”The roof of the World” – the nature and wildlife of the Tibetan high plateau

18th October – 3rd November 2020

Optional extension tour: ”The valley of the Red Pandas” – probably the best place to photograph Red Pandas 3rd – 8th November 2020

Optional second extension tour: Snow leopards (coming soon)

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Some of the tour highlights:

  • A unique off-road vehicle expedition through one of the World’s least accessible, wild and magnificent natural areas, the Tibetan high plateau. The area is sometimes called ”The third pole” or ”The roof of the World”. Travelling up to 5400 m asl (by car), partly in the footsteps of the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin!
  • A maximum of three guests in each spacious terrain vehicle
  • Good chances to encounter the special mammals that live here: Pallas’s Cat, Wild Yak, Kiang/Asiatic Wild Ass, Tibetan Antelope, Tibetan Gazelle, Tibetan Wolf, Tibetan Fox, White-lipped Deer, Alpine Musk Deer, Goitered Gazelle, and one of the World’s rarest animals, Przewalski’s Gazelle. The amazing Snow Leopard lives here, too, but is a great challenge to find
  • All mammals’ fur is in the finest condition, ready for winter. Several species are in mating season
  • Good opportunities for birds such as the Black-necked Crane, Bar-headed Goose, Bearded Vulture, Ibisbill, Steppe Eagle, Saker Falcon, Tibetan Partridge, White-eared Pheasant, Tibetan Sandgrouse, the local endemic Przewalski’s Redstart, The odd Przewalski’s Finch, Mongolian Ground-jay, six species of Snowfinch, several species of Rosefinch, Pine Bunting and many high-altitude passerines
  • Meet the Tibetan culture – from nomadic herders to cities, villages, temples and holy sites
  • Great Chinese and Tibetan food
  • Staffan Widstrand will show you some of his favorite spots and will provide photographic advice to a small group who share the same interests
  • Remember – we’ve always been there before!

After a thorough reconnaissance tour, we have finally put the itinerary together for this unique expedition to some of the best parts of the Tibetan highlands, one of the World’s most peculiar, highest, wildest, culturally vivid, most remote and legendary areas. The tour goes to some of the high plateau’s best, but relatively unknown natural areas, on the edge of two of the World’s largest nature reserves in legendary Chang Tang, in the Chinese Qinghai province, with the opportunity for a great extension tour to the Red Pandas of Sichuan. A real once-in-a-lifetime tour! We travel in comfortable spacious terrain vehicles, e.g. Toyota Landcruisers, making our way up to really high altitude (maximum 5000 m asl), along some of the World’s highest roads, stopping along the way to enjoy wild mammals and birds as well as spectacular landscapes. The route is planned and lead by a real World expert on wildlife of the high plateau, Danish bird and mammal expert Jesper Hornskov, who has worked, lived and travelled up here for 30 years. We will visit most of the habitats of the high plateau and will focus on photographing as much of the wildlife as possible. We will spend a lot of time at high altitude, after gradually acclimatizing during the first days.

We will have daily contact with the vivid Tibetan culture – shepherds in the landscape, their houses or nomadic tents, their lama Buddhist religion, temples and holy places, but also people in cities, villages, tea-houses and restaurants.

We will partly be following the tracks of Swedish explorer Sven Hedin, who was here at the turn of the last century, one of the first westerners to describe these areas. To many Chinese, Sven Hedin is regarded as somewhat of a hero, considering his discoveries and dramatic, intrepid and successful expeditions. Place names like Golmud, Yushu and the large lake Koko Nor ring a bell for those who have read Sven Hedin’s classic travel reports.

We start in the province capital of Xining and then travel by special permits up passed lake Koko Nor, gaining altitude slowly, till we pass some of the highest road passes and are on the edge of the gigantic Chang Tang reserve. We spend as much time as we can on the frozen wilderness of the high plateau, before heading back to Xining through desert-like areas towards the end.

Staffan Widstrand, China expert, photographer and CEO of the Wild Wonders of China initiative will be the tour leader.

