Tibet Driving and Car Hire Info
Driving in Tibet
All areas of the Tibet Autonomous Region require foreigners to be part of an organized tour that includes travel permits, a tour guide and a private vehicle with a driver (though you don’t need a vehicle if you don’t plan to leave Lhasa).As stated above some companies may let you do the driving but you will need a guide in the vehicle with you. The Tibetan regions of Qinghai, northern Sichuan, western Sichuan, southwest Gansu and northwest Yunnan don’t usually require travel permits or a tour guide though this can change, and these areas as well as TAR are often closed to foreigners from late February to April, which tends to be a sensitive time politically.
Recent years have seen major improvements to many roads in TAR have improved dramatically so that 4WD vehicles are now not needed in many areas. The Friendship Highway and many roads in the Yarlung Valley are now entirely paved. The road to Mt. Kailash is now paved over 75% of the way. The 100km of road from Baber to Everest Base Camp and the 75km from Everest Base Camp to Tingri are still gravel roads, as are many in the far west of Tibet and 4WD is preferable for these areas at most times of the year.
Although many roads in Tibet are above 5000m, most are only rarely closed due to snow. The Friendship Highway which runs between Khatmandu and Lhasa rarely closes and roads most susceptible to closure are in the Kham regions of the TAR and western Sichuan .The only real exception is the road to Nam Tso which This road is often closed for weeks at a time during the winter.
There are a number of main roads into Tibet from China. The main route used by tourists is the 1300 mile road from Chengdu to Lhasa. It passes through Xinduqiao, and the world’s highest city Litang (4200M), then by Lake Basong Cuo. The road rises to 4500M so altitude sickness can be a problem if you drive the route quickly though the views are spectacular.Depending on the time of year, a 4WD isn’t always necessary.
Probably the easiest route from China is the paved road from Qinghai that runs parallel to the railway line to Tibet for some of the route. This route passes Qinghai Lake, the Tangula Mountains, and Lake Nam Cuo. A benefit of this 1500 mile road is that it has more services than other routes.
Another popular route into Tibet is the road from Yunnan via Dali , Lijiang, Lugu Lake, Tiger Leaping Gorge and Lake Rawu. You’ll need a 4WD for this 1400 mile route.
Tibet Car Rental
Not surprisingly self drive car rental isn’t easy in Tibet. However there are companies who can arrange vehicles for you to drive in the country and also others who can arrange permits for travellers to take their own vehicles into Tibet. However, you will need to follow a pre arranged itinerary and have a local guide with you at all times.
This well established company offer a variety of self drive tours, mainly in the South and South West of China but they also cover Tibet and even parts of South East Asia. They’ll also sort out all the documentation for you, and you’ll use their 4 WD vehicles are travel in a small guided group either with your friends or joining others -
This company can arrange temporary driving licences and vehicle documentation and help with customers formalities-
This company are based in China but can arrange vehicles for self drive (with Guide in Eastern Tibet)
This is another company who advertise self driving tours using their vehicles and guides.