"Go to Tibet and see many places.   Then tell the world."       ..         the Dalai Lama.


Some of the best sources of information about travel to Lhasa and the Tibetan "Autonomous" Region are:

Lonely Planet Tibet (current edition 2008), supplemented by current information from such sources as:

Lonely Planet Thorn Tree, North-east Asia section. This is a forum for exchange of information between travellers.

A frequent contributor to the Thorn Tree of information about travel to Tibet is one Losang, apparently an expatriate, with extensive experience of travelling in Tibet. He manages a tour business from Xining,   Travel Connections   (a department of Golok Machen Kangri International Travel Agency).   The Web page provides useful information about current restrictions and permits.

Sim's Cozy Guesthouse travel service in Chengdu provides similar information.

Flight schedules of airlines flying to Australia and inside China are on the Web at these links:

China Southern
China Eastern and most other airlines
Air China

AUGUST 2008 :    FOLLOWING UNREST IN TIBET IN MARCH 2008, all travel by foreigners to the T.A.R. was banned. In late June 2008 strictly escorted group tours to Lhasa from points in China outside the T.A.R. were permitted. Independent travel was not permitted, and entry by road from Nepal was not permitted.

UNITED NATIONS RESOLUTION 1723 (1961) calls for "the cessation of practices that deprive the Tibetan people of their human rights and freedoms, including their right to self-determination". This site encourages people who are concerned about the rights of the Tibetan people, to visit Tibet so that they may deepen their understanding of the present situation.

Access by independent travellers to many parts of Tibet outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region (T.A.R.) is unrestricted. Access to the T.A.R. is more restricted, and the "rules" are always volatile - childishly so. The rules were tightened progressively from 1999 until early in 2002, but appear to have been relaxed somewhat during and since the 2002 season. Access to the T.A.R. from Nepal has usually been more restricted than access through China.

Travel to Tibet may be less expensive than many expect. Depending on the season, from the east coast of Australia flights to and from Lhasa could total less than AUD1600 excluding taxes. A visit to parts of Tibet outside the T.A.R. could be considerably cheaper.

To help independent travellers, this site tries to provide practical information about travelling conditions. Contact by travellers before they go to Tibet is encouraged, and feedback afterwards is greatly appreciataed.




Changing rules: the story so far
Travel to the Tibetan Autonomous Region through China
        By public transport (air, train or bus)
              An overview
              Air services to China and into Lhasa
              Into China via Hong Kong
              Into China via south-east Asia
              Travel to Chengdu, and by air or overland from Chengdu to Lhasa
              Travel to Yunnan Province, and by air from Kunming or Zhongdian to Lhasa
              Travel to Lhasa from Chengdu, returning via Yunnan Province
              By train from Chengdu and other cities to Lhasa
              Travel to Ge'ermo (Golmud) in Quinghai Province, and by road from Ge'ermo to Lhasa
        By private hired transport, and hitching
                Travel overland from Sichuan, Yunnan and south-east Qinghai Provinces
                Travel overland through western Xinjiang Province
Travel to the Tibetan Autonomous Region through Nepal
        By air or overland from Katmandu
        Overland from north-western Nepal
        New routes planned
Travel to the Tibetan Autonomous Region through India
Accommodation in Lhasa
Travel within the Tibetan Autonomous Region
Leaving the Tibetan Autonomous Region
        By air
        Overland from Lhasa to Katmandu
        Overland from Lhasato Ge'ermo (Golmud)
        Overland from the Tibetan Autonomous Region by other routes





The purpose of these notes is to give practical information about travel arrangements. At the same time, travellers should realize that their experience will be enhanced if they make some effort beforehand to inform themselves about the cultural, religious and historical background of Tibet, and to gain some understanding of the political situation.

There is limited value in going to Tibet just for the "tourist sights", many of them as there are. Some people do just that, and return with little more understanding than they had when they set out. The uncritical or uninformed observer may fall easy victim to the propaganda of China, which seeks to control what the visitor sees of Tibet.

China has claimed Tibet as part of its territory for centuries, but it was not until China's military occupation in 1950 that it achieved substantial control. For many centuries after the dawn of recorded history, Tibet was a country in control of its own affairs. In the decades before 1950, central and western Tibet were a fully independent state under the Lhasa government of the Dalai Lama; much of the rest of Tibet paid religious allegiance to the Dalai Lama and political a allegiance to local rulers, usually with no effective control by China.

China's military invasion and forced incorporation of Tibet followed the inauguration of the People's Republic of China in October 1949. The military invasion has been followed by a long process of immigration by ethnic Chinese and the promotion of Chinese language and culture. These are more powerful instruments of conquest than the military invasion could ever be.

Since 1996, China's policies of repressing or controlling religious practice, promoting Chinese at the expense of Tibetan language, and encouraging immigration by ethnic Chinese have all hardened.



The People's Republic of China is divided into provinces. A few provinces, where "ethnic minorities" are substantial, are designated as "autonomous regions". Provinces (including "autonomous regions") are divided into prefectures, and prefectures into counties.

Tibet can be defined in many different ways, but in these notes "Tibet" means the territory now comprising about one quarter of the land area of the People's Republic of China that was occupied by Tibetans before the military and population invasion by China began in 1949. This consists of:

Firstly, the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region (T.A.R., Chinese name "Xizang Zhizhiqu"), where about 46% of Tibetans governed by China live, and whose capital city is Lhasa. This part comprises central and western Tibet, including the old central Tibetan provinces of U (including the district of the Kongpo) and Tsang, together with western parts of the old Tibetan region of Kham. In approximate terms, this is the territory which was governed politically by the Dalai Lamas in the decades before the Chinese invasion. When the Chinese refer to Tibet (Xizang) they mean only the Tibetan Autonomous Region. This use of the name Tibet, although it can be misleading, is often adopted by guidebooks and other publications.

Secondly, the Tibetan Autonomous Region together with territory of approximately the same area again, incorporated by China in other provinces - including the old Tibetan region of Amdo (now comprising most of the Chinese Qinghai Province and part of Gansu Province), the eastern part of the old Tibetan region of Kham (now in the Chinese Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai provinces), and the district of Gyarong (now in Sichuan Province). Most, but not all, of this territory is included by China in so-called Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures and Tibetan Autonomous Counties, as listed in Appendix E.

There are some scattered Tibetan communities that are not usually designated as parts of Tibet, possibly in some cases for no better reason than ignorance of their existence. They include in particular sizeable Tibetan communities in the catchment of the Nu Jiang (Salween River) in far north-western Yunnan Province. There are also communities that are not themselves Tibetan but which practice Tibetan Buddhism, such as some communities of Naxi nationality near Lugu Hu on the border of Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces, and nearby Yongsheng, where an important Tibetan monastery's monks are mostly Naxi.

The name "Tibet" is a western expression derived from an Arabic rendering of the ancient name of the country, "Tubo". In the Tibetan language, the name of Tibet is spelled "Bod" and pronounced like "Buh". In Chinese, "Xizang" is the name of the T.A.R.: "Xi" means "western" and "zang" means "storehouse", although some sources say that "zang" derives from "U-Tsang", the Tibetan name for the two central provinces. There is no Chinese name for the whole of what these notes call "Tibet".



The longer you have beforehand to read, talk and think about Tibet the better. Tibet is a big "subject"; your ideas will change and develop.

There will be little value in questioning Chinese propaganda unless you are well-informed yourself. Several useful books are listed under Background Understanding at Appendix A.

Consult one or more guidebooks (list at Appendix A); do not go to Tibet without at least one guidebook of a kind that suits your own needs. Acquire at least a basic understanding of Tibet's history and the Chinese occupation; for that, guidebooks and other books may be useful.

Consider any need you may have for maps (see list at Appendix B).

Take account of whether for any of the places you intend to visit are closed areas (in Tibetan territoy, all the places on linked map that are NOT shown as open; see the list at Appendix F, and the outline of rules at Section 4, VISAS AND ACCESS).

Consider the time of year for your visit. Most visitors travel in the period from April to October; Tibet is very cold at other times (although central Tibet can be warm and sunny during the day even in winter), and there may be few travellers to share vehicle hire. From mid-June to August rainfall and landslides make a few roads impassable.

The U.S.-based International Campaign for Tibet observes that security may be tighter for about two weeks before and after certain sensitive dates (including Tibetan New Year, anniversaries of protests on 5th and 10th March, 27th September, 1st October and 10th December, and the Dalai Lama's birthday on 6th July - a list to which Saga Dawa or the Full Moon festival might be added) and suggests that January, April, June and August may be the best months to visit central Tibet.

Do not go without reading carefully the Safety Warnings (Appendix C); re-read them until you are sure you will remember them. Tibet is not a dangerous country if you heed the warnings and avoid the traps.

Be aware of Tibet's high altitude (see Appendix D), and get any medical advice you need.

Allow enough time for any vaccinations you may need.

Build alternatives and flexibility into your plans. Some doors may be shut, but other doors may open on even more worthwhile experiences.




To enter Tibet, or any part of China excepting Hong Kong and Macao, a Chinese visa is necessary. It may be best to obtain it before leaving Australia unless you are taking a package tour to enter Tibet overland from Nepal (see section 5 below). Australian passport-holders can enter Hong Kong or Macau without a visa and stay for up to 90 days (for other nationalities, see this site).

The first rule when applying for a visa as an independent traveller is to expect that you will be refused a visa if you mention plans to visit Tibet.

A single-entry tourist visa (for entry into China no later than three months after issue) can be obtained by application in person or perhaps by mail to Chinese consulates in Sydney (New South Wales residents), Melbourne (Victoria and Tasmania residents), Brisbane (Queensland residents), Perth (W.A. residents) and Canberra (A.C.T., N.T. and S.A. residents). For consulate addresses and business hours, see details for Canberra and other cities. Unfortunately, the maximum duration of tourist visas issued by these offices can change without announcement. Since 2002 visas of up to 90 days have been available. Although in June 2006 at least one applicant's request for 90 days was reduced to 60 days, it appears that 90 days are still available, at least on a persistent request. Check visa office hours: they may be on weekday mornings only. An application form must be completed, and lodged with a suitable photograph, a passport with six months unexpired and with at least two blank pages, preferably adjacent, and a written itinerary from a travel agent or airline (which does not need to show more than bookings to and from China; actual tickets are not required); the visa fee in cash or by bank cheque or money order is now payable on collection. Visa fees for Australian passport-holders are $AUD30 ($AUD40 by mail from Canberra) for normal issue (now usually three working days), and $AUD60 for issue the next working day. Fees for holders of non-Australian passports may be higher. Application forms ask for: Occupation - do not say journalist, reporter, photographer etc., political anything; the purpose of the journey - "Tourism" will suffice; places to be visited in China - the answer is in no way binding, but must not include any mention of Tibet. In the unlikely case of difficulty, Australian offices of C.I.T.S. (China International Travel Service - the government agency) provide a visa procurement service at a charge (in addition to the charge already mentioned).

Visas are readily obtainable in Hong Kong, including the following types (prices in brackets are as quoted by Grand Profit International Travel Agency at Room 705, 7th floor, New East Ocean Centre, 9 Science Museum Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, telephone 0011 852 2723 3288, open 8:30-6:30 Monday to Friday, and 8:30-1:00 on Saturday, for same day service on application before 11:40am for collection after 6:00pm):

Tourist (L-class) visa -
     for single entry (HKD250),
     for double entry (HKD350);

Business (F-class) visa -
     6 months (HKD600),
     12 months (HKD1200).
These business visas cannot be obtained while any other visa is still current;   no special documentation (such as business invitations) is required, at least in the case of applications through Grand Profit.

Visas can also be obtained by application directly to the Visa Office of the P.R.C. , 7th floor, Lower Block, China Resources Centre, 26 Harbour Road, WanChai (Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, 2 to 5 p.m.), although the cost will not necessarily be lower than the amounts quoted above.

Holders of Australian passports can enter Hong Kong or Macao without a visa, but must have a Chinese visa to cross the control line that is the same as the old border of "mainland" China.

For entry to Tibet from Nepal, the "rules" are much more restrictive. A summary is attempted in section 5 below, under the heading TRAVEL TO THE TIBETAN AUTONOMOUS REGION THROUGH NEPAL.

Information about getting visas in other places, especially in south-east Asia will be welcomed.

Visa extensions

When entering China it is best to have a visa covering the expected duration of stay. Getting extensions inside China can involve delays and other difficulties.

Do not rely on getting a visa extension in the T.A.R. Until a few years ago, visa extensions were usually obtainable from the an office of the police (Public Security Bureau, or PSB) near the north-western corner of Beijing Donglu (Dekyi Shar Lam) at its eastern end, and with luck this may still be possible. They have usually been of limited duration, and evidence of a flight or other booking to leave the country has sometimes been required. Evidence of having bought a tour may help. Information about current experiences would be welcomed.

Outside the T.A.R., one thirty-day extension is usually obtainable. In the past this was usually on a while-you-wait basis, but in recent years delays of several days were being experienced, particularly in Chengdu. It is sometimes said that an extension is only obtainable in the last few days of the original visa, and perhaps that reflects some experiences, but it is certainly not unusual for an extension to be granted on application even during the first half of the original visa. The cost is usually 100 yuan, but can be higher. In Sichuan, extensions can be obtained in Kangding and, of course, Chengdu - although visa office hours in Chengdu are absurdly few. Extensions after the first may be difficult, and after the second impossible, to get.

Although getting extensions has become slower and often more expensive in recent years, the general availability of 90-day visas in the first place has made extensions unnecessary for most travellers.

Aliens' Travel Permits (A.T.P's)

These are required to visit closed areas - much of the Tibetan Autonomous Region outside the Lhasa prefecture-level district, and scattered counties elsewhere. They are usually only obtainable through tour operators, for tours by four-wheel-drive car.

China is governed under a system where invocation of the law is at best haphazard. The Law on the Control of Entry and Exit of Foreigners (Order of the President of the People's Republic of China (No.31), 22.11.1985, Chapter Four), says:

Article 20: Foreigners who hold valid visas or residence certificates may travel to places declared open to foreigners by the Chinese Government.

Article 21: Foreigners who desire to travel to places closed to foreigners shall apply for travel permits from local public security organs [i.e., the police].

