The age of surface uplift in southeastern Tibet is currently unknown, but the initiation of major river incision can be used as a proxy for the timing of initial uplift. The topographically high eastern plateau and gently dipping southeastern plateau margin are mantled by an elevated, low-relief relict landscape that formed at a time of slow erosion at low elevation and low tectonic uplift rates prior to uplift of the eastern Tibetan Plateau. Thermochronology from deep river gorges that are cut into the relict landscape shows slow cooling between ca. 100 and ca. 10–20 Ma and a change to rapid cooling after ca. 13 Ma with initiation of rapid river incision at 0.25–0.5 mm/yr between 9 and 13 Ma. A rapid increase in mean elevation of eastern Tibet beginning at this time supports tectonic-climate models that correlate the lateral (eastern) expansion of high topography in Tibet with the late Miocene intensification of the Indian and east Asian monsoons.