Disadvantages of Traveling Overland from Nepal to Tibet

Last updated: March,12 2020

One of the epic overland adventures in the world, Tibet and Nepal overland tour leads you to explore the legendary Tibetan plateau and mysterious Nepal. Compared with traveling from Tibet to Nepal, the Nepal to Tibet overland tours, which follow the same route, have the following disadvantages.

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    Disadvantages of Nepal to Tibet overland travel

    The disadvantages run through the whole overland trip. Besides the extra days to get the China Group Visa, it also takes you two days to pass the border crossing which is only 175km away from Kathmandu, and annoys you with high risk of altitude sickness when traveling on Tibetan plateau.

    It is time-consuming to crossing Gyriong Port from Kathmandu

    While Tibet to Nepal tourists can cross the border and reach Kathmandu within one single day, crossing the Gyirong Port from Kathmandu is time consuming and takes two days, mainly because of the poor road conditions in Nepal on the route up to the border, as well as the time difference between Nepal and Tibet.

    Gyirong PortUsually, it takes 2 days to pass through Gyirong Port from Kathmandu.

    The road distance from Kathmandu to Rasuwa Gadhi, on the border with China, is only around 175 kilometers long. And for most countries, that would be a drive of only 3-4 hours. However, the very poor road conditions mean that it takes a lot longer to drive this route, usually 7-9 hours.

    Road between Kathmandu and Gyirong PortThe winding and narrow road between Kathmandu and Gyirong Port.

    The road is not as bad in the first stage, up to around Bidur, though it is just a single lane road, with some passing places for the most part. However, from there on, the road gets worse, and sometimes is very narrow as it winds up through the mountains and the Langtang National Park to the border. And the road conditions get worse in monsoon season.

    China Customs at Gyirong PortThe China Customs at the other side of the bridges works between 10:00 - 17:30 (UTC+8).

    What’s more, the Nepalese time is 2 hours and 15 minutes behind the Chinese time. With China Customs closing at 5:30pm Beijing time, it means that you will not be able to cross after 3:15pm Nepal time, so you will have to wait until the following morning. Most tours heading this way tend to stop overnight in Syabru Bensi, and continue on to the border first thing in the next morning. This makes crossing Gyirong Port from Nepal into Tibet at least two days long, extending the overall duration of your travel time.

    You need to wait in Kathmandu for at least 3 days to get the China Group Visa

    Another disadvantage of traveling to Tibet from Nepal is the time it takes to get your visa to enter China. Entry from Nepal uses the Chinese Group Visa for travel to Tibet. You need to be in Kathmandu at least three days before your expected departure date for Tibet, as it takes at least three working days to process the visa. The Chinese Group Visa is applied for once you arrive in Kathmandu, as it requires your original passport for the application, and can only be applied for by a reliable tour operator or travel agency.

    Tibet Travel PermitTibet Travel Permit is a necessity for international tourists to visit Tibet.

    Once you arrive in Kathmandu, you will need to provide your agency with your original passport, a completed application form, and the other requirements, in order for the Chinese Group Visa to be applied for. All the members of the party are required to have their applications done at the same time, so that the correct group visa can be issued, which contains the names of all members of the party. If you are late arriving in Nepal, you may miss out on your visa application, which means that your trip into Tibet may not be able to go ahead.

    China Group VisaIt takes 3 business days to obtain the China Group Visa in Kathmandu.

    The visa can also only be issued to travelers in groups of at least five tourists, following revised rules on entry into Tibet from Nepal, and all members of the group are required to enter and leave Tibet at the same time via the same ports of entry and exit. This can also be an annoyance if you were planning on continuing to mainland China for more touring. However, with our own office in Kathmandu, we can apply for the visa successfully on behalf of you.

