Route 318: Lhasa – Kathmandu

Pencil this in for 2013:

On a 1000 km mostly sealed road, a 3 week journey would include: a Kathmandu – Lhasa flight, fly to Chengdu, train to Lhasa, acclimatization in Lhasa, several 5000+ m passes, Everest base camp (the one Mallory used) and what is rumored to be the longest downhill stretch of road in the world to Kathmandu.

I had to check out the profile, so mapped it in bikeroutetoaster here.

That’s a drop from 5100m to 700m in ~150 km. Whoo hoo!

On the train, instead of earphones, you plug in your oxygen supply

Its a 44 hr 3360 km trip. More info here

The China National Highway 318 goes 5,476 km from Shanghai to the Nepalese border. From Lhasa to the Friendship Bridge on the border it is known as the Friendship Highway and has become a Mountain bike touring Mecca.
All milestones are kilometers from Beijing:

Some solo bike journeys (pre-2008):
(These are great reads with amazing photos. Go to, click on “Journals” and search for “Lhasa”. You will turn up 100’s of stories.)
Mike Smith

Graham & Gwil

Kids fire messages to foreign devils:

It’s mostly fat tyre dirt road stuff, but this guy has a pennyfarthing and pith helmet:


After 2008, there are complications as permits are required in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as well as a Chinese visa. You have to go as a group, no single permits granted. Lonely Planet has a good thread here.

This guy arrested trying to sneak past a checkpoint without a permit.

These guys organised to meet in China, for the purpose of getting a group entry:
Marnus Hattingh
Different view of the same trip:
Katrina Rosen
Pang La on the way to EBC:

Many commercial companies organize supported tours:
Makalu Trekking
Bike Asia
Path Finder Cycling
Raw travel

But I think we can do it cheaper. Start saving, lets aim for $2,000 + $1000 Kathmandu return flights each. Unfortunately it’s too cold around Christmas, July-August best time.

This entry was posted in epicness, itinerary, touring. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Route 318: Lhasa – Kathmandu

  1. 888riley says:

    I love this idea more and more. It will be excellent.

    Anyone who is not yet convinced should read Heinrich Harrer’s ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ – it is brilliant, the best snapshot-in-time of Tibet before it opened its doors to outsiders. It’s a great insight into Tibetan culture (and a fascinating study of the Dalai Lama’s crazy childhood.

    And to prepare for the view of Evererst’s northside, there are a bazillion books worth looking at (start with Walt Unsworth) but include Lincoln Hall’s ‘White Limbo’, which is about the crazy-brave Australian ascent of the north face in 1983 (wouldn’t surprise if this has not yet been repeated).

    • Mark says:

      And I recommend the book Mum gave me for Christmas: “Into the Silence” Wade Davis. About Mallory and the shattered generation back from WW1. They walked all over where we’ll be going.

    • Mal says:

      The Australian North Face route (1984) hasn’t ever been repeated. Tim McCartney-Snape, Greg Mortimer and Andy Henderson summitted – Andy was badly frostbitten – Tim and Greg still lead occasional trips for World Expeditions.

      Speaking of which, WE has the same route: – the price is $5150 fro 25 days which includes just about everything except return airfare to Kathmandu (12 nights hotel). Next year they are running a trip from May5th – but they’ll also cater for private parties. An easy option – download the trip notes.

      Another great book is ‘Duel in the Snow’- the illegal British invasion of Tibet in 1904 (the Younghusband expedition).

      • Mark says:

        “Into the Silence” talks about the Younghusband expedition as a more or less series of massacres to Lhasa:
        “Whatever happens, we have got
        The Maxim gun, and they have not.”

        I looked at the WEX cycle trip notes. Its one of the more expensive, but I guess you get what you pay for. Interesting that they ride into Kathmandu; many other companies truck the last bit from the border.
        But I reckon you can’t put a price on the frission and uncertainty of travelling independently….Maybe if Tim and Greg were leading, it’d be a goer.

  2. Mark says:

    Well, we probably don’t need to actually ride the bikes.
    With the bike group TAR permit you also have to hire a truck, driver & guide.
    So: bikes in the back, get to the top of a pass, bikes out for a couple of photos, bikes back on board and onwards to the next noodlery for some yak butter tea….

    • Mal says:

      Awesome. But wouldn’t it be a pity to go to Everest ABC and not climb at least to North Col? Let’s make it May (pre-monsoon in Nepal) and we would get to see all of the Everest climbing circus (pretty much over by June, starts again in Sept/Oct). I think the base camp for Cho Oyu is on that road as well…really, if you were going to go all that way, you would want to climb some peaks …. riding a pushbike in KTH …. insane. Fares are reasonable – Thai Airways fly there with a Bangkok stopover.

