Tag: adventure travel

Trekking Mount Kailash Video

Faces of Tibet Video

Jiuzhaigou National Park

Of the 9 total Tibetan villages located inside the park boundaries, 7 of these are still active.  Because the park is now a nationally protected treasure these villages no longer practice agriculture but most of these villagers make their money off tourism in the park.

Sometimes referred to as the “Yellowstone National Park of China” Jiuzhaigou is one of the most beautiful national parks in all of China.  But please be aware that in 2016 the park hosted  5.14 million visitors and most of these are Chinese nationals.  June, July, August, and October Holiday (October 1-8) is especially the tourist high season and you can expect to encounter large crowds and long lines at the park in these times. As an American I feel these crowds take away from the natural wonder of the park and would try to avoid visiting the park in peak season times if at all possible.

The fall foliage in September and October is spectacular in the park,  with dramatic leaf colors of yellow, orange, and red, and we recommend visiting Jiuzhaigou in the off season between September 1 to May 15.

After recovering from an August 2017 earthquake the park is restored and tourism is alive and active in this region.

If you are looking to view the blue lakes, dramatic waterfalls, and pristine forests of Jiuzahigou you can view a sample tour here that travels from Xining to Chengdu:

Jiuzhaigou tour.

You can also contact us anytime at:    info@elevatedtrips.com

 

The History of Jiuzhaigou

Jiuzhaigou is full of history and whimsy across its 9 villages and its breathtaking alpine lakes. According to legend, a goddess accidentally dropped a mirror and the mirror immediately broke into 108 pieces, forming 108 colorful lakes across the park’s ecosystem.  108 also happens to be a holy number in Tibetan Buddism as there are 108 teachings of Buddha and each Tibetan prayer rosary contains 108 beads to help practitioners remember these teachings. Each scenic spot here has it’s own unique legends and we recommend spending some time with a translator to hear some of these amazing stories from local villagers inside the park.

There are nine villages dispersed over the alpine lakes.
Here is one of the nine villages

 

The Culture of Jiuzhaigou

Despite the high number of tourists that visit this park, the total population of the Tibetan villages in Jiuzhai Valley remains only at 1,000, with just over 110 families. While the valley was officially discovered by the government in 1972, the record of earliest human activities here dates back to the Yin-Shang Dynasty, somewhere in the period of  the 16th – 11th Century B.C. Before the 1960s, Tibetans in Jiuzhaigou lived a fully self-sufficient life and were almost completely cut off from the outside world. Then in the 1970s, Chinese loggers discovered these rich forests and the park was soon throttled into the national spotlight as a mystical Shangri-La and a place of impressive wonder.

The nine Tibetan Villages
The nine Tibetan Villages

Most Tibetans in Jiuzhaigou mainly believe in the animistic religion that predates Buddhism known as Bon or Bonpo.   Bon bears some similarities to Tibetan Buddhism but also separates itself from Buddhism as an official religion.  Most notably, Bon followers will walk around a monastery or a holy pilgrimage counter-clockwise, unlike Buddhist pilgrims who will always circumambulate a holy site in a clockwise direction.  Much of Tibetan Buddism actually incorporated the teachings of the original Buddha with the animistic practices of Bon and

Jiuzhaigou is one of the few areas on the Tibetan Plateau where this native form of Shamanism is still regularly practiced.

There are over 60 Benbo monasteries in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture.

There are over 60 Bonbo monasteries in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture and Jiuzhaigou is right in the heart of this uniquely religious area.

With religion deeply planted at the center of every Tibetan life, do not be surprised to find Tibetans practicing worship in the form of lighting butter lamps or hanging colorful prayer flags in auspicious locations to appease local deities and spread good karma.  Tibetans will often make a pilgrimage to important spiritual locations in the mountains and rivers and will throw up small square white pieces of paper that in Tibetan are called Lungta.  Lungta literally translates to “wind horse” and it is thought that these paper horses carry the prayers of those who throw them as they float on the wind across the landscape.  If you see Tibetans spreading these lungta at holy sites you will also hear them cry, “Victory to the gods!” in Tibetan as they whoop and holler and celebrate these beautiful places. Part of the attraction of Jiuzhaigou is not only the beautiful scenery but the idea that this culture has remained so faithful to these teachings and practices for so many centuries.

 

The Benbo and Tibetan Buddhists worship and make sacrifices to natural Gods.
The Bonbo and Tibetan Buddhists worship and make sacrifices to spirits of the water and the land.

You may also find vertical prayer poles in Jiuzhaigou. These colorful banners are called “Geda” in Tibetan which means the banner on the gate. These banners draw from a Mizong tradition from the central plains of China and are often seen dotting  road to Jiuzhaigou as a symbol of peace and prosperity.

The banners, clad in the 5 colors of the earth, can vary in length from  7 meters to 25 meters depending on the particular intention of the banner.  Some of these banners are used as prayers for the yearly barley harvest while other banners are for instruction on the teachings of the Buddha Sakyamuni.  But all the banners contain prayers which are thought to release prayers into the wind for the benefit of villagers who hoist them across the park .

 

It is a kind of reciting scriptures when the religious banners are affected by wind.

Another popular spiritual symbol you will find throughout the park is the Tibetan prayer wheel. Prayer wheels can be seen everywhere within the region. Some of these wheels are turned by water features like flowing rivers while others are turned by wind and still others (large and small alike) are turned by human hands.  These wheels contain many small pieces of paper containing scriptures and it is thought that by spinning the wheels prayers of compassion are released for all sentient beings.

The Customs of Jiuzhaigou

About five hundred years ago, the father of Jiuzhaigou migrated to here from Ngari, Tibet. Since that time until now, the Tibetan villagers have coexisted peacefully next to many diverse peoples including the local Qiang, Huis and Hans. Today, the original  Tibetan traditions are still a major part of village daily life, including  traditions in marriage, funeral arrangements, and clothing, and dance.   Seeing the colors and rhythms of  a Tibetan circle dance is definitely one of the highlights of the visit to Jiuzhaigou.

 

Lively Tap Dance
A Colorful Tibetan dance in a local square

Butter tea
Yak butter tea

Tibetans also still consume traditional  foods in Jiuzhaigou.  In particular you may get to sample some yak meat or freshly roasted lamb meat along with Tsampa, a powder made from barley flour and rolled into a playdough like ball and usually eaten for breakfast.  You may also get to sample homemade Tibetan barley wine, know as Qiang, or fresh yak yoghurt depending on the season.

We hope you enjoy your visit to Jiuzhaigou National Park!

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Prayers in the Plateau with VSA Hong Kong

Twenty outcomes of Team Building

Here are the top 20 team building event outcomes that most clients value:

每个群体都是不同的, 你独特及混合的个性和项目要求带来了特定的需求, 以确保你的员工能够尽可能富有成效地工作。团队建设的真正价值在于你的员工将体验到的活动应用到工作中, 以及他们如何团队建设被用作一个愉快、难忘和有影响力的工具, 将你的团队需要内化的关键想法或信息带回生活和工作中。

以下是大多数客户看重的前20名团队建设的评语:

ཚོགས་པ་རེ་རེའི་ངོ་བོ་དང་ཁྱད་ཆོས་སོགས་མི་འདྲ་བས་ཚོགས་པའི་དགོས་མཁོ་རེ་རེ་ཡང་མི་འདྲ་བ་ཆགས་ཡོད། ཁྱོད་ཀྱི་ལས་ཁུངས་ཀྱི་་ལས་མི་དག་གིས་ལས་ཆོད་ཡོད་པའི་སྒོ་ནས་མཉམ་ལས་བྱེད་པའི་ཆེད་དུ་བྱ་འགུལ་བྱེ་བྲག་པ་དང་དམིགས་བསལ་བ་མཁོ་སྤྲོད་བྱེད་ཐུབ། ཚོགས་པའི་སྒྲིག་འཛུགས་དང་མཉམ་ལས་ཀྱི་རིན་ཐང་གཙོ་བོ་ནི་ཁྱོད་ཀྱིས་ལས་མི་དག་གིས་བྱ་འགུལ་འདི་དག་བརྒྱུད་ནས་འཚོ་བ་དང་ལས་ཀའི་ཁྲོད་དུ་སྦྲོ་སྣང་དང་བརྗེད་པར་དཀའ་བ། ཤུགས་རྐྱེན་ཆེན་པོ་སྤྲོད་ཐུབ་པའི་བསམ་ཚུལ་དང་རྩལ་ནུས་གང་རུང་ལས་ཀ་དང་འཚོ་བའི་ཁྲོད་དུ་འཁྱེར་རྒྱུ་ཡོད་པ་དང་། དེ་ཡིས་ཀྱང་ཁྱོད་ཀྱི་ལས་ཁུངས་དང་ཚོགས་པའི་ནང་དུ་ཕན་ནུས་ཆེན་པོ་བསྐྲུན་རྒྱུ་དེ་ཡིན།

འོག་ཏུ་ཚོགས་པའི་སྒྲིག་འཛུགས་དང་མཉམ་གྱི་སྦྱོར་བརྡར་ལ་ཞུགས་པའི་མི་དག་གིས་གལ་ཆེན་དུ་མཐོང་བའི་དོན་ཚན་ཉི་ཤུ་ཡོད།

 

1.) Exposes existing team dynamics, issues, and behaviors

1公开现有的团队动态、问题和行为

ཁྱོད་ཀྱི་ཚོགས་པའི་གནས་སྟངས་དང་གནད་དོན། ཚོགས་མའི་འབྲེལ་བ་སོགས་གསལ་བོར་བཟོ་བ།

 

2.) Improves group morale and promotes team bonding amid adversity

2. 在逆境中提高团队士气, 促进团队合作

དཀའ་ངལ་དང་གནད་དོན་ཀྱི་ཁྲོད་དུ་གནུས་པའི་ཚོགས་པའི་སྤུས་ཀ་་ཇེ་མཐོར་གཏོང་བ་དང་། ཚོགས་པའི་མཉམ་ལས་ཀྱིས་སྤུས་ཚད་ཇེ་མཐོར་གཏོང་བ།

 

3.)  Increases appreciation of roles, purpose, and group-established expectations

3 提高角色、目标和群体既定期望的欣赏。

ཚོགས་མིའི་ལས་བགོ་དང་དམིགས་ཡུལ། ཚོགས་པ་སྤྱིའི་མངོན་འདོད་སོགས་གོང་མཐོར་གཏོང་བ།

 

4.) Accelerates process of team roles and forming of a shared vision

4 加快团队角色的过程, 形成共同的愿景。

གནས་སྐབས་ཀྱི་ཚོགས་མིའི་ལས་བགོའི་གོ་རིམ་དང་། ཡུན་རིང་གི་ཕུགས་འདུན་གཅིག་གྱུར་ཡོང་བ།

 

5.) Inspires an appreciation of individual strengths and weaknesses

5 激发对个人长处和短处的认识。

མི་སྒེར་རེ་རེའི་ལེགས་ཆ་དང་ཞན་ཆའི་ངོས་འཛིན་གསལ་བོ་ཡོང་བར་སྐུལ་བ།

 

6.) Develops creative problem solving along with time and crisis management skills

6. 随着时间和危机管理技能的提高, 开发创造性的问题解决方案

གསར་གཏོད་ཀྱི་ཁྱད་ཆོས་ལྡན་པའི་གནད་དོན་ཐག་གཅོད་ཐབས་དང་། དུས་ཚོགས་དང་འགལ་རྐྱེན་ཐག་གཅོད་སྟངས་གོང་མཐོར་གཏོང་བ།

 

7.) Illustrates advantages of cooperation over competition

7说明竞争中的合作的优势

འགྲན་རྩོད་ཁྲོད་ཀྱི་མཉམ་ལས་ཀྱི་ལེགས་ཆ་གསལ་བོར་སྟོན་པ།

 

8.) Ignites an increase in efficiency and emphasis on sharing resources

8开启提高效率, 强调资源共享。

ལས་ཆོད་གོང་མཐོར་གཏོང་བ་དང་ཐོན་ཁུངས་མཉམ་སྤྱོད་ཡོང་བར་ནན་ཏན་བྱེད་པར་འགོ་རྩོམ་པ།

 

9.) Enhances Communal support and encouragement and boosts team productivity

9增强社区支持和鼓励, 提高团队生产力。

གཞན་གྱི་རྒྱབ་སྐྱོར་དང་སྐུལ་འདེད་ཐོབ་པ་དང་ཚོགས་པའི་ཐོན་སྐྱེད་ནུས་པ་མཐོར་འདེགས་གཏོང་བ།

 

10.) Inspires better conflict resolution skills and communication

10 激发更好的解决冲突技能和沟通能力。

༡༠ འགལ་ཟླ་ཐག་གཅོད་ཐབས་དང་འབྲེལ་འཛུགས་ནུས་པ་ཇེ་བཟང་ལ་གཏོང་བ།

 

11.) Improves decision making and individual leadership skills

11提高决策和个人领导技能。

༡༡ ཐག་གཅོད་ནུས་པ་དང་སྣེ་ཁྲིད་ནུས་པ་ཇེ་མཐོར་གཏོང་བ།

 

12.) Increases appreciation of leveraging talents and creating a work / life balance

12提高对利用人才和创造工作/生活平衡的欣赏度。

༡༢ འཇོན་ཐང་ཅན་གྱི་མི་སྣ་བེད་སྤྱོད་ཡག་པོ་དང་། ལས་ཀ་དང་འཚོ་བ་དོ་མཉམ་ཡོང་བར་བྱེད་པ།

 

13.) Relieves stress levels through activities that inspire laughter and learning

13通过激发笑声和学习的活动缓解压力。

༡༤ རྩེད་མོ་དང་སློབ་སྦྱོང་བརྒྱུད་ནས་གནོན་ཤུགས་ཇེ་ཆུང་ལ་གཏོང་བ།

 

14.) Replaces of limiting beliefs with possibility thinking

14用可能性思维取代限制信心。

༡༤ འབྱུང་སྲིད་པའི་བསམ་བློ་བཟུང་ནས་ཡིད་ཆེས་གོང་མཐོར་གཏོང་བ།

 

15.) Inspires ownership and accountability for results in all team members

15. 激发所有小组成员对成果的自主权和问责制。

༡༥ ཚོགས་མི་ཡོངས་ཀྱིས་བྱ་བའི་གྲུབ་འབྲས་ཀྱི་སྟེང་ལ་བསམ་ཚུལ་བརྗོད་པ་དང་དོ་ཁུར་བྱེད་པའི་ཚད་ཇེ་མཐོར་གཏོང་བ།

 

16.) Increases Self-confidence and problem solving skills

16增加自信和解决问题的能力。

༡༦ རང་རྟོན་དང་གནད་དོན་ཐག་གཅོད་སྟངས་གོང་མཐོར་གཏོང་བ།

 

17.) Reduces turnover of high-performing talent by forging interpersonal trust

17通过建立人际信任, 减少高绩效人才的流失。

༡༧ ཕན་ཚུན་གྱི་ཡིད་ཆེས་བརྟན་པོར་འབྲེལ་བ་དམ་པོར་གཏོང་བ་ལ་བརྟེན་ནས་འཇོན་ཐང་མི་སྣ་མི་ཤོར་ཐབས་བྱེད་པ།

 

18.) Develops ability to find opportunities in change and overcome challenges

18.培养在变革中寻找机遇和克服挑战的能力。

༡༨. འགྱུར་ལྡོག་ཁྲོད་དུ་གོ་སྐབས་འཚོལ་བ་དང་དཀའ་གནད་ཐག་གཅོད་པའི་ནུས་པ་གོང་མཐོར་གཏོང་བ།

 

19.) Increases commitment to defined goals at all levels of your organization

19.提高组织对确定目标的承诺。

༡༩ ཁྱོད་ཀྱི་རྕ་འཛུགས་ཀྱིས་དམིགས་ཡུལ་མངོན་འགྱུར་ཡོང་བར་ཁེག་ཐག་ཡོང་བ་གཏན་འཁེལ་བཟོ་བ།

 

20.)Promotes individual and group growth with fun and memorable experiences

20.通过有趣和难忘的体验促进个人和团队成长。

༢༠ བརྗེད་པར་དགའ་བ་དང་སྦྲོ་སྣང་གི་ཁྲོད་དུ་མི་སྒེར་དང་ཚོགས་པ་མཚར་ལོངས་བྱུང་བར་བྱེད་པ།

 

 

Look back at the top 20 list above, note the outcomes that you feel are most relevant to your organization, and contact Elevated Trips to discuss how we can transform your group into a more productive team.

回顾上面的Top 20列表, 记下您认为与您的组织最相关的结果, 并联系Elevated Trips, 讨论我们如何将您的团队转变为更高效的团队。

གོང་གི་དོན་ཚན་༢༠ལས་ཁྱོད་ཀྱི་ལས་ཁུངས་ལ་འབྲེལ་བ་ཆེན་པོ་ཡོད་པ་དེ་གང་ཡིན་ལ་བསམ་བློ་བཏང་ནས་ང་ཚོར་འབྲེལ་བ་བྱོས་དང་ང་ཚོས་ཁྱོད་ཀྱི་ལས་ཁུངས་དང་ཚོགས་པའི་འཕེལ་རྒྱུས་དང་ལས་ཀའི་ལས་ཆོད་ཡོད་པའི་ཕྱོགས་དང་ཁྱོད་ཀྱི་ལས་ཁུངས་གཞན་དང་མི་འདྲ་བ་ཞིག་ལ་ཆགས་པར་འབད་བརྩོན་བྱེད་ཆོག

Elevated Trips

info@elevatedtrips.com

+ 86 13734685336

Outdoor Classroom Team building 户外团队建设课程

Each activity is followed by a “debriefing,” in which the group discusses such topics such as communication, trust, leadership, peer pressure, unity, responsibility, and accountability. Team building exercises offer students a new awareness of their own personal capabilities, allowing them to grow beyond their accepted role in the group and encouraging self confidence and a genuine concern for the well being of others.

每项活动之后都有一个“汇报”问题,其中小组讨论诸如沟通、信任、领导能力、同伴压力、团结、责任等主题。团队建设活动使学员对自己的个人能力有了新的认识,使他们能够超越自己在团队中的角色,并鼓励自信和真正关心他人的福祉。

 

Group Challenges 团体挑战

This is the core of our team building curriculum. Students work through a series of problem-solving tasks designed to develop teamwork, decision-making, and creative problem-solving. The challenge may be a physical one, like working together to set up a tent, persevering to hike a mountain, or getting their whole group through a rope “spider web” without touching the web. The challenges also have a mental challenge, like figuring out how to move a bucket filled with tennis balls with limited tools and numerous restrictions. The lessons promote individual self-esteem and leadership skills through supportive, positive encouragement

这是我们团队建设课程的核心。学生通过一系列的问题解决任务,在发展团队合作,决策,和创造性的问题的解决。挑战的可能是物质层面的,比如一起搭帐篷、坚持爬山,或者是让他们的整个团队通过绳子“蜘蛛网”而不接触网络。这些挑战也有一个心理挑战,比如如何用有限的工具和众多的限制来移动装满网球的水桶。这些课程可以通过支持、积极的鼓励促进个人自尊和领导技能。

 

Elevated Experience

Don’t just go and take a photo to impress your friends on Wechat.
We want you to come back from our trips with more than just pretty pictures. Elevated Trips wants our participants to be changed on the inside with broader minds, that are educated and enlightened. We don’t settle for riding a bus in a group tour and stopping at the touristy, commercialize sites.
Our tours and treks are culturally immersive and full of wonder and life and even delightful spontaneous moments that can’t be squarely placed in a brochure. By immersing yourself in culture you begin to admire it in a new way that you can not as a mere spectator.
We get off the beaten path where few foreigners have ever roamed.
If you want to the see the world through the window of an air conditioned tour bus, Elevated trips is not for you. If you want to experience life through the eyes of a Tibetan living on the roof of the world, we will take you there in a way no one else can. Elevated trips. . . live it, don’t just see it.

