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2018 South Eastern Tibet Expedition

Key Information

Date: Saturday, May 5, 2018
Duration: 19 Days (18 nights)
Cost: USD$11,995 (tentative) per person. Single Supplement USD$900. Deposit USD$2995.
Places: 8


A Tibetan girl near Tagong


Spanning almost 2500 kilometres, the incredible Sichuan Tibet Highway traverses the mountainous regions of Sichuan in western China.  It took nearly four years to build and at the conclusion of its construction, was considered one of the engineering wonders of modern China in 1954.

Rarely travelled by tourists, this remote area of Sichuan is home to nomadic Tibetan people, spectacular forest clad mountains, emerald lakes and the largest institute for Tibetan Buddhist studies in the world at Larung Gar.

This expedition will explore a part of Tibet that is very difficult to access without an organised tour.  It is a wondrous trip that will highlight the landscapes, wildlife, people and cultural monuments of remote western China.


The capital of Sichuan province in China and the home of China’s famous Pandas, it is worth considering an arrival in Chengdu a few days ahead of the expedition if for no other reason to visit the Panda Breeding and Research Centre.

Located just 6 miles (10 km) away from downtown Chengdu, the Panda Breeding Research Centre has been created to imitate the pandas’ natural habitat in order for them to have the best possible environment for rearing and breeding. It cares also for other rare and endangered wild animals within an area of 92 acres, 96% of which is verdure. Giant pandas, lesser pandas, black-necked cranes, white storks as well as over 20 species of rare animals are fed and bred there throughout the year. Verdant bamboo, bright flowers, fresh air, a natural hill scene and a beautiful artificial view are merged ingeniously at its base, making it a pleasurable place for both pandas and for the people who visit them daily.

I recommend you go early in the day to join the pandas for breakfast.

Pandas in Chengdu


After a day of acclimatisation to China in Chengdu, we will take a long drive from Chengdu to Kangding, known as Dartsendo or Dardo in Tibetan, the capital of Garnze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the Sichuan part of Kham. Kangding has always been considered as the gateway to Tibet and its inhabitants are roughly 40% Tibetan and 40% Chinese with the remaining 20% being made up of minorities including the Qiang, Yi and Hui. More or less everything east of Kangding is Chinese and everything west of the city is Tibetan.

From 1939 to 1950, Kangding was the capital of the short lived province of Xikang. Xikang comprised all of modern day Garnze prefecture as well as all of modern day Chamdo prefecture in the Kham region of Tibet. In 1950, the province was divided along the Yangtze River and everything to the east of the river was incorporated in to Sichuan, while everything west of the river lay in Tibet. Prior to the early 1900s Kangding Dartsendo was the capital of the Chakla Kingdom, one of the five kingdoms of eastern Tibet.


Taking horses to drink in the mountains of Gongga.

There are twenty mountains rising in excess of 6000m that surround Kangding.

We will hopefully arrive in time to catch a cup of Tibetan coffee and watch the start of Tibetan dances that start at sunset in the town’s main square. After an overnight stop in Kangding, we will spend the morning visiting nearby Dordrak Monastery before we jump in our vehicle to drive up to the spectacular lake of Migoo Tso (Mu Ge Cuo). This high altitude lake sits at 3700m and is surrounded by the spectacular snow-capped Gongga Mountains.

The face of the Buddha in Tashilunpho, Shigatse


Leaving Migoo Tso, we will be travelling through lands traversed by many nomadic Tibetan tribes. On our way to Tagong we will keep an eye out for people still living in tents made from traditional yak wool and hopefully meet people who have been living this way for centuries in this remote corner of the Tibetan Plateau.


Tagong Temple by day.

Tagong, known in Tibetan as Lhagang, is a small nomad Tibetan trading post sitting at 3700m altitude, north of Kangding. At the foothills of the spectacular mountain called Zhara Lhatse or Mount Yala, Tagong has a bustling nomadic traders market that is filled with people in traditional dress. We will stop here for one day and two nights to get used to the altitude, explore the market and visit a local nunnery (if permitted).