      • Mark says:

        Some of the blogs mention $600 fines for stepping past EBC without a climbing permit, with Chinese military on watch. (I think someone tried to put a Tibetan flag on Everest during the Olympics and they are still touchy.
        Anyhow check out this guy, he got a permit to take his single speed to the South Col:

        • Mal says:

          I think a permit would be a must. Your permit says what you are doing and you have to buy a ‘summit everest’permit to climb on Everest. You can also join on the permit of another group. Same thing happens on the Nepalese side, so it isn’t just China.
          Record height for riding is still a bot over 7000m I think – if this lunatic makes the South Col he will have broken it. But … first time climbing, first time at altitude and he wants to take a bike to 8000m? the odds have got to be against him.

    • Leah says:

      It is becoming more appealing with every comment. I was too frightened of it initially because I know the monster I turn into when I’m tired and I could see weeks of irrational whining and tears while pushing a heavy MB over high-altitude scree. Not fun for anyone in hearing distance.

      But now it seems I don’t have to ride and it’s looking like I don’t even have to walk. I’m in. Can’t do next year, though, because I’m in Hungary and Turkey with Mum in May/June.

  3. Wendy Riley says:

    I have wanted to do this train trip ever since they built it which wasn’t that long ago! Could I be Directeur Sportiv from the train window? Do we need to have bikes involved?

  4. Mark says:

    I must admit I remember something Malcolm said about small planes and Nepal landing strips and a train does have appeal. Especially one that travels over permafrost and has piped oxygen. It might even end up cheaper, but would probably take a little longer to get to Lhasa.

    • 888riley says:

      I guess the expense might be that we won’t be booking return airfares (ie flying to chengdu but leaving from kathmandu.) Although I would think Chengdu would be a busy airport and there seems to be less of a penalty with most airlines these days for only flying one way (welll compared to a decade ago.) And the train would be brilliant. Sichuan is lush.
      Taking longer to get to Lhasa should be taken as a good thing and a part of acclimatising. We would need to spend the extra time there anyway to get used to the altitude and I’m told it can be quite unpleasant for some people in the first couple of days when you fly in.
      And in the spirit of ultra-light cycle touring, I think mum makes a good point. Do we really need the bikes?

  5. 888riley says:

    Ok so I have read this post again, except this time I was paying attention while I read. Fly to Lhasa from Kathmandu you say? Oh noes! Then we miss the train trip! Naah, most definitely need to go to Chengdu and catch the train, it would be brilliant … through China’s rice bowl and into the hills. Can’t miss that. It’s supposed to be a great train. Mum and dad and I went from guangzhou to beijing (which was about 36 hours) in a hard sleeper and it was a great experience

  6. stevecycle says:

    superb – Diamox is on order…

  7. Miranda ;) says:

    no no no, my brakes would never do it, and walking down hill at that angle – I would fall on my face!

  8. 888riley says:

    Whoa!!!! I got dizzy for a moment just reading this post. In fact, i got so dizzy I had to check the helpful Altitude Sickness Probability Indicator on the Makalu Trekking website and yes, WE HAVE ENTERED THE RED ZONE!

    I am swooning still and scrolling through looking for a Getting Hit By A Truck Probability Indicator … I’ll write a more tangible response once I have calculated the survivability percentages of the awesomely epic proposition.

    • Mark says:

      Here is my candidate for “Most Probable Road For Getting Hit By a Truck”.

      Los Caracoles between Chile and Argentina. When I Googled “los caracoles road of death” I found it was listed on “The World’s 10 Most Dangerous Roads” website.

      Unfortunately two of the routes on “The List” are already on this list of 10 most dangerous roads: The Karakoram Highway and the Stelvio Pass.

      Apart from leaving Lhasa and getting into Kathmandu Route 318 is pretty quiet.

      • 888riley says:

        Yes I recognise that road from one of the blogs I was reading … I actually think it should be added to The List

      • 888riley says:

        I started reading the Big Yaks and Loaded Bikes blog and soon came across the following:

        “On the second day extra oxygen is pumped out through vents in the compartment … ”

        It’s worth taking a moment to consider this (ie the fact that they are ON A TRAIN.)

        I really like this Lhasa – Katmandu idea (I am assuming you are talking about next year??) it’s brilliant. I think even the word ‘epic’ struggles to contain the scale of this project’s ambition.

        I would love to do this trip for two very obvious reasons:

        1. It is in every way epic … from the train (always wanted to do), to Lhasa (always wanted to go) to Everest (OMG don’t get me started), to Kathmandu (have literally dreamed about it)

        2. I fear what would happen if I didn’t go and one or more of my brothers did go and I was forced to look at the pictures. That would be an epic nightmare nightmare nightmare.

        I have some serious concerns though. I don’t know whether its a realistic proposition for me … I don;t think the altitude is just a matter of fitness. I would be worried about basic lung function. 14 kilometres of up (every metre of which is at altitude)

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