不仅只是为了在微信上给你的朋友留下好印象而去拍一张照片。我们希望你能带着的不仅仅是漂亮的照片从我们的旅行回来。Elevated Trips希望我们的参与者能从更广阔的视野去改变自己,那就是受教育和得到觉悟。我们不满足于在旅行团中乘坐巴士,在旅游和商业化的景点停留。
我们的徒步旅行是文化体验式的,充满了惊奇和生命力,甚至是令人愉快的自然而然的时刻,这些都不能被直接地放在一本小册子中。是让自己沉浸在文化中,你会开始以一种新的方式欣赏它,而不是仅仅是一个旁观者。
我们走过了外国人很少出没的偏僻之路。如果你想通过有空调的旅游巴士的窗口看世界,高架旅行就不适合你。如果你想通过生活在世界屋脊上的藏人的眼睛来体验生活,我们将以其他人无法企及的方式把你带到那里。Elevated Trips的旅行是融入生活,而非作为旁观者。

 

How do I schedule a team building event?

Elevated Trips offers several options for team building.
We offer a one day team building training where we leave for the mountains in the morning and then return by dinner time. We also offer a complete team building weekend package where we sleep 2 nights in a mountain lodge and have time for relaxation and a retreat from the big city.
Please see our website for more details:
https://www.elevatedtrips.com/tour_type/team-building-leadership/

We would love to tailor make your itinerary to suit your company needs.

Elevated Trips的团队建设有以下这些选项。
我们提供一天的团队建设培训,我们早上出发到目的地进行团建活动,傍晚回来。我们也提供一个完整的团队建设周末包,我们睡在一个山间小屋,有时间放松和从大城市撤退两个晚上。
详情请参阅我们的网站:

Team Building 高绩效团队建设

 

我们很乐意为您量身订做行程,以配合贵公司的需要。
联系方式:

 

Contact us

Ben Cubbage
info@elevatedtrips.com
+86 13734685336

The British School of Nanjing, Qinghai and Gansu Trip Video

Griffith University in Gansu Video

Maiji Shan

The Maijishan Grottoes (simplified Chinese麦积山pinyinMàijīshān Shíkū) are a series of 194 caves cut in the side of the hill of Maiji Shan in TianshuiGansu Province, northwest China.

This example of dramatic architecture contains over 7,800 Buddhist sculptures and over 1,000 square meters of murals. Construction began in the Later Qin era (384–417 CE).

The grottoes were first properly explored in 1952–53 by a team of Chinese archeologists from Beijing, who invented the scientific numbering system still in use today. Caves #1–50 are on the western cliff face; caves #51–191 on the eastern cliff face. These caves were later photographed by Michael Sullivan and Dominique Darbois, who subsequently published the primary English-language work on the caves noted in the footnotes below.

The name Maijishan consists of three Chinese words (麦积山) that literally translate as “Wheatstack Mountain”.  But because the term “mai” () is the generic term in Chinese used for most grains, one also sees such translations as “Corn Mound Mountain”. Mai means “grain”. Ji () means “stack” or “mound”. Shan () means “mountain”.

The mountain is formed from purplish red sandstone and the grottoes here are just one of many cave grottoes found throughout northwest China, lying more or less on the main trade routes connecting China and Central Asia.

Maijishan is located close to the east-west route that connects Xi’an with Lanzhou and eventually Dunhuang, as well as the route that veers off to the south that connects Xi’an with Chengdu in Sichuan and regions as far south as India. At this crossroads, several of the sculptures in Maijishan from around the 6th century appear to have Indian—and SE Asian—features that could have come north via these north-south routes. The earliest artistic influence came, however, from the northwest, through Central Asia along the Silk Road. Later, during the Song and Ming Dynasties, as the caves were renovated and repaired, the influences came from central and eastern China and the sculpture is more distinctly Chinese.

Cave shrines in China probably served two purposes: originally, before Buddhism came to China, they may have been used as local shrines to worship one’s ancestors or various nature deities. With the coming of Buddhism to China, however, influenced by the long tradition of cave shrines from India (such as Ajanta) and Central Asia (primarily Afghanistan), they became part of China’s religious architecture.

Buddhism in this part of China spread through the support of the Northern Liang, which was the last of the “Sixteen Kingdoms” that existed from 304–439 CE—a collection of numerous short-lived sovereign states in China. The Northern Liang was founded by Xiongnu “barbarians”. It was during their rule that cave shrines first appeared in Gansu, the two most famous sites being Tiantishan (“Celestial Ladder Mountain”) south of their capital at Yongcheng, and Wenshushan (“Manjusri’s Mountain” ), halfway between Yongcheng and Dunhuang. Maijishan was most likely started during this wave of religious enthusiasm.

An English-speaking guide charges ¥50 for up to a group of five. It may be possible to view normally closed caves (such as cave 133) for an extra fee of ¥500 per group.

The regular admission ticket includes entry to Ruìyìng Monastery (瑞应寺Ruìyìng Sì), at the base of the mountain, which acts as a small museum of selected statues. Across from the monastery is the start of a trail to a botanic garden (植物园zhíwùyuán), which allows for a short cut back to the entrance gate through the forest. If you don’t want to walk the 2km up the road from the ticket office to the cliff, ask for tickets for the sightseeing trolley (观光车guānguāng chē; ¥15) when buying your entrance ticket.

You can also climb Xiāngjí Shān (香积山). For the trailhead, head back towards the visitor centre where the sightseeing bus drops you off and look for a sign down a side road to the left.

 

 

 

 

Sometime between 420 and 422 CE, a monk by the name of Tanhung arrived at Maijishan and proceeded to build a small monastic community. One of the legends is that he had previously been living in Chang’an but had fled to Maijishan when the city was invaded by the Sung army. Within a few years he was joined by another senior monk, Xuangao, who brought 100 followers to the mountain. Both are recorded in a book entitled Memoirs of Eminent Monks; eventually their community grew to 300 members. Xuangao later moved to the court of the local king where he remained until its conquest by the Northern Wei, when he, together with all the other inhabitants of the court, were forced to migrate and settle in the Wei capital. He died in 444 during a period of Buddhist persecution. Tanhung also left Maijishan during this period and travelled south, to somewhere in Cochin China, when in approximately 455, he burned himself to death.

How the original community was organized or looked, we don’t know. “Nor is there any evidence to show whether the settlement they founded was destroyed and its members scattered in the suppression of 444 and the ensuring years, or whether it was saved by its remoteness to become a heaven of refuse, as was to happen on several later occasions in the history of Maijishan”.

The Northern Wei were good to Maijishan and the grottoes existence close to the Wei capital city of Luoyang and the main road west brought the site recognition and, most likely, support. The earliest dated inscription is from 502, and records the excavation of what is now identified as Cave 115. Other inscriptions record the continued expansion of the grottoes, as works were dedicated by those with the financial means to do so.

Jiayuguan Fort

Why Was the Jiayuguan Pass So Important?

Jiayuguan Pass used to be the starting point of the ancient Great Wall built during the rule of the Ming Dynasty (1368– 1644). It was the most important military defensive project in north western China because it guarded the narrowest point of the western section of the Hexi Corridor in a narrow corridor of otherwise impassible mountains. This was  the vital defensive frontier fortress that had sealed China off from invaders since the Han Dynasty (BC 202—220). After the Jiayuguan Pass was constructed, the army of  the Ming Dynasty used it to protect inner China from the invasion of nomadic groups. At the same time, the Jiayuguan Pass also played a key waypoint on the ancient Silk Road. Foreign travelers and traders came from Europe, Middle Asia, and entered into China from this gateway. While the commodities of China were also exported to Central Asia and Europe from this pass. Along with the foreign trade, a cultural exchange of religion, art and custom also flourished. It was this trade of ideas that has not only forever changed the western world but also China itself. 

The History of Jiayuguan Pass

During the early period after the Ming Dynasty was established, barbarian armies of the Yuan Empire and Turpan constantly invaded the Hexi Corridor area. The Chinese general Feng Sheng was consequently ordered to construct a defensive pass to protect China from invasion from both the Yuan and Turpan peoples. He chose the Jiayu Mountains as the final staging ground for his defensive strategy because, as time has shown, this pass has been extremely hard to penetrate but comparatively easy to defend.  The construction started in the year 1372, and the many troops completed the first stage of the work quickly.  The first stage of the Jiayuguan Pass consisted of several ramparts surrounded by some barracks. The subsequent construction took 168 years to complete and finally became the western starting point of the Great Wall of Ming Dynasty.

Even though the walls and towers have been  partially damaged by centuries of war and weather, the Jiayuguan Pass is still one of the most intact surviving ancient military buildings in China. Several restorations have been undertaken to protect the original design of its fort, towers and walls. But travelers can still see much of its original construction.

Layout of Jiayuguan Fort

Jiayuguan Pass is an immense military complex which covers more than 33,529 square meters and consists of an inner city,  an outer city and an outer moat.

Inner City

The inner city has the shape of a trapezoid with an imposing wall that is 11 meters high and 640 meters long. It was used as the third barrier in a series of walls and towers against incoming enemies. Two defensive gates, Rou Yuan Men and Guang Hua Men, were built in the western and eastern sides of the city. Towers for guards and commanders were built on the walls as lookouts into the vast desert beyond the city. The central area of the inner city housed the office of the commander and a Guanyu Memorial Temple. There are even bridleways for carrying horses up to to the city wall.

Outer City

The outer city was the second barrier enemies would encounter. Unlike the inner wall which was built from loess, the outer city was made of exceptionally strong  bricks and this section of the wall was connected directly to the long stretches of Great Wall that scattered out from the outer city. A striking plaque was inserted on the wall above the gate.

Moat and Battlefield

A deep moat encircles the Jiayuguan Fort outside the outer city. Just 50 meters in front of this moat is a battlefield where 1000’s of men died in combat defending (or invading) China’s northwestern border.

 

 

Things to do at the Jiayuguan Fort

1.) Learn about history in the Great Wall Museum

Before entering the fortress, take a short visit to the Great Wall Museum to learn some interesting facts about both the Jiayuguan Fort and the Great Wall.  The museum contains some excellent historic photos and relics of this area.

2.) Camel rides

Just in front of the back gate, you can find many locals offering chances to ride a camel or to just take photos with the camels. Don’t be afraid of the camels, they are very docile. Should you decide to go for a ride, a local camel guide will accompany you.

3.) ATV’s

If you want to take a look at the Jiayuguan Pass from the Gobi desert  you can try the exciting four-wheel drive ATV’s. These four wheelers offer a chance to get away from the crowds and see the desert in a purer form.

 

Nearby Places to Visit

The entrance ticket for Jiayuguan Pass costs 120 RMB/person, and this price also includes the admission fees for visiting the Overhanging Great Wall and the First Mound of the Great Wall. But these 3 locations are not very close to each other.  So make sure you leave extra time to get out to these destinations as well.

Overhanging Great Wall (Xuanbi Great Wall)

The Overhanging Great Wall, also known as the Xuanbi Great Wall. It is 8 kilometers away from the Jiayuguan Pass Fort and 14 kilometers from the city. In ancient times, it was a part of the Jiayuguan Pass, and was connected with the fort. More than 460 years later, most sections of the walls have disappeared. The remaining section is 750 meters long, rising up 150 meters and hanging on a cliff face. Unlike the sections of Great Wall near Beijing, these sections were constructed with loess because of the lack of water in this area. Hiking up the Great Wall here takes only about a half an hour.

The First Mound of the Great Wall

The First Mound of the Great Wall is also known as The First Strategic Post of the Great Wall on Tripadvisor.com. Jiayuguan Pass is the western starting point of the Great Wall and the First Mound is considered the westernmost point of the pass. It is a mound of yellow loess which is believed to be the only remaining ruins of a former watchtower of the ancient Great Wall. Most of the other wall sections connected to the tower have disappeared and been covered by blowing desert sand so it is significant that this one last monument still stands as a testimony to this particular section of the Great Wall. To visit the First Mound of Great Wall, you have to transfer 7.5 kilometers from the Jiayuguan Pass Fort.

Bingling Temple

With a 1.5 hour drive from Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu, this is a very accessible day trip from Lanzhou.  You could also do this trip as a larger itinerary that continues onto Labrang monastery or Hezuo and Langmusi  as well which are in southern Gansu Province.

The Bingling Caves were a work in progress for more than a millennium. The first grotto was begun around 420 AD at the end of the Western Qin kingdom. Work continued and more grottoes were added during the WeiSuiTangSongYuanMing, and Qing dynasties. The style of each grotto can easily be connected to the typical artwork from its corresponding dynasty. The Bingling Temple is both stylistically and geographically a midpoint between the monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan and the Buddhist Grottoes of central China, such as the Yungang Grottoes near Datong and Longmen Grottoes near Luoyang.

Sadly, over the centuries, earthquakes, erosion, and looters have damaged or destroyed many of the caves and the artistic treasures within. Altogether there are 183 caves, 694 stone statues, and 82 clay sculptures that remain. The relief sculpture and caves filled with buddhas and frescoes line the northern side of the canyon for about 200 meters along the reservoir. Each cave is like a miniature temple filled with Buddhist imagery. These caves culminate at a large natural cavern where wooden walkways precariously wind up the rock face to hidden cliff-side caves as if visiting an ancient civilizaiton. It is here at the top of these steps that you can view the giant Maitreya  or Future Buddha that stands more than 27 meters, or almost 100 feet tall.This 100 foot tall Buddha is the main attraction to visit Bingling Temple and is certainly worth the trip from Lazhou.  As you loop around past the Maitreya cave, you might consider hiking 2.5km further up the impressive canyon to a small remote Tibetan monastery. If you do this extra hike, be aware than there may also be 4Wheel drive ATV’s There might also be 4WDs running the route.

The sculptures, carvings, and frescoes that remain are outstanding examples of Buddhist artwork and draw visitors from around the world. The site is extremely remote and can only be reached during summer and fall by boat via the Liujiaxia Reservoir. Boats leave from near the Liujiaxia Dam in Liujiaxia City (Yongjing County’s county seat), and sometimes also from other docks on the reservoir. The rest of the year, the site is inaccessible, as there are very few  roads in the area because of the rocky landscape.

You can hire a covered speedboat (which seats 9 people in total) for 700 RMB per boat for the one-hour drive across the Liujiaxia Resevoir. Boats do not run unless the boat is full of the required 9 people, so you may have to wait for other guests or you may have to pay the difference to cover the empty seats. In the peak seasons from May to October it should be no problem to find other willing Chinese tourists who will want to share the boat with you. In low season, though, you may have to wait 30 minutes or more for your boat to fill up.

From Liujiaxia you can also hire a private car for around 300 RMB to take you to the other side of the reservoir, although most people opt for the boat since this gives a very nice view of the cliffs from the expansive reservoir. Out of Liújiāxiá, the road ascends the rugged hills of southern Gansu and winds above the reservoir.  While the drive is quite scenic, if you are prone to motion sickness this is not the option for you as the drive is about 1.5 hours and twists and turns through terraced fields. The final descent to the turquoise reservoir, with its craggy canyon backdrop, is well worth the trip.

You can also opt to stay overnight in Liújiāxiá if you want the overnight experience. Most people do Bingling Si as a full day trip, but the Dorsett Hotel at the north end of town is a good option with huge rooms overlooking the Yellow River.

Most people hire a private car from Lanzhou, but if you are feeling more adventurous (and have some extra free time) you can take one of the frequent buses from Lanzhou’s west bus station that cost 20 RMB and take 2.5 hours to get to the Liújiāxiá bus station. From there, you will need to take a 10-minute taxi ( to the boat ticket office at the dam (大坝; dàbà). Try to catch the earliest buses possible from Lánzhōu (these start at 7am) to avoid missing the bus on the way back to Lanzhou. The last returning bus to Lánzhōu leaves Liujiaxia at 6.30pm at night.

Yadan National Park

In 2006, the Chinese Tourist Administration listed Yadan National Park as a class 4A level scenic area and then it also became a base for scientific research, education, and geological study. Many Chinese war movies have been filmed here because of its remote location and unique desert formations. Here the the vast expanses of Gobi Desert meet with stunning red rock scenery in a haunting and breathtaking landscape that feels more like something from Mars than it does something from Earth.

The park takes its name from it’s geological formations with the scientific name “Yardang”.  This is a Chinese transliteration of that word and thus the Chinese characters, “Yadan”.  Stretching 25km from north to south, the Yadan National Geological Park offers various landforms that take on distinct shapes, many of which mimic animals when viewed at the right angle. Some of these particular shapes include a Stone Bird, a Sphinx, a Golden Lion, and a Peacock. And if you use your imagination, you can even picture some famous structures like the Potala Palace in Tibet, the Heaven Temple in Beijing, and other famous pagodas and temples.

Because of the remoteness of the park, the cell phone signal here is very poor and the government actually requires that tourists join a park bus tour in order to make sure visitors do not get lost in this vast park. 

There are four main stops in the park and the public park tour bus will take you to each one.  As you stop at these points of interest, make sure you pay attention to the tourists in your group and do not stray too far as you will have fixed time at each stop before your designated tour bus continues on to the next stop.

Here are the four main stops on the public bus tour.  The last tour departs form the park entrance at 5:20pm so make sure you get to the park entrance at least by 4:00pm just to give yourself enough time to enjoy the tour.

1.) The Golden Lion

When the tour bus stops at the first place, you might be tempted to think you have just landed on Mars because of the barren red rocks. The most remarkable formation here is the Golden Lion which is a product of Yadan’s long history of erosion. Through the force of water, winds, and geologic collapse, the rocks here have been eroded and then have decayed and fragmented gradually into smaller pieces. Overtime the erosion peeled away the looser and softer portions of rock until the outline of a Lion’s head can be seen in the rock

2.) The Sphinx 

The Sphinx is the second attraction you will stop at in the park. Seeing it from a distance, this long, flat formation resembles a crouching lion with a face of a human being. This formation, like the Golden Lion before it, is a long, flat wall that has been carved out by weather and time.  The Sphinx is composed of sandy and argillaceous debris and it is this loose rock which has been chipped away over time to give it is peculiar Egyptian-like shape. Ironically, as a geologic structure it is a bit of a transitional form between the first stop at the Golden Lion and the third stop at the taller, column-like Peacock.

3.) The Peacock,

This rounded columnar yardang formation is the third stop on the tour and is probably the most elaborate of all the formations. The shape, as you might guess,  looks like a peacock strutting its stuff as it is proudly fanning its tail open to attract a mate.

4.) The Armada 

This is the last attraction on the tour. The structure here is comprised of several layers of striated rock that truly looks like a fleet of ships floating in the boundless desert. This is a very impressive structure and really carries a certain regal nature, just like the command of a real fleet of ships.

