The ultimate guide on Chengdu to Lhasa overland travel
Why to take an overland tour from Chengdu to Lhasa
Taking an overland tour to Lhasa, especially from Chengdu via Sichuan-Tibet Highway, has become more and more popular among travelers. It is a route not only full of exciting adventures but also abundant with breathtaking landscapes and distinctive folk customs, making the overland travel experience unique, stimulating, and unforgettable. It has 2 routes: the Southern Route and the Northern Route, both of them are utterly outstanding offering different experiences. In general, the southern route is more beautiful in nature, but the northern route has the better cultural experiences.
In addition to the beautiful scenery, entering Tibet from Chengdu to Lhasa by overland can make it easier to better adapt to the high altitude environments and reduce the occurrence of high altitude sickness. Travelers can ascend gradually from 500 meters in the east up to over 4,000 meters in the west in several days’ driving. In addition, the overland route from Chengdu to Lhasa has a high vegetation coverage and sufficient oxygen content in the air.
General information of Chengdu to Lhasa overland routes
Southern Route: 2,142 KM
Chengdu → 147KM → Ya’an → 168KM → Luding → 49KM → Kangding → 75KM → Xinduqiao → 74KM → Yajiang → 143KM → Litang → 165KM → Batang → 107KM → Markham → 265KM → Bamda → 94KM → Baxoi → 90KM → Rawok → 129KM → Pomi → 89KM → Tongmai → 127KM → Nyingchi → 19KM → Bayi → 127KM → Gongbo Gyamda → 206KM → Maizhokunggar → 68KM → Lhasa.
The southern route is praised as the most beautiful landscape avenue in China, offering the majestic and ever-changing scenery ranging from warm spring to cold and snowing winter. It is shorter, wilder, lower, more alpine and rich in natural landscapes, hence, it becomes the most travelers’ choice to enter Lhasa. Driving along this route, you will cross through steep snow-capped mountains, deeply rugged valleys, awesome grand canyons, stunning glaciers, verdant primeval forests, vast wetland grasslands dotted with yaks, sheep and wildflowers, and 4 turbulent rivers (Dadu River, Jinsha River, Lancang River, and Nu River).
Northern Route: 2,412 KM
Chengdu → 75KM → Dujiangyan → 25KM → Yingxiu → 175KM → Siguniangshan Town → 120KM → Danba → 85KM → Bamei → 80KM → Daofu → 75KM → Luhou → 100KM → Garze → 95KM → Manigange → 112KM → Derge → 30KM → Jinshajiang River Bridge → 85KM → Gyamda → 230KM → Chamdo → 290KM → Dêngqên → 235KM → Baqên → 260KM → Nagqu → 170KM → Damxung → 170KM → Lhasa.
The northern route is higher, longer, much less populated and commercial, and more authentic. The driving along this route will pass through the different Tibetan cultural regions, where the locals still keep their traditional lifestyle, but various Tibetan tribes have a slightly different outlook and culture, although the Tibetan Buddhism is widely followed by them. Furthermore, this route also offers stunning scenery from forested alpine countryside to the high plateau of the Changtang with endless grassland and lakes.
Altitude change of Chengdu to Lhasa overland routes
Generally, both routes have a dramatic altitude change and most places passing through are at a higher altitude. It is still possible to suffer from high altitude sickness (or Acute Mountain Sickness) in one or more symptoms when you are there. Follow our travel tips of ‘How to avoid high-altitude sickness in Tibet’ to be better prepared.
This route is considered as one of the highest highways in the world with dramatic altitude change along this route. The elevation difference is more than 4,500 meters. The road stretches to Lhasa passing 14 steep snow-capped mountains which average 4,000 to 5,000m. Follow the map below to get some general idea about its altitude change.
It is considered to be the highest and longest route of the 2 overland routes to Lhasa from Chengdu, the highest point that you will pass through is Chola Mountain Tunnel at the elevation of 4,916m. Once stepping into the section in Tibet, the altitude change will be small but with an average altitude above 3,500m. Watch the map here to understand its altitude change along the way.