Click the links here for the title and those articles in Chinese and English and for the text of the whole Law in English.

Authoritative information is (in typically P.R.C.-style) difficult to get. The linked map summarises the information in Appendix F.

The legal position is unclear, but in practice it is often possible to travel without a permit along main roads through closed areas if the journey from one open place to another is uninterrupted. In the important case of the Friendship Highway from Lhasa to the open county of Zhangmu on the Nepal border, a permit has not usually been required unless travellers deviate from the highway.

Permits to visit places that are not declared open are known as Aliens' Travel Permits, or A.T.P's. They are issued by the police (Public Security Bureau, "PSB"). A single permit is normally issued to all the people who are travelling together, the permit naming just one of them and stating how many others are accompanying him; the passports, or at least photocopies of passports and visas, of all persons travelling must be presented in order to obtain a permit.

For some places, issue of A.T.P's is not available unless the tour operator has obtained military or other permits.

Tibet Tourism Bureau (T.T.B.) Permits

These permits are necessary for entry to Lhasa or any other part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and are obtained through tour operators as part of arrangements for travel; Section 5 explains procedures. A T.T.B. permit does not obviate the need for an Aliens' Travel Permit for any closed areas that may be visited.


For more than twenty years T.T.B. permits have been unlawful in terms of the central government's legislation cited above. That fact is of little practical importance in a country far too immature for such unlawfulness to matter, or indeed be comprehensible to many, least of all to those who share the proceeds of a corrupt "little earner".

In 2006, with the opening of the railway, it did seem that the days of the T.T.B. permit were numbered. In August 2006 police in Chengdu were checking the papers of foreigners in the special departure waiting room for Lhasa trains, informing them that T.T.B. permits had been unlawful since 1st July 2006. In Lhasa itself, tour operators believed that the requirement for T.T.B. permits would be abandoned on 1st October 2006. But it didn't happen.

Meanwhile, it remained impossible in Chengdu to get an air ticket for Lhasa except as part of a package including a T.T.B. permit. The position with train tickets is different in that they do not name the holder, and are therefore transferable. There were some reports that the Chengdu train station was refusing to sell Lhasa tickets to foreigners. There appeared to be nothing to stop a foreigner getting a local to buy a ticket and then using it himself. No one was checking, in Lhasa or elsewhere, to see that foreigners held permits - although that could change at any time.

To be safe, it's best to go along with the permit scheme. China will grow up when its citizens demand it, and not because of foreigners' preaching.



Main table of contents


Changing rules: the story so far
Travel to the Tibetan Autonomous Region through China
        By public transport (air, train or bus)
              An overview
              Air services to China and into Lhasa
              Into China via Hong Kong
              Into China via south-east Asia
              Travel to Chengdu, and by air or overland from Chengdu to Lhasa
              Travel to Yunnan Province, and by air from Kunming or Zhongdian to Lhasa
              Travel to Lhasa from Chengdu, returning via Yunnan Province
              By train from Chengdu and other cities to Lhasa
              Travel to Ge'ermo (Golmud) in Quinghai Province, and by road from Ge'ermo to Lhasa
        By private hired transport, and hitching
                Travel overland from Sichuan, Yunnan and south-east Qinghai Provinces
                Travel overland through western Xinjiang Province
Travel to the Tibetan Autonomous Region through Nepal
        By air or overland from Katmandu
        Overland from north-western Nepal
        New routes planned
Travel to the Tibetan Autonomous Region through India
Accommodation in Lhasa
Travel within the Tibetan Autonomous Region
Leaving the Tibetan Autonomous Region
        By air
        Overland from Lhasa to Katmandu
        Overland from Lhasato Ge'ermo (Golmud)
        Overland from the Tibetan Autonomous Region by other routes

Travel to the Tibetan Autonomous Region is possible only through China and Nepal.

In a nutshell:

* Straightforward, minimal restrictions, frequent service:   Fly to Lhasa from Chengdu (capital of Sichuan province).

* Straightforward, minimal restrictions, limited frequency subject to seasonal variation:   Fly to Lhasa from Kunming (capital of Yunnan province) or Zhongdian (in north-western Yunnan).

* Straightforward, minimal restrictions, not inexpensive, inconvenient:   Bus to Lhasa from Ge'ermo in remote central Qinghai province.

* Expensive, wonderful:   Landcruiser package from Yunnan or (exceptionally expensive) Landcruiser package from Sichuan.

* Restricting conditions, minimum group of at least two:   Landcruiser or air from Katmandu.

* Dangerous, arduous, illegal, potentially rewarding:   Entering the T.A.R. without a permit, hitching or cycling.

* Conditions not yet known:   Train via Ge'ermo in Qinghai Province to Lhasa after commencement of service July 2006.

Contents Section 5


Although changes may occur at any time, since 2003 the rules for entering and travelling in the T.A.R. have been relatively stable. For several years before that, changes were frequent, with application from time to time of restrictions to (at least nominally) guided tours inclusive of accommodation and with fixed departure dates. Imposition of such restrictions was usually brief and half-hearted, but if any political unrest occurs the authorities will have patterns to fall back on.

The imposition of a minimum number of travellers travelling together on a single T.T.B. permit has been abandoned in the case of travel from China and effectively reduced to two for travel from Nepal.

At the same time as access to the T.A.R. has become more straightforward, the cost of vehicle hire within the T.A.R. - necessary to reach many places - has increased greatly. An effective monopoly is held by the F.I.T. (Foreign Independent Travellers') section of the T.T.B. (Tibet Tourism Bureau) of the T.A.R. government. Rates are often extortionate.

It seems likely that some rules will be relaxed further following the bedding-down of the railway service to Lhasa, launched on 1st July 2006: see the box, Demise of the T.T.B. Permit, in section 4. Train services have been announced from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu as well as from the intermediate provincial capitals of Lanzhou (Gansu Province) and Xining (Qinghai); the services from Beijing and Chengdu reach Lhasa in about 48 hours. The opening of the railway can be expected to increase very greatly the number of tourists, most particularly Chinese tourists, in and around Lhasa.

It is likely in future that entry to the T.A.R. will be permitted through the Sikkim state of India over the Nathu La (pass), a border that opened to restricted trade (but not for foreign tourists) in July 2006: see below under Travel to the T.A.R. through India. In the (much) more distant future, China has plans for a railway link over the same route.

Contents Section 5


Most independent travellers to the T.A.R. go to Lhasa, and most will see other parts of the T.A.R. either en route overland to or from Lhasa or by arranging internal tours when in Lhasa. The great majority will fly to Lhasa, most from Chengdu. A few will enter by the only overland public transport available to them, to Lhasa from Ge'ermo (Golmud) in Qinghai Province. A very few will attempt to travel overland, hitchhiking illegally through closed areas. A few will travel overland legally and expensively, by 4-wheel-drive car arranged through a tour operator with driver, optional guide and permits.

Contents Section 5


An overview

For budget travellers, legal travel to Lhasa and the T.A.R. from elsewhere in China is limited to public transport to Lhasa - by bus from Ge'ermo in remote central Qinghai Province, or by air.

Travellers cannot obtain bus or air tickets to enter the T.A.R. without being listed on permits issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau (controlling officials in Beijing, and offices in Lhasa some other provincial capital cities, including Chengdu) - but see the box, Demise of the T.T.B. Permit? in section 4. The usual practice is for the permits to be obtained by tour operators at the point of departure as components of tour packages to Lhasa. Such tour packages can be nominal, including as little as the permit itself, one-way air ticket and transfer to the departing airport. A T.T.B. permit is a list of one or more travellers, stamped with a seal by the T.T.B.; in many cases permits are held by tour operators and not seen by the travellers.

In most cases travellers make their way to the starting point for the leg into Lhasa, and on arrival arrange for the flight or bus ride, to Lhasa. At least in the cases of flights from Chengdu, Kunming or Zhongdian, it is possible (if usually unneccessary for travellers not in a hurry) to make forward bookings for flights with the necessary permits beforehand.

The only route on which there are reliable reports of foreigners entering the T.A.R. legally overland by public transport is the bus route from Ge'ermo (Golmud) in Qinghai Province to Lhasa.

Air services to Lhasa originate in several Chinese cities - Chengdu, Kunming, Zhongdian, Beijing, Chongqing, Xi'an, Xining, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. The main points of departure where established procedures are known for travellers to get the necessary Tibet Tourism Board permits (see below) without buying more than a nominal package tour are Chengdu (capital of Sichuan Province), and Kunming and Zhongdian (both in Yunnan Province); it is said to be possible to do so from Beijing, Shanghai and Xi'an by prior arrangement with Tibet Chamdo Travel in Lhasa (see below).

Until 2003 such permits were only issued to groups of five or more travellers, but since then have been available for any number of one or more travellers.

T.T.B. permits for entry to the T.A.R. are not to be confused with Aliens' Travel Permits, issued by the police, necessary for travel to closed areas; in fact, Lhasa is not technically a closed area.


Travellers approach a tour operator at the point of departure of the flight or bus ride to Lhasa - a tour operator in Chengdu or Kunming (for travel by air to Lhasa), or the government agency C.I.T.S. at the Golmud Hotel in Ge'ermo (for travel by bus to Lhasa), and pay for a package that includes one-way transport to Lhasa including transfer at the departure point and Tibet Tourism Bureau group permit for entry to the the T.A.R. An agent in Kunming (see below) offers an arrangement for air travel from Zhongdian to Lhasa (see below) similar to the one from Kunming.

A variant on this procedure is to make similar arrangements with a Lhasa travel agent to fly to Lhasa and to collect permit and tickets from a local representative of the agent. This may have advantages with respect to the cost of Landcruiser tours within the T.A.R. as outlined below.

It seems likely, and is widely expected, that the rules for independent access to the T.A.R. will change following introduction of the train service to Lhasa in July 2006.

Air services to China and into Lhasa

When buying international air tickets it is important to shop around, and never to assume that a travel agent who claims to sell the cheapest tickets will necessarily do so: that may be far from the case. Return tickets are usually far cheaper than two one-way tickets. It may be much cheaper to buy a return ticket from Australia to, say, Chengdu or Kunming, than to buy a return ticket to an intermediate destination and separate tickets from there. It may be possible to buy a discounted "open jaw" ticket, flying from Australia to one city in China and returning from another.

The list prices of international fares will vary between Low, Shoulder and High Seasons. High Season will seldom apply to travellers to Tibet since it is in mid-winter, from early December until early January. Shoulder Seasons are generally Australian school holidays together with the Chinese national holiday week (the week that includes October 1st) plus a few days on either side. This system of seasons does not affect internal China air fares or the add-on elements for internal flights taken in conjunction with international flights.

Getting internal China air tickets for flights outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region and for flights from (but probably not to) Lhasa should be possible through Australian travel agents, although it is beyond known territory for many of them.

Internal air services may often (though not always) be cheapest if bought together with international air services buying internal air tickets in Australia separately from international services will generally be at the full list price. When bought separately, internal air tickets are often cheaper when bought in China than when bought in Australia; except for flights into Lhasa, discounts are often available in response to vigorous bargaining or comparing prices of different agents, notwithstanding that ticket offices may deny vigorously the availability of discounts.

Most services to and from the T.A.R. are operated by Air China following their takeover from China Southwest Airlines in October 2002. The Air China monopoly was broken by a new service introduced by China Southern Airlines in August 2003 from Guangzhou via Zhongdian (north-western Yunnan Province)to Lhasa. It has been said that in 2006 China Eastern Airlines will begin a serice from Kunming to Lhasa.


Flights to Lhasa include:

Air China: From Chengdu in China's Sichuan Province, at least four every day, most by 8:00 a.m. but with one early afternoon; from Chongqing, two a week, on Tuesday and Saturday; from Beijing, daily; from Xining, two a week, on Monday and Thursday; from Xi'an, three a week, on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; and from Guangzhou, three a week, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.

China Eastern flights from Kunming in Yunnan Province daily from April on.

China Southern flights from Zhongdian, originating Guangzhou, daily during the summer season and on Mondays and Fridays at other times.

On all routes, check for changes, which occur often. As already mentioned, Chengdu, Kunming and Zhongdian are the only points of departure where there is reliable evidence of independent travellers being able to satisfy the formalities to get air tickets to enter the T.A.R.

Services are listed from Chengdu to Changdu (the airport for Chamdo in the eastern T.A.R., also known as Bangda or Pomda) and between Changdu and Lhasa. Changdu is the only commercial airport in the T.A.R. apart from Lhasa. It is in the closed territory south of Chamdo; any information about the ability of foreigners to travel on these routes would be welcome.

Internal China air ticket bookings can be cancelled automatically if not "reconfirmed" by the stated deadline. Any Air China office, including those in Australia, can take a "reconfirmation", which can be made well in advance of the deadline.

Airport codes include: Lhasa - LXA, Chengdu - CTU, Chongqing - CKG, Beijing - PEK, Kunming - KMG, Zhongdian (also known as Diqing, or Diqing Shangelila, or Xiang-ge-li-la) - DIG, Guangzhou - CAN, Xining - XNN, Ge'ermo (Golmud) - GOQ, Changdu (Bamda, Pomda) - BPX, Lanzhou - LHW. Codes for Chinese airlines include: Air China - CA, China Southern Airlines - CZ, China Eastern Airlines - MU, Sichuan Airlines - 3U

Into China via Hong Kong

Particularly if they wish to obtain the long-stay visas available in Hong Kong, some travellers will wish to travel via that city.

Air fares within China are much cheaper from nearby Shenzhen and Guangzhou than from Hong Kong, and most budget travellers will make their way overland to one of those cities. Shenzhen airport is readily accessible by bus from Hong Kong airport and from Hong Kong, as is Guangzhou. Frequent trains run from Hong Kong to Lo Wu on the China "border", crossed on foot via immigration processing, to Shenzhen. From Shenzhen buses run to Shenzhen airport (allow around an hour) and trains to Guangzhou. From Guangzhou north station buses run to the new Guangzhou airport. Note that some trains arrive at Guangzhou east station. There are also express trains from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, but they are much more expensive than local trains to the border and then on from the border to Guangzhou.

