Tibet Winter Travel Tips: Where to Go and Not to Go

If you’re thinking of Tibet winter travel, you need to be mindful that some areas are great in winter, and others not so much. In this post, we’ll look at some popular travel destinations in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and let you know what they are like in the winter. We’ll also give you an idea of where you really don’t want to go in winter, and areas that are open but may be more challenging for winter travelers. 

Tibet Winter

First of all, what do we mean by Tibet “winter”? For the purposes of travel, we’re talking about early November to late January. Tibet has been closed for political reasons during the whole month of March for years now, and this closure sometimes extends into February for various reasons. (For example, in 2013, the TAR was closed for the whole month of February.) 

Are you Thinking of a Trip in Winter?

If you’re planning a trip to Tibet, you should also know that no independent travel is allowed to Tibet and you must work with a travel agency.  We advise that you choose a Tibetan-owned agency, which hires Tibetan guides only. The simplest way to do this is ask us to connect you to a reliable Tibetan-owned travel agent to plan a great trip for you that also supports the local Tibetan economy and culture.

If you live in China and think you might want to visit the Amdo region of Tibet for Tibetan New Year celebrations, contact us here. Just choose “custom trip” and write Tibetan New Year in Amdo in the box at the end of the form. (Note to our Indian friends: Our agents in Tibet cannot help Indian nationals.)

Good Areas for Tibet Winter Travel

Lhasa and the surrounding areas tend to be sunny during the day and quite cold at night but with rare rain or snow. Multitudes of nomads from all over Tibet crowd the streets as they travel on pilgrimages. Tourists are much fewer than in the spring, summer or fall. (Learn more about Tibet weather here.)

  • Lhasa and Lhasa Area
    • Lhasa city: Jokhang, Potala, Sera Monastery, Drepung Monastery, Barkhor
  • Drak Yerba
  • Ganden Monastery
  • Shigatse: Tashi Lumpo Monastery
  • Gyantse: Kumbum Stupa, Pelkor Choede Monastery
  • Samye and Chimbu
    • You may want to take a day trip to Samye and stay in Tsetang, as the monastery guest house at Samye has no heat.
  • Tsetang Area: Yumbulakhang, Damtruk Monastery, Mindroling Monastery

Not So Good in the Winter

  • Trekking
    • Basically all trekking is closed mid-Oct. to mid-April, due to snow in the mountains
  • Mount Kailash
    • The road is fine but you can’t do the kora because the Dolma La pass is covered in snow 
  • Lake Namtso
    • Namtso lake is generally frozen from early October until the end of April. Some tourists like the frozen beauty, but the challenge is that the Lagen La pass, on the road from Lhasa to Namtso,  is totally closed a few days each winter, and you don’t know when that will be. The closure depends on the weather. If there has been a heavy snowfall, then the Damshong regional tourism bureau and Namtso national park administration will close the road until the snow melts. Even when it is open in the winter months, the Lagen La pass (5190m) road can be be risky driving. In the below map, from Damshong to Namtso Lake, you see the part of the journey that is problematic. 
Namtso Pass Map

Can be Good But Also Challenging

Everest Base Camp (EBC)

  • The road to EBC is almost never closed but can be scary to cross from mid-October to the end of April.
  • Note that in 2017 EBC closed due to heavy snow, unusually.
  • From mid-October to early April, the usual yak tent accommodations are closed. Only Rongbuk monastery guesthouse is open, but has no heat and is very rough, so is not recommended. It is better to take a day trip from Shegar, where the new hotel has heating.

Lhasa to Kyirong at Nepal Border

  • This road is more likely to be closed in winter. The problem is that the Gong Thang Lamo Pass (~5300m) gets snowed in. Also, the road is very steep down to Kyirong, so not good in dodgy weather.
  • Not recommended November to end of March, inclusive.

Tirdrum Nunnery

  • You can travel to Tirdrum in the winter but the hotels and guesthouses tend to be basic with no heat and public bathrooms that can be not so fun to do in winter. There is one hot spring hotel several kilometers down from the nunnery, where the hotel also has hot spring pool and room has bathroom inside but it’s a little expensive.

Reting

  • The road okay — no high passes, so generally no snow or ice.
  • The rooms tend to be very basic, and with public toilets. There is one better hotel near Reting monastery and it can receive foreigners. The rooms are clean and comfortable but still no toilets in the rooms.

Winter Travel Notes

  • In winter, if you’re traveling outside Lhasa, you should expect some things not to go right — if there has been a snow, water lines might get frozen, the roads may be tricky, and other things like that.
  • You might want to bring or ask for a lined sleeping bag, and a blanket for when you’re in the car. 

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Updated on February 14, 2020. First published on March 2, 2019.

Your Tibet travel advisors, Lobsang and Yolanda

Most people who want to go to Tibet don't know how to get there or who to trust for help. We’re Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O’Bannon, and we help make Tibet travel more simple, safe and ethical so you can feel peace of mind about your trip. Learn more about us and YoWangdu here.

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