By Overland

There are four highways into Tibet, roughly corresponding to the cardinal directions:

North: The road from Golmud (Ch:Ge’ermu) is the easiest legal land route at present.  The landscape is beautiful but difficult to appreciate after the long rough ride.

It’s possible to travel this way by hitch-hiking on trucks if you are well prepared (camping equipment, food and water for a day).  Expect to spend a few days.  There are police checkpoints on the way but the only one that is a problem is the one 30 km or so out of Golmud.  If you walk around it and a few km beyond you should be able to get a ride without too much of a problem.  There are plenty of places to eat on the way but be prepared to get stuck in the middle of nowhere.  There are also are places to sleep ranging from truck stop brothels to comfortable hotels, however these should be avoided as you’re likely to get picked up by the police.

East: There is no legal way to travel this road (except as part of an expensive organized tour; see Overland to Tibet) and the security is tighter than from the north.  Travelers do get through this way, but for people who are obviously not northeast Asians it’s difficult.

West: From Kashgar (Ch:Kashi) much of the way is technically off limits.  However there is a steady stream of hardy travelers coming this way, usually hitching rides on trucks.  The road is totally unpaved for over a thousand kilometers with villages and water few and far between.  The main advantage of this way is that it passes by Mount Kailash and through a beautiful, very remote region inhabited by nomads.  You should be very well prepared to travel this way and take everything you would need for independent trekking: camping equipment suitable for freezing temperatures even in summer, a good tent and at least a few days of food (there are a few truck-stop places on the way but not always when you want them).  Expect the trip to take two weeks or more.  From Kashgar it’s much farther to go to Lhasa via Urumqi and Golmud but the better transport (trains and good paved highways) make it no more time consuming to travel this way.  There are many interesting things for the tourist to see on the way and it is worth considering traveling this way instead of via Mount Kailash.

South: From Nepal the international border makes any sort of breaking of the rules impossible, so the only option is to book a tour with a travel agent in Katmandu.  In addition, as of 2007, you need a group visa for China itself to cross the border into Tibet, so don’t bother applying before you get to Katmandu.  The drive from Katmandu to Lhasa takes five days and is very rough, but pretty.

Southeast: After 44 years of closure, the Nathu La pass to Sikkim, India — a part of the historic Silk Road — opened again in July 2006.  At time of writing, the border is not yet open to foreign tourists, but this is expected to change some time in the future and there are plans for a Gangtok-Lhasa bus service.

Back to How to Get There