Express buses run directly from Hong Kong airport to Guangzhou.

It is, of course, possible to travel on into China by train from Guangzhou. In the case of Chengdu, two daily departures from Guangzhou have transit times of about 39 hours.

Into China via South-east Asia

It is possible to reach Chengdu via South-east Asia by other routes or airlines than already mentioned, although connecting flights into China are sometimes expensive.

Flights from Bangkok to Chengdu include Air China (5/week), Thai Air (daily) and China Eastern (daily).

Flights from Bangkok to Kunming include Thai Air and China Eastern (both daily), with movement on to Chengdu by train or by road, perhaps through north-west Yunnan and western Sichuan.

From Laos, entry to Yunnan Province by road is straightforward. China Eastern flies from Vientiane to Kunming on Mondays and Thursdays.

Another possible route is through Vietnam to the China border, by train from Hekou just over the border to Kunming (17 hours) and from Kunming to Chengdu (about 23 hours). There appear to be no direct flights at present between Vietnam and Chengdu or Kunming; it is possible to fly from Hanoi via Vientiane to Kunming.

Travel to Chengdu, and by air or overland from Chengdu to Lhasa

By far the largest number of travellers to Lhasa fly to Lhasa from Chengdu.

Return 35-day fares from Melbourne to Chengdu quoted at April 2006 were as follows. Taxes are an additional AUD$395 approx. for Singapore Airlines, AUD$235 approx. for China Southern Airlines, and AUD$250 approx. for the other airlines listed.

China Southern Airlines via Guangzhou:   Low Season AUD$950, Shoulder AUD$1070
China Eastern Airlines via Shanghai:   Low Season AUD$1140, Shoulder AUD$1245
Thai Airlines via Bangkok:   Low Season AUD$1140, Shoulder AUD$1250
Singapore Airlines via Singapore :   Low Season AUD$1020, Shoulder AUD$1120
Malaysian Airlines via Kuala Lumpur:   Low Season AUD960, Shoulder AUD$1030.

Return 6-month fares from Melbourne to Chengdu quoted at April 2006 were (taxes additional AUD$235 approx.):

China Southern Airlines: Low Season AUD$1170, Shoulder AUD$1520

Most itineraries will require an overnight stop between Australia and Chengdu. Unlike most other airlines, China Southern provides free hotel accommodation in Guangzhou when an onward flight is not available without an overnight stop, although this arrangement is withdrawn at certain times of high demand, such as the time of the Guangzhou trade fair.

Melbourne travel agents that have been found to quote keen prices and provide good service include Jiangsu China Travel Service (Level 8, 454 Collins Street Melbourne, 9600 1806) and Holiday Asia Travel (17 Carrington Road, Box Hill, 9898 8836). Travel agents specializing in sales to the Chinese community often quote better prices than general travel agents and provide service as good as any.

By air from Chengdu to Lhasa

One-way packages quoted by tour operators in Chengdu include the standard elements of one-way air fare to Lhasa (nominally 1610 yuan, but not available separately) with airport transfer at Chengdu but not Lhasa, and the necessary T.T.B. group permit for entry to the T.A.R. Tickets can often be obtained for flights as early as the day after an early morning booking.

Tour operators in Chengdu who can arrange air ticket packages to Lhasa include:

In the vicinity of the central square (Mao statue):

* Samuel Yue of Sam's Backpacker Guesthouse at 130 Shanxijie (a street going west from the main north-south street Renmin Lu a couple of blocks south of the square in front of the Mao statue), telephone (86) 028 8615 4179, fax (86) 028 8609 9022, email . Sam can arrange travel to Lhasa by air (one-way air package quoted April 2006 at •2000 from April to October and •1900 at other times) and also overland (see below).

In the vicinity of WenShu monastery, near the crossing of Renmin Lu (main north-south road) over Fu River:

* Mix Hostel at 23# Ren Jia Wan, Xing Hui XiLu, telephone (86) 028 8322 2271, email, website. At April 2006, Mix Hostel's price of 1850 yuan for one-way flight to Lhasa with permit and Chengdu airport transfer was lower than prices quoted by some other operators.

* Simís Cozy Guesthouse at 42# Xizhushi street, telephone (86) 028 8691 4422 or (86) 028 8197 9337, fax (86) 028 8691 4422, email, website.

In or near the Jiao Tong (Traffic) Hotel or its compound (on Linjiang Zhong Jie, south side of Jin River next door to Xinnanmen Bus Station), a number of operators, some related to one another, including:

* Traffic Travel Service (also operating as Panda's Tour), telephone 86 28 8545 4148 or 86 28 8544 1452. Beside the lobby of the hotel. This business is believed to be owned by the hotel which is in turn owned by the government traffic department. It can arrange travel to Lhasa by air (one-way air package quoted April 2006 at •2180), but not by road.

By bus from Chengdu to Lhasa

A daily sleeper bus is said to leave for Lhasa from Gaosuntang bus station in Chengdu, taking three days and two nights to reach Lhasa via Kangding, Dege, Chamdo, Bayi and Medrogonkar. Tickets cost about •616. Unfortunately it appears impossible for foreigners to get a T.T.B. permit for entry to the T.A.R. by this means; it is reported that any foreigners will be taken off these buses when authorities check them at Dege before the buses enter the T.A.R.

Accommodation in Chengdu

In the past, a large proportion of independent travellers have stayed at the clean Jiao Tong Fandian (Traffic Hotel) on the south side of the Jin River next door to the Xinnanmen Bus Station. Beds in three-bed dorms with common bathroom are reasonably priced at •40; beds in three-bed dorms with bathroom are expensive at •70 as are double rooms with bathroom at •200. All prices include an indifferent breakfast. (Telephone 86 28 8545 1017, fax 86 28 8544 0977).

In recent years a number of guest houses have sprung up, some of them catering very well to foreign backpackers. They include Sam's Backpackers' Guesthouse, Mix Hostel, and Sim's Cozy Guesthouse (addresses and contact details above under "By air from Chengdu to Lhasa").

In recent years many hotels and guesthouses in China have joined the International Youth Hostels organization. Hostels in Chengdu include some moderately expensive hotels but also a number of budget-priced guesthouses, some of which may appeal to independent travellers. Several of them have in-house or associated tour operators who can sell transport to Lhasa and other tours.

Flying from Chengdu and other cities to Lhasa by arrangement with tour operators in Lhasa

Although little-tried, it is possible to obtain air tickets together with T.T.B. permits from Chengdu and from several other Chinese cities by prior arrangement with Lhasa tour operators. The operators send the permit for collection by the traveller at the city of boarding. Inclusion of airport transfer at Lhasa is compulsory. An advantage of this procedure is that the traveller gets physical possession of the permit, and can arrange Landcruiser tours in the T.A.R. with the operator who provided the air ticket package. If one or more such travellers have entered the T.A.R. in this way arranges such Landcruiser tours, other travellers (e.g., who have not entered the T.A.R. under permits arranged by operators at Chengdu or other point of departure) can accompany them and share the cost of the tours. That operator's charges may be substantially lower than the extortionate charges of the government F.I.T. agency - the agency which travellers must use for such tours if they entered the T.A.R. through an operator in Chengdu or other originating city. It is important for travellers to ensure that their T.T.B. permits cover the duration of their expected stay in the T.A.R.

The difficulty here may be finding a reliable and willing business in Lhasa to arrange the flight and permit. One operator offering the service and who has received good reports is Mr David Migmar of Tibet Chamdo International Travel, Inner Mandala Hotel, Barkhor South Street #31, Lhasa 850000. T.A.R., China (email telephone 86 1390 891 5618, fax 86 891 633 3563, email See Appendix G for some details.

Travel to Yunnan Province, and by air from Kunming or Zhongdian to Lhasa

Fares from Australia to Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, are usually the same as for Chengdu or fractionally cheaper. "Open jaw" fares, to Chengdu or Kunming and returning from the other, are usually available at the average of the return fares to the two cities.

Less travelled ways by air to Lhasa from Australia are through Kunming or Zhongdian/Xiang-ge-li-la in north-west Yunnan Province. The main disadvantage compared to the Chengdu route is that flights to Lhasa are less frequent. (In May 2002 Zhongdian and its airport, code DIG, were officially renamed Xiang-ge-li-la, an attempt at rendering into Chinese the fictional, fictitious and obviously not Chinese name Shangri-La. Previously Zhongdian airport was also known as Diqing, the name that continues in use in some timetables, the name of the prefecture of which Zhongdian is capital; it is not near Diqing (Deqen, Dechen) county town.

Mr Chen, a tour operator at Camellia Hotel, Kunming (Tibet Tourism Bureau Yunnan Office, Chahua Binguan, Building 3, Room 3115, telephone and fax 0871 3188114, mobile 0871 133 5460 2839) offers packages for air travel including one-way air ticket, Tibet Tourism Bureau permit for entry to T.A.R. and land transfer to departing airport (but not from Lhasa/Gongkar airport to Lhasa) as follows:

* Kunming-Lhasa at 2600 yuan: by daily flight by China Eastern Airlines via Chengdu (one-hour stop) from April to about October only;

* Zhongdian-Lhasa at 2200 yuan if booked with Mr Chen in Kunming: by China Southern Airlines (flight originating in Guangzhou, with no stop at Kunming), daily flights in summer, otherwise Mondays and Fridays; Mr Chen says that the same package if booked with his associated office in Zhongdian costs approximately 2450 yuan.

Airlines flying from Australia to Kunming include Singapore Airlines, China Southern and Thai Air. Examples of air fares from Australia are given in the last section, "Travel to Chengdu, and by air from Chengdu to Lhasa". "Open jaw" tickets, flying to Chengdu or Kunming and returning from the other, can be obtained at the same prices.

Kunming can be reached from Laos and Vietnam in similar ways to travel from those countries to Chengdu (see above).

With the change of route following opening of a new line, the train service from Guangzhou to Kunming is faster than it was, now about 26 hours.

The Camellia Hotel is popular wish independent travellers, and includes an International Youth Hostel wing.

Travel to Lhasa from Chengdu, returning via Yunnan Province

The reason why few travellers follow this combination is that the possibility doesn't occur to them. Using an "open jaw" ticket (fly from Australia to Chengdu, Kunming to Australia at the same price as a return flight to either city) and flying from Chengdu to Lhasa, travellers can leave the T.A.R. by flying to Zhongdian. They can then explore Tibetan regions in north-west Yunnan Province or further afield before making their way down to Kunming.

By train from Chengdu and other cities to Lhasa

The railway line from Xining (capital of Qinghai Province) to Ge'ermo (Golmud, in central Qinghai) has been extended 960km to Lhasa; a collection of news reports is at this link. Passenger services began on 2nd July 2006, with trains at least every second day from Chengdu, Xining and Beijing; trains every second day from Shanghai and Guangzhou are expected to run from the end of 2006. Fares are listed at Appendix H.

As to whether or not travellers need Tibet Tourism Bureau permits, see the important box in section 4, Demise of the T.T.B. Permit?

The trains from Chengdu depart at 6:20 p.m. (on 2nd August 2006 and thereafter every second day - i.e., on odd days in some months and even days in others), arriving in Lhasa at 8:30 p.m. two days later. The ticket office at Chengdu main (north) railway station is in a separate building on the east side of the large plaza in front of the station building itself. Window 11 is designated for foreigners and is likely to be attended by English-speaking staff. Tickets are sold up to ten days in advance. There have been inconsistent reports that the office has declined to sell Lhasa tickets to foreigners. Since train tickets are transferable (unlike air tickets, they do not name their holders), if that difficulty arises, there is nothing to prevent a foreigner using a ticket bought by a local.

Another alternative, particularly with a view to securing a ticket in advance of arrival in Chengdu, is to retain a travel agent. One agent in Chengdu who can assist (in advance if necessary, this requiring faxed passport and visa) is Sichuan Shenzhou International Travel Agency, whose informative web-site includes location map and full contact information. M/s Huang Le of that agency responds very helpfully and in excellent English to email enquiries. The agency charges USD155 (•1212 comprising one-way hard-sleeper train fare •712, service fee •100, T.T.B. permit •400). It can arrange bookings in advance.

Travel to Ge'ermo (Golmud) in Qinghai Province, and by road from Ge'ermo to Lhasa.

Travellers reaching Ge'ermo independently can travel legally by bus to Lhasa only by buying group package tours through the government travel agency, C.I.T.S., on the first floor of the Golmud Hotel, the only hotel licensed to accept foreigners. The staff at C.I.T.S. speak some English (telephone 86 979 849 5123). In April 2006 the cost of such a package was 1700 yuan, including the one-way bus fare, Tibet Tourism Bureau permit, 4 nights' accommodation at the Kirey or Banak Shol hotel in Lhasa, and a guided tour in Lhasa.

This extortionate charge compares with the ordinary (i.e. Chinese) fare from Ge'ermo to Lhasa of 250 yuan. It is not very much less than the cost of flying from Chengdu to Lhasa, and (given the remoteness of Ge'ermo) certainly not a cheap way of reaching Lhasa. It may be better to fly to Lhasa from Chengdu, Kunming or Zhongdian, and leave by bus from Lhasa to Ge'ermo at a fare of about 280 yuan.

Travelling to or from Lhasa via Ge'ermo does introduce the possibility of interesting routes to or from Ge'ermo. It is joined by bus to Dunhuang to the north, a place most notable for its bearing on the days of the Tibetan empire around the ninth century. Travel overland between Ge'ermo and Chengdu can be through some of the most important territory in all Tibet (see Section 6 below, Travel and Tibet outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region).

The bus journey from Ge'ermo to Lhasa is often cold and arduous - 33 hours or often much longer, without an overnight stop, through country at altitudes up to about 5200m. Both sleeper buses and standard buses operate on this route; especially in this journey, sleeper buses may be much more comfortable than standard buses.

The much-maligned ("forlorn outpost in the oblivion end of China" opines the ever-opinionated Lonely Planet) but pleasant town of Ge'ermo is in the centre of Qinghai Province. Trains and buses (including sleeper buses) run every day to Ge'ermo from Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province, and ten air services a week are scheduled from or via Xining. The railway line runs north of Koko Nor (Lake Qinghai), and the fast mostly bitumen road runs south of it.

