Tibet Geography

Located on the Tibetan Plateau, the Tibet Autonomous Region is the highest region on earth. Northern Tibet elevation reaches an average of over 4572 meters. Mount Everest sits on Tibet’s border with Nepal. 

Where is Tibet?

The Tibet Autonomous region, located in the southwest border of the people’s Republic of China, spans between 26°50- 36°53′ north latitude and 78°25- 99°06′ east longitude, covering an area of 1.202189 million square kilometers, accounting for about 1/8 of the total land area of China, second only to Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region, equivalent to the sum of the area of Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. 

China’s provincial-level areas of Xinjiang, Qinghai and Sichuan lie to the north, northeast, and east, respectively, of the Tibet. It also share a short border with Yunnan province in the southeast. The other countries to the south are Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal and other countries and regions with the boundary line of 3842 kilometers.

Landform and Topography

The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is the latest, largest and highest plateau in the world, so it is called the “roof of the world” and is regarded as the “third pole of the earth” outside the Antarctic and Arctic. The Tibetan Plateau is located in the main area of the Tibetan Plateau. The general terrain of the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau is inclined from northwest to southeast. The topography is complex and varied, and there are many kinds of landform types, such as high steep meandering mountains, steep and deep gully gorges, glaciers, bare stones, Gobi and so on. There are also a wide variety of exotic plants and rare wild animals, which belong to the cold, temperate, subtropical and tropical regions respctively, as well as the natural wonders characterized by the vertical distribution of “A mountain has four seasons” and “A different weather a few miles out”. The landforms can be divided into Himalayan region, southern Tibetan valley, northern Tibetan plateau and mountain canyon area of eastern Tibet.

1. Himalayan Region喜马拉雅高山地区

The Himalayan alpine region, in southern Tibet, consists of several roughly east-west mountain ranges, with an average elevation of about 6000 meters. Located on the border between China and Nepal, Mount Everest in Dingri County, Tibet, is 8844.43 meters above sea level, the highest in the world. The top of the Himalayas is covered with snow and ice all the year round, and the climate and geomorphology on both sides of the Himalayas vary greatly.

2. Southern Tibetan Valley藏南谷地

The southern Tibetan valley lies between the Gangdise Mountains and the Himalayas, that is the region through which the Yarlung Zangbo River and its tributaries flow. There are many river valley plains and lake basin valleys in this area. With flat terrain, fertile soil, it is Tibet’s main agricultural region.

3. Northern Tibetan Plateau藏北高原

Northern Tibetan Plateau, located between the Kunlun Mountains, Tanggula Mountain and Gangdise Mountains, Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains, about two-thirds of the total area of the autonomous region. Composed of a series of round and gentle hills with many basins between them, it is the main pastoral area of Tibet.

4. Mountain Canyon Area of Eastern Tibet藏东高山峡谷区

Eastern Tibet mountain canyon area, that is, the famous Hengduan Mountains. Located roughly in the east of Nagqu, it is a series of mountains and deep valleys with east-west trend gradually turning to the north and south, during which there are three major rivers, the Nujiang Riverthe Lancang River and the Jinsha River. The everlasting snow on the top of the mountain, the dense forest on the hillside and the evergreen pastoral garden at the foot of the mountain make up the magnificent landscape of the three parallel rivers in the canyon area.

Climate and Weather

Tibet’s climate is unique and complex due to the effects of topography, geomorphology and atmospheric circulation. The climate has the characteristics of cold and dry in the northwest, warm and humid in the southeast. Therefore, the climatic types from southeast to northwest are: tropical, subtropical, plateau temperate, plateau Subfrigid zone, plateau cold zone and so on. Three-dimensional climate is obvious.

As the altitude increases, the air pressure decreases and the air density decreases. The oxygen content in per cubic meter of air decreases gradually. At 3000 meters above sea level, the oxygen content is about 73% of the sea level, at 4000 meters is about 62%-65.4%, and at 5000 meters is about 59%. At more than 6000 meters is less than 52%. Therefore, it is prone to produce altitude sickness.

Under the alternating control of winter westerly and summer southwest monsoon, the dry season and rainy season in Tibet are very obvious, generally, dry season is from October to the following April, rainy season is from May to September, and the rainfall in rainy season usually accounts for about 90% of the precipitation in the whole year. Precipitation in various regions is also severely uneven, the annual precipitation from the southeastern lowlands of 5000 mm, gradually decreased to 50 mm in the northwest.

The climate of the south and north of Tibet is very different. The southern Tibetan valley is influenced by Indian Ocean warm and humid air flow. The annual average temperature is 8℃, the lowest monthly average temperature is -16℃, and the maximum monthly average temperature is above 16℃. The northern Tibetan Plateau is a typical continental climate. The annual mean temperature is below 0℃, the freezing period is up to half a year, the hottest July is less than 10℃, the June to August is warmer. In terms of climate, it is more suitable to travel to Tibet from March to October, the best time to visit is June to September.