If  you happen to be hiring a car or a van, it is worth a side trip from Yadan National Park to see some of the old watch towers of the western most Great Wall.  Here are some of the highlights you might want to stop at on the way back to Dunhuang:

Han Great Wall Relics

The Han Great Wall was built as a defense against the invasion of Xiongnu during the West Han Dynasty. Unlike it’s eastern cousin in Beijing, this section of the Great Wall was built using much different materials than the wide stone sections you may have seen in Mutianyu or Badaling.  Due to the harshness of the environment and the lack of building materials available in the desert, the Han Great Wall was made from branches, reeds, sandy gravel and other local materials instead of masonry. There was a beacon tower exactly every 5 km to convey news and military information along the entire length of the ancient Great Wall. Today, this grand formation has been highly eroded and has lost much of its once exquisite detail after several millennia of exposure to the elements. But, with a little imagination, you might be able to picture what is was like back in the days of great Emperors.

Yumen Pass

Yumen Pass was a primitive military post and part of a string of beacon towers that extended to the garrison town of Loulan in Xinjiang. Jade was imported from the Central Plains of modern day Xinjiang through this pass, so it was named Yumen Pass which means the “Jade Gate Pass”. Although it is not much to look at these days, in ancient times, Yumen Pass must have been a spectacular site filled with the noise and opulence of journeys of 1000’s of wealthy envoys and camel caravans. Yumen Pass is today a lonely square castle standing in the sandy rocks of the Gobi Desert. If you climb up to the tower for a view you will see a long line of scattered mashes, twisting ravines, and sections of the winding Great Wall dotted with tall and straight poplar trees.

Getting to Yadan National Park- For Independent Travelers

Most tourists hire a private car or van to take them on a day trip to Yadan National Park.  But if you are looking to save money, it is possible to catch a public bus from Dunhuang as well. From the eastern gate of the main Shazhou Night Market in Dunhuang, you can take a long-distance bus to Yadan National Geologic Park. Two buses run each day and these buses are likely to stop operation in the winter and the low season.  So if you are traveling between November and April you may need to hire a car to take  you to Yadan National Park. 

Tips for Visiting Yadan National Geologic Park

  • If you don’t mind spending a little extra money it is recommended to hire a jeep or 4WD vehicle. Renting a jeep with a driver will allow your group to be able to get deeper inside the park and to explore more natural formations.
  • The best time of year to visit is during th peak season of Yadan National Geological Park which ranges from May to October. Starting your trip in the early morning will allow you to have cooler weather and relatively quieter environment.  Although the sunsets can be very beautiful in the desert, you will also find there may be more people in the late afternoon in the park.
  • The daylight around noon can be very intense in Yadan National Park and there are very few shady spots to get out of the heat.  So be sure to bring a good sun hat or umbrella and lots of sunscreen and cover your skin with clothing that has an SPF rating. In case of sandstorms in the park, you may want to bring some sort of scarf or face mask.

Dunhuang

According to legend, in 366 AD a monk named Yuezun had a vision of a thousand radiant Buddhas on the cliff face. This powerful vision inspired him to begin excavating the caves. From the 4th to the 14th century, hundreds of caves were then hand carved out of the rock cliff face containing scriptures, statues, and vibrant Buddhist paintings.Today almost 500 caves remain and there are more than a thousand painted and sculpted Buddhas within the caves which contain the world’s largest collection of Buddhist art.

Excavated into a mile of cliff face outside Dunhuang, an oasis town at the edge of the Gobi Desert, the site’s Chinese name Mogao Ku means “peerless caves.” Indeed, these caves are “peerless” and are one of the largest and best preserved artifacts in all of Asia. The decorated caves’ walls and ceilings, have a total area of 500,000 square feet and are covered by elaborate paintings depicting stories of the Buddha, Buddhist sutras, portraits of cave donors, ornamental designs, and scenes of social and commercial life. The caves also contain more than 2,000 brightly colored clay sculptures of the Buddha and other important Buddhist scholars, the largest sculpture being over 100 feet tall.

The settlement of Dunhuang was one of the first places where Buddhism entered China, through a steady stream of meditation, monks, and merchants who moved north and east from India along the Silk Road. As a major stop on the Silk Road, Dunhuang was a crossroads of Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and even Christian thought.  Although this is an area of specifically Buddhist worship, the art and objects found at Mogao reflect the meeting of cultures along the Silk Road, the collection of trade routes that for centuries linked China, Central Asia, and Europe. Discovered at the site were Confucian, Daoist, and Christian texts, and documents in multiple languages including Chinese, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Old Turkish. Even Hebrew manuscripts were found there.

After the 15th Century, the caves lay forgotten and were buried by the sand of the Gobi Desert for many centuries until they were rediscovered by a monk. In the 1890s a Daoist monk named Wang Yuanlu appointed himself guardian of the caves. In 1900 he discovered a cache of manuscripts, long hidden in a small sealed up cave, coming upon one of the great collections of documents in history. Despite their great age, the sculptures and wall paintings in the Dunhuang caves remain remarkably well preserved, thanks in part to the dry desert climate and their remote location.

As more and more archeologists investigated the cave over 50,000 ancient documents were found there. The Library Cave (Cave 17), which was unsealed by Wang Yuanlu, contained nearly 50,000 ancient manuscripts, silk banners and paintings, fine silk embroideries and other rare textiles dating from before the early 1000s, when this cave and all its contents were concealed for reasons still unknown. Shortly after this discovery, many of the objects from the cave were acquired at the site by explorers and archaeologists from the West and Japan.The materials found in the Library Cave offer a vivid picture of life in medieval China. Accounting ledgers, contracts, medical texts, dictionaries, and even descriptions of music, dance, and games were among the finds.

Many of the objects found in the Library Cave can actually be viewed online now. Museums and libraries across Europe and Asia with objects from the Library Cave in their collections have digitized them and made them searchable for free via the International Dunhuang Project, based at the British Library.

The Buddha himself meditated in caves before achieving Enlightenment, and sacred cave sites are found throughout the Buddhist world, including in Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. India is home to some 1,200 cave-temple sites, China 250. The Mogao site at Dunhuang is the largest of these.

Top Ten things that a foreigner should know when visiting Tibet

Top 10 things that a foreigner should know when visiting Tibet

1.)   Pointing your feet

Never point your feet towards a monk or a Buddha ( or even a picture of any holy Buddha). If you are sleeping in a Tibetan home, make sure you identify any sacred paintings, statues,  or pictures of monks and avoid pointing your feet in their direction.  If you happen to sleep in a room full of Buddhist idols, sleep with  your head towards the idols and with your feet away from them. Feet are considered a dirty or unholy part of the body and it is disrespectful to point the bottoms of your feet at people – even if it is not on purpose. If you are invited into a Tibetan tent or home, sit cross-legged and try not to point your feet at anyone in the room or at any pictures that hold a religious significance.

Also- Do not point your feet towards someone’s head or walk over people when sitting down.  It is better to walk around them (or for that matter food, tea, or anything else on the ground)  because walking OVER someone or something is extremely disrespectful. In addition, remember that anything associated with your feet (socks, shoes, slippers) needs to be kept low and on the ground.  Please do not hang your wet socks from a stove after a day of trekking and always keep your shoes on the ground. 

 

2.) Avoid touching heads

Never touch a stranger’s head or hat. Just as the feet are considered dirty, the head is considered a holy part of the human body.  So if you see a cute Tibetan kid, please avoid rubbing their head.  It is especially important to show respect to those older than you and make sure you bow before them and try to lower your posture so that you are not looming over their head.

3.)  Watch your behind!

Every part of the Tibetan home has its own history and tradition. For instance, the stove is considered to have its own special spirits that rule over the hearth and the fire.  In light of this belief, never put your bottom on a table or stove. These are not places to sit.   As with most cultures, the behind is considered an unholy part of the body and you do not want to place it on objects that have sacred significance.   When you sit, do not sit with your butt pointed at someone.

4.) Public Displays of Affection

Tibetans are very shy about talking about anything sexual or romantic in public.  In fact, even in these modern times of the internet, Tibetan girls usually do not walk next to or near Tibetan boys.  Genders tend to stay separated and do not appear exclusively in public together. Knowing that Tibetans are very modest and sensitive about public displays of affection, if you are a couple traveling in Tibet, please refrain from kissing or hugging romantically in public.  This is especially true while in a Tibetan village or in a monastery or in front of relatives or parents. Of course, parents can kiss and hug kids and that is socially acceptable.  

5.) Treat the waters kindly

Never pee in a local water source or wash dishes or clothes directly in a river or in a lake because someone will need to drink that water downstream. Tibetans also believe in water spirits called “naga” and they are particularly sensitive about treating the water well so as not to offend these beings. 

6.) Always face people of high ranks

It is Tibetan custom that when you are saying goodbye or leaving the room with a highly ranked lama that as you walk out of the room, you remain in eye contact with that person and do not turn your back on them. When you walk out of the room, back out of the room and do not turn your back to the the lama or teacher.  You must back out the room with your front continually facing the lama.  Never put your back towards an older person or a high monk as this is considered to be a social faux pas and a sign of disrespect. 

7.) Please be modest

Consider that many Tibetan men – and especially monks- have never met or seen a western women. Also consider the fact that most monks have taken a vow of celibacy and purity in their devotion to Buddha.  Therefore, women and men both need to wear long pants in monastery.  Women should not wear tops with spaghetti straps or revealing clothing like mini skirts or tights.  In general, dress respectively and modestly in Tibetan areas as this is the local custom.  

8.) Respect life

Never kill any animals in holy lakes or mountains.  This includes bugs and mosquitoes.  Tibetans consider all life sacred and it is a great sin in Tibetan culture to take even the smallest life.  After all, based on the teachings of reincarnation, Tibetans believe that any given animal could actually be the reincarnation of your great grandmother who has already passed away.

9.)Point with an open hand

Do not point with one finger towards a person or a Thangka painting.  This is considered rude.  Instead use your whole hand (with all your fingers outstretched in an open palm) to point.  Many Tibetan nomads point with their lips so if you are asking for directions and you see them point somewhere with their lips that is the direction they want you to go.

10.) Eat only out of individual bowls

Tibetan chefs do not taste food out of the large pot they are using to cook for a group. Do not eat from the communal pot because if you do sot you may share diseases. Unless you are clearly invited to do so, do not use your chopsticks to reach into a communal pot. Instead focus on eating the food that is served to you in your own individual bowl or plate. 

 

Hopefully these little tips will help you have an excellent experience with your Tibetan hosts!

What exactly is team building?

Group Challenges 

This is the core of our team building curriculum. Participants work through a series of problem-solving tasks designed to develop teamwork, decision-making, and creative problem-solving. The challenge may be a physical one, like working together to set up a tent, persevering to hike a mountain,  or getting their whole group through a rope “spider web” without touching the web.  The challenges also have a mental challenge, like figuring out how to move a bucket filled with tennis balls with limited tools and numerous restrictions. The lessons promote individual self-esteem and leadership skills through supportive, positive encouragement

Elevated Experience

Don’t just go and take a photo to impress your friends on Wechat or Instagram.
We want you to come back from our trips with more than just pretty pictures. Elevated Trips wants our participants to be changed on the inside with broader minds, that are educated and enlightened. We don’t settle for riding a bus in a group tour and stopping at the  touristy, commercialize sites.

Our tours and treks are culturally immersive and full of wonder and life and even delightful  spontaneous moments that can’t be squarely placed in a brochure.  By immersing yourself in culture you begin to admire it in a new way that you can not as a mere spectator.

We get off the beaten path where few foreigners have ever roamed.
If you want to the see the world through the window of an air conditioned tour bus,  Elevated trips is not for you.  If you want to experience life through the eyes of a Tibetan living on the roof of the world, we will take you there in a way no one else can. Elevated trips. . . live it, don’t just see it.

How do I schedule a team building event?

Elevated Trips offers several options for team building.

We offer a one day team building training where we leave for the mountains in the morning and then return by dinner time.  We also offer a complete team building weekend package where we sleep 2 nights in a mountain lodge and have time for relaxation and a retreat from the big city.

Please see our website for more details:

https://www.elevatedtrips.com/tour_type/team-building-leadership/

We would love to tailor make your itinerary to suit your company needs.

Contact us

Ben Cubbage

info@elevatedtrips.com

+86 19917324924

Team Building 高绩效团队建设

You will need a VPN to view the above video👆

 

To see the video on Tencent see here:

Team building in Tibet

https://v.qq.com/x/page/i0827lqpyyz.html

⼀⽇团建活动

地点(单选):
群加国家森林公园
李家⼭
佑宁寺
青海湖

时间:
早8点⾄晚6点
(8点出发,6点回⻄宁)

活动内容:

早晨到达地点后团建活动/游戏,增进成员信任,加强沟通;午饭后稍事休息进行徒步,锻炼体能。

 

三⽇团建活动

地点(单选):
互助北山国家森林公园
坎布拉国家森林公园
佑宁寺
同仁
青海湖

时间:
第⼀天早9点至第三天晚5点 (8点出发,6点回西宁)

活动内容:
团队活动/游戏,攀登海拔3500米左右的⾼⼭,以及提升领导力,有效沟通,团结协作的活动,包括指南针活动,寻宝等。

备注:建议活动参与者不要携带手机,真正融⼊活动,用身体和⼼灵感受大自然。别担心,你能活下去的,只是离开手机三天而已!

六⽇团建活动

地点(单选):
互助北⼭国家森林公园
坎布拉国家森林公园
⽢肃扎尕那
甘肃夏河
青海湖

时间:第⼀天早9点至第六天晚5点(8点出发,5点回西宁)
活动内容:Niko是一个希腊词语,意思是“征服”或“胜利利”。同品牌“耐克”这个词是同一词根。我们提供的Niko 6⽇野外体验式学习课程,将带领学员们经历个⼈的觉醒,以及成功的团队协作。在这个课程中,学员将置身于野外,通过参与课程中的 各项活动及挑战,突破个人局限,生命成长,学到受用⼀⽣的技能;并能将这 些技能运用到学习和工作中的团队协作和领导团队中去。6日营包括团队建设活 动,服从,服务,领导力发展。所有的活动都围绕性格塑造,增强⾃信展开。

 

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+86 13734685336

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The six most common wilderness injuries that you should know how to treat

Any hobby that has a degree of excitement comes with risk, and traveling in the wilderness is no exception. As a smart hiker, you’re probably already taking steps to mitigate some of the risks, like bringing warm clothes to protect yourself from the cold, or flashlights to protect from the risks associated with darkness.Any time you’re more than a few hours from advanced medical aid, you should also be thinking about the risk from simple, common backcountry injuries that have the potential to ruin a trip, or worse.If a medical emergency happens in the backcountry, anyone who is on-scene immediately becomes a “first responder,” whether the injured person is in your group, or just someone you encountered along the trail. In order to be a safe, responsible hiker, you should know what to do if someone needs basic medical assistance.I’ve compiled a list of the skills and treatments that I’d consider “essential” for anyone who goes deep in the backcountry, based on my own experience in the outdoors.The specific instructions are pulled from widely-regarded sources including:

This article is obviously not a substitute for proper medical training, and you shouldn’t be used in place of good judgment. If you’re interested in leaning more I’d highly suggest taking a full Wilderness First Aid (WFA) or Wilderness First Responder (WFR) class.

Here is a quick look at the six injuries that are most common in the backcountry:

  1. Wounds & Infections
  2. Burns
  3. Knee & Ankle Injuries
  4. Blisters
  5. Dehydration
  6. Shock

Wounds & Infections

With lots of sharp tools, jagged edges and rough surfaces, there are all sorts of hazards that can lead to cuts, scrapes and puncture wounds in the backcountry. Knowing how to treat a serious wound and prevent it from getting infected is an extremely useful first aid skill.

Anytime you have substantial blood loss there’s an immediate risk of “bleeding out.” The average adult human has 5-6 liters of blood in their body – picture 5 nalgenes. When you donate blood, they take half a liter (500ml) which the body can easily handle. If you lose one to two liters of blood, you’re going to go into shock (more below). Anything more than two liters of blood loss and you’re in dire straits.

Controlling Bleeding

Most forms of bleeding can be stopped with a combination of direct pressure onto the wound and elevation of the wound above the heart. Always make sure you put on gloves before touching someone else’s blood, I carry a few pairs of these in my first aid kit.

Hand the patient a piece of clean gauze and tell them to put pressure on their own wound as you put your gloves on. If the gauze is getting saturated, add more gauze on top but do not remove any existing gauze that’s already in the wound.

If the situation requires your hands to be free, or you’re having trouble keeping pressure on the wound, you can make a pressure bandage. Place gauze over the wound and wrap it tightly with something like an ace wrap or bandanna. Your goal is not to make a tourniquet, you should be able to slide two fingers under the wrap and the patient should have no tingles or loss of feeling in the extremities.

Preventing Infection

Once the bleeding has been successfully controlled, the next steps to think about are preventing infection and promoting healing, especially if your plans call for you to still be out in the backcountry for several more days.

The first step is to wash, or “irrigate” the wound with at least half a liter of clean water. The goal is to flush out any dirt and germs that have already made their way into the wound and under the skin. Ideally you use something with high pressure like a syringe or the backwash pump that comes with the Sawyer Mini Filters. If there are any large pieces of dirt that you can see in the wound, be sure to pull those out carefully with tweezers.

Most first aid kits have alcohol wipes, which should be used to wipe the skin around the wound, but should not be used to clean inside the wound, since they can damage good tissue. Now that the wound is relatively clean, you can cover it with antibiotic ointment and then clean gauze and a wrap to hold it all securely in place. Note that antibiotic ointment is not a substitute for good wound cleaning, so make sure you get things nice and clean before applying it.

You’ll want to check on the wound once or twice a day to reapply the ointment and monitor it for signs of infection. A little bit of swelling, warmth, redness and puss is normal to see as the body fights off bacteria. But if the symptoms get more extreme – hot to the touch, bright red, hardening skin, painful and itchy – then that’s a sign that the body is losing its battle against an infection and you need to step in.

You’ll need to open the wound back up and re-clean it very thoroughly with at least a full liter of water. It also helps to soak the wound in the warmest water that the patient can tolerate (without causing burns). If you have pain killers or antibiotics, ask the patient about them and consider using those as directed.

If a wound is going to get infected, it will usually show up in the first 24-48 hours. You should stop the trip and evacuate any patient where you can’t control the bleeding or there are persistent signs of a bad infection.

Burns

On camping trips, you’re likely to be handling fire, boiling water and hot pots with primitive tools. Burns are another common risk that you should be aware of in the backcountry. This also includes sunburns, since those are also burns, albeit much more minor.

The very first step for treating any burn is to stop the burning process. Remove whatever the source of heat is and immediately cool the affected area with cold, clean water. Depending on the thickness of the burn, it may take several minutes of soaking in cold water before the burning process has stopped.

Once the burned area has cooled off, you may want to scrub the area with clean water and a bit of mild antibacterial soap, if it’s available. The goal is to prevent infection if the burn goes deep into the skin.

Next you should cover the burned area with antibiotic ointment and clean gauze or clothing. This will help protect the burn site, and also help reduce the patient’s pain. Feel free to offer the patient ibuprofen as well, as there will usually be substantial pain.

For burns in extremities, keep the burned area elevated to reduce swelling. For more long-term care, it’s important to keep the patient warm and well-hydrated since the major risks to life are fluid loss (see dehydration and shock, below).

Evacuate any burn patient if the burn:

  • exposes deep layers of skin or bone
  • is circumferential, going completely around a limb
  • is on sensitive areas like the face, groin, armpit, hands or feet
  • covers a significant part of a patient’s arm, leg or torso

Knee & Ankle Injuries

According to a Reddit AMA with search and rescue volunteers, soft tissue injuries are the most common things that people need to be rescued for. And while an injured wrist, elbow or shoulder might be inconvenient, lower body joints like knees and ankles can have a serious impact on your ability to hike out on your own.

