 hairpin bends, finally crossing the Salween. Road follows the Ling-chu river into the county capital of Basu (2600m). Neru gompa (Geluk), built ’90, located in Basu.
Basu to Bomi (Tramog)
Road runs west then south following Ling-chu river through sparsely populated valley, passing Rangbu gompa before cresting at Ngajuk La (4468m) - watershed of the Salween and Brahmaputra rivers. Landscape changes to lush alpine forests. Enter Ranwu via a neat scenic half-tunnel (roof overhead, wall along mountainside, pillars along riverside). Ranwu has a big military base. Rawok Lake is just a tad further, very pretty and peaceful. The scenery becomes dense alpine forests. This stretch of country well known for its terma - treasure ‘texts’ hidden in time of Guru Rinpoche. From Ranwu to Bomi the road follows along the Parlung Tsangpo (a major tributary of the Brahmaputra (Yarlung Tsangpo). The county capital of Bomi (2750m) is set deep in the forested gorge of Parlung Tsangpo, with views of Jiabawa peak.
Bomi to Linzhi (Nyangtri)
From Bomi it’s a good paved road along a wide flat-bottomed river valley. Before too long, at Baha village is the Baha gompa (Nyingma) which is over 700 years old and has been rebuilt. About 20 monks. The road on to Tongmai (2400m) deteriorates a bit, scenery heavily forested. After Tongmai is a section of road seemingly always under repair. Leaving Tongmai, cross a bridge over where the Parlung Tsampo merges with the Yi’ong Tsangpo to form the Yarlong Tsampo (aka Brahmaputra). The road will only follow this a short bit before the river turns south (forming what’s come to be known as the “Tibet Grand Canyon”) while road continues westward. After small town of Lulang, road starts to climb up to Serkhyim La (4515m), often a very wintry wonderland scenery. Linzhi is about two hours after the pass. 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. If time, some worthwhile detours to make in this area.
After Linzhi (Nyantri), the road splits and there's the choice of the taking the northern or the southern route to Lhasa:
Linzhi to Gongbujiangda (Ngapo Zampa)
Note that it's possible to drive Linzhi to Lhasa in one day. From Linzhi, road follows westward along the Nyang-chu river. At point where Drak-chu runs into the Nyang-chu, can detour up the Drak-chu to its source of Basong Lake (Draksum Tso). Anyway, back on the main road, continue following the Nyang-chu river to Gongbujiangda (3200m), the county capital, a smallish town. The intimate Gado gompa (Nyingma) here, run by a handful of welcoming nuns.
Gongbujiangda to Ganden gompa
Leaving town, the valley west is lined by heavily forested hills. Soon cross watershed pass of Mi La (5013m), the last major pass before Lhasa. Mozhugongka is the county capital, set at the confluence of the Kyi-chu and Meldrophu-chu rivers. Near town of Zaxigang are a couple monasteries, and about 3 hours on from GBJD reach Mozhugongka, a biggish town. Between here and Lhasa are a few worthwhile stops – the birthplace of Songsten Gompo (in Longda village), the very old Lamo gompa, and of course Ganden gompa.
Ganden to Lhasa
Ganden is the first and foremost monastery of the Gelukpa order, founded 1409 by Tsongkhapa, founder of Gelukpa order (accommodation available here). Worth putting off the pull to arrive Lhasa to visit. First site of Lhasa is just after passing Chagong Tang, with Lhasa still some distance aways, you’ll have an impressive far-off view of the Potala.
Linzhi to Langxian (Nang Dzong)
Trail follows banks of Nyang-chu to town of Buchu, around which are an ancient ‘border taming’ temple and a couple of monastery ruins. Crossing the Brahmaputra, soon enter Nyingmapa and Kagyüpa country, and some old monasteries you can see if you’ve the time to go seek them out. The trail soon enters a deep gorge, cut out by the Brahmaputra, over 30 km long, ending at Langxian, a small river settlement on a sharp bend of the river.
This pace of the trip as written here is designed to give you lots of time in the next 2 days to see all there is there. You can always slow down and do less sight-seeing, depends on the mood of the group. First sizable town today is Jiacha (3200m), where you’ll find what was originally a Kagyüpa monastery - later converted to Gelukpa - and more sites are to be found by crossing the bridge to the north bank, but most of these involve some trekking, so see how much time you have. From Jiacha trail ascends to Podrang La (5030m) and on through an ever-widening gorge. Approaching Zedang (3500m), you’ll see Mt. Zodang Gongpori looming over the city. This is one of Tibet’s largest cities, and marks the entrance to Yarlung valley, considered the cradle of Tibetan civilization and chock-a-block with important sites (see Trip notes for details!). In town itself, most sites are it the Old Town. To the west is Mount Lhababri (‘hill of divine descent’), where lore has it the first Tibetan king of Yarlung Dynasty (Nyatri Tsenpo) arrived from heavens.
Zedang to Zhanang (Dratang)
On the home stretch to Lhasa, the number of monasteries/religious sites becomes increasingly dense. Notable is Samye monastery, which involves taking a ferry to the opposite bank and catching a ride for the 9 km to Samye. Tibet’s first monastery, completed 779 under patronage of Trisong Detsen, before its establishment there’d been no formal Buddhist priests or ceremonies in Tibet. Its site and design (which reflects Chinese, Tibetan and Indian styles) were chosen by 2 famous Indian scholars (one of them Guru Rinpoche) who’d come to India at king’s invite. Though the original buildings long since destroyed, it’s been continually rebuilt. Sitting atop enclosing wall are hundreds upon hundreds of Buddha statues. Further on the main road to Lhasa, a small detour gets you to Mindroling gompa, the largest Nyingmapa monastery in central Tibet, and considered school’s most significant. Town of Zhanang is not far beyond, where again, many important sites are located.
Zhanang to Lhasa
Trail continues along Brahmaputra, passing a celebrated monastery or two or ten, and where the valley widens out you’ll pass the airport servicing Lhasa. At Qushui the trail heads north for the short stretch to Lhasa (3658m), and depending on the mood, plenty to stop and see.