The tour is seventeen days long, with an optional five-day extension tour. You will honestly not want to miss the extension tour, with the Red Pandas and wildlife of one of China’s best deciduous forests, Laga He in Sichuan. The wild Red Pandas are the main attraction, and this is probably the best place in the World to see them. They come out from the forests to browse the exquisite berries that grow on vines in large solitary trees, making them easy to locate and approach.

Nature, weather and wild animals make it very difficult to be certain, but the chances of seeing and photographing most of the species mentioned above are very good. In China, however, things change rapidly, which you have to be well aware of. Closed areas can be opened, and open areas can be closed, sometimes with only a day’s notice. A flexible attitude is necessary for a successful tour.

Tour leaders and guides Jesper and Staffan have many years experience of China, local places, wildlife and photography in the prevailing conditions. These parts of China usually offer interesting and good food. No-one is likely to go hungry. Accommodation in two-bed hotel rooms, medium standard or better at lower altitudes, with en-suite bathroom. Up on the charismatic high plateau there is not much accommodation of that standard, so we will be staying six to eight nights at simpler guesthouses, sometimes with a toilet in the yard and bowls of hot water in the room for washing.

Staffan will hold lectures and talks and study the participants images, providing constructive criticism. He will also provide necessary assistance and photo-coaching throughout the tour.

Travel facts

18th October – 3rd November 2020

9 990 €
(1 998 € registration fee)*

Extension tour 
Extend your tour in China with our extension tour to the ”The valley of the Red Pandas” – probably the best place to photograph Red Pandas 3rd – 8th November 2020

Tour leader
Staffan Widstrand

Number of participants
Min 6
Max 9

Last date to register
16th July 2020

Price includes
Share in double room, meals according to itinerary, transfers, outings according to itinerary, water, tea/coffee and available non-alcoholic beverages at mealtimes, photographic lectures and guidance. All necessary special permits and administration for entering these areas with otherwise limited access. Guides and drivers.

Single room fee
750 €

Price does not include
Flights to and from Xining Caojiabao Airport (XNN) (NB! Do not purchase any air tickets before you receive information from us about arrival and departure times), gratuity, insurance, cancellation insurance, alcoholic beverages and personal items. Everything that is not specifically stated here. Visa for China. Additional luggage fees on flights.

Xining Caojiabao Airport (XNN), Qinghai, China. The tour starts and ends here.

Photo equipment
The tour concentrates on photographing the unique wildlife and landscapes of the Tibetan high plateau. For birds and other animals long telephoto lenses are best. The longer the better, as some animals still keep their distance, despite several years hunting ban. A 200-500 or 150-600 is good, as is a prime 500 or 600 mm lens. In order to increase focal length of a shorter telephoto lens you can use a teleconverter or a camera it’s a DX-format sensor.

Telezoom lenses such as 70-200 mm or 80-400 mm will also provide varied images. A wide-angle or standard lens for landscape and people should also be brought. If you have two camera bodies, bring both. Tripods can be useful, but you don’t have to bring the heaviest, most stable type. Please note that during some of the hikes at relatively high altitude we recommend that you bring as little equipment as possible. Excess equipment can be left in the vehicle. Wild animals can at times be surprisingly approachable

Temperatures at this time of year on the Tibetan high plateau can vary from +10 to -20C, sometimes its strong winds. Strong sunlight is common, as is snow above 2500 m asl.

Wind-resistant shell jacket and trousers, rainwear, preferably a don jacket as well. Thermal underwear, e.g. merino wool, waterproof hiking boots, windproof hat, gloves, sun-hat, sunglasses, sun screen of at least factor 30-50, several pairs wool socks (extra socks to change to during hiking is very important), warm indoor slippers.

We will travel by terrain vehicles and stay close to roads. Short hikes are often on coarse or steep ground at relatively high altitude. However, much of the wildlife can be seen from the road/vehicles, if you do not feel like hiking short distances. Vehicles are adapted for wheel-chairs. Contact us for further details, so we can discuss solutions depending on your level of mobility.

*Conditions of payment
The registration fee is paid by invoice upon registration. This tour has special terms and conditions that differ from our regular terms and conditions in that final payment is made 90 days before departure.

