Trekking in Tibet
- by Zoe
- Last Updated: 2020-11-18
Often referred to as the “Roof of the World”, Tibet is blessed with massive snow-capped mountains as well as stunning valleys, alpine lakes and glaciers, which are excellent resources for hiking and trekking. In addition to appreciating the authentic Tibetan natural scenery, you can also enjoy the mysterious Tibetan Buddhism. In Tibet, there are some famous mountain kora ceremonies that require trekking. Each route is a unique high-altitude trip with stunning scenery and mountain views along the way and an unparalleled experience in a lifetime. Below, we would recommend the top 10 treks in Tibet and related preparation.
Top 10 Treks in Tibet
- Mt.Kailash Kora, Ngari (2 Days)
Mt. Kailash trek is the most famous trekking in Tibet. Kailash is one of the most famous sacred mountains in Tibet and is regarded as the center of the world by Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Bon religion. It is said that one circle around the sacred mountain can eliminate the sins of this life, and one hundred and eight circles can become a Buddha this life. The altitude here is relatively high, with an average of about 4,700 meters, but at the Drolma Pass, the altitude is as high as 5630 meters. And the climate here is unstable and easy to change.
It is a challenge for tourists who have just arrived in Tibet to trek here. Of course, for experienced trekkers, there's no problem. July and August are the peak seasons when pilgrims come here to trek around the mountains(aka kora). For other seasons like May to June, September to October, there're still many pilgrims. It is safer to follow the pilgrims for finding directions.
- Lhasa -- Tsurphu Monastery — Yangpachen(2-3 Days)
This is a mature trek that many people would choose to travel. Tsurphu Monastery is the main monastery of the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism and the residence of the Karmapa(the head of the Karma Kagyu). Yangpachen is the concentrated area of Tibet's geothermal resources and has developed hot spring resorts. Hiking this route not only allows you to understand some of the histories of the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, but you can also experience the grassland scenery of Damxung and enjoy the fun of bathing in hot springs on the plateau. Yangpachen is about 90 kilometers away from Lhasa. This route is not very difficult which can be completed in two or three days.
- Lhasa -- Ganden Monastery -- Chimpuk -- Samye Monastery(4-5 Days)
This route includes holy sites of Tibetan Buddhism, with a strong religious atmosphere. Ganden Monastery is one of the six major monasteries of the Gelug Sect(one of the four major sects of Tibetan Buddhism), built by Master Tsongkhapa himself. The monastery is also known as the ancestral temple of the Gelug Sect.
Chim-puk Hermitage is one of the four sacred seclusion sites for Tibetan Buddhism, and also the most famous among the many cultivation caves of Guru Padmasambhava in Tibet. Samye Monastery is the first monastery in Tibet with a complete set of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Gyama Valley in this trekking route is the birthplace of the greatest Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in Tubo history. Every summer, the idyllic scenery here is fascinating.
So you will not only learn about Tibetan Buddhism but also appreciate the beautiful landscape of Lhoka. It can be regarded as a hiking route that combines nature and humanities which usually takes four to five days to finish.
- Gama Valley Trek, Shigatse (10-15 Days)
It is said that in the 1920s, foreigners called it "the most beautiful valley in the world" and "one of the top ten classic hiking routes in the world."
The entire trek is in the Everest Nature Reserve with amazing scenery. There're mysterious Sherpas living here, as well as many rare wild animals. You can witness Mount Everest (the world's first) and Lhotse (Fourth in the world), and Makalu (fifth in the world) here. The difficulty of this route lies in high altitude, changeable climate, and almost inaccessible. But its charm is this, giving people a sense of conquest. Due to the immature, dangerous and harsh environment of the route, this tough trek is recommended for experienced hikers only. It takes about 10-15 days to complete the journey.
- Motuo Trek(7-10 Days)
Motuo, countless people yearn for this place. The first road was not opened until 2012. It's a place worth hiking. To enter Medog, one has to climb the snow-capped mountains and walk through the marshes, and the environment is harsh. You must have experienced guides and be well prepared before you can go hiking in Motuo. It takes at least a week to reach Medog on foot.
- Se Town -Baimalin tso in Lhozhag County, Lhoka (1-2 Days)
In addition to the hiking route from Samye Monastery to Chim-puk Hermitage in Lhoka, there is another route from Se Town to Baimalin tso. Seka Gutuo Temple is the most famous monastery in Lhozhag County, Lhoka and is the ancestral monastery of the Kagyupa.
Baimalin tso is one of the four soul lakes of Master Tsongkhapa, and it also a legendary lake where one can see the past and present life. So many people come here to observe. It lies at the foot of the Kurakangri Mountain which is the highest mountain in Lhoka.
From Seka Gutuo Temple to Baimalin tso, the altitude is not very high, and the scenery is very beautiful on the way. If you don't want to walk, you can also rent horses to ride in the nearby villages, which is also a good experience. The difficulty of this route is not high, and the road conditions are relatively good. Generally, the itinerary can be completed in about 2 days.
- Tidrum Hot Spring - Drigung Til Monastery (1 Day)
Tidrum hot spring is the most famous hot spring around Lhasa. In addition to its magical effects, its originality is another reason to attract tourists. It's an open-air hot spring, divided into men's and women's pools, but separated by a stone wall. Nearby residents will come here to soak in the hot springs, and they are all naked.
