Traveling to Alpine eastern Tibet

Yes, back again of another great trip to Tibet in January 2018. It was my 12th trip to Tibet (in the sense of TAR – the Tibetan Autonomous Region). And I saw many things – regions, monasteries, roads to travel etc. – that were new for me. Let me take you by the hand and tell you something about my recent travel. At the end I will give my travel itinerary. As on my other travels to China and Tibet, I traveled as a solo traveler. Where in my text I refer to “we” I mean me and my Tibetan guide and driver.


As usual I flew from Holland to Chengdu and spent a night there at Holly’s Hostel in the Tibetan quarter of Chengdu. When I arrived at the reception of my hostel they immediately recognized me and gave me the permit for Tibet. This permit was sent a few weeks before by mail to my hostel. And I needed it to be able to board my flight to Lhasa and travel around in Tibet.

In Chengdu it was blue sky and nice weather. This doesn’t happen often in Chengdu (mostly there is a lot of smog there) and certainly not in January. I had a big part of the afternoon to do some sightseeing in the neighborhood of my hostel. I went to Jinli Street, what is a new “ancient” pedestrian street with a lot of shops and restaurants. It always attracts a lot of Chinese visitors. After dinner I went to bed early because I had to fly to Lhasa very early the next morning.


My flight to Lhasa was at 6:20 hours and already at four o’clock the car was at my hostel to take me to the airport. At the airport everything went very smoothly. New was that you had to check yourself in at a machine and this way you got your boarding card. But you still had to check in your baggage at a counter. And there were long rows before the counters. So this took some time. An advantage of my very early flight was, that I arrived at Lhasa Gongkar Airport at already 9:00 hours. So I had almost a whole first day in Tibet. In a small local restaurant directly near the airport I had my first noodle soup and sweet tea as a breakfast. Delicious! The first day at Lhasa consisted further of relaxing in a very nice teahouse / restaurant, exchanging money, buying a Chinese simcard and walking my first kora around the most holy temple in the ancient center of Lhasa, the Jokhang Temple. And again there were so many pilgrims in Lhasa and so many pilgrims walking the kora around the Jokhang. It felt so good to be there again. And to my surprise – coincidence or not – during walking the kora I saw a mother and her two daughters prostrating. It reminded me on my last day in Lhasa a year ago (January 2017). I looked the picture of last year up on my website. And yes, it were the same mother with her two daughters. Only last year the daughters weren’t prostrating yet but this year they did.

The next two days I spent at Lhasa and by doing so allowing my body to get used to the altitude. Lhasa is at an altitude of 3,660 meters and it’s not wise to go immediately traveling around in Tibet. Because that way you get right away to higher altitudes (than Lhasa). I also like to mention I always take the medication Diamox as a precaution because it helps your body to get acclimatized to the altitude. I start taking it one day before traveling to Lhasa and stop taking it after three days in Lhasa. Then I don’t need it anymore. These next two days in Lhasa I visited the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple and the monasteries Drepung, Netchung and Sera. I have visited these places already many times but keep enjoying them. And there were also some new experiences there for me. In front of the great assembly hall at Drepung, the monks were debating. I never saw debating there. And also in the court yard of the Jokhang Temple the monks were debating. Also new for me.

Starting my round trip in Tibet

After three days in Tibet my round trip started. First stop was Ganden Monastery. Beautiful located at at the top of Wangbur Mountain, I always enjoy visiting Ganden. Ganden is one of the six big, important monasteries of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism (together with Drepung, Sera at Lhasa, Tashilhunpo at Shigatse, Labrang at Xiahe and Kumbum near Xining).

After Ganden we drove to the home village of my guide and I visited his family house there. I was very welcome and we had lunch there. And then it went on to Tidrum Nunnery. Last year I was at Tidrum Nunnery but at that time they were totally rebuilding the Assembly Hall and that’s why I didn’t go down and visit the nunnery at that time. I only took a picture from above (Tidrum is located at the end of a gorge). But this year the Assembly Hall was rebuild although the inside still had to be decorated. We spent the night at Tidrum in a basic but clean guesthouse. No sanitary facilities there, only a very basic and not clean squat toilet (a hole in the ground) in a small building behind the guesthouse. And of course no heating in the room. But it was fine and I enjoyed my stay at Tidrum. That night at a little restaurant in Tidrum, when we were having dinner, a monk came in and I saw him getting some kataghs (traditional white Tibetan scarfs used for welcoming and used in ceremonies). And next he was hanging four kataghs around my neck. I was so surprised. And my guide told me this monk was a high ranking monk of Drigung Til Monastery. I felt overwhelmed.