Road condition of highways from Chengdu to Lhasa
The southern route used to be listed as one of the world’s most dangerous roads, however, with the booming of overland travel to Lhasa from Chengdu, the road condition of the southern route has been largely improved and well-paved with asphalt. However, due to the unstable geological condition, during the monsoon season (June to August), mudflow and landslides happen frequently along this route, especially the section near Tongmai, making it hard to pass through.
The northern route is less well-paved, making it only be driven by experienced drivers in China. Several sections of this route are just dirt roads, though the majority of the route is now paved with asphalt. However, it faces the same problem as the southern route, which is easy to encounter mudflow and landslides in the monsoon season as well.
Best time to travel overland from Chengdu to Lhasa
The best months to take an overland tour from Chengdu to Lhasa goes to late April, May, September, and October, the weather of these months are warm and adorable. It seldom rains and has lots of sunny days, making it with high visibility. Apart from the lovely weather, the scenery of these months is charming and appealing. In May, wildflowers blossom everywhere, in September and October, the leaves of the trees turn to yellow, red, or brown, etc. shaping a colorful wonderland.
The monsoon season often covers the period from June to August. It is still fine to travel if you have made a comprehensive preparation prior to departure, as it has the warmest weather, the highest oxygen contents, and the best shape landscapes. However, traveling during this period, especially in July and August, can be easy to encounter the heavy rain and the road, especially the part at Hengduan Mountain Range area and near Tongmai, are frequently blocked by the landslide and mudflow, as of this reason, it also increases the safety risks to travel along this route.
While the winter months from November to the next February are not recommended to travel overland through these routes. Due to the high altitude and the sweeping of northwest cold current among this area, it is extremely cold to travel along this route, the extreme weather such as heavy snow frequently happens and dominates the whole area, making the roads covered and unseen and impossible to pass through. Besides, if it snows, the visibility will be low, it will be hard to see any beautiful views.
Documents required to travel overland from Chengdu to Lhasa
When traveling in the Sichuan section along Chengdu to Lhasa overland routes, international travelers are required to present their valid passport and valid Chinese visa only. In addition, you can choose to travel independently by public transportation or hiring a private vehicle or follow a tour arranged by a local travel agency.
However, upon stepping into the border of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), the international travelers need to have not only their passport and Chinese visa, but also the Tibet permit including Tibet Tourism Bureau Permit (TTB permit), Alien Travel Permit and Military Permit. Apart from the above-mentioned documents, the international travelers are required to take either a Tibet group tour or a private Tibet tour with a guide, private vehicle with a driver organized by one of the local travel agencies like WindhorseTour.
Accommodation and dining along Chengdu to Lhasa overland routes
With the continuous development of the local economy and tourism, the accommodation conditions on the way have been greatly improved in many aspects in recent years. Lots of new accommodations from local guesthouses to 4-star hotels with modern facilities have been opened to offer more choices and create a better sleeping experience for the travelers. In Daocheng and Nyingchi, you even can find 5-star luxury hotels. However, in most places en route, it is much easier to find comfortable hotels with basic amenities like bed, bath, hot water, and breakfast than 4-5 stars hotels.
When traveling at such a remote, isolated, high-altitude, and underdeveloped area in China, you should always remember that the amenities and service of the hotels along the way may not be as good as those in the other places of China, such as Chengdu, Beijing, etc. In addition, please be aware that even lots of new hotels have appeared but the choices for international travelers are still limited, as you are only permitted to stay at those that are registered for use by international travelers.
The food that you mostly can find in most places on these routes is usually a mix of Sichuan cuisine and local Tibetan dishes, although there are local guesthouses or hotels to accommodate international travelers, the available western dishes are still limited. Occasionally, you may be able to find a menu with some simple western dishes in some restaurants. Nevertheless, it would be a unique experience to taste the local dishes and the journey will be more unforgettable when you completely immerse yourself into the local lifestyle and customs. However, if you are not a big fan of the local dishes, you should bring some preferable food in advance.