Whether they’re chronic injuries that flare up from over-use or sudden injuries from a bad step on steep or uneven terrain, it’s important to stop and address soft tissue injuries. Trying to “tough it out” can lead to permanent, lifelong injuries that require ongoing physical therapy.

I can speak from personal experience on that, I took a bad step on a mountaineering expedition years ago and kept hiking down the mountain on it – it still bothers me to this day, whenever I do too much hiking on it. 😢

As a lay-responder, your job isn’t to diagnose whether it’s a strain, sprain, tear, fracture or other specific injury. Your goal should simply be to diagnose whether the injured joint is usable or unusable.

“Usable” Injuries

Wrapping a usable ankle injuryIf the patient still has most of the mobility in their joint and can comfortably put weight on it, then you can support the injury by wrapping it with athletic tape or an ace bandage.

There are also special-made wraps you can buy for various joints at stores like Walgreens or CVS. If you have a chronic injury in a knee or ankle, it’s a good idea to strap one of these on before you head out into the woods at all.

If you’re able to keep hiking on it, albeit gingerly, make sure you take sufficient time to address it when you get to camp.

The common RICE acronym is your guide:

  • Rest – especially if each use causes pain, which is a sign of tendinitis
  • Ice – alternate 20-30 minutes of cooling with 15 to naturally rewarm
  • Compression – wrap securely with an ace wrap, making sure circulation is preserved
  • Elevation – have the patient lie down on a sleeping pad and elevate their feet on a backpack or two

If your schedule allows you to take a day to rest the injured joint, this can go a long way to preventing complications and letting it heal. If you can keep the injury cold, compressed and elevated, this will help reduce swelling and make it more likely you’ll be able to continue hiking on it again shortly.

“Unusable” Injuries

If the patient can’t easily move the joint through its full range of motion or feels pain when putting their weight on it, then the joint should be considered “unusable” and treated as such. Note that an injury that starts out as usable may become unusable if the patient continues to hike on it, or swelling starts to set in.

For treating unusable joints, you want to splint the joint in a comfortable position:

  • For ankle injuries, keep the foot at 90 degrees to the lower leg
  • for knee injuries, bend the knee about 5 degrees from straight

You want to pad the injured joint with whatever is available – jackets, sleeping pads, clothing, etc. You also want to add something stiff like a hiking pole or canoe paddle to keep the joint from moving at all. Finally, wrap everything with something wide like a belt or webbing, and cinch it all tight. Remember this equation:

padding + compression = rigidity

Keeping it tied tightly will help hold everything together firmly as you begin your long, slow hike out. You will likely need to stop and readjust things often, whenever the patient is sufficiently uncomfortable.

Remember that you never want to tie anything so tight that the patient loses feeling in their extremities. Check periodically to make sure you can slide two fingers into the splint and that the patient can still wiggle their toes and has feeling in their toes when you touch them.

If the injury is so bad that there’s no way the patient will be able to hike out on it – like if bone is protruding through the skin – you’ll need to send someone to fetch professional help.

Getting carried out on a litter

Note that even the fastest search and rescue teams will take a few hours to reach you, and that being packed and carried out in a litter is generally a pretty terrible experience for everyone involved. Don’t expect most local SAR agencies to send a helicopter, you should encourage the patient to hike out in a splint if you don’t think it will complicate the injury.

Blisters

While not technically a medical emergency, blisters are one of the most familiar backcountry injuries to many people, and can certainly go a long way to ruining your trip if they’re not handled well. Blisters are also one of the most misunderstood backcountry injuries, and there are a lot of conflicting tips on what to do – the NOLS mythcrushers even tackled the issue:

A blister is formed when thick skin – like on your palms or feet – is rubbed, and it begins to separate from the softer, more sensitive skin beneath. Blisters are especially likely to form when the skin that’s being rubbed is warm or sweaty, which is exactly the conditions you’ll find inside most hiker’s boots.

With blisters that don’t occur on the foot, your best bet is just to leave them be. But if you have a firm, fluid-filled blister is on your foot you don’t really want to “tough it out” and risk having the blister pop inside your dirty, sweaty sock – leading to an infection (and a gross sock). It may also be too painful to continue hiking at all if the blister has grown too large.

To treat blisters, the best option is to carefully and slowly drain it, and then treat it like a minor wound. This will relieve the pressure and allow you to continue on your way.

Begin by washing the area around the blister thoroughly with water and then an alcohol pad. Sterilize a sharp point with either alcohol or by holding it over a flame.

To reduce the risk of cutting a jumpy, antsy patient, hold the sharp point so that it’s nearly parallel with the skin of their foot, and slide it up into the bottom of the blister’s roof. The skin of the blister should be dead, so the patient should only feel the tug of your point lancing the outside of the blister, not any sharp pain.

Once you’ve lanced a hole in the blister, leave the rest of the roof intact to protect the inner layers of skin. Give the blister at least a few minutes to drain, applying light pressure to help squeeze out the fluid. Then cover the area with antibiotic ointment to prevent your lanced hole from getting infected.

Some people use a donut of moleskin around the blister to hold the ointment in place, and then another piece of moleskin or tape over top to keep it all together. There are also products like 2nd Skin Blister Pads that you can slap over a lanced blister to help protect it.

Some people really don’t like the idea of another person sticking a knife into their foot, but the relief that comes after the blister has been drained is usually well worth the anxiety involved in lancing it. There’s no need to evacuate a patient with a friction blister, unless you’re starting to see signs of infection.

Dehydration

Like blisters, dehydration isn’t often a major, life-threatening situation, but it can certainly create issues if people aren’t watching out for it. Being well hydrated helps keep joints lubricated, muscles healing and your digestive system chugging along. Water also supports crucial brain function. Letting yourself or those in your group get dehydrated can make all sorts of other issues more likely.

Mild dehydration is something that we’re all familiar with – dry lips and a mild thirst. More severe dehydration can lead to fatigue and joint soreness, and eventually to irritability, frustration and poor decision making as the brain begins to shut down. This is especially likely if you’re also suffering from heat-stroke, but even in cold environments, dehydration can sneak up, so it’s important to know the signs.

I always think of dehydration like those Snickers commercials – you’re not you when you’re dehydrated.

To ensure everyone in your group stays hydrated, remind them of these simple rules:

  • If you’re not peeing every 4-5 hours on the trail, you’re probably dehydrated
  • If your urine isn’t clear, copious and bubble-free, you’re probably dehydrated

It’s also important to remember that dehydration also comes from a loss of key electrolytes like sodium and chloride. Ideally, someone in your group brought powdered sports drink mix to share, and everyone is consuming salty snacks like peanuts.

Shock

Shock is the body’s response to a sudden drop in blood pressure, in order to prioritize blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. Shock is a common response to major trauma or bleeding, or it could also be an issue with the heart not pumping enough, or blood vessels dilating and not maintaining high enough pressure.

Imagine that you’re trying to take a shower in a cabin on top of a mountain, and the shower is fed with lake water from the base of the mountain. If you turn on the shower head and nothing comes out, there could be three potential issues:

  1. The pump at the bottom of the hill (ie, your heart) isn’t putting out enough force to move the water adequately
  2. The water itself (ie, your blood) is leaking out of the pipe, or there just isn’t enough of it
  3. The pipes between the pump and the cabin (ie, your blood vessels) are too wide to maintain good pressure

In this analogy, you can think of the flow of water from the shower head as the flow of blood to your body’s various tissues. While a non-functioning shower is a big annoyance, if your tissues aren’t getting the blood flow they’ll need, that can cause life-threatening issues.

The various causes of shock are outside the scope of an article like this, but as a responder, you should look for signs of shock whenever there’s major injury or someone is feeling really off. Symptoms include:

  • anxiety or confusion
  • rapid pulse and rapid, shallow breathing
  • cool, pale clammy skin
  • weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness
  • nausea and vomiting

If you are able, you want to focus on treating whatever is causing the person to be in shock. But also keep these treatments in mind for any patient that’s exhibiting signs of shock:

  • keeping the person calm and reassured – by staying calm yourself – helps lower their heart rate
  • try to reduce their pain and discomfort by having them lie down on a sleeping pad in a comfortable position
  • elevate their feet on a backpack (unless you suspect a back injury) to keep blood in their core
  • even if it’s not freezing cold, wrap them in a sleeping bag and try to keep the patient warm and dry
  • if the patient is able to drink on their own, make sure to keep them hydrated – but never force them to drink if they might choke

Any patient who is exhibiting signs of shock will likely need to be evacuated with professional help. As you’re waiting for help to arrive, it’s a good idea to keep a log of the patient’s heart rate and mental status every 10 to 15 minutes. You will be able to hand this information off to rescuers to help their evaluation when they arrive.

Learn More

Well that’s 3500 words to get you started with the basics of wilderness medicine. Want to learn what I always carry in my first aid kit?

Check out this blog on Essential items to carry in your backcountry first aid kit.

If you love learning about this stuff, I’d highly recommend checking out a local Wilderness First Aid class. Some reputable companies that teach wilderness medicine include:

  • NOLS’ Wilderness Medical Institute
  • SOLO
  • Wilderness Medical Associates

The wilderness medicine community is full of some of the smartest, most interesting people I’ve ever met, and taking a class is also a great way to meet up with like-minded adventurers in your area.

If you can’t find a class near you, or if you want a handy reference or some not-so-light bedtime reading, I’d definitely recommend picking up a copy of Wilderness First Responder: How To Recognize, Treat, And Prevent Emergencies In The Backcountry.

Make sure you share this information with other people you often head out into the wilderness with. You never know when it could save their life – or yours.

Article by:  Hartley Brody

Be sure to check out this awesome adventure blog for more great content:

https://adventures.hartleybrody.com/

 

 

What do you need in your First Aid Kit?

But if you think that tossing a store-bought kit straight into your pack will get you out of any emergency situation, you’re in for a pretty terrible surprise if something actually goes wrong.
First Aid Kit Cartoon Diagram
Backcountry first aid kits are pretty different from urban emergency kits.
Anyone who is venturing more than a few hours away from civilization needs to be fully prepared for handling the most common emergencies and injuries on their own.Even if you find yourself in a truly dire situation, search and rescues teams often take several hours to reach your location by foot. You should have the gear and knowledge to prevent bad situations from getting worse, and to get yourself out safely.I’ve broken this comprehensive guide to first aid kits into a few sections, for review:

  1. Medical Situations an Outdoor First Aid Kit Helps With
  2. Specific Considerations for Your Trip
  3. Building Your Own Customized First Aid Kit
  4. Checklist of Items in a Backcountry First Aid Kit
  5. Recommended Popular Commercial Kits to Start With
  6. Other Resources For Building Your Own First Aid Kit

Medical Situations an Outdoor First Aid Kit Helps With

Before we even dive into the nuts and bolts of building out a great kit, it’s important to know the most common backcountry injuries and medical emergencies that you can handle on your own. I’ve written more extensively about those before but here’s a brief overview of what a first aid kit can help you prepare for.

Cleaning Wounds and Protecting Skin

In the wilderness, you’re likely to be working with fire and using sharp, primitive tools that you might not be totally familiar with. Cuts, scrapes, and burns are all relatively common injuries that can usually be treated without much fuss.

The majority of cuts you’ve gotten in your life likely stopped bleeding on their own, or with a bit of direct pressure and elevation. A good wilderness first aid kit will have items to help you control someone else’s bleeding (gloves and gauze) as well as tools for cleaning deeper cuts and keeping them from getting infected.

Supporting Injured Joints and Fractures

Especially when carrying a heavy backpack over rugged terrain, one bad step or a poorly timed fall can lead to fairly debilitating musculoskeletal injuries. These are the kinds of injuries that can not only ruin a trip, but make it difficult to get back to civilization on your own.

Having a few key items on hand can make a big difference in dealing with injured joints or broken bones, and can prevent smaller injuries from getting worse over time.

Maintaining Normal Body Functions

While issues like diarrhea, mild fever, seasonal allergies and low blood sugar are annoying but easily treatable in the front country, anything that gets you laid up and prevents you from hiking out can become a serious issue in the backcountry.

If you find yourself struggling with these issues on a backpacking trip, some simple over-the-counter medications can make a huge difference in your ability to get back to the trailhead safely.

Relief for Pain, Soreness and Discomfort

While not the most heroic form of first aid, sometimes offering a few advils or a tums can go a long way to improving someone’s experience while they’re out on a trip.

Being able to treat blisters can make you seem like a super hero to someone who has been struggling with one all day.

Specific Considerations for Your Trip

When preparing your gear list for a trip, you should already be thinking about key packing considerations like group size and expected weather conditions.

It’s important to also think about the hazards that each trip presents, in terms of first aid situations you’re likely to encounter. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before each trip.

  • Are there members of your group that are older, out of shape, or otherwise at risk for a heart attack?
  • Is there anyone on the trip with known, severe allergies that would be at risk of anaphylaxis?
  • Are there venomous creatures like snakes or spiders in the area you’ll be hiking through?
  • Are you at risk of puncture or gunshot wounds on a hunting trip, or a hike during hunting season?
  • Could the weather conditions lead to heat or cold related injuries?
  • Will there be ticks, leeches, mosquitoes or other small biting pests you’ll have to contend with?

The answers to these questions will often vary from trip to trip, but it’s important to consider each of them to ensure you’re prepared for the situations you’re likely to face.

Building Your Own Customized First Aid Kit

We’ll talk more about pre-made, commercially available kits later in this article, but I’d really recommend building your own (or heavily customizing a purchased one) for a few key reasons.

Cheaper in the Long Run

There’s often a huge markup on store-bought, pre-packaged kits. You’re paying for the brand name and the heavy bag that it comes in. Each of the materials can often be purchased for much cheaper online or at your local pharmacy.

This is especially important if you think your first aid kit will be getting some decent use over the years. It’s much easier to buy most items in bulk, store them in your medicine cabinets and then restock your kit whenever you need to.

Easier to Customize

While most kits make a decent attempt at preparing for the generic problems a hiker is likely to face on the trail, often they don’t really hit the mark. I’ve usually found that most kits include way too much gauze and not nearly enough ibuprofen, for example.

Building your own kit also forces you to think about your own personal needs and those of your group. You might be more likely than the average hiker to be dealing with allergies, chronic joint pain or blood sugar issues.

You Know What’s In It

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen someone hike for miles with blisters or a headache or some other easy-to-treat issue, without realizing they’ve been carrying the solution to their ailment on their back the entire time.

Build your own kit forces you to consider each of the elements that you’re carrying, and makes you much more likely to recall and use them in the appropriate situations.

Keeping everything in a sturdy, clear ziplock freezer bag is fine. Just make sure it’s well labeled so that someone else can find it in your pack in an emergency.

Checklist of Items in a Backcountry First Aid Kit

I tried to err on the side of including more stuff rather than leaving something out that might be important for your trip. You likely won’t need all of these items for every trip, but I’ve put asterisks next to essential items – the ones that I always carry.

Medications

Common medications in a first aid kit

Pills weigh almost nothing and are easy to keep in a small baggie. I toss a few grains of rice into my pill bag to help soak up any moisture that might make its way in. Make sure to take stock of your pill bag before each trip so don’t run out of anything at a bad time.

  • Ibuprofen (Advil)* – Common for headache and pain relief as well as for reducing fever and inflammation. Affectionately known as “Vitamin A”. 💊
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)* – Antihistamine for allergy relief and early anaphylaxis. Can also be taken as a sleeping pill.
  • Loperamide (Immodium)* – Anti-diarrhea pill that can be essential for getting yourself out of the woods if you catch a bug due to bad food or poor hygiene.
  • Epinephrine (Epi-pen) – My WFR instructor described an epi-pen as pound for pound, the most lifesaving piece of gear you can carry if someone in your group has severe allergies.
  • Aspirin – Good to have on hand if someone in your group is likely to suffer a heart attack as it can decrease the associated risk of death.

Wound Care

Wound care items for a first aid kit

 

This is the stuff that usually takes about about 90% of a hiking first aid kit. The goal of these items is to help you stop the bleeding, control infections and promote healing.

In a pristine hospital setting, anything that goes on or into an open wound must be sterile. In the backcountry, you’re unlikely to have that luxury, so “clean” will usually suffice. Make sure you follow up with any sketchy wounds when you get home or if they start showing signs of infection.

  • 3” Fabric Band Aids* – Your normal, everyday bandaid for protecting most minor cuts and scrapes. The fabric ones breath well and stretch with your skin as you move, so they’re more likely to stay on and not get gross.
  • Triple Antibiotic Ointment (Polysporin)* – Once a wound is no longer bleeding and has been flushed with water, add some of this ointment to help prevent infections and promote healing.
  • 2” Roll of Gauze* – A lot of off-the-shelf kits contain individually-packaged squares of gauze in various sizes, which creates a lot of waste and extra weight. A 2” roll of gauze packs down small and lets you use the right amount for any given wound.
  • Alcohol Pads – Use these for cleaning the skin around a wound before dressing it.
  • Quickclot Dressings – A vacuum-sealed packages of gauze impregnated with a hemostatic agent, they’re designed to be used on cuts or punctures with extra-strength bleeding to bring it under control quickly.
  • Nexcare Steri-Strip – These are long, thin pieces of tape designed to be laid across a wide cut to pull the skin together on both sides. They basically function like stitches that you can apply yourself to keep a wound closed.
  • Spenco 2nd Skin Blister Pads – A small pad that sticks well and protects blisters and small burns, allowing them to heal faster and with less discomfort.
  • Irrigation Syringe – You can get a small 5ml syringe for free from your local CSV pharmacy if you ask nicely. These are useful for pushing clean water into deep lacerations to help flush out the nasties.

Two other pieces of wound care gear that are commonly mentioned that I would not recommend:

  • Sheet of Moleskin – It’s really only useful for one, non-essential job – padding around blisters, and it takes too much fiddling to cut out a piece that is the correct size and get it to actually sticks to your skin. Learning how to safely drain a blister will relieve the pressure with a lot less fuss.
  • Israeli Bandage or Tourniquet – I really struggle to come up with a situation outside of a battlefield where this would be useful. You’d have to have a high chance of losing a lot of blood from an extremity for it to justify its own weight in your pack. That said, it might be good for hunting trips.

Other Essentials

Other essential first aid itemsAs a general packing philosophy, I tend to prefer simpler items than can perform multiple jobs rather that specific pieces of gear that can only do one thing. With that in mind, here are a few extra pieces of gear in my kit.

  • Leukotape* – The best thing I’ve found for sticking to skin while not being painful when you eventually want to remove it. It breathes better than duct tape and sticks better than medical or athletic tape. It’ll last you the entire trip back to the trailhead and then some.
  • Nitrile Gloves* – These should be standard in any kit but unfortunately aren’t. Nitrile protects you from coming in direct contact with another person’s blood and fluids while you’re working on them. Ask for a few pairs the next time you’re visiting the doctor.
  • 2” Elastic Bandage* – Can be easily fashioned to support an ankle or knee injury, if the joint is still usable. If it’s not usable and you need to make a splint, this is also very handy. I prefer the ones with velcro closures over those bendy metal pieces that don’t last.
  • Tweezers – Can be used for any task where you need fine motor control and precision, like removing a splinter or pulling off a tick.
  • SAM Splint – A stiff but packable splinting material commonly carried by many search and rescue teams. Useful for stabilizing and supporting injuries.
  • Snub-nose Scissors – If your pocket knife doesn’t already have a pair, a small set of scissors is useful for trimming gauze, opening packaging and removing clothing in a pinch.
  • Safety Pins – I carry a few in case of gear repair issues anyways, but they’re also great for draining blisters safely.
  • Q-Tips – Useful for applying ointment deep inside a cut without sticking your fingers into it. Also useful for cleaning ears and noses as well as gauging a person’s skin’s touch sensitivity.
  • Triangular Cravat – Basically like a giant bandana that you can use to help fashion a splint or pack into a wound. This is easily improvised with the bandanas and clothing that you’re likely already carrying.

