The Friendship Highway – from Lhasa to Sakya

Our route from Lhasa to Kathmandu takes us past sacred monasteries, stunningly blue lakes and the world’s highest mountain.

The Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) is on a high plateau. The snowy mountains at the bottom of the map are the Himalayas which form the border between Tibet and Nepal.

The Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) is on a high plateau. The snow-capped mountains at the bottom of the map are the Himalayas which form the border between Tibet and Nepal.

A connection of roads leads from Shanghai at the Eastern coast of China to Kathmandu in Nepal. The section between Lhasa and the Tibetan-Nepali border is what is most often called the Friendship Highway. This route is particularly popular with overland travelers in Tibet; one reason is that the permits for this route are easier to get than for other parts of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (read about how we got ours here). The other reason is that the road leads through amazing scenery and to a couple of monasteries that are all in themselves very well worth visiting.

Prayer flags in Tibet - Olympus Pen EPL-3, 14mm (28mm eq.), f10, 1/400

Prayer flags in Tibet – Olympus Pen EPL-3, 14mm (28mm eq.), f10, 1/400

Lake with Tibetan prayer flags

Lake with Tibetan prayer flags

To travel along this route, we have to hire a guide and a driver. Public transport is out of bounds for foreigners like us. The map above shows our overnight stops on this trip, and the video is a sampler of all the landscapes we see. Tibet is on a high plateau, shielded against rain and snow by the Himalayas on its Southern border. The air is clean and dry and the landscape is nothing but amazing, with green high-altitude grasslands near Lhasa and a dessert-like landscape without sand on the Northern side of the Himalayas.


On the first day outside Lhasa, we pass the turquoise blue Yamdrok-tso which you can see at the beginning of the video. We continue on to Gyantse where our altitude-plagued lungs are challenged when we climb the many stairs of Gyantse Kumbum. On the next day, we arrive at Shigatse monastery only hours before it is closing down for a high but unpopular visitor.

View From Gyantse Kumbum

View from Gyantse Kumbum

Shigatse monastery ready for an important visit (not us)

Shigatse monastery ready for an important visitor (not us)

Our guide has to register us whenever we enter a new place or region. Once, we have to enter a military type of building with our guide to get permission to continue along the road. Our weirdest encounter with the police is in Sakya, a rather small village a little off the Friendship Highway. The village’s main road is a construction site when we arrive, and when we try to visit the monastery in the evening, we are sent away after buying the tickets. All there is left to do in the evening is to eat and we’re promised a restaurant with great momos (Tibetan dumplings). But when we meet our guide at dinner time, she tells us that the local police officer recommends us to eat in the hotel’s restaurant instead. We dine under the watch of Mao on the wall and the police officer at the door. The anger is slightly soothed the next morning when we are finally able to visit the atmospheric Sakya monastery before we continue with our road trip.

Prayer wheels in Sakya monastery

Prayer wheels in Sakya monastery

Time of visit: September 2013

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16 thoughts on “The Friendship Highway – from Lhasa to Sakya

  1. allthingstibetan2014

    Amazing pictures. My mother is from Gyangtse and my father from Shigatse. We revere the Panchen Lama, the head of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. Did you see the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama during your trip?


    1. perelincolors

      No, we did not see him but as far as I understood (but I might totally be wrong because it is a little difficult for us to understand all these things), that Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama was the visitor who was expected in Shigatse just after we left.


      1. allthingstibetan2014

        Yeah, I presumed it was Gyaltsen Norbu, who was the important visitor to the Tashi Lhunpo. The Panchen Lama is a very important spiritual leader of Tibet. Both the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama have shared a special historical relationship over centuries, with each assuming the responsibility of recognising the others reincarnation and serving as teacher. The Chinese sought to manipulate that relationship by recognising their own version of the 11th Panchen Lama so that they in turn may have the power over who gets chosen as the next Dalai Lama.


    2. perelincolors

      Btw, I think that could be a great topic for blog: explain to us who is important in Tibetan Buddhism and what their roles are. Everyone has heard of the Dalai Lama but I think almost no one outside Tibet knows who the Panchen Lama is.


      1. allthingstibetan2014

        You are absolutely right. Many non-Tibetans haven’t heard about the Panchen Lama — that the current Dalai Lama-appointed 11th Panchen Lama was only six years ago when he disappeared with his family and teachers in 1995 and has remained missing ever since or that the 10th Panchen Lama was one of the most courageous leaders that Tibetans have ever had, who stayed behind in Tibet and stood up to the Chinese leadership, serving as a voice for the Tibetan people and fighting for their freedoms. And yes, I should do a separate post on the great 10th Panchen Lama.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. fabricandflour

    I wanted to let you know that I’ve nominated your blog for a blog hop that’s been making it’s way around the blogosphere recently. Mostly it’s been crafty blogs, but I’ve really enjoyed reading about your travel adventures and I think readers following the hop would love to read them too!
    If you’d like to accept the nomination you just need to do the same sort of post as I’ve done today, next Monday. If you don’t fancy it, no worries!
    This is the link to my post:

    Have a happy Monday!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Greta

    I´ve been dreaming about travelling through Nepal and Tibet since…I think since when I learnt where they both were geographically. Great journey and gorgeous photography!


    Liked by 1 person

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