There are several flights each day from Guangzhou to Lanzhou, from Guangzhou to Xining, from Shenzhen to Lanzhou, and from Shenzhen to Xining; there is a flight each Friday from Xining to Ge'ermo. There are several trains each day from Lanzhou to Xining.

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It is possible to arrange private transport overland to the T.A.R. by several routes in a private, hired vehicle with optional licensed guide and special permits. Arrangements can be made with tour operators in Kunming or Chengdu, elsewhere in China, or overseas. The cost is rather high, but perhaps manageable if the optimum number of travellers, usually four, share the cost of a vehicle.

It may also be possible to reduce the cost of legal overland entry to the T.A.R. by travelling by public bus through western Sichuan Province or north-western Yunnan (both of which are open) and meeting a pre-arranged hired vehicle sent by a Lhasa tour operator to a town close to, but outside, the T.A.R. border; such an arrangement depends on close co-ordination, and on a high degree of reliability on the part of the tour operator.

Travel by road from Sichuan, Yunnan and south-east Qinghai Provinces

The main routes to Lhasa are:

*     Through north-western Yunnan Province to Markam, north to Chamdo and then west via Nagchu; the alternative route after Markamm through Pasho and Bayi, is vulnerable to landslides (see "From Chengdu ..." below).

Mr Chen, the tour operator at Camellia Hotel, Kunming (Tibet Tourism Bureau Yunnan Office, Chahua Binguan, Building 3, Room 3115, telephone and fax 0871 3188114, mobile 0871 133 5460 2839) offers packages from either Kunming or from Zhongdian in north-west Yunnan Province to Lhasa at 18000 yuan for Landcruiser and driver for up to four passengers, including permits, not including accommodation and meals for the passengers. A guide is not required but if desired can be provided at an additional 160 yuan a day ("English-speaking"). Days in excess of nine will be charged at 950/day (high season) or 800/day (low season). To obtain permits, he needs copies of passports and visas for two weeks before departure. At the option of travellers, the route can be via Bayi, Basum Tso and Kongpo Gyamda or alternatively via Chamdo and Nagchu; landslides are more likely to close the former route. Travellers may well prefer to pay the additional cost of a guide, if only to overcome difficulties communicating with the driver and in dealing with police concerning permits and access to closed places.

*     From Chengdu. Alternative routes, all via Kangding, include the following.

(1)    Via Batang, Markam, Zogong, Pomda (Bangda junction), Bayi and Medro Gongkar: beyond Zogong almost all sealed including an excellent new section (2006) between Tongjuk and Lunang, BUT with a very bad section after Tongmai, prone to landslides, and often closed after rain, especially in the wet months June to August.
(2)    A lesser-used variant after Bayi running via Tsethang, an often narrow dirt road but first class sealed after Tsethang. (3)    Via Karze (Ganzi), Dege, Chamdo, Pomda, Bayi and Medrogonkar (see route 1 for conditions past Pomda).
(4)    Via Batang, Markam, Pomda, Chamdo and Nagchu, mostly sealed from Pomda to Chamdo and after Nagchu, otherwise dirt.
(5)    Via Karze (Ganzi), Dege, Chamdo and Nagchu.
Traffic Travel cannot arrange packages to travel by road from Chendgu to Lhasa, but Samuel Yue of Sam's Guesthouse can, for groups of travellers who make arrangements together. Transit time is about 11 days or longer (travellers would be well advised to take longer) and the cost starts at 27200 yuan (extra days 960 yuan/day) for a group of four persons without a guide, variable according to the model of 4-wheel-drive vehicle used; a group of five, six or seven people will be more expensive per person because a second vehicle will be required. At least ten days must be allowed for arranging permits, and for that purpose copies of passports and Chinese visas are required; they can be sent to Samuel Yue by fax.

*     For the sake mainly of completeness only, mention is made of the route from Yushu (Jyekundo) in south-east Qinghai Province to Nangchen and thence via a seasonal jeep road to Riwoche near Chamdo; it is said that this route will be upgraded to a standard Chinese road within the next few years. It is likely that a package could be arranged with one of the larger travel agencies in Xining on similar lines to the ones mentioned from Chengdu and Kunming. For several years, all counties in Yushu Prefecture have been open, so that no need for permits arises until the entry into the T.A.R.

All of these routes go through closed areas in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Legal travel requires Aliens' Travel Permits. To avoid being fined and sent back by the police, it is necessary to hold permits, specifying the route and places to be visited, from the Tibet Tourism Bureau, the police (Aliens' Travel Permits), and the prefectural government. Legal travel is effectively restricted to package tours by hired four-wheel-drive vehicle. On some routes, permits may require travellers to be accompanied by a registered guide; in any event, travellers without a guide may be encounter difficulties in communicating with their driver and with authorities concerning permits and access to closed places.

Experience has shown how vital it is for all permits to cover specifically all the places, including any monasteries that might be considered contentious in the context, that travellers intend to visit. It is vital that they satisfy themselves fully before departure that the permits satisfy that requirement. If travellers do visit places not covered by their permits, their guide if any, or otherwise their driver, is likely to be fined heavily and perhaps experience revocation of licence or registration.

Independent travellers who succeed in travelling these routes illegally should take great care to avoid depending on assistance that could place their helpers at grave risk with the authorities.

Travellers who are physically robust and careful have succeeded in entering the T.A.R. and Lhasa independently. They must be prepared to pass through or around checkpoints at night and where necessary camp away from towns. Vigilance by the police will vary from place to place and from time to time. One traveller who reached Lhasa (from Yunnan Province) in May 2006 reported:

It seems things are loosening up in Eastern part of TAR concerning foreigners- no hassles in Zogang, Pasho, Bomi- I didn't stay overnight, (camping outside of towns) but ate lunch, used the internet. Saw PSB vehicles but weren't interested. However, Markham and Bayi are still problem towns. I've met a few travellers who did it by truck, as well as a few other cyclists.

Travel overland through western Xinjiang Province

A growing number of travellers has been reaching western Tibet illegally, and eventually Lhasa or the road down to Nepal, hitch-hiking by truck from Aba in Xinjiang Province. From Kashi (Kashgar) in western Xinjiang to Yecheng (Karghalik) is half a day by bus, and from Yecheng to Aba about fifteen minutes by minibus. For the 1100km from Aba to Ali (Shiquanhe, the main town in western Tibet) truck drivers reckless or greedy enough to take hitch hikers are likely to charge about 500 or 600 yuan. Arranging a lift could take as long as two to three days and the journey to Ali a minimum of four days and possibly as much as several times that period depending mainly on road and weather conditions. The journey is very arduous, and illegal beyond Aba without unobtainable Aliens' Travel Permits. The road rises above 5400m, with a considerable danger of altitude sickness; for that reason alone, to travel without a companion would be particularly dangerous.

On arrival at Ali (Shiquanhe), travellers are usually fined 300 yuan or so by the PSB and issued with an Aliens' Travel Permit for a fee of 30 to 50 yuan to go on to Lhasa or down to Nepal. In late 2000, one traveller reported that at Ali the "two very pleasant PSB female officers respond well to a courteous approach", perhaps continuing the tradition of Mr Li, for long the PSB representative, who was said to respond to, and be good company at, dinner invitations. From Ali to Darchen, the base for the kora circuit around Mt Kailash, is likely to take at least two days. It is an interesting fact, although of limited importance, that the county in which Ali is situated and the adjacent Burang county (which includes Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar) are both open areas, although surrounding counties are not.

It is unlikely that any travellers would succeed in travelling this route illegally without receiving assistance of a kind that could place their helpers at grave risk with the authorities.

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Entry to the T.A.R. from Nepal is the only alternative to entry through China. Entry through Nepal is inherently subject to more difficulty because entry to the T.A.R. coincides with an international crossing into China; entry through China is likely to involve fewer restrictions.

By air or overland from Katmandu

Travellers can visit Tibet from Nepal without complication if they join a package group tour whose operator obtains a T.T.B. permit and "group visa" for the tour  -   provided they stay with the group, do not overstay the duration of the "group visa", and return to Nepal. In other cases the "rules" are confusing, unpredictable and ever-changing.

A "group visa" is not entered in travellers' passports but is a separate sheet of paper issued in duplicate by the Chinese consulate in Katmandu, listing all members of the group. It usually allows a stay of 15 or 20 days. A "group" may be any number of travellers, and may be just one traveller. One or more travellers entering Tibet together with others may wish to have their own separate group visa so they are able to separate from the others. Obtaining a group visa requires at least two clear days in Katmandu.

Travellers who wish to overstay group visas, either by staying longer in the T.A.R. than their group visa allows, or by splitting from others sharing the same group visa, or by travelling on into other parts of China - all such travellers face confusion as to the "rules" and uncertainty as to the outcome. They will do well to heed the Australian joke about someone who asked an old swaggie how to get to a certain place, only to be given the reply, "If I was heading for there, I wouldn't be starting from here." If you are wanting to go to Tibet and don't want to be limited to a package tour, don't start from Nepal: enter through China. If you do wish to visit Nepal, enter Nepal on leaving Tibet: in particular, travelling by road from Lhasa to Nepal is a good way to see important parts of Tibet .

It used to be good advice for travellers wanting to overstay group visas that they obtain normal individual China visas (that is, in their passports) before entering Nepal - such visas being difficult or impossible to obtain in Nepal. Travellers could try to avoid cancellation of those visas in conjunction with the issue of group visas by arguing that they planned to travel on through China. In 2003 the rules changed, and travellers arriving in Lhasa by air faced a fine of USD125.00 for possessing normal individual visas in addition to group visas (and T.T.B. permits) - the same fine as imposed on some other travellers who reached Lhasa with normal individual visas (and T.T.B. permits) but no group visas. Some travellers have reported being charged a heavy fee for cancellation of normal individual visas in conjunction with issue of group visas in Katmandu, although in other cases no charge has been made for the cancellation.

Because of the frequent changes to the "rules" and inconsistency of practices, we have particular need to hear from travellers about their experiences.

Experiences and reports that contradict or are exceptions to what has been said above (and which should be treated with caution) include:

*    One tour operator in Katmandu reported in 2003 that a traveller entering the T.A.R. on a "group visa" can travel on, within the period of the visa, to any major Chinese airport otside the T.A.R., and on arrival get an extension of the visa. (Green Hill Tours & Treks (P) Ltd P.O. Box 5072, Katmandu, telephone 977 1 441 4803, 442 8326, fax 977 1 441 9985,,, now posted at; the emails give further information, including arrangements for payment, refunds etc.)

*    Another operator reports (March 2004) that he can obtain T.T.B. permits for travellers arriving in Katmandu with normal individual Chinese visas enabling them to fly to Lhasa on accompanied group package tours and without group visas; he says that this approach works because "there is a guide accompanying who has all the documents and is responsible for the tour". (Thupten Gyalpo, Managing Director, Milarepa Travels PLC, Katmandu, telephone 977-1-5521501, fax 997-1-5539379,

*    A report in 2003 said that it was possible in Katmandu for a holder of a normal individual Chinese visa to buy an air ticket to Lhasa without buying a tour package, but that an "endorsement fee" of USD$65 is charged at the Katmandu airport if the Chinese visa was issued outside Nepal.

It is possible that entry from Nepal will become easier in the future following a memorandum of understanding signed in August 2003 between government authorities of Nepal and the T.A.R., agreeing to simplify visa procedures.

Travellers from Katmandu to Lhasa often go by air in one direction and overland in the other. Overland travel is likely to involve nights at higher altitudes than Lhasa's 3600m. For the traveller who wishes to fly in one direction and travel overland in the other, it may be best to fly in the forward direction, from Katmandu to Lhasa, and to acclimatize there before and travel overland back to Katmandu.

Overland travel is by four-wheel-drive vehicles, usually Toyota Landcruisers. The border is crossed at Kodari, by the Friendship Bridge before the steep 8-kilometre climb to the first Tibetan town, Zhangmu (Dram, Kasa).

Flights from Katmandu to Lhasa are by Air China, on Tuesdays and Saturdays during the tourist season - at least from late April to October; a weekly flight is scheduled on Saturdays in November. The actual air fare included in group packages is USD228 one-way.

In August 2003 a memorandum of understanding was signed between the governments of Nepal and the T.A.R., agreeing to reduce airfares between Katmandu and Lhasa, to allow Nepalese airlines to land in Lhasa, and to allow mountain flights (presumably from Nepal) to the Mt Kailash region of western Tibet. Information about the implementation of these changes will be most welcome.

Overland from north-western Nepal

A different and expensive route is through north-western Nepal into western Tibet, although legal and practical requirements restrict it to organized group tours armed with special permits. Travellers fly from Katmandu to Nepalgunj in south-western Nepal, stay overnight, fly to Simikot in north-western Nepal, and trek for about six days to the border and the end of a jeep track leading to Purang (Taklakot) in Tibet, and thence to Lake Manasarovar and the Mount Kailash region of western Tibet.

Warning: This route is through parts of Nepal not controlled by the Nepal government. Reports were received in June 2002 of Maoist insurgents having threatened travellers and extracted large bribes for safe passage; clearly the potential of violence cannot be discounted.

New routes planned

In August 2003 a memorandum of understanding was signed between government authorities of Nepal and the T.A.R. (but still subject to ratification by the Beijing central government) to open two new border crossings as "transit points". Both will require road construction. It is likely that Nepal is showing new interest in new crossings to reduce the loss of business from the planned opening of the border between India (Sikkim) and Tibet.

One crossing is about 10km south-south-east of Kyrirong county town in Tibet, which is south of Saga on the southern road from Lhasa to western Tibet; from Katmandu it will be reached via Trisuli, Syabru Bensi and Rasuwa (one of two towns of that name in Nepal). The Kyirong valley is a region of great beauty that has long been tightly closed. Although announced as a new agreement, plans to open this crossing have been announced before, in particular in 2000. This route was one of the most important trade routes to Tibet before the Chinese invasion.

The other crossing is at Nangpa La, south-west of Tingri on the Lhasa-Katmandu road, about 35km north-north-west of Namche Bazaar in Nepal, 35km west of Mt Everest and 65km east of the existing Zhangmu-Kodari crossing.

