Ganden to Samye

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One of the best hikes in the world

Ganden to Samye

…  unforgettable trekking in one of the most beautiful areas of Tibet. A pilgrimage between two holy sites …

Most recently updated Aug 2013. You can recommend improvements by leaving recommendations or links in the comments on this page. Our editors will consider them. Thanks for your help!

tibet-ganden-samye-trekking-tour-mapAT A GLANCE

  • one of the most popular treks in Tibet
  • 4-5 days
  • about 80 km
  • best months April – October
  • tenting is required
  • independent hiking is illegal, though some foreigners do it anyway
  • Ganden Monastery 4,300m to Samye 3540m  is a traditional pilgrimage route between two revered Holy sites
  • you’ll suffer many hassles traveling in totalitarian China

Map.ChinaTibet

Why We Like This Hike

  • the best way to learn about Tibet is to see it with your own eyes
  • it’s the best trek close to Lhasa
  • sprawling ruins of Ganden remain a stunning sight. This is our favourite Tibetan monastery, built high on a cliff in a natural amphitheatre. After the tour buses leave, it’s a wondrous place.
  • high lakes and bleak, remote mountain passes
  • getting immersed in Tibetan history and their bizarre version of Buddhism
  • you can extend the hike Samye to Taktse for an 8-10 day loop
  • optional side-trip scramble up to an ancient Nyingmapa retreat called Emmaling
  • fantastic weather during the trekking season. (In October we did not see a cloud in the sky for weeks.)
  • beautiful sand dunes close to Samye

dunes Samye

Considerations

  • altitude sickness is a big risk, obviously
  • you need many days at altitude before crossing two 5000m+ passes
  • many suffer respiratory problems. And fatigue.
  • no rescue service is available. You are on your own.
  • we hired a guide and pack horse — and the horse could not negotiate one rough section. We needed to unload the gear and carry it ourselves.
  • regulations (like everything else) change abruptly in Tibet. Often the authorities are not sure what is allowed and what is not.
  • visitors need a “permit” to visit Samye though many pass through without one
  • many independent travelers deliberately disregard Chinese rules and “play dumb” when eventually caught
  • China and Tibet are relatively expensive for foreigners. It helps to be able to speak some Mandarin and a few words of Tibetan.
  • Tibetan mastiff guard dogs sometimes challenge hikers,
  • it is a fairly easy walk for the most part, but with a few very difficult sections
  • bring all food and gear from Lhasa
  • temperatures can fall well below freezing at night
  • snow may trap you in your tent
  • no official campsites
This Hiking Life

This Hiking Life

  • local people on the trekking route speak Tibetan, not Chinese
  • you need good tents, warm sleeping bags and warm clothes
  • rent gear if needed in Lhasa
  • pack animals can be hired in Ganden (Yaks are far better than horses) but seemingly cannot go all the way to Samye

A great topic of conversation among travelers in Tibet is the confusing, changing set of rules and fees levied by the Chinese overlords. We found that most of the trekking we did there was common practice but officially illegal.

Routes

  • Zhukar La (Shug-la) 5250m (17,224ft) and Chetur La (Chitu-la) 5100m (16,732ft) are connected by a very high valley. You do not want to suddenly be stricken with altitude sickness between those passes.
  • consider a number of possible side-trips
  • we enjoyed a short, steep side-trip up to sleep at Yamalung Hermitage

trek mapHere’s a sample itinerary from Tibet Travel Expert:

Day 05: Drive to Ganden, 70 km, light trekking

Day 06: Trek to Yama Do, 5-6 hrs, 17 km (450 m descent, 300 m ascent)

Day 07: Trek to Tsotup Chu Valley, 5-7 hrs,10 km

Day 08: Trek to Herder’s Camp, 5 hrs, 14 km

Day 09: Descent Trek Nyango (4-5 hrs, total of 39 km today, route: Herder Camp-Gen Do-Yamalung Hermitage-Nyango-Wango-Pisha-Dragmar-Sangbu-Samye)

Day 10: Samye-Boat-Ferry point-Tsetang (Tibet culture cradle), rest

Day 11: Explore Yarlung Valley: Yumbulagang, Tibetan kings Tombs, Tramdruk

From Samye you need to cross the Tsangpo river by ferry (barge) or private boat to get to the highway back to Lhasa. Like many things in China, there is no fixed fare for the river crossing. Negotiate.

ganden-samye-google Trekking Guides

Logistics

  • not much has changed since we did this route independently and illegally in 1998
  • if you don’t want to sign on with a guide, you will be making it up as you go along
  • be completely self-reliant, prepared for altitude sickness
  • step 1 – get an up-to-date guidebook
  • step 2 – consider best strategies to get a visa to China
  • consider taking the China to Tibet train (tickets)

Best Trekking Guidebooks

Best Travel Guidebooks

Other Recommended Books

Best Web Pages

Best Trip Reports – Independent hikers

… While a permit is not necessary for Ganden, it is for Samye …

… I rolled the dice and didn’t get a permit, intending to talk/bribe my way though it if I was asked.  Fortunately I was not asked for one, but one of the guesthouse in Samye (the monastery run one and not the one I was staying in) was visited by police the night I was in Samye …

Micah

Samye

Movies

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