Passport and visas
To enter China, most nationalities require visa. Apply for your visa in good time! Passports must be valid at least six months from return date, upon visa application. You will receive a necessary invitation from the Chinese travel agent, that must be handed in together with your passport, for visa application. It is important that you find out what visa rules and regulations apply for you. Passports are required for airline check-in.

Contact your insurance company for information on travel insurance and cancellation insurance. We recommend that you have insurance that covers medical transports both domestically and for home journey. As this tour is to very remote places it is of utmost importance that you consult your insurance company about medical flights/home transport in the case of illness and/or injury.

As much of this tour will be spent at altitudes above 3000 m, with stops along the way up to about 5000 m, and photography sessions at 4500-4800 m, it is of great importance that you consider high altitude before deciding to participate. Anyone who is in reasonably good physical health and shape is likely to acclimatize to the altitude and thin air within days of arriving. If you have any form of heart or breathing trouble, or other condition that can be affected by altitude, you are recommended to seek medical advice before deciding on participation. Please note that medical care opportunities outside cities like Beijing, Xining, Yushu and Golmud are very limited. All participants must be aware as to the implications of this. Contact your doctor for advice and vaccinations.

Group and language
Our tours are open for all nationalities, and the group may be international. Our tour leaders speak Swedish and English.

Terms and conditions


Day 1 (18th October) (Dinner)
Arrival at Xining International airport and transport to our comfortable hotel to rest after the long journey.

Day 2 (19th October) (Breakfast – Lunch – Dinner)
An early start and journey up to the mythical lake Koko Nor or Qinghai Lake, described by among others the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin.

Koko Nor is a large brackish water lake, surrounded by snow-clad mountain ranges and the endless sky. Flocks of migrating waterfowl usually gather here, with thousands of ducks, geese and waders. Whilst we watch flocks of Bar-headed Geese, various larks and the first Plateau Pikas, our bodies start to acclimatize to the altitude. We will be moving by foot at the lake, to enable a gradual acclimatization. Several raptors usually gather around the water birds, such as Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Pallid Harrier, or fast flyers such as Saker Falcon, Merlin or Peregrine Falcon.

A flagship species here is the critically endangered and rare Przewalski’s Gazelle, that our local guide Jesper found in 2005, and has been studying them since then. They are slowly increasing in number. Will we get close enough to photograph them? Other species might be Steppe Polecats, Red Foxes, maybe a Wolf or Asian Badger. Otherwise, most of the animals around the lake are domestic – the Yaks and Sheep of the Tibetan herders. In the late afternoon we will descend to a comfortable hotel, in the last city on our route that can offer one.

Day 3 (20th October) (Breakfast – Lunch – Dinner)
Today we return to Koko Nor for another go at photographing the species we started with yesterday. This also gives us a chance to acclimatize.

In the late afternoon we return to our hotel at lower altitude.

Day 4 – 8 (21st – 25th October)
 (Breakfast – Lunch – Dinner)
We drive on to a slightly wild west style Tibetan country village. We will stay here for four nights, taking it easy, staying close to the roads and stopping to look at anything interesting. Some of the animals up here are Wolves, Tibetan Foxes, Pallas’s Cat, Asiatic Wild Ass, Tibetan Gazelle, Himalayan Blue Sheep and Plateau Pikas. We are also in the kingdom of the Snow Leopard, but the mountains and plains are enormous, and Snow Leopards are small… Some of the birds we can expect:

Giant Grey Shrike, Great Rosefinch, Roborovski’s Rosefinch and Mongolian Lark.

Our temporary home here is not grand, but simple and good, and at night we might see one of the most star-strewn skies we will ever see.

We will spend quite some time around a mountain pass that during previous years has offered a number of encounters with Pallas’s Cat, and where Snow Leopards have been seen on a few occasions.

Raptors on their way from the steppes and high plateaus in the north pass over our heads for warmer climes in the south. We should get opportunities to photograph species such as Upland Buzzards, Steppe Eagle and Saker Falcon. Some of the resident species are Lammergeier, Himalayan Vultures and Black Vultures.

