Is Train Travel from Lhasa to Kathmandu Possible?

Many people around the world are still fascinated with Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR); and the same could be said of Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. Hollywood movies often mystically depict Lhasa and Kathmandu as places which are shrouded in curious mysticism and mysteries, and these depictions are not without basis. Moreover, in the past, very few people could have tours from Lhasa to Kathmandu, and this was partly due to their isolated geographies, is situated high up the Himalayas. However,  with air transportation at hand, travel to Lhasa from  Kathmandu have gradually become easily accessible, and at present,  Tibet Nepal tour packages for both cities have become widely available.

The Strong Bond Between Lhasa and Kathmandu

To many tourists, visiting Lhasa alone without making a detour to Kathmandu would mean a lost opportunity, for Kathmandu is almost within reach. Similarly, if you would only visit Kathmandu and would miss Lhasa, you would surely miss a lot. Hence, visiting Lhasa should always include a tour of Kathmandu, and vice versa.

Frequent flights from Kathmandu to Lhasa and vice versa are already available. Between Lhasa and Kathmandu exists an air distance of 609 kilometers. This is about an hour and a half of flight. By land, however, you need to traverse around a thousand kilometers from Lhasa to Kathmandu.

Road trips likewise between Lhasa and Kathmandu are available. What is not yet available is a railway network that would connect Lhasa and Kathmandu. If this railway network is actualized, the land travel between these two ancient cities would be greatly shortened and the bond between Lhasa and Kathmandu would surely be further strengthened.

The Road Trip from Kathmandu to Lhasa and Vice Versa

Despite being long and tiresome, the road trip between Lhasa and Kathmandu is heavily favored by most visitors over other means of travel. This is so because road travels between these two cities readily afford tourists an exciting grand view of the Himalayan mountains and the Tibetan Plateau. For this reason, most tour offerings between these two cities would readily suggest a road trip from one city to another and a plane ride when going back to the city of origin.

A tour package from Kathmandu to Lhasa, for example, would usually allow tourist to fly from Kathmandu to Lhasa and experience a road trip back to Kathmandu. Similarly, a tour package from Lhasa to Kathmandu would usually offer a road trip from Kathmandu to Lhasa and a flight back home to Kathmandu.

The road trip from Kathmandu to Lhasa and vice versa usually takes three days to complete. The typical tour destinations along these road trip include touring the city of Lhasa and its historical and religious sites like those of the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Street, the old market, and Drepung and Sera monasteries. The road trip on the way to Kathmandu generally passes through the cities of Gyantze and Shigatse, affording a series of scenic views of Yamdrok lake (4400m), Mount Nyechen Khangsar (7191m), and the Karola Glacier along the way. At this point, it would be good to note that Shigatse is Tibet’s second largest city and the traditional seat of Panchen Lama.

Qinghai-Tibet Railway—An Alternative Overland Travel

Since the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, land travel from other parts of China to Lhasa has radically been shortened. Train travel to Lhasa has also become the primary means of transportation for many people from Xining city to Lhasa. Moreover, this rail line is connected to China’s gateway cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Guangzhou, and thus, Lhasa has become easily accessible by land from these gateway cities. By 2016, this rail line has been extended to the city of Shigatse and would eventually be extended to Gyirong, along with the Sino-Nepali border.

Train travel is a more convenient and less tiring means of overland travel as compared to a road trip. While road trip affords more flexibility and is more convenient for stopping for a few photos, train travel, however, can cover greater distances in much shorter time. And unlike the passenger plane, train travel can offer tourists the same vistas that road trippers usually enjoy, albeit for a shorter time.

Thinking beyond the Present

At present, the construction of the railway that will connect Shigatse and Gyirong along the Sino-Nepali border is already underway and is expected to be completed by 2020. By the time the Shigatse-Gyirong railway segment will be completed, the railway extension to Kathmandu will never be far behind. Moreover, once the Kathmandu extension becomes a reality, the overland travel time from Kathmandu to Lhasa (and vice versa) can be greatly reduced, and the ancient bond between Lhasa and Kathmandu will be further cemented.

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