    There exists higher risk of getting altitude sickness when traveling overland from Nepal to Tibet

    The Tibetan plateau has an average altitude of around 4,500 meters, which is why it is the highest plateau on the planet. While Kathmandu lies at an altitude of just 1,400 meters, Gyirong Port is at only 1,850 meters, and Gyirong Town lies at around 2,700 meters. This means that, once you pass Gyirong Port and head for the first stop at Gyirong Town, you will ascend by almost 1,300 meters from Kathmandu. However, most tourists won’t suffer from altitude sickness when staying overnight at Gyiong Town because the altitude here is not that high.

    Kungtang La PassKungtang La Pass (Chinese: 孔唐拉姆山)is the first over-5000-meters pass for tourists visiting Tibet from Nepal.

    However, on next day, the altitude increases sharply from Gyirong Town, it reaches 4,200m at Gyirong County about 70km away and 5,236m at Kungtang La Pass a few kilometers from the county when entering further into Tibetan plateau.

    Gawu La PassTourists enjoying the panorama of the Himalayas at Gawu La Pass before reaching Everest Base Camp.

    For those visiting EBC from Nepal, after passing Gyirong County and Kungtang La Pass, the route ascends to Gawula Pass (5,211m) on the road to EBC and reaches 5,200 meters at EBC just within several hours after departing from Gyirong Town. A total increase of more than 2,500 meters in one single day like this can cause altitude sickness very easily. After visiting EBC, you will head to Tingri at 4,390 meters and stay overnight there. On the way from Tingri to Lhasa in the following days, you still need to pass Gyatsola Pass (5,248m) and Tsola Pass (4,600m), Simila Mountain Pass (5,150m) and Gampala Pass (4,998m). It is worth noting that high passes above 5,000 meters can potentially affect your risk for altitude sickness.

    Lake ManasarovarSituated at 4,583 meters above sea level, Lake Manasarovar is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in the world.

    For those heading for Mount Kailash from Nepal, the Dolma La Pass (5,630m) on the Mount Kailash kora also has the potential to increase the risk of altitude sickness briefly on the trek. Moreover, when you travel to Mount Kailash, you will not have a full day to acclimatize to the high altitudes of the plateau before beginning the trek around the Kailash, which rises to almost 5,700 meters at one point. This inability to acclimatize for rest days along the way makes this kind of travel dangerous, and very detrimental to your health. With the increases in the risk of altitude sickness, you are risking more than starting the trip from Tibet to Nepal.

    Our suggestions about Nepal to Tibet overland travel

    Considering the sharp altitude from Gyirong Town (2,700m) to Everest Base Camp (5,200m) with a day, we warmly suggest you not to stop overnight at EBC as Lhasa to Kathmandu tours do. At an altitude of 5,150 meters above sea level, EBC is too high for tourists to sleep at after only entering Tibet the day before. Such an increase drastically increases your risk of very severe altitude sickness, which can be potentially fatal. In order to alleviate some of the risk, after spending time at EBC, you will travel to the nearby town of Tingri, at only 4,300 meters. You will stay overnight in Tingri, before continuing the trip to Shigatse in the morning, after a good night’s rest.

    Tibet Everest Base Camp You can enjoy unobstructed and clear views of the peak of Mt. Everest at Tibet Everest Base Camp.

    Another suggestion you could consider is to customize your trip to visit Tibet from Nepal without EBC. As the base camp is the highest point for most people in Tibet, it would make the trip easier in terms of risk to leave EBC out of the itinerary altogether, and continue straight to Shigatse instead, before heading for Lhasa.

    Last but not least, instead of taking the Nepal to Tibet overland tour, you can take a trip from Lhasa to Kathmandu instead. You can fly first to Lhasa, and then do the tour to Nepal in the opposite direction, giving you time to acclimatize in the Tibetan capital.

    Conclusion

    While there are many disadvantage of traveling to Tibet from Nepal, it is still one of the popular ways to enter the region, and hundreds of tourists take this route every year. With our own office in Kathmandu and Lhasa, we can get the first-hand information about the road conditions and travel document policy, take good care of our clients, and arrange a satisfying Nepal to Tibet overland tour for you.

    Related Readings:

    Most Recommended Tibet Nepal Tours

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