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The border between India and China was closed rather tightly for decades after the Sino-Indian war of 1962, but this position is changing. In late June 2003 the governments of India and China agreed to open a trade route at the 4545-metre Nathu La (pass) between the Sikkim state of India (which, by implication, China acknowledged thereby for the first time as being part of India) and Tibet. Nathu La is about 50km from the capital of Sikkim, Gangtok. The governments designated Changgu in Sikkim and Renqingguan in Tibet as border trading posts. In accordance with that agreement, the border opened for restricted trade in July 2006.

Whether, when and if so how, this opening will extend to foreign tourists is unclear. It is perhaps likely that the Chinese authorities will wait until the Qinghai-Lhasa railway service is well bedded down and its implications clear following its inauguration in July 2006. Any further information will be most welcome.

Entry to Tibet from Sikkim would enable travellers interested in Tibetan culture to observe Tibetan communities in Sikkim and also visit the Yadong region of south-central Tibet (en route to Gyantse and Lhasa) - a region long off-limits to foreigners. The route to Lhasa would essentially follow that of the British expeditionary force of 1903-1904.

There have long been occasional reports that the route to western Tibet from Ladakh in India would be opened up, but no such development appears likely in the near future. The Indian pilgrim route that enters western Tibet by Lipu Lekh (pass) near Purang in Tibet is only open to Indian nationals under a special allocation scheme for pilgrimage to Mount Kailash. Tibet's southern borders with Bhutan and with India east of Bhutan are heavily guarded by the Chinese army, and any attempt to cross it would be perilous.

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Most independent travellers stay within a few hundred metres of the Barkhor Square in the part of Lhasa that still keeps some Tibetan characteristics.

In the past, four hotels have been favoured by most independent travellers - the Yak, Banak Shol and Kirey (all in Dekyi Shar Lam, or East Beijing Road) and the Snowlands (Mentsikhang Lam, near the north-west corner of the Barkhor Square); all of these hotels appear to be operated by Tibetans. In 1997, sections of the Yak and Snowlands were upgraded. At about that time the Pentoc hotel was opened (Mentsikhang Lam, north of the Snowlands but on the other side, said to be owned by a German and a Tibetan woman) and it has since become popular. The Tashi Targyal is a basic hotel just north of the Snowlands.

All of these hotels charge around •25 for a dorm bed. Doubles without bath may be in the range •55 to •80; in the new wing at the Yak a comfortable double with bath is around •260, at Snowlands and Tashi Targyal •180.

Low season rates, charged from 1st November until at least the end of March, are usually around a third or a half lower.

There are also several up-market hotels in the vicinity of the Barkhor Square, catering mostly for Chinese tourists. They include the Mandala on the Barkhor, and the Shangba La near the Pentoc.

Members of the more expensive organized tours - usually arranged from abroad - usually stay at the expensive Lhasa Hotel (formerly Holiday Inn) or Tibet Hotel, both located some three kilometres west of the main part of Lhasa which still retains some parts that are Tibetan in character. Staying in such hotels can isolate tourists from Tibet.

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Open and closed areas, and permits

A linked map shows and Appendix F lists counties that are open to foreigners without special permits. The main open region in the T.A.R. effectively stretches from Nagchu to Zhangmu near the Nepal border, and includes all counties in the Lhasa prefecture-level administrative district. This is a large region, offering vast potential for exploration.

Travellers are free to visit places in open areas by any means, including public bus, four-wheel-drive car hired with (and possibly from) a driver and without requirement for a guide, bicycle (available for hire, for example, at the Snowlands Hotel in Lhasa), foot or taxi - the last sometimes a cheap (if usually overlooked) alternative for a short trip from Lhasa.

In practice, some parts of the prefecture-level area of Lhasa have sometimes been closed, including Medro Gongkar. Travellers should not assume that local authorities will know, or care, which places have been declared open; it could be useful to carry a Chinese-language list such as the one in the "Yearbook of China Tourism" (see Appendix F), and perhaps also a Chinese-language extract from the legislation quoted in Section 4.

Travellers are sometimes allowed to pass through closed areas without a permit when it is continuous between open places, as in the case of Lhasa to Tsethang, or the direct route (i.e., without detours) from Lhasa to Zhangmu near the Nepal border.

It is likely in most cases that the Aliens' Travel Permits required for closed areas will be available in Lhasa only under tour packages arranged with tour operators, for tours by hired car (usually a Landcruiser) with both driver and guide. A.T.P's are issued by the police (PSB) permit office in Lhasa (a short distance west of Banak Shol Hotel) or the administrative centre of the prefecture concerned. It appears that only the Lhasa police are able to issue permits for places outside their own prefecture. For some places, it may sometimes be necessary to get a permit en route from the police in a prefectural town.

The police in Shigatse have sometimes issued individual permits for places in the Shigatse prefecture to persons without any arranged tour.

The Lhasa police will not issue Aliens' Travel Permits to some areas unless permits have been obtained (by the tour operator) from the army and from the Tourism Bureau; regions for which this requirement is likely include western Tibet, the Kongpo, and eastern Tibet. In such cases, a guide is always required.

It is vital to plan journeys with care so that permits are obtained at the outset for all places where they are needed and which travellers will wish to visit, including any detours.

Some areas, such as sensitive border territory and the overland route from Gyantse to India, are closed, and permits are not available.

Special restrictions can sometimes be placed quite unexpectedly if not capriciously on travel to particular areas. Sometimes, for example, travel to the Kailash region of western Tibet has been banned without advance notice, even for pre-booked tours, from before until well after the Saga Dawa (Full Moon) Festival.

Travel by public bus

Public bus services from Lhasa go to the nearby Drepung monastery, to Tsurphu and Ganden monasteries, to Medro Gongkar, to Gongkar (Lhasa airport), to Shigatse, to Tsethang (Nedong County), to Lhundrub, to Damzhung and to Nagchu (Naqu). The Tsethang service passes through areas that are technically closed but its destination is in an open area; the other services are confined to open areas. Travel by foreigners has generally been permitted on all of these services; in the case of travel between Lhasa and Shigatse, although generally allowed on large public buses, it has sometimes not been permitted on minibuses.

Travel by hired vehicle

Most long journeys in the T.A.R. are by hired vehicle, most from a base in Lhasa. Journeys from Lhasa can range from single days to several weeks. Travellers often place notices on noticeboards at hotels and restaurants in Lhasa seeking people to make up a group to go to a particular place. Unfortunately, the aspirations of most travellers are limited to a few well-known places, and it is often difficult to recruit companions to share the cost of journeys to other places, no matter how much those places might merit a visit. In such cases it may be useful to arrange beforehand to travel to Tibet with like-minded companions, or to arrange a meeting in Lhasa.

A few examples of car journeys from Lhasa that have proved worthwhile:

Routes through open areas:

Detour to Ganden monastery en route to Drigung monastery and to Terdrom nunnery for overnight; along upper Kyichu valley, to Reting monastery for overnight (with walk to Samtenling nunnery), visit Talung monastery on way back to Lhasa via Lhundrub. 3 days.

To NamTso for overnight (possible detour to Tsurphu monastery en route), through to Reting (with walk to Samtenling nunnery) for overnight, detour to Talung monastery before travelling down Kyichu valley to Terdrom nunnery for overnight, Drigung monastery and detour to Ganden monastery en route to Lhasa. 4 days.

An excellent day trip detouring to Ganden monastery en route to or from Yerpa.

Routes through closed areas:

To Samye and Yarlung valley: Lhasa via Tsethang to Yambulakhang, back to Tsethang for overnight, ferry to Samye monastery for overnight, visit to Mindroling and Gongkar monasteries en route back to Lhasa. 3 days.

Over Kamba La (pass) and past Yardrok YumTso (lake) to Nakartse, with short detour to Samding monastery, detour to Ralung monastery, overnight at Gyantse with visit to Pelkor Chode monastery and Gyantse Dzong (hilltop fort), short detour west of Gyantse to Tsechen monastery, detour to Shalu village and monastery, possible visit beyond Shigatse to Narthang monastery, overnight at Shigatse, visit Tashilhunpo monastery and perhaps Panchen Lama's palace south of it, return to Lhasa. 3 days.

Through Medro Gongkar to Basum Tso for overnight, to Bayi (possibly for overnight), visiting Lama Ling monastery about 30km beyond Bayi, travelling down TsangPo to Pe (if permits available), returning to Lhasa via Tsethang, with detours to Samye monastery (ferry) and Mindroling. About 7 days.

To western Tibet: Via Shigatse and Lhatse, north to Gegyai and Ali (by the "northern route"), south to Darchen and Mt Kailash, with four days for exploration, acclimatizing, and three-day, 52km circumambulation of Kailash, visit Chiu monastery on shore of Lake Manasarovar, back via the direct ("southern") route, say 16 days. Very worthwhile detour to Toling and Tsaparang (Guge kingdom ruins) adds, say, 3 days. Detour to Burang adds one or two days.

On trips to more remote regions, including western Tibet, it is necessary to carry petrol for long distances. A Landcruiser with a full complement of passengers needs to be accompanied by a truck to carry the petrol and supplies, and the truck may have a capacity for two passengers.

On such a trip, accommodation can be obtained most nights at truck stops, in the range 15 to 30 yuan a night, and food in the order of 25 yuan a day for each person. On a trip of this length it is difficult to avoid having to camp out on some nights; in western Tibet especially, that can be rather cold, even in the summer.

In Tibet vehicles cannot be hired without drivers; drivers are often Tibetans speaking little or no English. (International driving licences are not recognized in Tibet, and it is not practicable for foreign travellers to get Chinese licences). Hired cars are invariably four-wheel-drive, usually Landcruisers. A Landcruiser is permitted to carry only one person (together with the driver) in the front; three people, or four if packed very tightly indeed, can sit in the back. If there is a guide, it may be possible for him to sit behind the back seat, a position that most travellers would find very uncomfortable. Physically another passenger can easily fit in the front, and this is practically possible away from policed roads.

Some travellers may take an interest in the model of Landcruiser provided. They are sometimes very old. Model 62 was in production until about 1986 and remains very common, model 72 (mostly retired from medical use), model 80 and model 4500 followed, in that order.

It is also possible to hire buses of various sizes, mostly for day trips. In the past it was possible to hire trucks with canvas covers, but since about 1997 travel in the back of trucks appears to have been prohibited, at least in areas where permits are required, including western Tibet.

To most closed areas, travel for westerners is usually by vehicle hired with driver through a Lhasa tour operator in a package that includes the obtaining of permits (Aliens' Travel Permits, and in some cases military and other permits) and, where required by the authorities (as is usual), a registered guide in addition to the driver; drivers do not usually act as registered guides. Some guides may scarcely merit the term and have little information of interest to travellers; at worst, they may serve as little more than licensed minders. It is not usual for packages to include accommodation or meals.

For journeys to open areas, vehicle hire can be arranged with any independent tour operators that remain in Lhasa, or directly with drivers, who are often the owners of their vehicles. It may be possible to find drivers with their vehicles early in the evening near the far end of the square in front of the Jokhang temple in Lhasa, where they sometimes congregate after day-time parking restrictions end.

When hiring a vehicle, it is vital to draw up a contract, even if it is only a simple list of what the agreement covers, and get the tour operator to sign it. It is vital to make sure that the driver understands it as well, and preferably that he signs it. It is unlikely that the operator will ask for anything to be signed. The contract should include a statement of what is payable and when, and what it covers (vehicles, fuel, repairs, drivers and all driver accommodation and expenses, permits, guide, itinerary, duration of trip, discretion as to commencement and finishing times each day and stops during the day, and so on as agreed). On a longer trip, it should say what is to happen in the case of prolonged breakdown, and what discretion applies, for example, to short side trips. Even on a one-day trip it is wise to have a signed record of the arrangement, including especially the time of departure from the destination. Without contracts and a clear understanding of arrangements, drivers have often refused to take reasonable instructions, insisted on returning early, and so on. At least half the cost should not be payable until the tour ends.


Do not assume that a guide will be a guide. In some cases, "paid minder" would be a more accurate title. Travellers who wish their "guide" to speak any English, be of Tibetan nationality or be capable of being informative about places visited, even that the "guide" have visited those places before - such travellers may find it necessary to insist that he be so qualified, and obtain written contractual agreement to that end.

"To get rich is glorious": the F.I.T. monopoly on tours, and what to do about it

Since 2001, travellers who enter the T.A.R. with ticket-and-permit packages arranged at the point of departure (e.g., Chengdu, Kunming, Ge'ermo) have not been permitted to arrange tours to closed areas with any other agency than the F.I.T. (Foreign Independent Traveller) section of the Tibet Tourism Bureau. This is subject to the exception noted at the end of this section.

F.I.T. practices with vigour the aphorism coined by the late president of the All-China Bridge Association, Deng Xiao Ping: "To get rich is glorious." F.I.T's rates are typically extortionate, in 2006 quoted at around •2400 a day for vehicle, driver and compulsory guide - in the order of double the rate of three years before. Prices may be somewhat lower outside the peak tourist season.

The branch of F.I.T. at the Snowlands Hotel is at telephone 86 891 634 9239, fax 86 891 634 3854, email The Assistant Director, Samdrup ("Sam Dup") is at email, home telephone 86 891 632 1845.

Fortunately there are a number of ways to avoid being an F.I.T. extortionee and even, if you were rich in the first place, to retain some of your riches and associated glory.

Open areas of the T.A.R. (see the linked map) allow considerable scope for exploration (whether on foot, by public bus, or hired Landcruiser) particularly the Lhasa prefectural-level district. The F.I.T. monopoly does not, it appears, apply there.

