Lying in Gyirong County of Shigatse Prefecture, Gyirong Town is the gateway to Nepal, and the last town you will visit on your way to the Nepali border. Once one of the most inaccessible places in Tibet, Gyirong Town now lies on a major road route from Lhasa to Kathmandu and is one of the most visited small towns in Tibet due to its location on the route to the border crossing that bears the same name, Gyirong Port.
For a small town, however, while there may not be a lot to see in the way of tourist attractions, there have grown up a good number of tourist-oriented places to stay and eat. From teahouses and cake shops to decent restaurants serving Tibetan and Chinese food for a large number of tourists that stay in and travel through the town on a regular basis in the peak tourist season, Gyirong Town now has a large number of places to eat. The town also has a growing hotel business, with everything from guesthouses in the traditional Tibetan style to 3-star hotels that can cater to western tourist tastes in their design and food.
However, there is one attraction that the area has that is one of the most amazing places on the Tibetan plateau. Part of Gyirong County, which is considered to be one of the most amazing and outstanding areas of natural beauty in the world lies all around Gyirong Town. Thought to be the deepest of the Five Valleys of the mid-Himalayas, Gyirong Valley is one of the last great areas of exploration, and much of the valley has yet to be walked along. At its southernmost point, the valley has an altitude of just 1,700 meters above sea level, while at its northernmost end, far north of Gyirong Town, the valley lies at over 7,000 meters. The natural barriers of the valley walls keep the place protected in the south from the harsh plateau climate, and the area of the southern end of the valley has a hot subtropical climate all year round.
Historically, Gyirong Town was a major thoroughfare on the trade route from China to Nepal, and while the area was only recently established as a major port of entry by the Chinese government, it has been an important town in the history of Sino-Nepalese trade for thousands of years. As far back as the 7th century, the area was an important trade route, and a temple was built in Gyirong by Songtsen Gampo as one of the four Yang-Dul temples of Tibet.
History tells of other important facts about Gyirong that have grown in legends throughout the centuries, not least of which is the belief that the great guru Milarepa was actually born in Gyirong. Gyirong was also once the capital of the famed Gongtang Kingdom was a stopping place for Princess Bhrikuti on her way to Lhasa to marry Songtsen Gampo, and was one of the first places from where Padmasambhava and Atisa began their teachings of Buddhism in Tibet.
Yet, the area has remained largely unexplored for the most part over the centuries, despite many religious, cultural, and political events have taken place in the area. Now, very few people remember the former importance of the town and its surrounding valley.
Not far from Gyirong Town is the border crossing point of Gyirong Port, the new international border crossing from Nepal to Tibet. The oldest, and once the largest, of all the border crossings between China and Nepal, it was closed for all except local traffic for many years, until 2014, when it reopened with the expectations that it would once again prosper as it once had long ago. However, the earthquake of 2015 that destroyed the international border crossing at Zhangmu, known as the Friendship Bridge, also severely damaged the crossing at Gyirong Port, and it was closed once again.
It was not until August 2017 that the border crossing at Gyirong port was reopened as the new main international crossing point between Nepal and Tibet, opening up the option for tourists traveling to Tibet from Nepal to cross the border and travel overland to the Tibetan capital.
Getting to Gyirong Town in Shigatse Prefecture is a long drive from both Lhasa and Kathmandu. From Lhasa, it is a journey of over 750 kilometers along the G318 Friendship Highway and then on the S214 to the town itself. Whereas the old route to the border crossing of Zhangmu followed the Friendship Highway all the way to the border, the new route travels along smaller roads to get to Gyirong Town, before heading down to the border.
From Kathmandu, you need to take a bus to get to Rasuwagadhi Fort, the border checkpoint on the Nepali side of the Trishuli River Gorge. Once across the border, it is a drive of around 24 kilometers along with a mixed asphalt and gravel road to the town, which is normally the first overnight stopping point for people taking tours to Lhasa overland.
Lying as it does in the far west of Tibet, you could be forgiven for thinking that Gyirong Town is one of those places that cannot be accessed during the harsh Tibetan winter. You could not be more wrong. Lying in the stunning Gyirong Valley, the area has a more moderate climate than that of the plateau that surrounds it. At only 2,700 meters above sea level, the town is not as high as Lhasa, and when coming from Kathmandu, which is a mere 500 meters ASL, it is the ideal place to stop for a day to acclimatize to the higher altitude of the plateau.
This lush, green valley climate has long been legendary as a little piece of paradise within the high arid mountains of the Himalayas and praised as one of the most beautiful places in Tibet by many people. Located in an area that has a lush sub-tropical monsoon climate, the lower valley area is mild for most of the year, thanks to the high mountains either side that protect it from the harshest weather. Autumn is often rated as the best time to visit the valley and the town, after the monsoon rains that can bring as much as 600mm of rain in the three months of the monsoon season. Temperatures average around 10-13 degrees in the autumn and can get as high as a balmy 18 degrees in the hottest periods of the season.