Recommended Popular Commercial Kits to Start With

While there are many benefits to building your own kit from scratch, it can be intimidating if you’re not sure where to begin. Instead, it might be better to start with a pre-built commercial kit and customize that to your needs – tucking the excess supplies it comes with into your medicine cabinet and bolstering the kit where it’s lacking.

Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Hiker Medical Kit

Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Hiker Medical Kit

Weight: 7oz
Price: Click for Price & Availability

The Adventure Medical Kits Mountain series is a great light-and-fast set of first aid kits that don’t skimp on essentials. Their Hiker Medical Kit has 3 pairs of nitrile gloves, a stretchy elastic wrap bandage as well as roll gauze, which are all excellent essentials.

The bag itself is lightweight and no-frills, and it also comes with a handy pocket guide to wilderness medicine which can definitely be useful in an emergency situation.

I’d ditch the trauma shears, moleskin cutouts and giant gauze pads for most trips. I’d probably also swap out the fabric tape with some Leukotape and add way more ibuprofen (they only include 4 pills).

This is a great all-around starter kit that’s light and flexible and comes with a bunch of useful items that you can choose to leave at home on specific trips if you’d prefer.

Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight & Watertight .7

Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight and Watertight Medical Kit .7

Weight: 8oz
Price: Click for Price & Availability

Another great starter kit from Adventure Medical Kits is their Ultralight & Watertight 0.7. This kit is even more compact that the Mountain Series Hiker, ditching the shears and bulky gauze pads, but still includes 1 pair of nitrile gloves, a stretchy elastic wrap bandage and a roll of 2” gauze.

The bag itself is allegedly waterproof, making it a pretty durable package for your kit. However, the slim profile also makes it a challenge to add bulkier items like an epi-pen or scissors, if you needed to toss those in on an occasional trip. It also seems to weigh a bit more that the Mountain Series Hiker kit, despite the “ultralight” name.

I’d remove the moleskin sheet and swap the fabric tape for something that sticks better. The kit also includes some duct tape and safety pins if you need to MacGyver a wound together, but you might already be carrying these staples elsewhere in your backpack already.

This is a good no-frills kit for the minimalist who doesn’t plan on adding much extra gear of their own.

REI Co-op Backpacker Weekend First-Aid Kit

REI Co-op Backpacker Weekend First-Aid Kit

Weight: 9.5oz
Price: Click for Price & Availability

REI has a whole series of their own first aid kits but the Backpacker Weekend First-Aid Kit seems to strike the right balance of gear. It has important essentials like a roll of gauze, elastic wrap bandage, and a wilderness first aid manual. It doesn’t have gloves but it does have an assortment of small creams for burns and stings.

REI seems to tout all of the many labeled pockets in their kits as a way to keep everything organized. However, they add a lot of bulk to the packaging and make it much more difficult for you to reorganize it with your own gear mixed in.

This is a good starter kit for anyone who appreciates the organization and doesn’t plan on customizing their kit very much.

Other Resources For Building Your Own First Aid Kit

All of the advice I’ve given so far is based on my own experiences treating and managing real backcountry medical emergencies, as well as my Wilderness First Responder training.

But don’t just take my word for it.

Whenever you’re putting together something as important as your first aid kit, it’s important to consider multiple sources. Here are a few other great resources to help you think more carefully about what you should bring for you next trip.

“Backpacking First Aid Kit for soloists & groups” by Andrew Skurka 
Andrew Skurka is a well-known adventure racer and ultralight backpacker. In this post, he lays out the core first aid essentials he brings as well as group considerations that might add a few more items to his kit.

“Building a Wilderness First Aid Kit” by Wilderness Medical Associates 
Wilderness Medical Associates is one of the leading backcountry medicine training providers in the US. In this article, one of their staff members lays out her ideal first aid kit for remote trips.

“First-Aid Checklist” by REI 
In this article on the REI blog, they list every possible item you might ever want to include in your kit, including many I intentionally skipped over, like a magnifying glass, mirror, CPR mask and oral thermometer.

“What Items Belong in My Backpacking First-Aid Kit?” by Outside Magazine 
A very minimalist perspective from another Wilderness First Responder. He lists the core essentials he takes on every trip.

“Can we talk about First Aid?” on Reddit 
If discussions are more of your thing, here’s a great thread on the Wilderness Backpacking subreddit where a bunch of people share what’s in their kits and debate what they feel is necessary.


Ultimately, a first aid kit is just a collection of a bunch of small but essential pieces of gear. It’s a backpacking myth that a survival kit alone will get you out of any situation you get yourself into.

In reality, it takes training and thoughtful decision making to handle backcountry medical emergencies.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out my article on essential Wilderness First Aid skills. I’d also highly recommend taking a weekend-long Wilderness First Aid class in your area.

 

Article by:  Hartley Brody

See more awesome wilderness content here:

https://adventures.hartleybrody.com/

 

 

10 Most Legendary (And Infamous) Travelers In History

10 Most Legendary (And Infamous) Travelers In History

By: Matthew Kepnes
History is filled with amazing adventures who paved the way for future explorers and inspired generations of wanderlust. Here are some of the best.

Fridtjof Nansen

Fridtjof Nansen was the first man to cross Greenland’s ice cap. He also sailed farther north in the Arctic Ocean than any man before him. That’s pretty awesome. He and a colleague even endured nine winter months in a hut made of stones and walrus hides, surviving solely off polar bears and walruses. Nansen explored the great white north and had an asteroid named after him.

Christopher Colombus

Here’s a guy who had no idea where he was when he landed so assumed he was in India, enslaved a population (for which he admitted to feelings of remorse later in life), and brought a host of terrible diseases to an entire hemisphere (he got syphilis from the native people, in return). Colombus showed Europeans there was a new world out there and ushered in a new age of European exploration.

Ibn Battuta

Ibn Battuta was a great Muslim explorer who traveled more than 120,000 kilometers through regions that, today, comprise 44 countries — from Italy to Indonesia, Timbuktu to Shanghai. He was mugged, attacked by pirates, held hostage, and once hid in a swamp. His travel writings provide a rare perspective on the 14th-century medieval empire of Mali (from which not many records survive).

Xuanzang

Xuanzang was a Chinese Buddhist monk, intrepid traveler, and translator who documented the interaction between China and India in the early Tang Dynasty. He became famous for his 17-year overland journey to India, on which he was often ambushed by bandits, nearly died of thirst, and survived an avalanche.

Lewis and Clark

These two guys lead an expedition of 50 men to chart the northwestern region of the United States after the Louisiana Purchase and establish trade with the local populations. They set out in 1804 and didn’t return until 1806. They rode off into the unknown, were helped by the famous Sacagawea, and were the first Americans to set eyes on the Columbia River. They faced disease, hostile natives, and extreme weather conditions. They were true adventurers and scientists.

Ernest Hemingway

The manliest of manly travelers, Hemingway traveled extensively. His journeys inspired many of his greatest stories. He was a fisherman, hunter, soldier, and ardent drinker who lived in Paris, Cuba, and Spain. He was the most interesting man in the world before it was cool to be the most interesting man in the world.

Marco Polo

This legendary Venetian set out with his father and uncle to explore Asia when he was just 17 years old. They came back 24 years later after traveling over 15,000 miles. He’s inspired generations of travelers with tales that provide fascinating insight into Kublei Khan’s empire, the Far East, the silk road, and China.

Ernest Shackleton

Antarctica’s most famous explorer (though Roald Amundsen was the first to reach it in 1911), Ernest Shackleton is synonymous with Antarctic exploration. He traversed the continent many times and is most famous for the 1914 voyage that trapped his ship Endurance in ice for 10 months. Eventually, she was crushed and destroyed, and the crew was forced to abandon ship. After camping on the ice for five months, Shackleton made two open boat journeys, one of which—a treacherous 800-mile ocean crossing to South Georgia Island—is now considered among the greatest voyages in history. Trekking across the mountains of South Georgia, Shackleton reached the island’s remote whaling station, organized a rescue team, and saved all the men he had left behind. That’s badass.

Neil Armstrong

The first man to set foot on the moon. That pretty much means he wins. He was a modern adventurer who traveled to the moon (no easy feat) and took one giant leap for mankind. Neil Armstrong is living proof that when we put our mind to it, there’s no place we can’t explore.

Freya Stark

In 1930, Freya Stark – who had also learned Persian – set out for Persia. The goal of her trip was to visit the Valleys of the Assassins, at the time still unexplored by Europeans, and carry out geographical and archeological studies. The Assassins were fanatical followers of a sect belonging to Shiite Islam, who used religious reasons to justify killing their enemies. They were said to enjoy hashish, which is reflected in the name “hashshashun,” or hashish-smoker. French crusaders derived the word “assassin” from the word “Hashshashun”, which came to mean “murderer” in Romance languages. The reign of the Assassins began in the 11th century and ended in the 13th century after the Mongol conquest.

On the back of a mule, equipped with a camp bed and a mosquito net, and accompanied by a local guide, Freya Stark rode to the valleys near Alamut (= ruins of a mountain fortress castle near the Alamut River), which had not yet been recorded on her map. Malaria, a weak heart, dengue fever, and dysentery plagued her, but she continued her trip and her studies. Back in Baghdad, she received much recognition from the colonial circles; overnight she had gained a reputation as an explorer and scholar to be taken seriously.

 

And here are some inspiring quotes to take you further in your travels:

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”              – Ibn Battuta

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”        -Anaïs Nin“You can shake the sand from your shoes, but it will never leave your soul.”

 

 

If you like these articles, feel free to pin and share them around.

Happy reading!

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Taking the Train in China: What You Can Expect

 

How to Take the Train in China

Here are the basic steps you will need to follow for a successful journey

Step 1: Arrive at the railway station at least 1.5 hours before your train departs

Step 2: Pass through the security check and ticket check at the station’s entrance

Step 3: Find the right waiting room and wait for boarding

Step 4: Check in at the right boarding gate

Step 5: Go to the train platform for boarding

Step 5: Settle in, and store your the luggage and sit down (or lie down) to enjoy your trip

Step 6: Upon arrival, get off and exit to your destination.

 

Now let’s look into the details of this process…

 

7 Things to Know Before Riding A Train in China

You may have heard that train travel in China can be a delightful adventure and this is absolutely true. My family recently took the train from Xining to Chengdu and we thoroughly enjoyed the journey in our private soft sleeper rooms.  Our kids (ages 4 and 6) really loved the experience of being in their own bunk bed and looking out the window while the beautiful, lush Sichuan countryside passed by.  The whole 14 hour drive was quite magical for them.

The train in China is really a memorable experience – for adults and children alike. There are many times in our lives when we just have between 12-50 hours to relax, read a book, and watch beautiful dream-like landscapes through a train window.

But there are a few things you need to know before you depart on your journey to make it a success (and not a stressful undertaking).

Read on for things you should know before taking a train in China, like how to get to/through the railway station, how passengers are searched at security checkpoints, what drinks/food can be purchased on the train, and what the toilets are like. When you travel, it is the details that will make the difference in your journey and knowledge is power 🙂

1.) How to Read Your Train Ticket 

Station Information

Go to the Right Departure Station

Check the departure station carefully. Most cities in China have more than one railway station and they are often far away from each other (usually 30-90 minutes away on different sides of the city). It is recommended that you find out how to get to your station in sufficient time before your departure. And make sure you are going to the right station.  If you are arranging a taxi or preparing to board a subway or bus to your train station, make sure you check with your hotel staff first or travel agency just to make sure you know exactly which station to get to and how to get there.

train ticket
A train ticket from Guilin Railway Station to the Liuzhou Railway Station 
(NOTE:  This is train #D8265 / Train Car #: 3 / And Seat #: 6A/ This train departs at 9:50am on April 8, 2016)

If you accidentally go to the wrong station, you will find that the electronic boards do NOT show your train’s schedule at all (this is your first hint you may have gone to the wrong station). By the time you realize your mistake, you likely will not have enough time to transfer to to the correct station and you therefore will probably miss your train as it will take more than hour to transfer to the right departure station.

If you miss your train, you can make an alteration at the ticket window in the correct departure station for the next train on the same day. The alteration is free of charge, and you will get a refund for the difference if the next train’s ticket is less expensive, or you will be asked for an additional payment if the next train’s ticket costs more.

Don’t Get Off at the Wrong Station

It is also important to correctly read the information for the arrival station. For example, the southbound train from Beijing will first reach Guilin North Railway Station (桂林北站) and then Guilin Railway Station (桂林站). So make sure you know which station you are getting off at.

Getting off the train at the wrong destination can cause you to pay a penalty fare if you continue the journey too far, or require a trip across the city if you get off too early. If you have scheduled a pick up at your destination this may also cause a great deal of confusion with your party as they may be waiting and looking for you for hours at a station you are not at.

Pay attention to the announcements on the train as they will tell you which station you have arrived at. If you take an overnight train, a member of staff will wake you up to exchange your sleeper card for your original paper train ticket about half an hour before arriving at your destination.

Here is a tip once you have reached your destination:

Look at the arrival time for your train and set your alarm for 1 hour before that time.  Sometimes trains arrive a few minutes early or late for their scheduled arrival times so make sure you account for this.  Once the train stops you may only  have one or two minutes to exit (especially if your train is continuing onto another destination).  So make sure you are all packed and you have all your charging cords, electronic devices, and all your luggage all packed and ready to go.

Get a visual idea of how to read China train tickets.

2.) Luggage Allowance — Pack Smartly

a porter at guilin railway station

Sometimes the excitement and anticipation of travel is half the fun, so make sure that you leave plenty of time to pack for your travel and get all those last minute items. Separate your belongings into large luggage and small carry-on items. Important things, such as travel documents, tickets, money, and valuable items should be kept on you at all times. Having a fanny pack, day pack, or purse is handy. The outside of train stations are notorious for pickpockets so keep your things close to you and always be mindful of your luggage and do not leave items unattended. Remember to put your tickets and passport away safely after the ticket checkpoints. If you lose these – your vacation will suddenly not be so fun.

Packing light is important. You can find all kinds of tips about packing light on the internet and everyone has their own style of packing. If you are not able to lift your luggage above your head, the train stewards can assist you in this task. Often times, luggage can either be placed under your hard or soft sleeper bed or in a public overhead compartment (which has no lock or door). Therefore, it is important to have your luggage zipped up or closed securely using a combination lock.

When taking an overnight train, you should consider taking flip-flops, bathroom supplies (toilet paper and a toothbrush), and perhaps earplugs and an eye mask. Take a book or an iPod to help pass the time.

Carry-On Luggage Regulations

  • Ordinary passengers: 20 kg (44 pounds)
  • Children with a half-price ticket (1.2m–1.5m) or no ticket (under 1.2 m): 10 kg (22 pounds)
  • The total length of each item cannot exceed 160 cm, unless it is rod-shaped.

The above limitation is not applicable to wheelchairs, which can be taken on to the train for free.

The limitations for luggage are not as strict as they are for airplanes.

Senior travelers or passengers with excessive luggage can hire a porter at the station entrance — they are easily spotted as they wear sleeveless red jackets and red hats. The price is approximately 10 to 15 yuan. They will help to load the luggage onto the train. Beware of people that offer to help you carry your luggage who do not wear the official train uniform. These people will rip you off to carry your luggage only for a few minutes and they should be avoided.

3.) Arrive At the Station 2 Hours Before Your Train Departs

Arriving at a train station generally follows the same rules and processes that you would follow if you were to arrive at an airport.  If you are not a fan of taking risks, it is always better to arrive early at the railway station (especially if you have to pick up your tickets at the station). Nobody likes waiting around, but we suggest that you arrive 2 hours  before your train’s departure time.

Here are a few reasons to leave yourself a little extra time:

Leave Extra Time to Get to the Station —In Case of Traffic, Getting Lost, and Crowds

Some railway stations can be as vast as an airport and are situated a long way from the city center. It’s a good idea to leave your hotel or last activity in plenty of time in case of traffic, queues, crowds, or in the event of getting lost. Give yourself enough time to enjoy a relaxing journey. Usually 2 hours is enough, but the time can be reduced if going to a very small, local train station.

There Are Many Things to Do Before Boarding— Long Distances and Lines

guilin train station
A crowded train station

The distances between the ticket office, security check, waiting room, and station platform can be quite long, and it is sometimes necessary to walk from one side of the station to the other.

Remember that you are not doing this alone; there will be hundreds of people doing the same thing, meaning that you might be standing in waiting lines for a long time (especially around holidays and times of high-season travel such as Chinese New Year, October Holiday, and May Holiday). From the moment you arrive at the train station, you will likely need to be queuing in crowded lines (And remember- Chinese people do not always form or respect an orderly single-file line. So you may have to be a little aggressive to maintain your spot in line).

At the station entrance you will need to pick up your ticket at the “ShouPiaoChu” or 售票处. This is often separate from the train station entrance itself and they may not allow you into the station until you have been to the nearby ticket pick up office to get your ticket.  Here at the ticket pick up gate, you will have to stand in line (maybe a half an hour or more, unless you’ve used a ticket delivery service or got your tickets delivered in advance to your hotel), then pass through a ticket and ID check followed by a security check.  After this you will need to locate and walk to your train’s specific waiting area, then, after a 10-15 minute walk through a busy station, will need to wait again in line at the waiting room ticket gate.

xian north railway station
Explore the train station if you get to the station early.

Things to Do If You Get There Too Early

No time needs to be wasted, even if you get there early. For first-timers, early arrival at the railway station gives you a good chance to explore the station and observe the locals. You can purchase some food or drinks at the shops so that you won’t go hungry during the journey. If you are traveling with kids, an early arrival gives you some time to calm them down and prepare for a good trip.

Bear in mind that the station will stop the check-in facility 5 minutes before the train departs. So don’t lose yourself in the stores at the train station. You are recommended to get to the waiting room at least 30 minutes before the train departs (especially if you want to find a seat amidst 100’s of other passengers waiting for the same destination).

4.) Security Checks

Prepare Your Passport and Ticket

security check

All passengers and luggage are required to pass through a security check at the station entrance. Please prepare your train ticket and passport (or Mainland Travel Permit). You need to line up for the security check, just like at an airport. After the security check keep your passport and train ticket on your person, and don’t lock them in your suitcase, because you are going to need them for another ticket check or two when you board the train.

There may already be a long line at the entrance so, as we have already mentioned, you are recommended to arrive at the train station early.

5.) Boarding Smoothly

Getting to the Right Waiting Room, Gate, Platform, Car, and Seat

Find the Right Waiting Room Using the LED Screens

beijing west railway station
An LED screen at Beijing West Railway Station

After the security check, you need to find the right waiting room. A train station may have many waiting rooms for different trains. And usually the information on the screen is in Chinese only, although some screens display both English and Chinese.

Look up at the large LED screens for your train number, and see which waiting room is allocated to your train number. Your train number is a letter with numbers displayed on the top middle part of your train ticket, such as G655 or D3201. A large LED screen shows different trains’ departure schedules in rotation, so you might have to wait for the screen to change once or twice to see your train information.