Travellers can avoid the T.A.R. altogether or supplement it by visits to Tibetan territory outside the T.A.R. Such territory is extensive, Tibetan culture is often less damaged than in the T.A.R. (especially than in Lhasa), and travel is in most places unrestricted. The opportunities for travel outside the T.A.R. are little known and are under-rated. See Section 6, TRAVEL AND TIBET OUTSIDE THE TIBETAN AUTONOMOUS REGION

Travellers who enter the T.A.R. under ticket-and-permit packages arranged with a Lhasa agency can arrange tours to closed areas of the T.A.R. with the same agency - which need not be F.I.T. Provided there is at least one such traveller, other travellers (e.g., travellers who entered the T.A.R. on ticket-and-permit packages arranged with an operator in Chengdu or other point of departure) can join a tour. If travellers verify beforehand that the Lhasa agency concerned charges acceptable rates, they can make a worthwhile overall saving by entering the T.A.R. under a ticket-and-permit package arranged with that agent. This is particularly if several persons make the ticket-and-permit arrangement together, and so avoid what may be a high charge for the T.T.B. permit element of the package in the case of solo travellers. Particulars of one such Lhasa agency that has received good reports are at Appendix G.


Hitch hiking has sometimes been very successful, but sometimes very slow and difficult, particularly for illegal travel through closed areas. Most traffic consists of trucks. Chinese drivers will sometimes take hitch hikers in the cabin (for which they expect to be paid), although not usually in the back; Tibetan drivers seem not to be permitted to take hitch hikers at all. In some areas, most traffic consists of army trucks, which will often not give rides. As always, it is important to avoid placing Tibetans in peril with the authorities because they have given assistance.


Trekking in Tibet is possible on many scales, from short walks to treks of many days. Long treks can be arranged as expensive escorted packages, including provision of permits. They will often be undertaken independently, and if through closed areas illegally because without permits, in the not unreasonable hope that apprehension by the authorities is unlikely to occur off the beaten track.

If trekking and planning to hire yaks and porters, travellers should not assume that villagers will necessarily be co-operative and reasonable. In some cases (in particular in the Kharta region near Everest), travellers have had to pay for excessive numbers of porters, for much longer than they required them, only to find porters unwilling to walk more than a few hours each day.

Day walks can often be very rewarding, just heading off from the town where a traveller is staying, whether to a planned destination or not. Most of Tibet is treeless, so that it is possible to see the shape of the landscape and navigate visually over long distances.

Day walks from Lhasa offer a potential that is often overlooked. Examples are walks into the mountains north of the turn-off to Sera monastery - to Chubzang nunnery and Pawangka monastery, and with several hours to spare, from there to Garu nunnery; walks south of Lhasa; and walks to the villages between the highway and the Kyichu (river) east of Lhasa. A longer trek, perhaps a full day each way, is from Lhasa to Yerpa.

Travel by mountain bike

This specialist field is beyond the scope of these notes, except to observe that mountain biking is possible and that information is available from such sources as the book Tibet Overland (see Appendix A).

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By air

Services operate from Lhasa airport to Chengdu every day, three times a week to Xining and Xi'an, twice a week to Guangzhou, once or twice a week to Chongqing; to Katmandu they operate on Tuesdays and Saturdays during the tourist season (April to November) and on Saturdays in November. In Lhasa, tickets can be bought for cash from the airline office on the west side of Ngangra Lam (shown on maps also as Chingdrol Jang Lam, Nyangdren Lam - the street which further north forms the east side of the gardens behind the Potala). It is also usually straightforward to change bookings at that office.

Air tickets from (but probably not to) Lhasa can be bought in Australia, although it may be more expensive to buy them in Lhasa. One-way prices from Lhasa quoted by Air China in Melbourne are AUD$322 to Chengdu and AUD469 yuan to Kunming. In November 2002 the price of a one-way ticket to Chengdu at the Lhasa airline office was a relatively cheap 1270 yuan. It appears that discounting of fares from Lhasa does not occur.

When buying an air ticket in Lhasa or when booking a return-flight package to Lhasa in Chengdu, it may be possible to include the direct flight to Guangzhou for the return journey, and enjoy the advantage of the direct fare against the total of the Lhasa-Chengdu and Chengdu-Guangzhou fares.

Most but not all flights from Lhasa are in the morning. An airport bus leaves from behind the airline office at 6 a.m.(35 yuan) and there are several buses in the afternoon; it is important to check times.

If air tickets beyond Chengdu cannot be obtained in Lhasa, they can be bought at Chengdu airport.

Overland from Lhasa to Katmandu

Travel to the border is usually by four-wheel drive vehicle, arranged in the same way as an internal tour or as part of a group package. Itineraries often include side-trips to Gyantse, Sakya monastery, and the long detour to Rongbuk monastery and Everest Base Camp. Leaving Tibet this way can be a wonderful way to see important parts of the country. Travellers should ensure that any requirements for Aliens' Travel Permits are satisfied in Lhasa, taking careful account of any side-trips they may wish to take. It is likely that no permit will be required for a direct journey to the border, and it may therefore be possible to make a saving by bypassing F.I.T. .

Travellers should be careful to ensure at the outset that the route and side-trips meet their requirements and that any necessary permits are included.

At a checkpoint at Chay, not far past the turnoff to Rongbuk on the way to Everest Base Camp, a charge is made for entry of vehicles (400 yuan) and passengers (65 yuan each). If making this detour, it could be wise to negotiate inclusion of the vehicle charge at least, in the contract with the tour operator. The track beyond Rongbuk to the Base Camp can be very rough.

Exit procedures on leaving Tibet take place at Zhangmu, about 8 kilometres short of the border. Unless a tour contract states clearly to the contrary and is understood by the driver, he will expect his job to be complete when he drops his passengers at Zhangmu, or at best want extra payment to wait and take them the further 8 kilometres to the border after the exit procedures. It is wise for travellers to ensure that their contracts include a clear provision that the vehicles will take the passengers on to the border after exit procedures at Zhangmu have been completed, and to make sure the drivers understand that before leaving Lhasa.

The necessary Nepal visa may be obtained from the Nepal consulate in Lhasa (135 yuan for fifteen days, other prices for longer; Lonely Planet records an extraordinary report that 30-day visas cost 490 yuan and 60-day visas 270 yuan), but is usually obtainable at a visa office just over the Nepal border for a higher price in American currency only (USD30.00 in 1998); a passport-size photograph is needed.

Overland from Lhasa to Ge'ermo (Golmud)

Bus tickets can be bought without difficulty at the bus station south of the Norbulinka, at prices much lower than for the journey to Lhasa. Sleeper buses are much more comfortable than ordinary buses on this very long trip.

Four overnight trains leave Ge'ermo each day for Xining, three taking about 13 hours but the last taking about 22 hours. The line passes Koko Nor (Lake Qinghai) on its northern side. A sleeper bus service from Ge'ermo to Xining may be a little quicker, and runs on a good road through quite different country, further south. From Xining, many different routes through Tibetan areas in Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu provinces are possible. There are also sleeper buses from Ge'ermo to Dunhuang in Gansu Province, for the wonderful Mogao caves of ancient Buddhist art; and there are occasional buses from Ge'ermo to Huatogou (Youshashan) near the border of Xinjiang Province, beyond which transport may be scarce along the southern Silk Route leading, eventually, to Kashi (Kashgar).

Overland from the Tibetan Autonomous Region by other routes

The conditions are similar to those outlined above for entry to the T.A.R. overland from Sichuan, Yunnan, south-east Qinghai and Xinjiang Provinces. It is sometimes said to be easier to travel overland illegally from the T.A.R. than into the T.A.R.



This section is much shorter than the last, not because Tibet outside the T.A.R. is less important, but because the "rules" for travel are much more straightforward.

Remember that less than half of Tibet lies within the area China calls the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The rest China places in other provinces - Qinghai, Gansu, northern and eastern Sichuan, and north-western Yunnan. Extensive areas (see linked map and Appendix F) are open to foreign travellers, although usually less frequented by tourists than the part of Tibet near Lhasa. They offer an enormous range of interesting opportunities to an enterprising traveller. Travel to provincial capitals is free of the special difficulties besetting travel to Lhasa.

After several years when there were few changes to the list of open places, in January 1999 an official announcement was received that all of Garze (Kanze) Prefecture, which forms all of western Sichuan Province and is a vast Tibetan area, had been declared open. At about the same time the contiguous Muli Tibetan Autonomous County of southern Sichuan was opened, and the counties in north-west Yunnan Province. Since June 2001 all counties of Yushu (Jyekundo) Prefecture in southern Qinghai Province have been open. More recently Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County in Gansu Province north of Lanzhou has been opened.

It is now possible to travel by public bus from Lijiang in Yunnan province, north through Zhongdian, up to Xiangcheng in Sichuan province (a detour via Derong may be necessary if the main road is closed by landslides, although there is no bus service between Derong and Xiancheng), to Lithang and through to Sershul (Shiju) in north-western Sichuan, eventually even to Jyekundo (Yushu) and other parts of south-east Qinghai. Buses run every two days between Xiangcheng and Lithang and between Lithang and Kangding, and every three days between Kangding and Sershul. From Sershul to Xiwu in Qinghai there is no bus service, but passenger trucks most days. From Jyekundo there are several buses each day to Xining.

Muli (Mili) Tibetan Autonomous County in southern Sichuan province and contiguous with the Garze Prefecture is readily accessible by daily bus from Xichang (itself an overnight train from Chengdu); a bus, perhaps daily, runs from Muli county town to Wachang and Chabulang in the north of the county, although the road from the Wachang turnoff to Chabulang often becomes impassable after rain, particularly in the wet months from June to September. From Chabulang it may be possible, depending on the season, to travel on horseback into Daocheng county (Garze Prefecture) to the west, perhaps passing the legendary Konkaling peaks of the Yading Nature Reserve (described in a detailed account of his 1928 expedition by Joseph Rock in the National Geographic Magazine, July 1931, and see also the issue of January 1997), although reports suggest that bandits could be a difficulty in these remote parts. Recent maps show a planned major road connection from Chabulang into Daocheng county, no doubt part of the major tourism development planned for the region. In recent years Yading Nature Reserve has been opened to tourism, using the regular access route from Chengdu through Kangding, Litang and Daocheng; by that route, Daocheng is a long one-day bus ride from Kangding, and Yading a further five or six hours by jeep.

Garze Prefecture and Muli County are a region of breathtaking scenery. Tourism is in its infancy but offers a vital source of employment - particularly important following the cessation of most logging in 1998.

In areas declared open, it is often possible to travel extensively by public bus. Fares are low and accommodation cheap; other tourists are often entirely absent and (perhaps for that reason) local people more friendly. Possible routes are very many. Examples range from excursions of one or two days from Xining or Lanzhou to journeys of a week or more between one of those cities and Chengdu.

For areas not declared open, it may be that the Aliens' Travel Permits necessary for legal travel may only be obtainable in provincial centres (see Appendix F), and then be conditional on travellers being accompanied by a registered guide; this effectively means that transport by hired vehicle with driver is necessary.

Some travellers who have enquired about permits but not proceeded have found they have been harassed by authorities even while travelling in open areas. Travellers who choose illegal travel through closed areas may find it possible to evade authorities, but risk placing in danger anyone who helps with lifts or otherwise.

We need more information about availability of Aliens' Travel Permits for closed areas, where permits are issued, whether additional permits (military etc.) are required, what conditions are imposed (in particular, for travellers to be accompanied by a registered guide), and the consequences of travelling without permits. In general, the consequences of travelling without permits in closed areas outside the T.A.R. are sometimes no worse than an order by police to leave on the next available transport.

Police will often claim that areas are closed for the safety of travellers. In some cases that claim may well have substance: there is, in particular, a distinct danger of banditry in a few remote regions, notably some of the closed counties of the Golog Prefecture of Qinghai Province, where police presence and the usual control of possession of firearms seem to be compromised. Irrespective of legality, travel in small numbers or alone, especially hitch-hiking, in such regions could be dangerous.






A brief personal selection by the author of these notes:

A short but insightful 19-page essay about the status of Tibet by the scholarly Robbie Barnett is in The Tibetans, a Struggle for Survival (Virgin Books, 1998, ISBN 0944092659) - a bit out-of-date but an excellent starting-again point, and "compulsory reading".

French, Patrick : Tibet, Tibet - a Personal History of a Lost Land (Harper Collins Publishers, London, 2003, ISBN 0 00 716678 8). An excellent and judicious introduction to Tibet and its predicament.

Shakya, Tsering : The Dragon in the Land of Snows - a History of Modern Tibet since 1947 (Pimlico, London, 1999, ISBN 0 7126 6533 1). Authoritative account of recent history.

Goldstein, Melvyn and Beall, Cynthia : Nomads of Western Tibet - the Survival of a Way of Life (Serindia, London, 1989). An account by anthropologists who lived in a Tibetan nomad community.

Goldstein, Melvyn, and others : The struggle for Modern Tibet - the Autobiography of Tashi Tsering (Sharpe, New York & London, 1997, ISBN 1 56324 950 2). The life of a Tibetan born in 1929 who has lived in pre-occupation Tibet, in exile, and now again in Tibet, "working in the system".


Reports on the World Wide Web are sometimes unreliable or out of date, and should be treated with caution.

Printed air timetables are available from Air China offices in Australia twice a year (to late March and late October); unfortunately the inclusion of flights of other Chinese airlines has been discontinued; printed timetables are sometimes available from China Southern offices in Australia. Extensive information about air timetables is at a site of ticket-selling agency Fly China, although travellers should check information before relying on it.

Extensive train timetable information is at a site of tour operator China Highlights; the last of four search options, "Search Trains between two of all Stations", functions well.

A directory of links, including travel links, though unfortunately now somewhat out of date, operated by the publisher of the guidebook "Mapping the Tibetan World" is at Another set of links, with an emphasis on environmental issues in Tibet, is at

Lonely Planet Publications operates The Thorn Tree, an invaluable forum for exchange of traveller information, and travellers' letters on China.

A number of Web-sites by the author of these notes include accounts of travels in western Sichuan, Qinghai and Yunnan,    northern and south-western Sichuan,    Jiulong and Muli counties in south-western Sichuan,    far north-western Yunnan,    western Tibet,   and     a journey up the Mekong    in south-eastern Tibet.

A collection of photos of a train journey from Chengdu to Lhasa is considered by the writer of these notes to be rather good - although that could be because they were taken by his son!


