Tibet Expedition Planner
Getting there: All places in Tibet are reached through Lhasa, which has the only international airport. Various airlines fly to Hong Kong, Chengdu, or Kathmandu; only China Southwest Airlines serves Lhasa from those cities. Expect to spend at least $1,250 on round-trip airfare from the western United States. Try www.FlyChina.com (954-233-0680) or www.air-savings.com (212-545-1212).
Visas, permits, hassles: A visa for China must be purchased in advance. I used Zierer Visa Service (866-788-1100). With Zierer’s fee, the price was $90. An alien permit is required to enter Tibet. These can be purchased at travel agencies in Chengdu or other ports of departure along with inexpensive entry packages consisting of airfare, basic hotel, and a tour guide for several days. To travel outside Lhasa and nearby “opened” monasteries and local hikes, you’ll need up to four additional permits, plus a local guide (about $25/day) and a Toyota Land Cruiser with driver (about $.80/mile).
Travel services: There are many travel companies in Lhasa of mixed reputation. One recommended to me was Windhorse Adventures; the manager, Jampa, is said to speak excellent English (011-86-891-683-3009; Jampa_W@hotmail.com). Organizing your own trip is the cheapest way to go, but beware that the logistics and permitting process can be daunting. I highly recommend using a professional who can take you where you wish to go. We used Lenny (aka Cheng Zheng Ling) from Chengdu (011-86-288-733-0041; Lenny9529@sina.com.cn). He hiked to our basecamps with us, cooked, and arranged for permits, lodging, and horses. Two American outfits that specialize in high-adventure trips for budget-conscious and independent travelers are Blue Sheep Travel (703-593-4799; bluesheeptravel.
com) and Himalaya Inc. (206-329-4107; HimalayaTrek.com.
Books: Tibet (Lonely Planet; $19.99). Trekking in Tibet, by Gary McCue (The Mountaineers Books; $18.95). Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer (Tarcher Books; $13.95). Lonely Planet phrasebooks for Tibet and China ($8). Visit our bookstore at, backpacker.com/bookstore.
Maps: You’ll find culturally oriented maps to most of Tibet at tibetmap.com. Bassom Tso is at 30°N, 93°E. The Department of Defense 1:500,000-scale TPC H-10A map we used can be ordered from MapLink (805-692-6777; www.maplink.com) or Omni Resources (800-742-2677; www.omnimap.com).