Nomad tents in central Tibet


From Tagong we will drive up to Sertar to visit the stunning buddhist homes of Larung Gar Buddhist Institute (if permitted). Larung Gar is home to over 40,000 monks and nuns and is the largest Tibetan Buddhist Institute on the Tibetan Plateau. While the town itself is uninteresting, the drive into it is adventurous and we will be rewarded by encounters with pilgrims from as far away as Lhasa and Amdo at Larung Gar. Given the difficult drive into Sertar we will spend two nights here before we move out of the region.


The incredible institute for Tibetan Buddhist Studies in Larung Gar


From Sertar we will travel via Ganzi and Manigango to the town of Dege. En-route, if time permits, we will stop at the mesmerisingly beautiful Lake Yilhun Lha Tso that sits at an elevation of 4025 metres and is surrounded by the spectacular Cho La mountains to photograph the lake and its stunning scenery before we travel to Dege.

Dege is considered to be the cultural heart of the Kham region and the town is the home to the Parkhang Printing Press. The printing press was built in the early 18th century and houses over 70% of Tibet’s literary library. Buddhist scripture books are made here using traditional wooden blocks and it is quite fascinating to watch the printers, who work in pairs, work as fast as they can to print the scriptures on to paper.

In Dege there is also a fantastic 1000 year old monastery called Gonchen and we will spend a day in the town marvelling at the unique wooden architecture of the town’s residential buildings, visiting Gonchen and also the press at Parkhang before we leave for Sershul.

Calligraphy at Ganden - Inger Vandyke

Getting ready to write calligraphy.


Leaving Dege early we will start the long drive north to Sershul, stopping briefly to see the Dzogchen Monastery and the stunning glaciated mountains near Manigango. Most of the route between Manigango and Sershul is high altitude grasslands that are filled with yaks. There are only a few small villages along the way. This is mainly a ‘transit day’ to allow us to gain ground and enter the wilder, northern region of Kham.

Tibetan Nomad Girl in Traditional Dress, Lake Manasarovar, Tibet

Tibetan Nomad Girl in Traditional Dress


We will leave Sershul early and travel around 30 kilometres north of the town to join the circumambulating pilgrims around the remote Sershul Monastery. From there we will drive into the Yushu Autonomous Prefecture, which is home to the headwaters of three of Asia’s most famous rivers – the Yellow, Mekong and Yangtze. Most of this prefecture is high at an average of 4800m altitude. It is above the tree line and permafrost. Snow can fall here at any time during our trip but we will spend time in transit here stopping to photograph the region’s stunning scenery and wildlife.

The mountains flanking the valley to the north face of Mount Everest


Our home for two nights, Budong Quan is located in the remote Kunlun Mountains. Thought to be a paradise of the Tao religion, the Kunlun is home to a fantastically biodiverse ecosystem. We will spend two days here in our vehicles searching for resident wild yak, Tibetan Antelope, White-lipped Deer, brown bears, Black-necked cranes, Kiangs (Wild Tibetan Donkeys), Tibetan Wolves, Tibetan Foxes and Himalayan Marmots.

Due to the high altitude of this region our travel will be slow, allowing for enough time to do photography and search for animals without getting exhausted. Our time here will be assessed on the day, depending on how the group is feeling during our drives.

We will be staying at Budong Quan for two nights to search for and photograph the region’s wildlife.

Wild Kiangs in the Kyunlung, western Tibet


Over the years I have been visiting Tibet, Lhasa has never failed to leave a lasting impression on me. It is characterised by one of the world’s most famous buildings, the Potala, but is also home to some incredible monasteries including Sera, Drepung and Ganden.

During our time in Lhasa, we will join the monks for their daily debate at Sera. At Drepung we will explore the prayer halls and hillside rock murals of a monastery that is literally perched on a bed of granite boulders. We will take three guided tours through the incredibly old Jokhang, the Potala and also the summer palace of the Dalai Lamas, Norbulingka.

We will have enough time during our stay in Lhasa to do a day tour to Ganden, a very large monastery with a spectacular Kora (prayer walk) that winds its way around a mountain with stunning views.

We will also take in the Potala by night and enjoy tea and lunch with Tibetan people at a secret café I discovered there on my first journey to Lhasa. This tiny hidden café remains a Lhasa institution. We will most likely be the only western people drinking tea there with the friendly Tibetan patrons.

If time allows I will also try to arrange a visit for you at the Ani Sankhung nunnery where we may lunch with the resident buddhist nuns.

The Potala by night, Lhasa

Join me on a journey through the wilds of Tibet!