Eastern Tibet

An important part of the itinerary of this travel in Tibet was going to eastern Tibet. Five years ago I already had been two times to eastern Tibet, but at that time my travel didn’t went further than the city of Nyingchi (also Nyingtri or Linzhi). This time the travel would bring me further east to the town of Bome (Pome) and on to Ranwu Lake. The travel to Nyingchi went fast this time because since last year a highway from Lhasa to this city was opened. I must say I missed the old road, because it was more beautiful and runs through Tibetan villages and towns. So there is more to see during the ride. But the highway was okay because the goal was going further east in Tibet. I was supposed to visit Basum Tso Lake on the way to Nyingchi. But at the entrance of the park it was said that at the moment foreign visitors were not allowed to visit Basum Tso because of security reasons. Something to do with dangerous wild animals (like bears) and foreign visitors that went lost in the park. Well, what to say. It’s strange that Chinese visitors were allowed in the park. But I had been at Basum Tso two times before, so I wasn’t that disappointed.

After spending the night in Nyingchi we went further east on a small provincial road, going over the Serkyam La or Sejila Mountain Pass (4,728 meter). It was a bit clouded that morning and there was some snow on the mountains surrounding the pass. The high mountaintops were in the clouds and that was the reason I couldn’t see the Namcha Bawa. This mountain is the 28th highest mountain in the world (7,782 meters). But on the way back the skies were totally blue and I had a great view of this mountain. We stopped for lunch at a little town, on google maps called Nage, which is en newly constructed town. Construction work is still going on. It think it will be nice when all construction is finished because it’s built in the local style. It reminded me a bit of the buildings in Bhutan.

The ride to the town of Bome went through a gorge with a river, woods and white mountains with glaciers. This day it was still cloudy but on the way back a few days later, the sky was blue. The landscape was gorgeous and there is some resemblance with the winter alpine landscape in Europe.

We stayed in the town of Bome for two nights. Of course I visited the monastery at Bome, which was newly constructed and they were busy painting the gompa.

And from Bome we made a day trip to Ranwu Lake. Ranwu Lake is situated in Chamdo Prefecture. This prefecture is closed for foreign visitors since the year 2008. Only Ranwu Lake can be visited, of course with a special permit. Ranwu Lake was so beautiful. It was frozen and surrounded by white mountain tops.

After spending two nights in Bome, we drove the same road back to Nyingchi. But this time the sky was totally blue and I had a great view on the Namcha Bawa mountain from the Sejila Mountain Pass.

From Nyingchi to Tsedang

When we arrived back in Nyingchi we took the southern road to the city of Tsedang. On this route we spent a night in the town of Nanxiang. As soon as we drove past Nyingchi the landscape changed. No more white mountains, no more woods. We drove through the valley of the Yarlung Tsangpo River and the mountains and the land were barren. But the landscape was nonetheless beautiful with all his colors. On some spots on the route the Yarlung Tsangpo went through a small gorge. I had not done this route before, so it was new to me. And there were some surprises for me. The first one was that in this area they celebrated Farmers New Year (the Tibetan New Year Losar was still some time away as it is celebrated on February 16th). I visited a celebrating family at the courtyard of their house. I was welcome, got from three people khatags and was given beer to drink on the New Year. Now I don’t like beer at all but I took some sips. Later at a stupa next to the road we saw ladies celebrating the New Year. We stopped and I went to them. They were singing and cheering with beer. I again was given beer to drink with them. The other suprise was that on this route I saw wild monkeys (Tibetan macaques).

Tsedang, Samye, Gyantse and Shigatse

After a night at the city of Tsedang and visiting the Tandruk Temple there (in the temple was a beautiful new three dimensional mandala) it went to Samye. Samye is special because in this very small town you find the first build and there for the oldest monastery in Tibet (from the year 779). I of course visited the monastery but I also climbed Hepori Hill, from where you have a great arial view on Samye.

The next day it went on to Gyantse. The normal road leads you over the famous Kamba La Pass with the great view on Yamdrok Tso Lake and snow mountains. But I had done this route already eleven times. And there was an alternative. We turned away from the regular road and took another pass. It was a very small but paved road. We saw little villages on the way before we went to this high pass. On the pass you don’t have the great view on Lake Yamdrok Tso but when we drove down we saw the lake. And down we came to the shore of the lake which we followed till finally we reached the normal road to Gyantse. Nice was that we saw wild life on this of the beaten path. Near the town of Nargartse and before having lunch in that town I visited Samding Monastery. After lunch we drove further to the town Gyantse.

In Gyantse I climbed a hill with my guide (very steep and slippery, I still thank my guide for his help to me) but it gave a great view over the city with it’s Pelkor Chöde Monastery and Kumbum (stupa). Of course I visited this monastery. Hidden directly behind the hills of Gyantse lies Rabse Nunnery. It’s a lovely little Nunnery. The nuns were making tormas for the coming Tibetan New Year (Losar). Tormas are figures made mostly of flour and butter used in rituals or as offerings in Tibetan Buddhism. Shigatse is famous for it’s big Tashilhunpo Monastery. Visiting this monastery was on the itinerary. And I also walked the kora around this monastery together with a lot of Tibetan pilgrims. In Shigatse I had a very comfortable hotel, so it was also a bit relaxing in Shigatse, drinking tea, reading, having nice dinners.