Drigung Til Monastery is one of the three largest sky burial sites in the world. Celestial burials are often held there but we should maintain awe and respect for this Tibetan custom. Right now, the ceremony is only open to Chinese tourists.
There are tens of kilometers from Tidrum hot spring to Drigung Til Monastery. It takes an hour to get there by car. If you like, you can hike there in a day.
- Zhari Kora -- Cuoga Lake(4-5 Days)
Zhari Mountain is one of the most famous holy mountains in Tibet which is located between Lhunze County and Cona County in Lhoka. Like Mount Kailash, Zhari Moutain is also regarded as a sacred mountain by Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Bon religion and Jainism, known as the dojo of the Victory King Kong.
The attribute of Zhari mountain is money. Every year of the monkey, many people from various sects at home and abroad come here for pilgrimage. They believe that the merits of the kora(circumambulation around the mountain) this year are much more than in other years. Cuoga Lake is the holy lake of successive Karmapa and the residence of the flying goddess. Regardless of religion, the natural scenery here is beyond description. It’s not far from the mountain to the lake, and it only takes about four or five days to finish it.
Having Kora around mountains and lakes has always been a way for Tibetan Buddhists to express their religious devotion, and it is also a way to practice merit for themselves.
- Kajiu Temple Trek(1 Day)
In Lakang Town, another town in Lhozhag County, there is also a trekking route, which is Kajiu Temple Trekking. Kajiu Temple is one of the few Nyingma temples in Tibet. It is built on a small hill. Every morning, the fog will cover the whole temple, which is very beautiful. Behind the temple, there is a gorge called Lakang Canyon where hikers can go up the mountain, but the slope is very steep. Of course there's circumanbulation, all of which are hanging ladders that are nearly 90 degrees.
There is a nun's house halfway up the mountain, and there is also a practice cave where Master Padmasambhava has practiced for 7 years, 7 months and 7 days. It is relatively easy when going down the mountain. This trail is the equivalent of turning around a mountain which can be done in one day.
- Namtso Lake Trek(7-10 Days)
As the holiest lake in Tibet, Namtso, the "heavenly lake" attracts countless believers and Tourists to visit every year. Especially in the Tibetan year of the Goat, a grand summons ceremony will be held here and many people will come here for pilgrimage. They will do kora around the lake, chant the six-character mantra and rotate the prayer wheels. You can never forget such a scene. It seems easy but because the altitude here is relatively high, about 5,000 meters, and the distance is far away. The actual trek is tough and takes about 7 to 10 days. It's said that one can accumulate countless virtues by being able to circumambulation around lake Namtso.
Best Time for Tibet Trekking
Most areas of Tibet are at high altitudes, with large temperature differences between day and night. In winter and early spring, the climate is dry and cold, with heavy wind and sand, the oxygen content of the air is significantly lower than in summer, and many areas and road sections are covered with ice and snow. Therefore, the ideal time to trek in Tibet is from April to October. July to August is the rainy season in Tibet, during which mudslides, landslides, and mud swamps may occur on certain roads. Trekkers should avoid the rainy season if possible, and choose May, June, September, and October.
Tourists should take China Visa(or China Group Visa), passports and Tibet Travel Permits, otherwise, they are not allowed to enter Tibet.
Firstly, China Visa is required along with the passport. However, if you get to Tibet from Nepal, the China group Visa is required instead of the China Visa.
Secondly, Tibet Travel Permit is required, which is an entry permit for entering Tibet. It must be applied for through a Tibetan local travel agency. Without a Tibet travel permit, foreign travelers cannot board trains or flights to Tibet. The permit lists all the destinations and scenic spots you will visit, which cannot be replaced during the travel. Therefore, you must confirm the travel itinerary with your travel agency before application. Note that diplomats and journalists are not allowed to enter Tibet as tourists.
Thirdly, additional permits including Alien's Travel Permit and Miltary Permit. If you trekking to some control area like Lhoka, Shigatse, you need an Alien's travel permit. If you are trekking to Mt.Kailash, you need ta Miltary Permit.
Note: Tibet Travel Permit, Alien's Travel Permit and Miltary Permit all need to be processed with the assistance of the local travel agency.
Packing List for Trekking in Tibet
The unique terrain also creates its variable climate, and hikers may experience extreme temperature differences in one day. And the harsh natural environment also increases the risky. So adventurers should make adequate preparations to make the trip to Tibet smooth.
Enough warm clothes and woolen clothes, cotton casuals and down jackets.
Polar fleece sweater, wind fleece gloves
Rainproof and windproof coats and trousers
Cotton socks and woolen socks
Scarf, gloves and woolen hat
Gaiters and sunglasses
Flashlights or headlights, cameras and the spare batteries
GPS trekking poles and umbrellas
Enough cash, a purse (to store money and important documents) and bank cards（money drawing only in Lhasa and Shigatse）
First aid box including bandages and common medicines
Enough plastic bags
sleeping bag （provided by agency）
Treble whistle （contacting partners in emergencies）
Trekking route map and Tibet map
Toothbrush, toothpaste and comb
A set of two towels
Sachets of shampoo and soap
Sunscreens of SPF 35 (minimum), moisturizers and lip balms
Enough tissue paper and wet tissues
Food and drink:
Bringing cook facilities and food (provided by agency)
Taking light and high-energy foods, such as nuts, chocolate bars, candies and compressed biscuits
Lots of water
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