The Road to Kailash: A drive across the Tibetan Plateau

Somewhere in Western-central Tibet

We drove 1,436 km (892 miles) from Lhasa to the small town of Darchen at the base of Mt. Kailash. This was not the shortest route, but it was the route we took. We drove for four days. The first day we drove south out of Lhasa to Shigatze. Just outside of Lhasa we crossed the Brahmaputra or Tsangpo-Brahmaputra River. It originates in Southwestern Tibet, cuts south through the Himalayas, runs through India and Bangladesh before flowing into the Bay of Bengal. This high up it was quite a small river, not too impressive. But this was also early in the season. By August it swells to several times this size due to the monsoon rains.

The Brahmaputra River a few miles outside Lhasa

We drove high into the mountains crossing three high passes, the highest of which was 16,500′. Tall heavily glaciated peaks, probably around 20,000′ high soared above the highway in places. On the way to Shigatse we stopped in the town of Gyantse and visited the Pachu Monastery, built in 1418. In Shigatse we visited the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. The next day we drove from Shigatze to Lhatse. The third day we drove to Sakya, then camped outside Saga. and the fourth day we drove to Lake Manasarovar and camped along its shores. On the fifth day we drove a short distance (about an hour) to the town of Darchen where we began our kora, or circumambulation around Mt. Kailash.

The first night we stayed in a hotel; the second night in a Tibetan guesthouse, and the rest of the time we camped out in tents. We would find a meadow on the outskirts of a small town and set up camp. Our party of seven had two Toyota Landcruisers, with two Tibetan drivers and our Tibetan guide.

The Landcruisers and our drivers outside Lhasa

Our Tibetan guide

Though Tibet is a bleak and barren land, it was stunning. We passed countless mountains, long straight highway, winding switchbacked highway, high mountain passes, lakes, dozens of small towns, truck stops, nomad camps, lush green meadows, herds of yaks, fields of barley and some wildlife. Below are my memories of this wild and lonely land. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Lhasa is below but out of sight in the plain below

Long straight highway

There are lots of yaks all over the Tibetan Plateau; they cannot live below about 8,000′

More yaks

Our camp outside the small town of Saga

Unnamed mountains above our camp

Nomad tents

Nomads herding yaks

Ploughing and planting barley

Tibetan woman walking along the highway; in rural Tibet, people do a lot of walking

Barley growing at 14,500′

Tibetan Mastiff; they are truly huge and imposing

Tibetans seldom eat fish, so the lakes are full of them

Mountain and lake

Truck stop in Western Tibet simply called Area 22

There are Sichuan restaurants literally in every city and town in Tibet

Billiards is popular all across the Plateau

Public transport in rural areas is piling onto the back of a tractor

The Tibetan Plateau is about 15,000′ high; the sun is very intense and it is very dry

A wild Tibetan donkey, called a kiang

Tibetan black-necked crane

Lunch break

On one of the higher passes, 17,096′

The Himalayan Range in Southwestern Tibet

Mountain above Lake Manasarovar

Lake Manasarovar outside my tent door at sunset

Sunset over Lake Manasarovar

Camp at sunset near the town of Zhongba

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