Usually the waiting room information shows the floor and room number, such as”2楼1候”,meaning ‘2nd floor 1st waiting room’. You could ask someone near you for help to get to the right waiting room, by pointing at your ticket then the LED screen, then saying, “Wǒqùnǎr?”(我去哪儿/wo choo narr/ ‘I go where?’), or read the Chinese yourself.

Get to the Right Gate

check in gate
An LED screen of check-in gates

A waiting room may not only have one platform gate (like in an airport). There may be several gates going to different platforms to board different trains, so don’t line up at the wrong gate.There are generally rows of seats either side of a gate’s lining up aisle.

LED screens for each gate in each waiting room show different trains’ numbers, departure times, and platform information. If you know Chinese, you can listen to the broadcasts for boarding information.

Get to the Right Platform

Once you get to the right gate, generally, you can check-in with your train ticket 15 minutes before departure. Before you walk along the long corridors to the platform, look up at the LED screen for the last time and find your platform number. Look for your platform number showing which stairway to walk down to get to your platform.

Getting to Your Seat/Bunk

seat number
Seat number sign on a bullet train

Check your train ticket for your car number (listed as: 车 on your ticket) as you descend to the platform. There will be staff at each train car door. You could show your ticket to a member of staff. He/she will check that you are boarding the right train car. The character 车 denotes your car number.

Once on the right car, find your bunk number (shown by 铺 on your ticket: 上 for top, 中for middle, 下 for bottom), or seat number (shown by 座 or “seat” on your ticket), usually displayed on the luggage racks around head height.

Chinese “Cheat Sheet” for Getting Help

You could carry a card (or an image on your device) listing useful sentences written in Chinese to find your waiting area, platform, coach, and seat, and show these sentences to any staff member or passer-by, along with your ticket(s):

Chinese English
我搭这趟火车, 请问我的候车室在哪里? I am taking this train; would you please tell me where the waiting hall is?
我搭这趟火车, 请问我在哪个站台上车? I am taking this train; would you please tell me which platform I should go to?
我搭这趟火车, 请问我在哪个车厢? I am taking this train; would you please tell me which coaches I should board?
我搭这趟火车, 请问我的座位是哪个? I am taking this train; would you please tell me where my seat is?

6.) Know What’s on the Train

Food, Water, and Toilets

Different trains offer different services and facilities. High-speed trains are modern and comfortable, while normal speed trains may not be so convenient for foreign travelers.

G, D, and C: High Speed Trains — Modern Facilities for a Convenient Journey

When taking high-speed trains, lettered G, D, or C, you can enjoy a more comfortable train journey.

Seating: High-speed trains are fully air-conditioned. The seats are adjustable, just like seats on a plane, for you to sit comfortably. What’s more, there is a 220V AC socket under each seat for your devices.

Food: High-speed trains offer different types of set meals (including Muslim food).You can go to the restaurant car to have a meal, where they offer made-to-order meals at 20 to 50 yuan per dish. Or you can buy a set meal from the attendant’s trolley. You can also go to the canteen bar to buy some snacks and drinks.

Water: Free boiled/cold water is available between the coaches.

Toilets: Chinese/Western-style toilets and handicapped restrooms are available between the coaches. However, the toilets have usually run out of toilet paper or don’t provide toilet paper in the first place.

LED screen: Every coach with an LED screen indicates the speed of the train.

Luggage racks: There are luggage racks over the seats at either side of a coach. You can take a 24-inch suitcase on board and place it on a luggage rack. There are some shelves between the coaches for large baggage. Shelves for large suitcases, suitable for a 70cm (28-inch) suitcase.

K and T Number Trains: Normal Speed Trains — Not as Comfortable

Normal speed trains are not as convenient and comfortable as high-speed trains. If you have to take such trains, you are recommended to buy tickets for soft seats or hard/soft sleepers. If you choose to book the hard seats for your party, you should be prepared to sit next to a lot of Chinese men playing cards, making loud jokes, and smoking cigarettes all around you for long hours. The hard seats are slightly cheaper than the hard or soft sleeper beds but offer little in the way of privacy or cleanliness.

Seating: Hard seats are not adjustable. There are no power outlets. Normal speed trains, apart from the oldest number-only ones, are fully air-conditioned.

Food: Some trains don’t have a restaurant car, but most T and K trains do, and there is often a staff member who walks through the coaches selling somewhat overpriced simple small items, snacks, and drinks from a food trolley.

Our suggestion is to purchase some simple food and drinks before boarding, such as a takeout from KFC or McDonald’s.

Water: There is free boiled/cold water is available between each coach car. Make sure that the water is labeled as “drinkable” because all the other faucets on the train provide water that is NOT suitable for drinking.  There are sometimes hot water kettles available in the soft sleeper cabins where you can store your boiled water in case you want to prepare some instant noodles or Starbucks VIA coffee.

Toilets: Most trains only have Chinese-style squat toilets, which are usually quite wet and dirty. Some soft sleepers / deluxe soft sleepers have Western-style toilets which are a little cleaner. In either case, keep your bathroom expectations pretty low and bring lots of hand sanitizer and wet wipes.  Never enter a bathroom without shoes as the floors can be quite wet and messy.

Luggage racks: After you board the train, you can place your baggage on the luggage rack above the seats. If you are on a sleeper carriage, you can place your baggage on the opposite side of the berths, under the lower berth, or under the small desk in your compartment.

5 Places to Buy Food for Your Train Trip in China

Chinese people always buy snacks for short-distance trips and food for long-distance train trips. Generally, the food prices at the train station and on the train are higher than those in the outside restaurants or stores. If possible, you should take your own food or snacks. I have some friends that always prepare a nice bottle of wine and some imported cheese and crackers for their journey and think this is a great practice.  With a little preparation, the train ride can be a fun little traveling picnic!

There are five places you can buy snacks or food in and around the train:

  • Shops or fast-food chain restaurants around your hotel or city center, such as Subway, KFC and McDonald’s. You can buy the food in advance then go to the train station to board your train. You have more options if you prepare the food in advance.
  • Small shops at the train station. There are lots of shops at the station. You will find fruit, bread, milk, and eggs in the shops and these are something similar to what we would consider American “gas station food”.  You can pay for these items using Chinese yuan cash OR Wechat or Alipay
  • The platform at the train station. When the train stops at a station, you can get off the train to buy some food. There are vendors selling local dishes or more simple food. You will find food like boiled corn cobs and tea-flavored boiled eggs. But make sure you only take a few minutes as you do not want the train to leave without you!
  • There is a dining car on long-distance trains that is open to all passengers and this area sells snacks, beer, and soft drinks. There is a canteen bar on high-speed trains. Try to go there as early or as late as possible because it will be very crowded at meal times. The dining car offers prepared and heated packed meals and the prices range from 15 to 45 yuan.
  • Railway attendants take trolleys through the cars frequently and you will hear them yelling by your cabin. There are packed meals at meal times and each one is about 25 yuan. The Chinese meal includes rice, meat, and vegetables. You can buy instant noodles too (which almost all the Chinese eat). There is free boiled water on each car. At other times, the attendants also sell drinks, snacks, packed fruit, and some toys for kids.

7.) Travel Safely

Train travel in China is a fairly safe and standardized process, especially when compared to traveling in India or Nepal.  Yet good advice never hurts.

When you are traveling with young children, keep them close by your side and keep an eye on them. Don’t allow kids to run up and down the train coach/platform, or lose them in the station. Beware of pinching fingers in the (automatic) doors. Hold onto the hand knobs and rails while walking inside the coach. The bathroom floor can be slippery (and sometimes a little nasty), so be careful in there.

Don’t leave your valuable belongings unattended. There is a power socket under the seat (on high-speed trains) or on the small table (on non-high-speed overnight trains), which can be used to recharge your devices. Never leave your valuables unattended. When taking an overnight train, keep your carry-on items close to your body. Your passport and ticket should always be kept with you.

 

Travel in China With Us

If you are planning to take a train during your China trip, please see our recommended tours below for inspiration. You can enjoy hassle free travel with Elevated Trips. All you have to do is arrive in the train or plane station and we take care of everything else.

If you have more questions on train travel, do not hesitate to contact us here.

 

Visiting the Pandas of Chengdu

 

The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca, literally “black and white cat-foot”) has a very cute name in  Chinese: 大熊猫; pinyin: dà xióng māo.  This literally means “Big bear cat”.  The giant panda is also known more commonly as the panda bear or simply panda, and is a bear native to south central China, particularly the lush bamboo forests of Sichuan Province.

It is easily recognized by the large, distinctive black patches around its eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. The name “giant panda” is sometimes used to distinguish it from the unrelated red panda. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the giant panda’s diet is over 99% bamboo. Giant pandas in the wild will occasionally eat other grasses, wild tubers, or even meat in the form of birds, rodents, or carrion. In captivity, they may receive honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges, or bananas along with specially prepared food.

Here are 10 facts from WWF, the World Wildlife Foundation (whose logo is actually a giant panda) about these cuddly animals:

 

10. The first panda came to the United States in 1936—a cub to a zoo in Chicago. It took another 50 years before the States would see another.

9. A newborn panda cub is 1/900th the size of its mother and is comparable to the length of a stick of butter.

8. A panda’s paw has six digits—five fingers and an opposable pseudo-thumb (actually an enlarged wrist bone) it uses merely to hold bamboo while eating.

7. Of all the members of the bear family, only sloth bears have longer tails than pandas.

6. Pandas rely on spatial memory, not visual memory.

5. Female pandas ovulate once a year and are fertile for only two or three days.

4. The giant panda’s genome was sequenced in 2009, according to the journal Nature.

3. The WWF logo was inspired by Chi-Chi, a giant panda brought to the London Zoo in 1961, when WWF was being created. Says Sir Peter Scott, one of those founders and the man who sketched the first logo: “We wanted an animal that is beautiful, is endangered and one loved by many people in the world for its appealing qualities. We also wanted an animal that had an impact in black and white to save money on printing costs.”

2. Historically speaking, pandas are one of the few animals whose parts have not been used in traditional Chinese medicine.

1. Approximately 99 percent of a panda’s diet—bamboo leaves and shoots—is void of much nutritional value. Its carnivore-adapted digestive system cannot digest cellulose well, thus it lives a low-energy, sedentary lifestyle but persists in eating some 60 species of bamboo. Pandas must eat upwards of 30 pounds of bamboo daily just to stay full.

 

Here are details on tickets and entry
Entrance tickets= 55 RMB/ adult
Kids under 120cm are free
Also the cost to ride the park’s golf cart shuttle is  an extra 10 RMB/ seat. The Panda Base is quite big and you will find yourself walking 5-10 km in a course of 3 hours to fully explore the entire site.  If you are traveling with young kids, have a disability, or are just short on time you might want to think about taking the shuttle as it will save you about 1 hour of walking.
Be aware that you are only allowed on 2 trips total for the shuttle (one out from the gate and one directly back to the entrance gate).
Generally, you buy the shuttle tickets right after the entrance to the park and the park shuttle takes you to the furthest point in the park.  From there you can get off and make your way slowly by foot back down to the entrance as you explore the various Panda exhibits.  At any point when you are ready to exit, you can jump back on the shuttle and it will take you directly back to the main entrance. Do not get back on the shuttle until you are ready to exit as the shuttle does not transport you from one exhibit to the next.
Park Hours:
9-6pm (Summer)
9-5pm (Winter)
(Check these hours)
There is a Bank of China ATM hidden to the right of the entrance. The park gate Accepts Wechat and Alipay and Chinese Yuan (or RMB).

Shigatse and Tashilunpo Monastery

With a population of 80,000 people and at an elevation of 3,840 meters, Shigatse is the 2nd largest town in the Tibetan Autonomous Region.  As the seat of the Panchen Lama and the former capital of Tibet, Shigatse is a must visit stop on the road from Lhasa to Everest Base Camp.

You can spend a whole morning walking the Tashilunpo Monastery in Shigatse and then doing the pilgrimage kora around the monastery. If you have the time, spend 2 nights in this town and get refreshed before you head out into the wild highlands of Mount Everest Base Camp.

 

The drive from Lhasa to Shigatse (via Yamdrok Lake and Gyantse) is a total of 355 km.  It is best to break this drive up into two days, spending the first driving day (260km) from Lhasa to Yamdrok Lake to the Karo La Glacier to Gyantse.  And then the second day driving 90km from Gyantse to Shigatse.

 

Gyantse and Pelkor Chode Monastery

Gyantse is a small town with a population of 15,000 people that is 260 km west of Lhasa, Tibet.

The town was a main area of trade between Tibet and India, especially in wood and wool.  Gyantse is also famous for producing the best handmade carpets in Tibet.

The main attraction here is the Gyantse Kumbum Stupa, which was built in 1427 and is the tallest Stupa in Tibet at 32 meters in height.

The Kumbum Stupa is also part of the larger

Pelkor Chode Monastery complex, which was first constructed in 1418 AD.

The red-walled Pelkor Chöde was once a compound of 15 monasteries that brought together three different orders of Tibetan Buddhism – a rare instance of multidenominational tolerance. Nine of the monasteries were Gelugpa, three were Sakyapa and three belonged to the obscure Büton suborder.

Yamdrok Lake

 

Around 90 km to the west of the lake lies the Tibetan town of Gyantse and Lhasa is a hundred km to the northeast. According to local mythology, Yamdok Yumtso lake is the transformation of a goddess and this is the reason it is considered so holy.

The Yamdrok Hydropower Station was completed and dedicated in 1996 near the small village of Baidiat the lake’s western end. This power station is the largest in Tibet.

If you are traveling to Yamdrok Lake you will need to be part of an organized tour run by a travel agency in order to attain a Tibet Travel Permit.

Usually the lake is seen on a larger tour along the way to the north side of Mount Everest at Everest Base Camp.  When you drive from Lhasa to Gyantse (a distance of 260 km)  you will hit Yamdrok Lake right around lunch time.  The first site you will see the Lake at will be the Khamba La Pass at 4,700 meters.  This is an excellent place to spend 30 minutes to photograph the turquoise waters of the brilliant lake.

Other than a few vendors selling fried potatoes and instant noodles, there are no restaurants at this remote location so you will need to drive another 1 hour (on the way to Gyantse town) to the small town of Nygartse.  There really is only a handful of Chinese restaurants on Nygartse and most foreign tourists end up eating Chinese dishes at the “Lhasa Restaurant”. The bathrooms are pretty dirty here but it makes a nice stop after a long day of travel.

 

 

 

 

 

What is it like to sleep in a Tibetan nomad tent?

A picture is worth a thousand words.  So we have put together this video so you can see what it is like to live like a Tibetan nomad in the grasslands:

 

 

Lanzhou

Lanzhou is the capital city of Gansu Province in northwest China at an elevation of 1518 m (4980 ft). The Yellow River runs through the city and it is definitely worth an afternoon of your time to rent bicycles and cruise along the river for 2-4 hours. The city is the transportation and telecommunication center of the region and is the largest city in western China. Covering an area of 1631.6 square kilometers (629.96 square miles), it was once a key area of trade on the ancient Silk Road. Today, it is a hub for tourists as they begin their adventures out into the Silk Road, with the Maiji Caves to the east, the Bingling Temple Grottoes to the west, Labrang Monastery to the south and the ancient cave paintings of the Dunhuang Mogao Caves to the north.

 

 

With mountains to the south and north of the city and the Yellow River flowing from the east to the west, Lanzhou is a beautiful modern city with both the modern ammenities of a large city and the charm of southern cities. The downtown comprises five districts: Chengguan, Qilihe, Xigu, Honggu and Anning. Among them, Chengguan District, situated in the eastern part of the city, is the center of politics, economy, culture and transportation. Anning District, in the northwest of the city, is the economic development zone as well as the area where most colleges are located.

As a transportation hub, Lanzhou connects western and central China. Flights are frequent from many large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. With three train stations, it is the termination of the Longhai Railway (Lanzhou – Lianyungang Railway), an important east-west rail route in China. Bullet trains to Urumqi also originate from this city.

Owing to its location on the Silk Road, local cuisine maintains characteristics with an Islamic influence. Locally sourced grass fed beef and lamb are common to most dishes. In fact, Lanzhou Beef Noodles or 兰州牛肉面 are famous all across China and most bowls are dirt cheap and very hearty at around 10-12 RMB. In addition, there are many local snacks that we recommend for those looking to try something new such as Niangpi, Hui Dou Zi (Gray Bean) and Fried Noodles. Although many restaurants serve Islamic food, various cuisines such as hot pot and western food are also offered for travelers. With KFC, Starbucks, Burger King, and a host of western restaurants, you will have no problem finding something you will like to eat.

Xining

 

西宁 Xīníng (Standard Tibetan: ཟི་ལིང་། Ziling) is the capital of Qinghai province in western China  and the largest city on the Tibetan Plateau.  As of the 2010 Chinese census, Xining had 2,208,708 inhabitants and, as such, is a modern city that offers plenty of fast food restaurants and shopping including H&M, Sephora, UniQlo, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Burger King restaurants (not to mention a fair share of knock off brands that imitate these same restaurants).

The city was a commercial hub along the Northern Silk Road’s Hexi Corridor for over 2000 years, and was a stronghold of the Han, Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties’ resistance against nomadic attacks from the west. Although long a part of Gansu province, Xining was added to Qinghai in 1928. Xining holds sites of religious significance to Muslims and Buddhists, including the Dongguan Mosque and the Kumbum Monastery (aka Ta’er Monastery 塔尔寺 ). The city lies in the Huangshui River valley and is surrounded by 3,500 meter mountain ridges on both the north and the south.  Owing to its high altitude, Xining has a cold semi-arid climate. It is connected by rail to Lhasa, Tibet and connected by high-speed rail to Lanzhou, Gansu and Ürümqi, Xinjiang. The Xining XNN Caojiapu airport does not directly serve international destinations but this airport can easily be reached, often in 2 hours, from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Xian, Lhasa, and most other Chinese cities.

The climate in Xining is characterized as having an arid climate with little rain and has plenty of sunshine; it is dry and windy in spring, and has a short summer season and a long and cold winter. While the winters are generally below freezing for 4-5  months, the dry climate in the rain shadow of the Himalayas yields little snow and, on any given day in winter, most travelers experience cold air and brilliant blue skies.  Xining is known around China as the “Summer Capital” or 夏都 because it makes a great place to escape the sultry summer heat of Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Hong Kong, and other southern cities with high humidity and heat. As the gateway into Tibet, Xining has a continental climate with highland features.  The average annual temperature is about 6 degree Celsius year round. In the coldest months (January and February) the temperature may drop to -15 degree Celsius, and in the summer it is always less than 20 degrees Celsius.

A popular route through Xining is fly to Xining XNN from Chengdu CTU airport and then take the train to Lhasa (the highest railroad in the world) for the stunning landscapes and to aid in the acclimatization to altitude. Because few people have ever heard of Qinghai Province most people use Xining as a gateway city to get into Lhasa and spend little time in and around Xining city itself.  This means that there are still many astounding, wild places in and around Xining and most of these places have never been seen by western or Chinese tourists. There are, in fact, several 5,000 and 6,000 meter mountains in Qinghai Province that have never even been climbed or named.  This makes Xining  a perfect destination for people looking for authentic Tibetan culture without all the hassle of Tibet Travel Permits and the bureaucracy of Lhasa, Tibet.

To acclimate to any adventure into the Tibetan Plateau, we recommend spending a night in Xining, at 2,300m above sea level,  and this will help partially in your acclimatization process. To truly do your health and wellbeing a favor, it is best to spend 3-5 days in Qinghai’s capital and surroundings so that you are ready to tackle Lhasa’s 3,600m of elevation with greater ease.