Osada, Yukiyasu and others : Mapping the Tibetan World (Kotan Publishing, Reno, Nevada, 1st edition 2000, ISBN 0-9701716-0-9). A largely successful attempt to cover all Tibetan areas, not only in the P.R.C., but also in Nepal, India and Bhutan. An indispensable guide for the independent traveller, it includes much practical information not found elsewhere and a large number of excellent maps, including those of 126 towns. The Australian distributor is Eleanor Brasch Enterprises, P.O. Box 586, Artarmonn, NSW 2064, telephone 02 9419 8717, fax 02 9419 7930, email

Gyurme Dorje: Tibet Handbook with Bhutan (Footprint Handbooks, Bath, 3rd edition 2005, ISBN 1 903471 30 3). A guide to all Tibetan areas in the P.R.C. and also Bhutan. Emphasis on religion and mythology, and so a possible complement to Osada's book. Innumerable errors, especially as to distances. This edition contains much unrevised material from the previous one; useful information about bus timetables.

Harper, Damien & others: China (Lonely Planet Publications, Melbourne, 755g, 9th edition May 2005, ISBN 1 74059 687 0). Generally well-researched. Only a very brief section on T.A.R. and less on Tibetan regions of Sichuan and Yunnan than the same publisher's less up-to-date South-west China (see below).

Festa, L., editor: Frommer's China (Wiley Publishing, New Jersey, 690g, 2nd edition 2006, ISBN 0 7645 9743 4). A very limited revision of the first, 2004 edition. Don't be misled by the attribution of almost all the chapters to different authors: the text is mostly unchanged. Few will prefer this book to Lonely Planet China; most travellers to Tibet will want the greater depth of a specialist Tibet guidebook.

Leffman, David & others : China, the Rough Guide (The Rough Guides, London, 694g, 4th edition October 2005, ISBN 1843534797). The first two editions were excellent, but the last two, presented as revised editions, are little more than pretty-upped reprints of the second, with just a smattering of updated details here and there, a pretence of revision. This is a great pity, since despite its lighter weight the book contains substantially more text than Lonely Planet China and has a more extensive section on Tibet.


(Note that in most guidebooks the name "Tibet" means the T.A.R.).

Mayhew, Bradley and Kohn, Michael : Tibet (Lonely Planet Publications, Footscray, 6th edition, May 2005). Useful guide to the most-frequented areas, mostly in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Mainly a detailed revision of the 2002 edition, but adds sections on some Tibetan placese outside but close to the T.A.R., and on the "gateway cities" of Chengdu and Katmandu. An excellent publication, now graced with a commendation by the Dalai Lama.

Buckley, Michael : Tibet - the Bradt Travel Guide (Bradt Travel Guides, U.K., 2nd edition 2006, ISBN 1-84162-164-1). Excellent, readable introduction reflecting the author's experience of travel to Tibet over many years, includes some coverage of territory outside the T.A.R.

Chan, Victor : Tibet Handbook (Moon Publications, California, June 1994, ISBN 0-918373-90-5). Immensely detailed, with emphasis on long walking tours, including some of several weeks' duration in very remote places. Many errors, but contains much detailed information not available elsewhere. Detailed, though not always accurate, maps.

Batchelor, Stephen : The Tibet Guide - Central and Western Tibet, (Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2nd edition, 1998). A disappointingly incomplete revision of the well-regarded 1987 guide, with unrevised maps. Some valuable information about religious sites, but limited in geographical scope and omits important places even in the Lhasa district.

McCue, Gary : Trekking in Tibet. (Mountaineer Books, 2nd edition, October 1999). Highly regarded, with treks of a variety of standards. New edition has more information about Kham and Amdo. Includes information not found elsewhere for day walks from Lhasa to nearby monasteries.

McConnell, Kym : Tibet Overland, a Route Planning Guide for Mountain Bikers and Other Overlanders. (Trailblazer Publications, 2003, ISBN 1-873756-41-0). A rather patchy book that concentrates on the Lhasa district and the main routes to and from it, indispensable for the mountain biker but with information of interest to other travellers along these routes, as a supplement to a more comprehensive guidebook.

For detailed exploration of Lhasa an invaluable resource is Larsen, Knud and Sinding-Larsen, Andrew - The Lhasa Atlas: Traditional Tibetan Architecture and Townscape (Shambala Publications, 2001, ISBN 157062867X).

Although not presented as tourist guidebooks, mention must be made of Gruschke, Andreas: The Cultural Monuments of Tibet's Outer Provinces in five volumes, four of which have been published, including Kham: Volume 1, The T.A.R. Part of Kham (White Lotus Press, Bangkok, ISBN 974 4800 49 6). These are scholarly works, profusely illustrated, mainly about religious buildings and their history; coverage is by no means complete and is a bit patchy, but provides some information not available elsewhere. Prices are high unless bought from the publisher (whose prices ex publisher's shop are 1250 Thai Baht per volume, but 1750 Baht for Kham, Volume 2 - see below; )


Marshall Steven D. & Cooke, Susette : Tibet outside the T.A.R. (The Alliance for Research in Tibet, Washington, October 1997). This CD-ROM disc contains what amounts to a 2738-page book and is a formidable source of information about its subject, much of it of direct interest to the traveller. Available for USD15.00 money order (no credit cards!) including postage, from International Campaign for Tibet, 1825 K Street NW, Suite 520, Washington D.C. 20006, U.S.A.

Three volumes of the four published so far in Gruschke's Cultural Monuments (see above) are: Kham, Volume 2, The Qinghai Part of Kham (2004, ISBN 974 4800 61 5), Amdo, Volume 1, The Qinghai Part of Amdo (2001, ISBN 974 7534 52 9), and Amdo, Volume 2, The Gansu and Sichuan Parts of Amdo (2004, ISBN 974 7534 90 8). A further volume, of the Sichuan and Yunnan parts of Kham, is understood to be planned.

Mayhew, Bradley & others: South-west China (Lonely Planet Publications, Footscray, 2nd edition, January 2002). A useful guide and a worthwhile improvement on the first edition; includes Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces.

Stanish, Walter: Independent Travel in Yunnan. Contains some useful information but unfortunately is no longer being updated. "Iguide, Yunnan Province is under development and may serve as a replacement.

Roland, Dominique: Yunnan (Extra Image Co., Bangkok, November 2001, ISBN 974-88415-2-9). Adds some worthwhile information about north-west Yunnan not provided elsewhere.

See also Buckley, Michael : Tibet - the Bradt Travel Guide(details above), which includes coverage of some Tibetan regions outside the T.A.R. including, importantly, south-eastern Qinghai. is the site of the Kham Aid Organisation, based in the U.S. and engaged in a number of philanthropic works in western Sichuan. The site is linked to a number of useful pages giving travel information about western Sichuan. and include one traveller's accounts of his journeys by public transport in late 1999 and 2000 through parts of western Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.


Armington, Stan: Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya (Lonely Planet Publications, Footscray, 2001).




Many available maps are lamentably inaccurate for roads and place names. It is often best to use several maps, combining their different strengths.

For any detailed exploration, particularly outside the T.A.R., there will be no substitute for Chinese-language maps and atlases. One way in which travellers not literate in Chinese can make them useful is to add names in Roman characters for at least the main places, perhaps on enlarged photocopies of the originals.

An excellent map of China provides enlargement of individual sections, and is excellent for overall navigation.

Good sources of maps include Xinhua (official government) bookstores in many centres including all provincial capitals (in Chengdu, behind the Mao statue), and the huge Southwest China Book Centre (corner Shangdong Dajie and Zouma Jie, Chengdu), whose erratically variable stock may include specialist maps not found easily elsewhere.

Satellite images of Tibet and other maps, including On this Spot - Lhasa (see below) are linked to, an excellent site of an enterprise called Tibet Environment Watch. The satellite images are not useful for navigation, but provide an excellent overview of the Tibetan terrain. From the above link, click "Next" for more detailed images.

An excellent series of usable maps provided by the Tibet Map Institute can be found through an index page at,

China Tibet Tour Map (1:3 060 000 approx., Mapping Bureau of T.A.R. 1995) is the best well-known, single-sheet, road map of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Available in Lhasa and Chengdu.

On this Spot - Lhasa (various scales, International Campaign for Tibet, 2nd edition 2001, ISBN 1-879245-11-6). Indispensable, a great improvement on the 1st edition, and now perhaps the best English-language map of Lhasa. Contains highly sensitive political material; it could be advisable for travellers to carry only photo-copy extracts, selected with a view to avoiding difficulty with government authorities. USD5.95 plus USD2.50 postage and handling to Australia (subject to confirmation), credit cards accepted: see

Lhasa City (1:12500, with index, Amnye Machen Institute, 1995). Useful, expensive; much of the information is translated from a Chinese map available in Lhasa. Scale too small for the Barkhor area. Lacks descriptive material. Available for USD19.00, including postage, from Amnye Machen Institute, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala 176219, H.P., India. (No credit cards).

Xizang Zhizhiqu Dituce (T.A.R. Atlas) (2002, ISBN 7-5031-1769-9/K.618, 25 yuan) is a new Chinese-language atlas of Tibetan counties at various scales.

Qu Ban She (1997, China Map, ISBN 7-5031-1991-8/K-698, 480 yuan) covers the whole of China in unbound, Chinese-language topographic sheet maps at 1:1 000 000. These superb maps are available at some academic libraries in Australia.

Provincial sheet maps: China Map produces road maps for each province, folded in blue card covers, at scales mostly between 1:1 000 000 and 1:2 500 000 (7 yuan each). These may be the most comprehensive provincial road maps. For relatively detailed coverage it may be useful to use these maps together with the topographic maps to which the last paragraph refers.

These and other, often inferior, sheet maps in Chinese of individual Chinese provinces may be available from Xinhua bookshops in provincial capitals.

American Department of Defense aeronautical maps are very detailed and may be useful for trekking; reliable for land forms, unreliable for man-made works; place-names often works of imagination, and unrecognizable:

- Operational Navigation Charts (O.N.C's), 1:1 000 000. Map H.09 covers most of the T.A.R. from Shigatse west; map H.10 covers most of the T.A.R. east of Shigatse; G.08 covers most of Qinghai province; G.09 covers Tibetan parts of Gansu province.

- Tactical Pilotage Charts (T.P.C's), 1:500 000. Same grid and size as O.N.C's, each map covering one quarter of an O.N.C., but in greater detail (e.g. H9A, H9B, H9C, H9D, clockwise from top left).

- Joint Operational Graphics charts (J.O.G's), 1:250 000. The maps are not sold by the Department but if they can be obtained they can provide excellent topographical detail. They may occasionally turn up in public or academic libraries. The State Library of Victoria has a partial collection, though in disarray.

O.N.C's and T.P.C's can be ordered from : N.O.A.A. Distribution Division, N/ACC3, National Ocean Service, Riverdale, MD 20737-1199, U.S.A. (telephone orders 0011 1 301 436 8301, fax 0011 1 301 436 6829, email orders O.N.C's cost USD3.75 each and T.P.C's USD5.50 each including surface mail; charges to Mastercard or Visa card are accepted.

Chan's Tibet Handbook (see Appendix A) contains maps covering much of central Tibet and the south-west corner of Tibet at 1:500 000 in one-page sections. Their arrangement in the book is extraordinarily inept, but photocopies assembled together can produce useful maps, with information not found elsewhere. The book's plans (after Peter Aufschnaiter, 1940's) of central Lhasa (1:2500) and the Barkhor (1:720) are of more historical than current value.

Gyurme Dorje's Tibet Handbook with Bhutan (see Appendix A) contains full-page maps that are useful for roads in all Tibetan areas in the P.R.C. (although the insistence on using only Tibetan names is driven by other considerations than practicality) and an apparently reliable reference for county boundaries; the book's many small, diagrammatic, maps are often seriously misleading.

Sichuan sheng dituce (Sichuan Province Atlas)(2002, ISBN7-80544-660-1). 20 yuan. An excellent small atlas of Sichuan Province, in Chinese, and a considerable improvement on an earlier production of the same name.

Nelles Maps of China 2/Northern China, China 3/Central China and Himalaya are designed to look pretty without discernible regard for accuracy.

A linked map outlines Tibetan counties and identifies the ones that are declared open (see Appendixes E and F). Make sure the map is expanded to full size so as to become legible.




While planning your trip, for China and any other country you plan to visit take account of the "Travel Advisories" , provided by the Australian federal government.   (Note that there have been times when the "Advisory" for China has said that "Generally only travellers in organised tour groups are permitted to travel to the Tibetan region of China" even though independent travel, subject to requirements outlined above, has been permitted.)

As the occupying power, the Chinese government is obsessively sensitive to any communication by foreigners with Tibetans that may touch on China's control or any question of Tibetan independence. If that is suspected, the Tibetans are likely to be in much great danger than the foreigners. Any attempt by foreigners to convey letters or recorded tapes to or from Tibetans in Tibet is likely to be perilous.

The years since 1996 have seen a marked increase in the harshness of China's rule in Tibet. China has been vilifying the Dalai Lama and identifying him with subversion against the state. There have been occasions when tourists have been detained, searched or had recordings, notes and books confiscated. To minimize the prospect of such experiences, travellers are advised :

* Not to bring pictures of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, even as illustrations in books.

*Not to bring any books or other papers to Tibet that are political in nature.

*Not to bring any recorded video or audio tapes to Tibet that are political or connected in any way with the Dalai Lama.

*To realize that carrying any written or otherwise recorded material from a Tibetan for delivery outside Tibet may lead to confiscation and interrogation and, for the Tibetan contact, dire punishment.

*To be very careful about extensive contact with any Tibetan.

*To realize that it is unlawful for a tourist to sleep in a Tibetan's residence without official authorization.

*To realize that it is commonplace for neighbours to report to police when foreigners visit the home of a Tibetan.

*To realize that photographing or videotaping scenes which are not normally of interest to tourists may lead to surveillance and questioning.

*To be especially careful to avoid suspicion in any use of video or audio recorders.

Subject to what has been said, much of Tibet is relatively safe for travellers as far as violence and street crime are concerned. Women travellers in particular are sometimes concerned about their safety when travelling in unfamiliar countries, but there seems to be no ground for any special concern in the case of Tibet.

Some areas are an exception, and banditry can be a real danger. The closed counties of the Golog Prefecture of Qinghai in particular are a region, historically notorious for banditry, where the danger persists still.