Packing list for Chengdu Lhasa overland route travel
As you will spend your most time on the high altitude area while traveling overland from Chengdu to Lhasa, it usually has colder weather, so no matter which month you will travel, it is highly recommended to bring warm clothes with you, it may snow when you cross through the mountain passes and the night temperature may drop below zero. Furthermore, the ultraviolet rays would be very strong, you also need to pack some necessities to prevent yourself from sunburn.
Here is a packing list for some important items for you to review: warm clothes, sunblock, sunglasses, sun hat, raincoat or umbrella, lip balm, hand lotion, moisturizing cream water bottle, snacks, energy bars, altitude sickness medicines, travel documents, passport, extra batteries for your camera, portable charger, thermal wear, small first aid kit, down jacket, socks and gloves, breathable waterproof hiking shoes. Usually, for those traveling with WindhorseTour, we will prepare the oxygen tanks in the tourist vehicle in advance.
Top highlights of Chengdu Lhasa overland routes
As two of the most beautiful sightseeing avenues of China with breathtaking views and unique folk customs, there are countless beauties and cultural sites waiting for you to explore. Here is a list of top highlights along both routes for reference, which should not be missed on your western and northern Sichuan tour.
|Mugecuo Lake Scenic Area||Located in the middle section of Gongga Mountain Range, about 17 kilometers away from Kangding City, it is one of the largest alpine lakes in northwestern Sichuan with an altitude of more than 3,700 meters. It's famous for the fantastic springs, alpine lakes, primeval forests, grasslands, and snow mountains.|
|Xinduqiao||A small peaceful town with an altitude of 3,300 meters, it is an important hub for transportation between Sichuan and Tibet to stopover. Praised as the heaven for photography, it would be fantastic to photograph Mount Gongga (Minya Konka) - the king of mountains in Shu, at the sunset or sunrise at its nearby observation deck.|
|Maoya grasslands||Once rated as one of the six most beautiful grasslands in China by Chinese National Geography Magazine with magnificent scenery, it is an alpine grassland in Litang, western Sichuan. Every year from June to September, the rhododendron blooms on the grassland, which is the most beautiful season to travel there.|
|Litang Horse Racing Festival||A traditional big event held every August 1 in the world’s highest city Litang at the elevation of 4,014m, which is a great chance to appreciate the folk customs of Litang. Apart from horseback racing, you will enjoy some interesting competitions such as water carrying, tents set up, tsampa pinching and butter tea making, traditional Tibetan costume, opera, dancing, and singing performances.|
|Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve||Reputed as ‘the last pure land on our blue planet’ and ‘the last Shangri-la’, it is a harmonious utopian land composed of snow-capped mountains, steep cliffs, crystal clear lakes, vast pastures, as well as the dense woods. It is a great experience to challenge yourself by trekking along the steep trail to Milk Lake and Five Color Lake.|
|Rawok Lake||Sitting at an elevation of 3,850 meters above sea level, Rawok Lake is the largest lake in eastern Tibet and provides a perfect scene of Swiss Alpine lakes and mountains, occupying an area of 22,000 square km. Here you can enjoy the scenery of the famous Lhegu Glacier which fills the lake with their melted ice.|
|Midui Glacier||Honored as the 1st of the 6 most beautiful glaciers in China by Chinese National Geography Magazine, it is a typical oceanic glacier located at Yupu village, about 103KM away from Pomi County. It is with charming scenery featured by huge ice basins, numerous avalanches, steep and huge ice waterfalls, and beautiful arch structure.|
|Lulang Forest||A typical plateau mountain meadow featuring picturesque alpine scenery at the altitude of 3,700m. It is one of the must-see attractions in Nyingchi composed of lush bushes, dense spruce, and pine trees on both sides and a uniform meadow with thousands of wildflowers in the middle. In addition, the typical wooden fences, wooden houses, wooden bridges, and villages dotted and scattered in the forests make the forest look like a quiet and beautiful "mountain dwelling painting".|