While Xining is a typical medium-sized Chinese city with cement high rises and dime-a-dozen convenience stores that all sell the same products, it also offers a whole lot more character than your average all-Han Chinese city.  After over 8 years of travel on the Tibetan Plateau, I have three suggestions for day tours from Xining that will not only take your breath away but will give you the time and space to help you acclimatize properly before you head into the high regions of Tibet.

Here are some of the top 3 day trips you can take from Xining (these can make for a great day trip if you are in a hurry but you can easily spend at least 3-5 days in all  of these magnificent areas) :

1. Zhangye Danxia Landforms

Located just a 45 drive from Zhangye town, one of the most impressive landscapes you will ever see is that of the Zhangye Danxia Landforms (elevations range from 1,500 – 2,500m), one of China’s many UNESCO sites. Usually a 6 six hour drive in a private car, I recommend taking the 2 hour high speed  train from Xining 西宁 to Zhangye West station 张掖西 and spend a day in the area. The Danxia Landforms, also known as the Rainbow Mountains or 七彩山 , is a mountain range layered with almost all the colors of the rainbow (or at least distinct shades of reds, yellows, purples, greys, and oranges). The magnificent patterns in the hills were formed from the land’s red sandstone bedrock and the passing of time with erosion and uplift. Danxia is perfect for photography enthusiasts and lovers of hiking. Take the afternoon to soak in the scenery and admire this UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Just a 20 minute drive from the Zhangye Danxia National Park is the lesser visited (but equally as beautiful) BingGou National Park.

 

 

2. Rebkong

The small monastic town of Rebkong (Tongren 同仁 in Chinese) sits  2.5 hours from Xining at 2,500m above sea level and is a great option for a one to three day trip outside of Xining. Rebkong  is home to some of the most famous thangka paintings in Tibet and its artwork is highly valued not only on the Tibetan Plateau but by Buddhist practitioners around the world. After a stroll through Rebkong’s two most famous temple complexes, Rebkong Longwu Monastery and Wutun Monastery,  you can watch 17-year old teenagers painstakingly produce some of Tibets’ most colorful and detailed paintings.

 

3. Qinghai Lake

Qinghai Lake (3,200m), China’s largest inland lake, is one the first landscapes you will spot from the train to Lhasa, but to truly experience it, take a day trip or multi-day trip from Xining. The lake is famous for its sweeping natural scenery, abundant birdlife and nearby grasslands that are home to traveling nomadic Tibetan tribes and roaming yaks. You can go biking (though take it slow at the high altitude) or have a champagne picnic by the lake’s shores as you watch the waves lap against the beach shore. Qinghai Lake is 150km (80 miles) from Xining and about a 2.5hr drive. But please be aware:  in the summer months (June, July, August) this is a MADHOUSE of Chines tourism and if you go in these months you are sure to see 1,000’s of Chinese tourists descending upon the lake every day and you are likely to spend a few more hours sitting in traffic than normal because of the immense amount of visitors this spot receives.  I personally recommend if you are going to visit Qinghai Lake – do it in the winter.  There is no one else around for miles, the hotels are much more affordable, and the slowly crashing chunks of frozen ice, circling the lake for over 300km, hold an enchanting beauty in the eerie quiet of the winter.

 

Hezuo

The Tibetan name /Hzö  གཙོས། is pronounced Dzoi in Standard Tibetan and pronounced Hdzoi/Hdzu in the local dialect.  Zö is the traditional name for a Tibetan Ibex and you can see statues of this animal throughout the town.

Today the city has been named Hezuo or 合作

Hezuo is the capital city of Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in southern Gansu Province. Standing at the junction area of Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces, it is the hub of nomadic activity of the central plains region and the Amdo Tibetan region. And it is also the center of commerce between historical Tibetan and Chinese trading.

Located at the northeast edge of the Tibetan Plateau, Hezuo is 276 kilometers south of Lanzhou. The city contains many large hotels and every sort of restaurant you could hope to find in a middle-sized Chinese city. There is no railway running from Lanzhou to Hezuo, however, regular buses are available every day from Lanzhou every 35 minutes from 05:50 to 16:04. It takes about 4 to 5 hours by bus to get to Hezuo and the ticket fee ranges from 37.5 RMB to 49.5 RMB depending on the departure time. 

Hezuo’s main attraction is the 9-story Milarepa Temple. It is said that there are only two temples of this kind in the whole Tibetan area, and the one in Hezuo is the only one which has nine floors and is dedicated to a primary founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Milarepa. Milarepa is one of the few saints who is thought to have attained enlightenment in one lifetime.  He is often pictured as very thin and bony (as he was meditating and fasting in a cave for most of his latter years) and with his hand to his mouth as he would often sing his lessons and teachings to his disciples so they could better remember his ideas.

The Milarepa Temple is about 40 meters high and was originally built in the Qing dynasty. There are perennial resident monks and lamas studying here and if you have the time, spend an afternoon watching them perform their ritual duties, including burning juniper and lighting incense.  There is also a very nice pilgrimage around the entire monastery that can take around 30-45 minutes to complete if you are up for a leisurely stroll with Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims. Once you have finished this walk, you can also meander over to Folk Street and Century Square which are a short walk from the monastery complex.

It’s worth a rickety climb up the steep wooden steps of the nine floors not only for the artifacts but also for the decent view of the city from the top. A nice monk who oversees the grounds may invite you into his office for tsampa and tea if you speak a bit of Chinese or Tibetan and have a little free time.

Lijiang

The Old Town of Lijiang is located on the Lijiang plain at an elevation of 2,400 meters in southwest Yunnan Province, China. The Jade Dragon Snow Mountains are to the northwest and this incredibly scenic and snowy range is easily viewed as you take a leisurely stroll through time in the old quarters of Lijiang.  These mountains are the source of much snowmelt that supplies the rivers and springs which water the plain and supply the nearby Heilong Pool (Black Dragon Pond) and the classic canals that wind through the old town of Lijiang .

The Old Town of Lijiang contains 3 main areas and you could easily spend 1-2 days getting lost amidst the cobblestone streets and antique coppersmiths that give this area its characteristic charm. These 3 areas include: Dayan Old Town (including the Black Dragon Pond), Baisha Old Town, and Shuhe Old Town. Dayan Old Town was established in the Ming dynasty as a commercial center and includes the Lijiang Junmin Prefectural Government Office; the Yizi pavilion and the Guabi Tower. Numerous two-storied timber-framed houses combine elements of Han and Zang dynasty architecture and decoration in the arched gateways, screen walls, courtyards, tiled roofs,  and carved roof beams are representative of the Naxi culture and are built in rows following the contours of the mountainside. Wooden elements are elaborately carved with domestic and cultural elements – pottery, musical instruments, flowers and birds.

Baisha Old Town, though, was established earlier than the Dayan Old Town sector.  Baisha was built during the Song and Yuan dynasties and is located 8km north of the Dayan Old Town. Houses here are arranged on a north-south axis around a central, terraced square. The religious complex includes halls and pavilions containing over 40 paintings dating from the early 13th century, which depict subjects relating to Buddhism, Taoism and the life of the Naxi people, incorporating cultural elements of the Bai people. Together with the Shuhe housing cluster located 4km north-west of Dayan Old Town, these quaint mountain settlements reflect the blend of local cultures, folk customs and traditions over several centuries. You can even see the local tile work depicted on the courtyard floors of the homes representing bats, cats, and other animals thought to scare away local spirits. The local Naxi people still walk barefoot over these intricate tile floorscapes, feeling every ridge and crest of the hand laid tilework in what they call “a free foot massage”.

The colorful village space, the delightful sounds of the water, the outstanding folk art and calligraphy and the old style of the local architecture all make for a very pleasant environment that will leave you with a deep feeling of peace in this gem hidden among the mountains.

 

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge, set to the backdrop of the majestic Jade Dragon and Haba Snow Mountains of China, is one of the deepest gorges in the world.  The Jingsha (aka Yangzte) River flows through its beautiful 16km length, nestled between towering cliffs that have an incredible 3,900 meters in vertical drop from the top of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain to the surging river below.  At its narrowest point near the mouth of the river, a large rock sits midway across the water.  According to a local legend, a hunter was chasing a tiger down through the gorge and the tiger jumped across this chasm to this rock to escape the hunter’s arrows.

Generally the trek takes a total of 7-8 hours of actual hiking time and most hikers get comfortably through Tiger Leaping Gorge in 1 nights / 2 days, but if you wanted to take your time and really relax you could take 2 nights/ 3 days. Here is a great blog post on the more relaxed 2 night/ 3 day itinerary. Note that all guesthouses have full service bedding and restaurants.  So all you really need for this hike are some snacks, water bottles, rain gear, a fleece, a change of clothes, and a medium to large daypack (probably in the realm of 20-35 Liters). The hike is pretty exposed so you may want to bring a sunhat, sunglasses, and sunscreen as well.  While there are significant vertical drops down to the river I, in no way, see the hike as being dangerous as long as the conditions are dry.  In fact, there are few other places in the world where you can have a leisurely walk and see such incredible vertical relief

The following itinerary was accomplished by a group of 40 middle school students (and believe me these guys travel pretty slow).  So, I imagine if these middle school students can do this itinerary, you can too.

The entrance of the gorge is the small city of Qiaotou, located at 1,900 meters above sea level. The upper hiking trail (which is the one you want to take) will bring you up to 2,650 meters high (at the end of the 28 bends) before going down to Tina’s Guesthouse at 2100 meters high, which is the end of the trail.

 

Tiger Leaping Gorge Suggested Itinerary

Day 1

Depart Lijiang around 8am in the morning. Drive 2.5 hour from Lijiang to Tiger Leaping Gorge (QiaoTou is the name of the small village where you enter the Tiger Leaping Gorge park and pay the 65 RMB park fee)

Pay entrance ticket

Drive 10 minutes up the road past the ticket gate

Start hiking up to Naxi Family Guesthouse

1.5 hours up to Naxi Family Guesthouse on a concrete road (don’t worry – after this the path becomes natural dirt or stone)

Lunch at Naxi Family Guesthouse

Afternoon- hike up the infamous “28 Bends”.  Most of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek is relatively flat as you are walking along a path cut sideways across the vertical rock face.  However, this particular section is the exception.  It is not terribly long but you can expect to gain most of your elevation on the whole hike on this section.  There is a small store about half-way up the bends if you need water or snacks.   

Walk 2.5 hours From Naxi Guesthouse to the top of 28 bends at 2,650 meters

Then 2.5 hours down to Teahorse Guesthouse, eat dinner and sleep at Teahorse Guesthouse

Day 2

8:30am – Depart Teahorse Guesthouse

Walk 2 hours

10:30am- Break and snack at the Halfway House, great views looking down one of the steepest parts of the gorge

11:30am- Depart Halfway House as you make your final descent down the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek. 

1:30pm- Arrive Tina’s Guesthouse for lunch.

2:30pm- Depart for Shaxi or Lijiang or Shangrila.

2-3 hour bus drive

5:30pm- Arrive at hotel and settle in.

 

 

 

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Can you believe that this guy skiied down the world’s second highest mountain?

K2 is perhaps the most dangerous mountain in the world. One in every four people who makes an attempt to summit it dies, and nobody has ever climbed it in winter. Only 300 or so people have ever even reached the peak of K2, and its relatively northern location on the Pakistan/China border makes it a particularly unpredictable mountain to tame.

With the height of 8611 meters, K2 is the 2nd highest peak in the world after the Mount Everest, which has the height of 8848 meters. K2 is also known as Mount Godwin-Austen or Chhogori and it was referred as “Savage Mountain” by the famous American Climber George Bell. He referred it savage because of its unmatched difficult terrain. When asked about his experience for making an attempt to climb the K2, George Bell noted,  “It’s a savage mountain that tries to kill you.”

In 1956, when it was first measured by a British surveyor, TG Montgomerie, it was given the temporary designation- K2 (for Karakoram 2). The K2 was so remote that no other suitable name could be found!!

Unlike other eight-thousanders, K2 has never been climbed in the winters. The best weather to climb the K2 is from April to October. Among the eight-thousanders, K2 has the 2nd highest fatality rate with one death for every four successful ascents (first being the Annapurna (191 summits and 61 fatalities). The peak climbers say that it is due to the extreme difficulty of ascent.

 

 

And, on July 22, 2018, a man just skied down from the summit for the first time in history. Polish adventurer Andrzej Bargiel first tried to make the historic descent last year in 2017, only to call the expedition off because of falling rocks and the high avalanche danger. This year, with better weather and less unstable snow pack, Andrzej made it all the way from the K2 summit to base camp in 7 hours. The majority of mountaineering accidents occur during descents, and skiing on near 90 degree snow slopes with 2000 meter drops obviously increases that risk dramatically.

Andrzej is not the first person to attempt skiing the savage mountain, though.  Italian alpinist Michele Fait died trying to ski K2 in 2009.  This was just a year before his friend Fredrik Ericsson fell to his death near the K2 summit. In 2001, Hans Kammerlander stopped after just a quarter mile when he witnessed a Korean climber fall to his death. And climber Dave Watson actually made it through the infamous bottleneck section all the way to base camp in 2009, though he didn’t start from the summit.

Bargiel reached the summit around 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning on July 19, and he made it to base camp eight hours later after being forced to wait out cloudy weather a few times.

When Bargiel finished up, he was greeted with hoops and cheers from his Red Bull crew.  Upon his epic descent, he said he was pretty much all done with K2 for the rest of his life. “I feel huge happiness and, to be honest, it was my second attempt, so I’m glad that I won’t be coming here again.”

Islam in Western China

Islam in China has existed through 1,400 years of continuous interaction with Chinese society. Currently, Muslims are a significant ethnic group in China. Hui Muslims are the majority Muslim group in China and he greatest concentration is in Xinjiang, with a significant Uyghur population as well. Lesser but significant populations reside in the regions of Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai Provinces. Various sources estimate different numbers of adherents with some sources indicating that     1-3% of the total population in China are Muslims. Of China’s 55 officially recognized ethnic peoples, ten groups are predominantly Sunni Muslim.

The ten Muslim ethnicitiies of China are categorized by their ethnic origin. Six of the ten Muslim ethnicities—the Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Tatars and Tajiks—live predominantly in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in the northwest of China. They all speak Turkic languages, except the Tajiks who speak a Persian-based language. The Huis are found throughout China and especially in Qinghai and Gansu Province. The remaining three Muslim minorities— the Salars, the Boa’an, and the Dongxiang, live in different regions neighboring the Tibetan Plateau and Mongolia.

The Salars are another Turkic speaking Muslim people group in China that live in a region that borders Gansu and Qinghai Provinces. The Salars trace their ancestry back to people who migrated from the Samarkand region during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is said the Salars were fleeing persecution and strapped a Quran to the back of a camel and let the camel guide them to their new homeland in western China.  The camel finally stopped walking at a spring near the current town of Xunhua and that is where the Salar people settled.  The Salar still live in this place and claim to be the inventors of the famous Chinese dish, Mian Pian 面片 (noodle pieces).

The Boa’an live in the southwest of the Gansu province, while the Dongxiang live in the western-edge of Gansu province. Both trace their ancestors back to the Asian troops sent out during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The Boa’an and Dongxiang languages also originate from the Mongolian language family, even though they are different from each other.

Chinese Muslims have been in China  and have had continuous interaction with Chinese society since just after the death of Muhammed himself. Islam expanded gradually across the maritime and inland silk routes from the 7th to the 10th centuries through war, trade, and diplomatic exchanges. As China opened up to Buddhism and other foreign concepts the Silk Road brought many imports – not only of spices and exotic fruits but of ideas. And these ideas still today have a very far reaching importance on the crossroads of cultures and beliefs that is western China.

Most of us in the west when we think of Islam picture a man in the Middle East wearing a turban.  However, Muslims in Xinjiang include both Central Asians (Uyghur) and those of Chinese ancestry (Hui).  Each has their own unique head wear but it was never a turban. More often the headwear is simple plain white hat or a dark hat embroidered with gold or green thread (somewhat similar in size and appearance to the the Kippa or yamaka worn by Jewish males).

I recently found out that 69% of Muslims in the world today reside in Asia.  China boasts more Muslims (21 million) than Syria (20 million) and a good portion of those can be found in the province of Xinjiang.  That blew me away, especially with my stereotypes about the Middle East. Since living in China, I have learned so many things about that have surprised me about China.  Rather than seeing it as just one culture I have begun to see it more as a great melting pot of so many surprisingly diverse languages and cultures.

Come visit us in western China and discover some of the great hidden treasures as you experience the famously tasty Muslim food and their lively culture.

Kanbula National Park

 

Located about a 3 hour drive from the Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province, Kanbula National Park (or as it is called in Chinese “Kanbula National Forest Park”) is a wonderland of soaring red rock cliffs located right on the banks of the emerald green Yellow River.  If you are driving the 2.5 hours south to Tongren 同仁 to see Rebkong Longwu Monastery, this makes an excellent side trip.  In fact, you can see one of our favorite, best selling itineraries that combines Kanbula National Park and Rebkong Longwu Monastery HERE.

The Kanbula area is famous for its unique sandstone Danxia landforms. This scenic area has abundant rainfall and a cool and moist climate and, unlike most barren places in Qinghai Province, there are prolific evergreen forests here; the forest coverage rate is about 28% and its plant resources are extremely rich with some of the best wildflowers in all of Qinghai Province. Some of the tree species represented in Kanbula National Park are the Qinghai spruce, chinese pine, white birch, and various species of azaleas and honeysuckle.  Other species include Ulmus glaucescens, Prunus sibirica, Salix oritepha, and Spiraea alpina.  Kanbula also hosts a number of rare birds (including larks and cuckoos) and fauna like blue sheep, argali.

Buddhism here has a long history and this park is known for its meditation caves situated high above the park where monks and nuns silently retreat for periods of 2 months to 2 years eating only a simple diet with a singular bowl of rice per day.  This is a ritual and discipline that is part of the practice of Tibetan Buddhism and is thought to help the practitioner release themselves from the attachments and distractions of the world. The hermitage caves are a short 45 minute hike up wooden steps just above the Aqiong Namzong Temple and are located on a 20 minute ride down a bumpy dirt road that leads off the main paved park road.

Kanbula offers amazing, unmatched views and is certainly one of the off-the-beaten track highlights of Qinghai Province.  However, the price tag of tickets reflects it’s beauty, at 250 RMB/person.  Kanbula can be seen as a day trip from Xining, but it has so much beauty that most of our guests prefer to spend at least one night in the park, sleeping in a local Tibetan village homestay full of roaming donkeys and colorful prayer flags waving high on the wind. On all Elevated Trips adventures transportation to and from the park as well as the entrance tickets to the park are included in the price of the tour.

Zhangye

The Silk Road was a network of trade routes connecting China and the Far East with the Middle East and Europe. Established when the Han Dynasty in China officially opened trade with the West in 130 B.C., the Silk Road routes remained in use until 1453 A.D., when the Ottoman Empire boycotted trade with China and closed them. Although it’s been nearly 600 years since the Silk Road has been used for international trade, the routes had a lasting impact on commerce, culture and history that resonates even today.

From July 15-17, 2018 we took out an amazing couple from America to explore the Silk Road of Zhangye in Gansu Province of Western China.  These incredible mountains are surrounded by the 6,000 meter peaks and the glaciers of the Qilian Mountains and offer one of the most unique and authentic insights into the amazing history of trade and culture of great empires that once were.

Have you ever wanted to see the Silk Road?

Venture with Elevated Trips to see the incredible Hexi Corridor of the Silk Road and walk through 1,500 years of history as you..