Although these notes do not give medical advice, and travellers must make their own enquiries about the effects of high altitude, the following remarks may be useful.

Most of Tibet is high enough to produce some adverse reaction in most people. For the majority of people, the reaction will be a matter of discomfort, breathlessness, poor sleeping patterns or limited capacity for physical exertion. In some, more serious reactions can develop. These can be potentially life-threatening conditions that may only be relieved by moving to a lower altitude; travellers should inform themselves about the symptoms so that they can recognize them.

Adverse reaction to altitude is usually reduced if one acclimatizes by reaching high altitude over a period of at least a few days. For this reason, it is often supposed that driving to Lhasa is better than flying. But the altitudes where nights are spent while driving to Lhasa may be far in excess of Lhasa's 3600m. Roads blocked by landslides or otherwise may require travellers to exert themselves, carrying packs at high altitude, so increasing the likelihood of adverse reaction. Flying to Lhasa, acclimatizing there, and driving out may well be preferable.

On arrival by at high altitude, it is possible that no immediate effects of altitude will be felt. Nevertheless, it may be of great importance not to exceed the lowest level of physical exertion on the first day, and only increase exertion very gradually over the following days.

Most of western Tibet is at least 1000m higher than Lhasa, and is best only approached after several days acclimatizing at a lower altitude.




The Tibetan Autonomous Region and the following prefectures and counties in other provinces are designated "Tibetan autonomous", making a total area outlined in green on the linked map. Make sure the map is expanded to full size so as to become legible. (In the following table, Tibetan names are given in square brackets.)

In province

Tibetan autonomous areas


The whole province consists of Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures, with the exception of: Xining city and attached Datong County; Haidong Prefecture (south and east of Xining, containing important Tibetan monasteries and settlements). Within Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures, Menyuan Autonomous Hui County (Haibei [Tsochang] Prefecture) and Henan Autonomous Mongol County (Huangnan [Malho] Prefecture) are autonomous to non-Tibetan ethnic groups. Note that Haixi [Tsonub] Prefecture is classed as a Mongol-Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and only Tianjun County has a substantial Tibetan population.


Prefecture: Gannan [Kanlho].
County: Tianzhu [Pari] in Wuwei Prefecture.


Prefectures: Aba [Ngaba]; Garze [Kanze].
County: Muli, in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture.


Prefecture : Deqen [Dechen].





(See Section 4 above, Visas and Access)

The following extracts information from lists published on the Web by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pinyin (English letters) and in Chinese. The Pinyin list is dated 20.viii.03 and the Chinese list 17.vii.01; despite that difference the lists appear to be the same.

The linked map includes the latest known additions to the open list. Make sure the map is expanded to full size so as to become legible.

For all practical purposes, while they are enforced, the changes to de facto regulations outlined in section 5 above take precedence over the open status of the relevant counties in the T.A.R.

Firstly, an overview :

In the T.A.R.: An almost continuous stretch from Nagchu, past NamTso (lake) to Gyantse and Shigatse, including all counties near Lhasa; Ali (Shiquanhe) to Mt Kailash in western Tibet; two counties on the lower Tsangpo; Chamdo city in the east; and the area around Zhangmu on the Nepal border.

In southern and eastern Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan Provinces: Most counties, the main exceptions being: a group of three counties in Gansu, a group of six counties straddling the Qinghai-Sichuan border, and scattered counties elsewhere, including Guinan County in Qinghai Province.

All counties of Dechen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Lijiang Prefecture and NuJiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, north-west Yunnan Province.

Most of the T.A.R. outside the Lhasa district, and scattered counties elsewhere.

The following table lists places declared open (cities where so stated, and otherwise counties) in the prefectures that are listed; the list (excepting recent additions) is summarized in the linked map. Make sure the map is expanded to full size so as to become legible.

For some listed prefectures, counties not declared open have been isted as well, but in small type in square brackets. ("Autonomous Prefecture" is abbreviated to "A.P."). Changes may have occurred. The list includes some non-Tibetan areas which are close to Tibetan areas.

"##" indicates counties newly opened since about 2000.

TIBETAN AUTONOMOUS REGION (provincial capital Lhasa)
Lhasa city district All counties open - i.e., Lhasa City, Lundrub (Lhunzhub), Damshung (Damxung), Medro Gongkar (Maizhokunggar), Taktse (Dagze), Chusul (Quxui), Nyemo, Tolung Dechen (Doilungdeqen)
In Nagqu (Nagchu) Pref. Nagchu (Nagqu)
In Xigatse (Shigatse) Prefecture Shigatse (Xigatse), Gyantse (Jiangzi), Lhatse##, Tingre##, Nyalam (includes Zhangmu)
In Shannan (Lhoka) Prefecture Nedong (the county that includes Tsethang town)
In Nyangtri (Linzhi) Prefecture Nyangtri (Nyingchi, Linzhi), Menling (Mainling)
In Ngari Prefecture Senge TsangPo (Gar), Burang
In Chamdo Prefecture Chamdo (Qamdo)


QINGHAI PROVINCE (provincial capital Xining)
In Xining City district Xining City **
In Haidong Prefecture

Ping'an, Ledu, Hualong Hui Autonomous, Xunhua Salar Autonomous, Huangzhong, Minhe##
[Huzhu Tu Autonomous and Huangyuan are NOT LISTED AS OPEN ]

In Haibei Tibetan A.P. Gangca (Bird Island/Niaodao)
[Menyuan Hui Autonomous, Haiyan, Qilian are CLOSED ]
In Huangnan Tibetan A.P. All counties open
In Hainan Tibetan A.P. Gonghe, Guide, Tongde and Xinghai
[Guinan is CLOSED]
In Golog Tibetan A.P. Maqen, Jigzi (Jiuzhi), Madoi
[Gade, Baima, Darlag are CLOSED]
In Yushu Tibetan A.P. All counties open (all counties## except Yushu opened recently)
In Haixi Mongol-Tibetan A.P. Golmud city (Gormo, Ge'ermo), Ulan, Dulan
[Tianjun is CLOSED]


GANSU PROVINCE (provincial capital Lanzhou)
In Lanzhou City district Lanzhou City **
In Dingxi Prefecture Tongwei, Longxi, Weiyuan
[Dinxi, Huining, Jingyuan, Lintao are CLOSED ]
In Wudu Prefecture All counties open
In Gannan Tibetan A.P. Xiahe, Maqu, Zhugqu (Zhouqu), Tewo (Diebu)
[Lintan, Jone, Luqu are CLOSED]
In Linxia Hui A.P. Linxia city, Yongjing, Jishishan Bao'an-Dongxiang-Salar Autonomous##, Guanghe##, Hezheng##
[Donxiang and Kangle are CLOSED ]
In Wuwei Prefecture Wuwei city, Minqin, Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous##
[Jingtai, Gulang and Yongchang are CLOSED ]


SICHUAN PROVINCE (provincial capital Chengdu)i
In Chengdu City district Chengdu City **
In Ya'an Prefecture Ya'an city, Lushan, Mingshan, Tianquan, Baoxing, Hanyuan##, Shimian##
[Yingjing is NOT LISTED AS OPEN]
In Aba Tibetan A.P. Barkam (Maerkang), Hongyuan, Zoige (Ruoergai), Nanping, Songpan, Maowen Qiang Autonomous, Wenchuan, Lixian, Xiaojin
[Heishui, Jinchuan, Zamtang, Aba are CLOSED ]
In Garze Tibetan A.P. All counties open
[BUT note that SerT.A.R. (Seda) county, shown as open in the cited list, may be closed effectively]
In Liangshan Yi A.P. All counties open (including 8 counties## opened recently)


YUNNAN PROVINCE (provincial capital Kunming)
In Lijiang Prefecture All counties open
In Nujiang Lisu A.P. All counties open
In Deqen (Deqin) Tibetan A.P. All counties open

** These cities are prefecture-level local-government districts, and in addition to the urban areas of the same name include a number of counties. It seems that the areas denoted as open are the whole of the prefecture-level local-government districts.




(Mr David Migmar, Inner Mandala Hotel, Tibet Chamdo Travel, Barkhor South Street #31, Lhasa 850000, T.A.R., China;
telephone 86 1390 891 5618, fax 86 891 633 3563, email
All amounts are in Chinese yuan (CNY). They are subject to change without notice, and may have changed before you read this; all amounts should therefore be verified with the operator.


Arrangements should be made well in advance, including faxing copies of passports and visas to the above fax number.

Payment is made:

For air ticket and service fee: to local representative of Tibet Chamdo Travel on receipt of ticket and permit at point of departure; and

For T.T.B. permit: to Tibet Chamdo Travel on arrival in Tibet.

Alternatively, payment can be made in advance to the operator's account at the Lhasa branch of the Bank of China.

All prices in the following table are per person. Note that T.T.B. permit fee for entry to T.A.R. includes transfer from Gongkar Airport to Lhasa. Packages do not include airport transfer at point of departure.

  From city,
     Persons in group
  T.T.B. permit   Air ticket, one way
  Service fee

     1     person
     2-4  persons
     5+   persons





     1     person
     2-4  persons
     5+   persons





     1     person
     2-4  persons
     5+   persons





     1     person
     2-4  persons
     5+   persons






The following table lists examples only. The prices quoted only apply where at least one traveller in a vehicle or convoy has entered the T.A.R. under T.T.B. permits arranged by Tibet Chamdo Travel. Where one or more travellers have entered the T.A.R. under T.T.B. permits arranged by Tibet Chamdo Travel, they can be accompanied by travellers who have entered the T.A.R. otherwise.

Overnight stops are indicated by asterisks (*). These and all other details of itineraries are indicative only, and subject to final negotiation with the operator.

Where having a guide is not compulsory but travellers choose to require one, an additional •200 per day is charged, including an allowance of one extra day for return in the case of one-way trips to Zhangmu or the Nepal border.

Where a guide is required, a second Landcruiser could accompany the first at extra cost, with one guide for both, so allowing a total of seven passengers.

In earlier times it was necessary to carry all petrol required in western Tibet, and Landcruisers to western Tibet were often accompanied by trucks for that purpose. It is now possible (though at high cost) to buy petrol in western Tibet, and so Tibet Chamdo Travel does not use trucks for transport of fuel.


  Days   Max. passengers
  A.T.P. required?
  Guide required?
  Cost per vehicle

  NamTso* return






  Tsethang, Chongye, Yambulakhang, Tsethang*, Samye*,
   Mindroling, return Lhasa






  Drigung Til, Terdrom Ani Gonpa*, along Kyichu to Reting*,
  Taklung and return Lhasa






  Drigung Til, Terdrom Ani Gonpa*, along Kyichu to Reting*,
  NamTso*, YangbachenGonpa, Tsurphu and return Lhasa






  BasumTso*, Bayi*, Lamaling gonpa, (night* at place
  to be determined), Gyatsa*, Samye*, Mindroling, return Lhasa






  Zhangmu (near Nepal border) direct (one way)






  Zhangmu and on to Nepal border (Friendship Bridge)
  direct (one way)






  Gyantse, Shigatse*, Sakya*, Tingri*, Everest Base Camp,
  Tingri*, Zhangmu, Nepal border (Friendship Bridge) (one way)






  Gyantse, Shigatse*, Sangsang*, Tsochen*, Gertse*, Gegyi*,
   Gar (Ali)*, Tholing*, Tsaparang, Tholing*, Darchen (Mt
   Kailash***** - 5 nights), Lake Manasarovar (Chiu Gompa),
   Paryang*, Saga, Sangsang*, Shigatse* (or to Nepal border)





    Toyota 62series:
    Toyota 45 series:

  Gyantse, Shigatse*, Sangsang*, Paryang*, Darchen (Mt
   Kailash**** - 4 nights), Lake Manasarova (Chiu Gompa),
   Paryang*, Saga, Sangsang*, Shigatse* (or to Nepal Border)





    Toyota 62series:
    Toyota 45 series:




The following fares do not include the cost of the Tibet Tourism Bureau permit for entry to the T.A.R. and do not include any commission (typically in the order of 100 yuan) that may be charged by travel agents for buying train tickets. Hard sleeper fares for middle and top berths and soft sleeper fares for upper berths are expected to be a little lower than the fares listed for bottom berths.

Distance (km)
Hard Seat Price
Hard Sleeper (Bottom Berth) Price
Soft Sleeper (Bottom Berth) Price
Beijing West-Lhasa
389 yuan (US$54)
813 yuan (US$108)
 1,262 yuan (US$164)
331 yuan (US$47)
712 yuan (US$95)
 1,104 yuan (US$144)
355 yuan (US$50)
754 yuan (US$100) 
1,168 yuan (US$150)
242 yuan (US$36) 
552 yuan (US$75)
854 yuan (US$1113)
226 yuan (US$34) 
523 yuan(US$71)
810 yuan (US$107)





The information we need includes:

* Above all, corrections to any information in these notes that is wrong or out of date.

* All practical details about costs, accommodation, transport schedules.

* Any information about China visas, including: available duration of visas at different consulates, costs, extensions.

* Information about permits - where they are necessary and where not, where and how they were obtained, what conditions they imposed.

* Information about any routes to or inside Tibet not covered in these notes.

* Anything else of a practical nature that could help travellers in the future.

Please convey all   FEED-BACK   or   CORRECTIONS   to:

        Tony Williams,
        35 Stanley St.
        Victoria , Australia   3105

        Telephone 03 9850 3200 or 04 1048 2019 mobile (613 9850 3200 or 614 1048 2019 from overseas)


Please give your TELEPHONE NUMBER and STREET ADDRESS if emailing writing to us.

Partial revision April-July 2006, but includes some older information.
© All content copyright Tony Williams 2008.   i8gtraveltb.htm


Some of the best sources of information about travel to Lhasa and the Tibetan "Autonomous" Region are:

Lonely Planet Tibet (current edition 2008), supplemented by current information from such sources as:

Lonely Planet Thorn Tree, North-east Asia section. This is a forum for exchange of information between travellers.

A major contributor to the Thorn Tree of information about travel to Tibet is one Losang, apparently an expatriate, with extensive experience of travelling in Tibet. He operates a tour business from Xining, Travel Connections. The Web page provides useful information about current restrictions and permits.