Tibet has the most solar radiation energy in China, twice or one third more than the plain area at the same latitude, and the longest sunshine duration in the country. Compared with the mainland of China, the temperature in most areas of Tibet is lower, the average temperature of Lhasa and Shigatse is lower than the similar latitude of Chongqing, Wuhan and Shanghai, 10-15℃. In Nagri Prefecture, over 5000 meters above sea level, the daytime temperature in August is only about 10 ℃, and the night temperature can even drop below 0℃.

Water Resource

Tibet Autonomous Region may be divided into two parts, the lakes region in the west and north-west, and the river region which spreads out on three sides of the former on the east, south, and west. Both regions receive limited amounts of rainfall as they lie in the rain shadow of the Himalayas. On the south the Tibet AR is bounded by the Himalayas, and on the north by a broad mountain system. The system at no point narrows to a single range; generally there are three or four across its breadth. As a whole the system forms the watershed between rivers flowing to the Indian Ocean − the Indus, Brahmaputra and Salween and its tributaries − and the streams flowing into the undrained salt lakes to the north.


Tibet Autonomous Region in China is famous for being the roof of the world and the “Third Pole(Tibetan Plateau)”, and it is one of the largest sources of freshwater all over the world, comes after the North and South Poles. As an important freshwater source, it is easy to feed over 46% of the people from Southeast Asia.

Tibet is the place where there are six water sources of the largest rivers on the continent of Asia, and these six water sources provide water demands of about 20% of the world population. Of course, there are more than 6 rivers in Tibet. In addition, over 10 rivers that originate in Tibet pass through other Southeast Asian countries to provide them with freshwater.

The river region is characterised by fertile mountain valleys and includes the Yarlung Tsangpo River(the upper courses of the Brahmaputra) and its major tributary, the Nyang River, the Salween, the Yangtze, the Mekong, and the Yellow River. The Yarlung Tsangpo Canyon, formed by a horseshoe bend in the river where it flows around Namcha Barwa, is the deepest, and possibly longest canyon in the world. Among the mountains there are many narrow valleys. The valleys of LhasaShigatseGyantse and the Brahmaputra are free from permafrost, covered with good soil and groves of trees, well irrigated, and richly cultivated. The South Tibet Valley is formed by the Yarlung Tsangpo River during its middle reaches, where it travels from west to east. The valley is approximately 1200 kilometers long and 300 kilometers wide. The valley descends from 4500 meters above sea level to 2800 meters. The mountains on either side of the valley are usually around 5000 meters high.


Tibet has the largest number of lakes in China, with a total area of about 23,800 square kilometers, accounting for more than 30% of the total lake area in China. 1500 lakes in different sizes and different views scatter  between mountains and wilderness. Among them, 3 lakes including NamtsoSiling Lake and Zhari Namco Lake cover an area of more than 1000 square kilometers, 47 lakes with an area of over 100 square kilometers. There are many types of lakes in Tibet, which contain almost all the characteristics of lakes in China. In Tibet, the fresh water lakes are few, but the salt water lake are many, the preliminary investigation shows that there are approximately 251 various kinds of salt water lakes, with the total area of about 8000 square kilometers.  Around the salt water lakes, there are rich pastures and a variety of precious wild animals.

The most famous lakes in Tibet are Namtso Lake, Yamdrok Yamtso Lake, Manasarovar Lake, Pangong Lake, Basum Lake, Sengli Tso Lake, and so on. In Tibet, many lakes are given religious significance. Namtso, Manasarovar Lake, Yamdrok Yamtso are known as three “holy lakes” in Tibet. In addition, including Lhamo Latso Lake, which has a special status in the reincarnation system of living Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism, Tangra Yumco Lake, a famous god lake of Bon Religion located in northern Tibet, and Cona Lake, which is a living Buddha’s “soul lake” in Amdo County.

The Tibet Autonomous Region is dotted over with large and small lakes, generally salt or alkaline, and intersected by streams. Due to the presence of discontinuous permafrost over the Chang Tang, the soil is boggy and covered with tussocks of grass, thus resembling the Siberian tundra. Salt and fresh-water lakes are intermingled. The lakes are generally without outlet, or have only a small effluent. The deposits consist of soda, potash, borax and common salt. The lake region is noted for a vast number of hot springs, which are widely distributed between the Himalaya and 34° N, but are most numerous to the west of Tengri Nor (north-west of Lhasa). So intense is the cold in this part of Tibet that these springs are sometimes represented by columns of ice, the nearly boiling water having frozen in the act of ejection.