Day 1 (Saturday 5 May) – Arrive Chengdu

Day 2 (Sunday 6 May) –Drive from Chengdu to Kangding (Overnight Kangding)

Day 3 (Monday 7 May) – Drive from Kangding to Tagong (Overnight Tagong)

Day 4 (Tuesday 8 May) – Sightseeing around Tagong nomads and mountain scenery (Overnight Tagong)

Day 5 (Wednesday 9 May) – Drive from Tagong to Sertar. (Overnight Sertar)

Day 6 (Thursday 10 May) – Sightseeing around Sertar including the outside of Larung Gar. (Overnight Sertar)

Day 7 (Friday 11 May) – Drive from Sertar to Dege (Overnight Dege)

Day 8 (Saturday 12 May) – Sightseeing around Dege (Overnight Dege)

Day 9 (Sunday 13 May) – Drive from Dege to Shiqu (Overnight Shiqu)

Day 10 (Monday 14 May) – Drive from Shiqu to Yushu (Overnight Yushu)

Day 11 (Tuesday 15 May) – Drive from Yushu to Budongquan (Overnight Budongquan)

Day 12 (Wednesday 16 May) – Driving around Budongquan for wildlife (Overnight Budongquan)

Day 13 (Thursday 17 May) – Drive from Budongquan to Golmud (Overnight train to Lhasa)

Day 14 (Friday 18 May) – Arrive Lhasa in the afternoon, rest. (Overnight Lhasa)

Day 15 (Saturday 19 May) – Visit Drepung and Sera Monasteries (Overnight Lhasa)

Day 16 (Sunday 20 May) – Ganden (Overnight Lhasa)

Day 17 (Monday 21 May) –  Norbulingka and Jokhang (Overnight Lhasa)

Day 18 (Tuesday 22 May) – Potala and afternoon relaxing in Lhasa before Farewell dinner (Overnight Lhasa)

Day 19 (Wednesday 23 May) – Depart Lhasa for flight to Chengdu

Please note that the above itinerary is an outline only.  En-route I reserve the right to make changes to this itinerary should the situation in Tibet change or the weather creates problems for road access.  The start and end dates and times will, however, be adhered to.





Accommodation will be in mid-range to basic guest houses during the expedition.  In Chengdu and Lhasa, we will be staying in four star hotels.


There are small walks through villages and to monasteries on this tour. I have tried to restrict longer treks due to the very high altitudes we will be travelling in in Tibet.


Tibet in May is still classified as the end of winter.  Although the roads may have cleared from snow and ice, the temperatures will still be quite cold.  I would suggest you bring thermal underwear to wear under your clothes and adhere to a layering concept each day while we are travelling.  The vehicles will be warm and extra clothes can be left inside them when we are visiting our destinations.  However a warm jacket will be handy if the winds pick  up anywhere en-route and in particular when we are exploring the area around Budong Quan which is very high.

Tibetan nomad woman at Lake Manasarovar, central Tibet


This trip is a combination of wildlife, landscapes and people photography.  We will be searching for wildlife like Tibetan Foxes, Kiang and wild sheep principally around Budong Quan.  For the wildlife on this trip a 200mm or 300mm will often be the most useful lens, but we also recommend a 400, 500mm or 600mm lens for many bird shots, mammal close-ups etc. (If your budget does not run to prime lenses, a high quality 100-400mm or similar zoom can be a great alternative.) Alternatively, you can get wonderful results with a high quality digital compact camera with a 20x or higher  optical zoom.

For landscape and night photography I suggest you bring a wide angle lens from 10mm wide plus a tripod.

For the people of Tibet you may wish to have either a wide angle lens, point and shoot camera, a standard zoom i.e. 24-105mm or even iphones and ipads.

If you have questions about what equipment you ought to bring, please contact me.

Lake reflections en-route to Ganden outside Lhasa

2 thoughts on “2018 South Eastern Tibet Expedition

  1. David Sawers says:

    Hi, this looks like a wonderful trip.
    Could you please let me know when you have definite costs etc as I may be interested in joining. I’m not a photographer but would like to visit this area, especially Dege.

    Many thanks

    • inger says:

      Hi David!

      Thank you so much for getting in touch. I am also a hotmail person so I will send you an email shortly about the trip. I hope you can join us!

      Best wishes


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