Last days in Lhasa

Arriving back from Shigatse in Lhasa left me with two more days in Lhasa. But at the evening of my returning to Lhasa I walked again the kora around the Jokhang Temple, but now in the dark. Despite the darkness there were still many pilgrims doing the kora and also prostrating. The light of the lamps made it so beautiful and atmospheric. The first remaining day in Lhasa we went to three, for me unknown monasteries in the mountains at the outskirts of Lhasa. These monasteries were Kytsang (Keutsang) hermitage, Pulchok (Purbuchok) hermitage and Nakhon Thon (Negodong) Nunnery. But before going to Kytsang we first went higher up the mountain on a small dirt road to a view point where we could look out over Lhasa. And we saw the big Sera Monastery lying right beneath us. The entrance door of Kytsang Monastery was closed but after knocking it was opened and we were let in. A monk showed us all the chapels of the monastery (unlocking all the doors) and gave explanations. At the end we drank some sweet tea with him at the kitchen of the monastery. Also at Pulchok we were shown around through all chapels, but this time by a young boy who studied there to become a monk. Nakhon Thon was a surprisingly big and a newly rebuild nunnery. There were a lot of pilgrims visiting this nunnery. That afternoon in Lhasa I walked by myself to Chakpori Hill with it’s religious rock paintings and walked around the Potala Palace.

The last day I made a day trip to the Drak Yerpa Meditation Caves about 16 km northeast of Lhasa on the northern bank of the Kyichu River. Also here were many pilgrims. It was a great conclusion of my travel. The afternoon I spent with my guide and driver in a nice teahouse. And this last evening I had my goodbye dinner. Like with my welcome dinner we went to the area behind Barkhor Supermarket where you find many very nice (new built) restaurants, where you can have dinner with entertainment.

Leaving Tibet

The next day at 8:00 hours it went of to the airport. It’s less then an hour driving from Lhasa to the airport. But there was a surprise to me. I expected to fly in about 2 hours to Chengdu. But I didn’t have a direct flight. At the gate at airport I was the names Yushu / Chengdu. And yes, I had a stop at the airport of Yushu. So it took about 4,5 hours to get to Chengdu. This was not a bad thing because the weather in Chengdu was rainy and cold. No weather to explore anything at Chengdu. It was a clear message that the next day I would fly to cold and rainy Holland.

More pictures

More pictures of this travel will follow later this year on albums in the portfolio section on my website. I still have work to do on the pictures of my Yunnan travel in October 2017. These pictures will be published in one of the coming months in the portfolio section.


Day 1

Flying from Amsterdam to Chengdu

Day 2

Arrival in Chengdu and staying the night there. Picking up the Tibet permit

Day 3

Flying from Chengdu to Lhasa

Walking the first koras around the Jokhang Temple

Day 4

Lhasa, visit to the Potala Palace and the Jokhang Temple

Day 5

Lhasa, visiting the monasteries Drepung, Netchung and Sera

Day 6

Driving from Lhasa to Medro Gongkar and staying at Tidrum Nunnery. On the way visiting Ganden Monastery and the village of my guide.

Day 7

Driving from Medro Gongkar to Nyinchi with on the way a visit to Lake Basum Tso (this visit wasn’t allowed)

Day 8

Van Nyingchi to Bome (Pome) with on the way a view on the high snow mountain Namcha Barwa.

Day 9

Day trip from Bome to Ranwu Lake

Day 10

Driving from Bome to Nangxian

Day 11

Driving from Nangxian to Tsedang

Day 12

Visiting Tandruk Temple near Tsedan. After that visit driving to Samye and visiting the Samye Monastery

Day 13

Driving from Samye to Gyantse. Taking an alternative road an pass to go to Lake Yamdrok Tso. Visiting Samding Monastery on the way.

Day 14

In the morning visiting Pelkor Chöde Monastery with the Kumbum (stupa) and Rabse Nunnery at Gyantse. In the afternoon driving to Shigatse.

Day 15

Staying at Shigatse. Visiting the Tashilhunpo Monastery.

Day 16

Staying at Shigatse. Walking the kora at Tashilhunpo Monastery.

Day 17

Driving from Shigatse to Lhasa. In the evening walking the kora around the Jokhang Temple.

Day 18

Lhasa, visiting three little known monasteries in the mountains at the outskirts of Lhasa, Kytsang (Keutsang) hermitage, Pulchok (Purbuchok) hermitage and Nakhon Thon (Negodong) Nunnery. In the afternoon walking to Chakpori Hill and around the Potala Palace

Day 19

Lhasa, day trip to Drak Yerpa Meditation Caves

Day 20

Flying from Lhasa to Chengdu

Day 21

Flying from Chengdu to Amsterdam