I get a lot of emails from people across the globe asking what I think would be a good trip in the Kham regions of Tibet outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Here is my top recommendation:
Day 1: Spend a day in Xining, the capital city of Qinghai province on the northern Tibetan Plateau. Though Xining itself isn't the most exciting place to be, it does have some good places to see in the vicinity. The birthplace of the current Dalai Lama is just east of Xining, while the famous Tibetan monastery of Kumbum is to the south. You can visit both of these places in a single day.
Day 2: Drive from Xining to the small town of Heka. Heka is 230km southwest of Xining along Highway 214. On the way to Heka, there are many photo opportunities to see Amdo Tibetan nomads herding sheep and goats. Heka is a good place to spend the night to acclimatize to the elevation. Heka sits around 3300m. After Heka the elevation goes well over 4000m.
Day 3: Drive from Heka 270km south to Maduo in Golok Tibet Autonomous Prefecture. Maduo sits at 4300m. Maduo is a cold place to be even in the summer. It is not uncommon to see snow flurries here in July. The area around Maduo is completely nomadic so there will be more opportunities here to see traditional nomadic life (see picture below).
Day 4: Drive from Maduo 110km west near the source of the Yellow River (pictured below). Along the way you will pass the high alpine lake of Ngoring Tso (known as Eling Hu in Chinese). This area is very remote, but very beautiful. The only people around are some nomads herding yak and sheep. It is a great place to camp.
Day 5: Camp another night near the source of the Yellow River (ele. 4400m).
Day 6: Drive 110km from the source of the Yellow River back to Maduo.
Day 7: Drive around 180km south to a Kham Tibetan nomad area near Qingshui He in Yushu Tibet Autonomous Prefecture. Along the way you will cross over the 4900m Ba Yan Ka La mountain pass. This pass is the border between Kham and Amdo provinces. This area has many nomad Tibetans living in black yak hair tents. You can spend a couple of nights camping in this area.
Day 8: Camp in a Kham Tibetan nomad area.
Day 9: Drive around 160km from the nomad area to the large town of Jyekundo (ele. 3700m). There are several large monasteries around Jyekundo as well the Gyana Mani Temple (largest collection of prayer stones in Tibet), the Batang grasslands (pictured at the top of the page) and the Princess Wencheng Temple (great hiking area).
Day 10: Stay in Jyekundo
Day 11: Drive 140km from Jyekundo to Shiqu (ele. 4100m). Shiqu sits just across the Qinghai border in Ganzi Tibet Autonomous Prefecture in northwest Sichuan province. The area around Shiqu is all nomadic with large grasslands covering the region (pictured below).
Day 12: Drive 230km from Shiqu to Manigango (ele. 3800m). Along the way you will stop at Dzogchen monastery. Tibetan pilgrims often come to this monastery on a pilgrimage.
Day 13: Drive 110km from Manigango to Dege (ele. 3200m). Along the way you will pass the sacred lake Yilhun Lhatso with the 6168m Mt. Chola in the background. The lake is a good place to hike around. Dege is home to the Parkhang printing press (pictured below). Tibetan buddhists scriptures from the Parkhang printing press can be found in monasteries all across Tibet. Gonchen monastery is also found in Dege, very near to the printing press.
Day 14: Stay in Dege
Day 15: Drive 328km from Dege to Shiqu.
Day 16: Drive 420km from Shiqu to Maduo stopping to visit (or camp with) some nomads along the way.
Day 17: Drive 500km from Maduo back to Xining.email@example.com.