Lower-crust-derived adakitic rocks in the Gangdese belt provide important constraints on the timing of Tibetan crustal thickening and on the relative contributions of magmatic and tectonic processes. Here we present geochronological and geochemical data for the Wangdui porphyritic monzogranites in the western Gangdese belt. Zircon U–Pb dating yields emplacement ages of 46–44 Ma. All samples have high Sr (321–599 ppm), low Yb (0.76–1.33 ppm) and Y (10.6–18.3 ppm) contents, with high La/Yb (51.1–72.3) and Sr/Y (21.0–51.4) ratios, indicating adakitic affinities. The low MgO (0.97–1.76 wt %), Cr (7.49–53.6 ppm) and Ni (4.75–29.1 ppm) contents, as well as high 87Sr/86Sr(i) (0.7143–0.7145), low ϵNd(t) (−10.4 to −9.8) and zircon ϵHf(t) (−17.7 to 0.4) values, suggest that the Wangdui pluton most likely originated from partial melting of the thickened ancient lower crust. In combination with previously published data, despite the east–west-trending heterogeneity of crustal composition in the Gangdese belt, the La/Yb ratios of magmatic rocks reveal that both western and eastern segments experienced remarkable crustal thickening in the Eocene. However, in contrast to the thickened juvenile lower crust in the eastern segment formed by the underplating of mantle-derived magmas, tectonic shortening plays a more crucial role in thickening of the ancient basement in western Gangdese. In fact, such Eocene-thickened ancient lower-crust-derived adakitic rocks are widely distributed in the central Himalayan–Tibetan orogen. This, together with the extensive development of fold–thrust belts, suggests that tectonic shortening might be the main mechanism accounting for the crustal thickening associated with the India–Asia collision.