We will have a unique degree of flexibility to fine-tune our plans along the way, depending on weather, wind and our success in photographing Pallas’s Cat, but also the Asian Wild Ass and Tibetan Gazelle. The Pica-hunting Tibetan Fox occurs in many places and the Tibetan Wolf can be seen often, even close to roads. In the wetlands several pairs of Black-necked Crane live, one of the endemic breeding birds of the high plateau.

The journey goes on across the Bayankala Pass, which at 5000 m asl is one of the highest roads in the World, down towards the Yangtse River’s upper reaches, to the town of Yushu. The combination of strong experiences during the first mountainous days together with the oxygen-rich air and comfortable hotel of the Yushu valley usually adds to good spirits as we arrive there.

Day 9 (26th October)
 (Breakfast – Lunch – Dinner)
A days trip south towards the Himalayas gives us a taste of a different region, with spectacular, wild landscapes and steep ravines, where the Himalayan Blue Sheep seem to have a stable population. This is of course good news for their main predator, the Snow Leopard. During a previous visit we asked a Tibetan shepherd if he had seen Snow Leopards here, and he replied ”No, not here, but there” and pointed towards a place 300 m away… This is also the home of the large White-eared Pheasant, and species like Thorold’s Deer, Mountain Weasel, the rare Moupin Pika and the White-bellied Musk Deer. Even Lynx can sometimes be seen. In the evening we return to the hotel in Yushu, where some Ibisbill often occur around the river.

Day 10 – 14 (27th – 31st October) (Breakfast – Lunch – Dinner)
The road between Yushu and Golmud is long and one of the most remote roads in the World, depending on how you measure. This road crosses the wind-swept Chang Tang, ”The Roof of the World”, and we get to enjoy the impressive mountain landscape, stopping to see the wildlife along the way. Two of the World’s largest nature reserves lie here, and we are in the core area for the Chiru, or Tibetan Antelope – a species that used to migrate in Serengeti-like hordes but was decimated by heavy poaching. By the time the species became protected, numbers had decreased from millions to a few thousand. However, thanks to good protection, numbers are up to several tens of thousands. Small groups can often be seen by the road.

Our itinerary will be very flexible, in order to maximize our chances of photographing these unique animals. We will also have the chance of photographing wild Yaks and the large, wild Argali sheep. Some of the bird species include Tibetan Sandgrouse, one of the World’s toughest and most extreme birds. Our accommodation will be a simple guesthouse (hot water in a bowl, toilet in the yard), because there is no other available accommodation before we reach Golmud on day 14.

Day 15 – 16 (1st – 2nd November) (Breakfast – Lunch – Dinner)
The return from Golmud to Xining will be determined in more detail when we know how we have succeeded with our target species. We will travel through desert landscapes where the rare Black-tailed Gazelle and Mongolian Ground-jay occur. Another top priority will be a beautiful forested valley with open grassy steppe where White-lipped Deer and Himalayan Blue Sheep can be seen, together with an array of local birds, such as Przewalski’s Redstart (probably the least seen Redstart of all), Kessler’s Thrush, Stoliczka’s Tit-warbler, Przewalski’s Finch and Pine Bunting.

Day 17 (3rd November) (Breakfast)
Morning transfer to Xinings international airport for further journey home, or via Chengdu for our fine extension tour to the Red Pandas of Sichuan.

Please Note
Despite putting a lot of energy into following our itinerary for this unique expedition to the Roof of the World, there might be times when it is impossible, due to circumstances out of our control. Flexibility and adaptability are two key factors to a successful and enjoyable tour. Participants are expected to be prepared for an adventurous and not too comfortable tour through the wild, sparsely populated, high altitude, culturally varied areas. We will be on foot for shorter hikes, up to half a day, which in combination with high altitude and cold temperatures requires a high level of motivation.


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”The roof of the World” – the nature and wildlife of the Tibetan high plateau 18th October – 3rd November 2020

NOTE! When you have made your booking you will immediately get a confirmation e-mail. If you don´t get the confirmation e-mail please check your spam e-mails or contact us by telephone, +46730 662 007.

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