|Basum Tso Lake||Also known as Pagsum Lake or Dragsum Lake, which means ‘green water’ in Tibetan, is located in the deep valley of the upper reaches of the Bahe River. It is regarded as a sacred lake by the Nyingma sect of Tibetan Buddhism, and a beautiful place featured by unique scenery combined with snow-capped mountains, lakes, forests, waterfalls, pastures, cultural relics, and ancient temples.|
|Mt. Siguniang (Four Girls)||Known as the Alps of the East, these mountains are famed for unspoiled valleys, grasslands, and streams. It is famous for its mountain climbing with four peaks at the elevation of 5355m, 5454m, 5664m, and 6250m above the sea level. It is also honored as the “queen of Sichuan's mountains”.|
|Danba Tibetan Villages||Rated as first of the six most beautiful ancient towns and villages in China by Chinese National Geography Magazine, Danba Tibetan villages are famed for its unique architectures: Zhaifang and Diaolou, which respectively refers to stockade houses and watchtowers. Every traveler will marvel at Danba's "three musts": Jiaju Tibetan Village, Diaolou groups (especially in Zhonglu and Suopo villages), Beauties.|
|Tagong Grassland and Monastery||It will be a great detour to Tagong Grassland from Bamei to Daofu. Tagong is a huge expanse of prairie that lies in the shadow of the sacred Yala Mountain. Besides, the famous Tagong Monastery sits here. It is known as the small Jokhang Monastery, which is one of the holy pilgrimage sites in the Kham Tibetan Area.|
|Yihun Lhatso||A beautiful lake with turquoise blue waters that is sacred to the local Tibetans who printed mantras on the rocks on its banks. On its one side, there is a pasture dotted with yaks and a river crossing it, on its other sides, it is embarrassed by the imposing Chola (Que’er) mountain sheltered by dense vegetation and snow.|
|Derge Printing House||Also known as Derge Parkhang, it is located in a deep mountain gorge in Derge County, Garze, Sichuan. It is a breathtaking temple reputed as the “bright pearl of the snow mountains” with unique Tibetan architecture, windowsills, carvings, and rich sutra paintings.|
|Galden Jampaling Monastery||Situated at Chamdo and lying at the junction of Angqu River and Zaqu River in Chamdo with beautiful surroundings, it is the largest Gelug Sect monastery in the Kham area founded in the 15th century, which is a must-see attraction when you are in Chamdo.|
|Nagqu Horse Racing Festival||It is the grandest annual event held every early August in northern China's Nagqu Prefecture of Tibet when the pastures of Northern Tibet Grassland in Nagqu are lush and green. It usually starts on August 10th and lasts for 5 to 15 days involving activities such as horse races, yak races, tugs of war, the staging of Tibetan operas and trade fairs, etc.|
|Namtso Lake||Also called the Heavenly Lake, it is one of the three holy lakes worshiped by the Tibetan folks in Tibet, famous for its crystal clear blue water, breathtaking views and a wide variety of wild animals. With the altitude of 4,718m above sea level, it also holds the record of the highest altitude saltwater lake in the world. It is definitely a must-see attraction of your tour in Tibet.|
|Yangbajain Hot Spring||Located in Damxung County at the altitude of 4,300 meters above the sea level, it is famous for its spectacular phenomenon of hot springs boiling on the cold plateau. Bathing in the hot springs here can help to treat many diseases as they have high mineral content. Moreover, it is also a fascinating place encircled by snow-capped mountains.|
For those who are planning to travel overland from Chengdu to Lhasa, we have carefully listed three perfectly pre-designed private tour routes on our website for you to pick.
Just in case you are not very interested in the tour routes listed above, never mind, please go ahead to share your requirements with us directly! As an experienced and professional local China travel agency specializing in organizing customized tours, we certainly can adjust the itineraries to suit your desires and design a unique and personalized overland tour for you accordingly.