  • Get to sleep in a Mongolian Yurt Camp right at the base of Danxia National Park
  • Sample the local cuisine
  • Explore 33 Buddhist cave grottoes on the side of a Monastery tucked high up on a cliff face

You can see a possible itinerary HERE.

The Potala Palace

Potala Palace

Built in the 17th century by the fifth Dalai Lama on the site of the surviving Buddhist meditation caves first built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th Century A.D., the Potala Palace is composed of two parts: the central Red Palace at the top, which is used for religious affairs, and the secular White Palace at the bottom, which houses the  former affairs of government and daily life.  This is something like the White House in Washington D.C.  combined with the Vatican in Rome – the seat of historical religious and political power all in one.

The top of the Potala Palace is 119 meters above the courtyard below and the palace itself contains 1,000 rooms-including assembly halls, government offices, and temples- and has over 10,000 altars and 200,000 statues. Amazingly, the whole structure was fastened together without  steel or nails and was fully constructed of wood, stones and mud bricks using perfectly carved interlocking blocks. At one point in history before the Industrial Revolution, this hand built architectural marvel was the tallest building in the known world.  The roofs are covered with gilded bronze tiles that glitter in the sun and can be seen miles away.

In almost every chapel, red robed lamas collect donations and sit on a cushions sipping tea and chanting scriptures. Murals and thangkas are illuminated with flickering wax candles and you will see many pilgrims offering butter in thermos containers as offerings to the holy site. The gold-embossed tombs of former religious rulers contain the mummified bodies inside and these are the central attraction of the 1 hour tour that marches from the bottom to the top of the palace and winds through many dimly lit and sacred rooms .

The Potala is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and most Tibetans will try to visit this holy site at least once in their lives. You can find a link to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Map here.

A seven-year $43.9 million renovation of Potala Palace and Norbulingka Summer Palace was completed in August 2009. The aim of the renovation was to foster tourism and promote Tibetan culture.

In August 2006, the number of people allowed to enter the Potala Palace was increased from 1,500 to 2,300 people per day.  Because there are so many people that go through the palace in one day, tour times are scheduled and are limited to one hour once you are inside the palace gates.  This is enough time, but it does not allow for a lot of time to just “float around” and meditate.  So you can expect to be rushed a little and “herded” through crowds in the palace in order to make your time slot.   Your guide (who is required to bet with you for the tour) will schedule in a specific time to enter the Potala Palace, so your day schedule will generally revolve around whatever time your tickets say that you are allowed in.

To see a possible tour itinerary that includes the Potala Palace, Jokhang Monastery, Sera Monastery, and Everest Base Camp check here.

 

Admission Fee

May 1 – Oct. 31: CNY 200
Nov.1 – Apr. 30: CNY 100
Free for children under 1.3m and the elderly above 70 (also free for Tibetans, Mongolians, and Nepalese who practice Tibetan Buddhism)

Ticket Purchase Procedure: Your guide will have to purchase the ticket 1 day in advance before your visit using your original ID card or Passport. Once the ticket is purchased, you will then be given a certificate with your specific visit time to the Potala Palace for the following day’s tour.

 

Tips when visiting the Potala Palace

1. There is no heat inside this ancient building.  So be aware that it can be very cold inside the Potala Palace. It would not be a bad idea to take a coat with you even on the sunny Lhasa summer days.

2. As this is a religious site, it is hard to find an adequate bathroom during your tour. So make sure you try to take care of business before you leave your hotel in Lhasa.  If you do end up finding one of the few bathrooms along the tour, it is said the bathroom at the right side of the White Palace Square is the most beautiful one on earth with an excellent view out onto Lhasa :). Lucky you if you make it here!

3. As we mentioned before, the tour time in the Potala Palace is limited to 1 hour. So don’t dilly dally and make sure you stay close to your guide.  It might be easy to get lost amidst the many steps and the labyrinth of rooms and holy sites if you were separated from your tour guide.

4. Entering the palace is like entering airport security.  You will have to check your bags through a X-Ray machine and lighters and any kind of liquid are forbidden. (You can buy bottles of water inside the palace for about twice as much as they are sold for in Lhasa).

5. The best spot to take pictures of the Potala Palace is Chakpori Hill, across the square from the palace. I highly recommend visiting this place at night because seeing the palace all lit up in the dark is pure magic!

 

Lhasa

As the beautiful capital city of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Lhasa is situated in the south central part of the region, on the north bank of the Kyichu River (a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo River) in a valley surrounded by imposing mountains. The altitude of Lhasa is 3,656 meters (11,995 feet) above sea level.

Located at the bottom of a small basin surrounded by the Himalaya Mountains, Lhasa lies in the heart (both physically and spiritually) of the Tibetan Plateau with the surrounding mountains rising to 5,500 m (18,000 ft). The air here only contains 68% of the available oxygen one would find at sea level so be prepared to walk a little slower (and with heavier breath) and to pop a few Ibuprofen for the high altitude headache that you will probably have your first night in Lhasa.  Make sure you drink lots of water and try to stay away from coffee and alcohol your first few nights in Lhasa.  Also get lots of rest and take things slow on arrival here because you want to acclimatize slowly.
Generally the period from March to October is the best time to visit with March, April, October, and November offering clearer skies (and thus better views of Mount Everest) and less Chinese tourists. Since the city is located at such a high altitude most tours to Lhasa and Mount Everest will usually include 3-4 days to acclimatize in the city before departing for wilder, higher places. Generally speaking, the temperatures in the day can be quite comfortable and spring-like under the bright sun and then nights are quite chilly to cold, often below freezing in the spring and fall. You are definitely going to want to bring your thick down puffy jacket, especially if you are planning an excursion from Lhasa to Mount Everest Base Camp at 5,200 meters (17,060 feet).
However, because the high altitude sun is so intensely bright, sunglasses, suntan lotion, and a sun hat are mandatory items if you’re going anywhere outside your hotel 🙂

Demographics

Lhasa has a population of roughly 1 million people, and about half of this population is comprised of Han Chinese while the other half consists of Tibetans (there are also a few Hui Muslims here that make up a small percentage of town and there is an active Mosque in the Tibetan quarter of town). Although the Tibetan quarter is very historic with ancient stone architecture (this is definitely where you want to stay and spend most of your time) Lhasa is quickly developing and the areas outside of the Tibetan district are starting to look more and more like a regular Han Chinese city. The large percentage of tourists that visit this city are mostly Han Chinese and there is a lot of infrastructure that supports this growing population, including massage parlors, outdoor gear shops, karaoke bars, fancy car dealerships, and Sichuan style restaurants. With all the recent development, as long as you have given your bank proper notice, you should have no trouble using your international credit card here at ATM’s in large banks such as ICBC, Bank of China,  or China Construction Bank.

In fact, more than 95 % of tourists to Tibet are Chinese. In 2014 alone, more than 15 million tourists visited Tibet Autonomous Region [TAR], a number up more than 20 percent from the 2013 statistics, according to the local government. In 2014, a record 3.15 million people arrived by air to Lhasa and most of the rest of the tourists came by the world’s highest train,  the famed Qinghai-Tibet Railway. The China Daily reported the numbers of a regional tourism bureau report: “Lhasa alone saw more than 9.25 million tourists and reaped tourism revenue of 11.2 billion yuan ($1.79 billion)”.

 

History of Lhasa

Lhasa was an important holy city even before Buddhism arrived in Tibet in 642 A.D., and until the 1950s half of its residents lived in monasteries.

In the 1940s,  Lhasa would have been best described as a village. Its 600 traditional buildings were dwarfed by the massive monasteries and palaces that were home to 20,000 monks. Between 1950 and 2000, the population of Lhasa increased 17 times to around 200,000 and has increased 5 times since then. The expansion is mainly the result of arrival of large numbers of Han Chinese but has also been affected by a migration of Tibetans from rural areas to Lhasa.

The Potala Palace and the Barkhor Street centered in Lhasa city, north to the Sera Monastery, west to Duilong Deqing county. Viewed from the overlooking the Lhasa city, Post and Telecommunications Building, News Building, Lhasa Hotel, Tibet Hotel and various buildings dotted. Standing on top of the Potala Palace to overlook the Lhasa city, the Lhasa city is full of pieces of new building hidden in the trees, and Barkhor Street surrounding has waving prayer flag. Here densely covered a national style of houses and streets, gathered from all over the Tibetan people, and many of them are still in Tibet traditional clothing. It seems that prayer wheel and prayer beads never leave their hands which clearly show that Buddhism has become a way of life in fact.
Transportation in and out of Lhasa
NOTE: 
All Foreign travelers to Lhasa and the Tibetan Autonomous Region have to join a tour group pre-arranged by a registered travel agency.  You can not enter the this area as an idenpendent, free-wheeling tourist and all your travel and hotel bookings must be made in advance by a travel agency accordingly.  Because of this regulation, you will need to receive your Tibet Travel Permit BEFORE you board your plane or train into Lhasa.  Your travel agency will send this to you (sometimes to a Chinese hotel in Beijing or Chengdu where you are staying before your tour)  to enter that region.

Currently there are two options to reach this mysterious high land, either by plane by train. The bus station in Lhasa will not sell tickets to foreigners and bus drivers will not allow foreigners onto buses that go outside of Lhasa. All travel within the TAR for foreigners must be booked in private vehicles.

1. Taking an airplane is the most comfortable, quick method of travel to Lhasa, but this offers less time for you to acclimatize to the altitude of Lhasa.  Lhasa Gongar Airport (LXA) is a one hour drive from downtown Lhasa, or about 62 kms (38.5 miles).  There are over 40 flights to/from major domestic cities that fly in and out of LXA including Beijing, Chamdo, Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dazhou, Diqing, Fuzhou, Golmud, Guangzhou, Guiyang, Hangzhou, Kangding, Kunming, Lanzhou etc.

 

 

2. Taking the train to Lhasa is a fabulous new option, giving the opportunity to see previously unseen mountain scenery on a train that is built on over 550km of permafrost. With the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway on July 1st, 2006, more and more visitors opt to get a soft sleeper or a hard sleeper bed on the train to experience the lay of the land and the incredible scenery from their train window.

Getting to Lhasa from Beijing by train will be a once in a lifetime experience for you. The Beijing –> Lhasa train (Train # Z21),  takes about 40 hours and 30 minutes, runs for 3,757 km, and crosses 8 total provinces from the plains of northeast China to the worlds’ highest plateau.  Some of the highlights of the scenery along the way include glimpses of the Gobi desert, the 6,244 meter (20,485 ft) high snow-capped Yuzhu Peak, and the lofty Tanggula Mountain. And, of course, there will LOTS of open high-altitude grassland (and maybe even some wildlife roaming about).  All I can say about this journey is for you to make sure you pack lots of snacks.  I have friends who pack wine and cheese every time they ride a train in China and I think they are really onto something by preparing so well for the occasion!

Trekking Mount Kailash

The purpose of this blog is to provide complete updates on trekking itinerary, detailed maps, and info on where to stay and what to expect from this 3 day high altitude trek in western Tibet as of our May 2018 Mount Kailash Trek.

But before you read the blog, revel in the mountain splendor as you watch this video:

 

 

Overall Itinerary

Mount Kailash is located 1,400 km almost directly west of Lhasa city (just about 20-30km directly north of the western India/Nepal border) in the Tibetan Autonomous Region.  So this 3 day trek is, inevitably, part of a much longer 15-17 day journey that includes 3 days of acclimatization in Lhasa and lots of car time (expect being in the car for 4 days at 6-8 hours per day before you even reach the base of Mount Kailash).  So there is lots of driving through beautiful, stark high altitude environments before you attempt trekking (and sleeping at) at 5,000 meters. This provides for plenty of great photo opps of alpine lakes and glaciers and allows sufficient time for acclimatization before you trek across the high pass of Mount Kailash, Dolma La at 5,636 meters.

A typical full itinerary might look like this:

Lhasa–> Shigatse –> Lhatse–> Saga –>  Mount Kailash –> Manasarovar Lake –> Guge Kingdom–> Manasarovar Lake –> Saga –>Everest Base Camp –> Lhasa

Here is a brief overview of the entire trip to give you a better idea of the bigger picture of the trip I took in May 2018 (although you could certainly cut out Guge Kingdom and shave 2 days off your total trip):

Day 1: Arrival in Lhasa, Elevation: 3600 meters

Day 2: Lhasa guided tour, See the Potala Palace and the Jokhang Temple

Day 3: Lhasa guided tour, Sera Monastery debates

Day 4: Driving Day // Lhasa-Yamdrok Lake-Karo la Glacier-Gyantse-Shigatse, Distance: 354kms,  Elevation:3840m

Day 5:  Driving Day // Shigatse to Latse Distance 150kms Elevation:4200m

Day 6:  Driving Day // Latse —Saga, Distance: 340Kms, Elevation: 4500m

Day 7:  Driving Day // Saga To Manasarovar Lake 520kms, Elevation:5000m

Day 8-10: Kailash Trek Distance: 54kms, Max Elevation:5639m

Day 11: Darchen—Guge Distance: 254kms, Elevation: 3699m

Day 12: Driving Day //Guge—Manasarovar lake Distance: 290kms Elevation: 4597m

Day 13:  Driving Day //Lake Manasarovar-Saga Distance:897kms Elevation:4500m

Day 14: Driving Day //Saga— Mount Everest Base camp Distance: 493Kms Elevation:5200m

Day 15: Driving Day //Everest Base Camp to Shigatse Distance: 350kms Elevation: 3840m

Day 16:   Driving Day //Shigatse—Lhasa Distance: 260kms Elevation: 3600m

Day 17: Departure from Lhasa

 

Mount Kailash, 3 Day Trek Itinerary

But for the purposes of this blog, we are just going to focus on the 3 main days of the Mount Kailash trek itself.

General Information and Packing List

Every Kailash Trek begins and ends in Darchen town.  While this town only has a population of around 500 local Tibetans, I was expecting only a yak hair tent with dirt floors and no running water.  So the hot shower in Darchen with reasonably comfortable 3-star hotel accommodations was a big surprise and upgrade from what I was expecting.

Darchen is also called as “Tarchen” or “Taqin” in chinese pinyin. It was formerly an important sheep and yak trading post for Tibetan nomads and their herds. Until 1994, there were just 4 or 5 permanent buildings here in this town. In 1995, a medical center was founded by Swiss partners which has become a training center for doctors. After nearly 20 years of development, it now contains about 12 small restaurants (Sichuan and Tibetan food), several hotels with heat and hot water and internet, a Karaoke bar, and a Public Security Bureau for registering foreigners. In addition to that, there are a number of simple convenience stores where you can buy Snickers, water, and Instant noodles. There is not much to see here, but you can leave unneeded luggage in your hotel or in your travel agency’s car or van.

Darchen is also the place to make last minute plans for your trip including organizing pack animals (yaks or horses) from local nomads.  Although you will not need to carry any tents, sleeping bags, or breakfast, lunch, dinner you will need to carry winter clothes, snacks, and water. Your day pack for the Kailash trek will probably weigh 15-20 pounds.  That does not seem like a lot at first but at 5,630 meters you will be extremely fatigued and that extra 20 pounds could be excruciating for you.  While a 20 pound backpack at sea level seems easy-peasy, I promise you are going to struggle over the high Dolma La pass (no matter what shape you are in) and that you would be happier to hire a yak or a human porter for the 3 days of the trek. In our group of 6 participants, the Tibetan guide along with two other members of our group ended up carrying the bags for the other 3 members of our group who were struggling.  We were happy to assist our fellow travelers, but I have to say that it definitely made an already difficult trek a little less enjoyable because we were carrying two backpacks (our personal backpack on the back and another person’s on the front).  Please save others and the guide in your group the added strain of having to carry your backpack up or down the high pass and just go ahead and hire a porter or a yak from the beginning. It can actually be quite difficult to arrange a yak or porter in the middle of the trek because of the remote location.  So if you are going to do this (and you should) you should take care of this the night before you leave Darchen town.

Because of the altitude, I highly recommend really minimizing your gear as much as possible and considering hiring a yak or two or a porter for your group.

You can find a detailed packing list for Kailash here.

For your reference, for our 3 day trek from May 5-7, 2018, day temperatures at 10:30am at the beginning of the trek under a brilliant sun were 6 to 8 Celsius. As we set out from Darchen the weather was a little chilly with a slight breeze.  As we hiked we definitely took off our layers under the bright, high altitude sun and just a single long sleeve shirt and/or a fleece was plenty warm as long as we kept moving along the trail.

This is generally the pattern in the spring and fall trekking season with relatively warm and springy conditions in the day and everything outright freezing cold once the sun goes down.   We found that we got either light rain or snow every afternoon sometime between 2pm to 5pm so make sure you leave early and give yourself the better part of the morning to hike because once the afternoon comes there is a greater likelihood of meeting inclement weather.

Generally the best months to hike Kailash are May, September, and October.  Before May 1 or after October 31 you are likely to encounter a good deal of snow and some of the teahouses may be closed at that time.  The summer months are also okay to hike, but expect a lot of Indian tourists coming from low altitudes to hike this sacred pilgrimage and the views are also not guaranteed to be as clear to see the mountains during the summer rains.

Safety note:

There is a dirt road that parallels the kora for the first 20 km on day one and the last 10 km on day three of the trek.  If something were to go wrong you could use this road for an emergency to get out but medical care is very simple in Darchen – there is is only a small clinic here.  If you do decide to turn around or need a sudden evacuation you can expect to pay a premium to travel this gravel road back to Darchen town; fees to ride in a truck along this road can range from 500 to 2000 RMB just to get a lift up or down the trail for a few kilometers.

The closest medium-sized hospital from Darchen would be in Shigatse- this is 670km from Kailash.So advanced medical care is at least 14 hours away.  So as you are on Kailash be mindful of the altitude and take things slow.

Maps for Trekking

Here are two maps that will give you the idea of the general waypoints on the trail.  Note that each Tibetan guide provides slightly different measurements for the trail based on their own calculations, so there may be some small differences between the two maps, but the general idea remains the same:

Trek Day 1

Note:  Below are given the times we, as a group of 6 moderately fit hikers, achieved.  We had three people with us who had never hiked before in their lives and 2 of them lived in Holland at five meters below sea level.  So, I’d be willing to bet that these times were on the fairly average side for most groups and, though your own times might be a few minutes off of ours depending our your pace, you will find this to be a fairly accurate estimation for your own departure and arrival times on the trail. 

The first day of the trek will take us 20 kilometers from Darchen town around Mt. Kailash to Dira Puk Monastery (aka Drirapuk Gompa). The total elevation gain over these 20 km is 433 meters, so the trail is relatively flat for most of the day.  But hiking this first day is still a lot of work as you are walking a long distance at altitude.

Today you will follow this ancient pilgrimage route with Tibetan Buddhist and Indian Hindu pilgrims. You will stay in a small guesthouse near the Dira Puk monastery. The elevation of Dira Puk Monastery is 5080 meters.

7:30am-Depart Darchen Hotel at 4,647 meters

Eat simple breakfast in Darchen town
(Boileed eggs rice porridge, simple bread)

8:00am- Start Walking from Darchen town

The first 5 km of the trail are a very gradual uphill.
Here you gain 100 meters as  you approach the first set of prayer flags

From the first set of prayer flags, then the next 1-2 km of trail gradually drops down and lose 100 vertical meters.

10:00am- Arrive at first view of Kailash,with prayer flags

Watch pilgrims prostrate around Kailash

Many of these Tibetan pilgrims do this 52 km kora in one day, leaving at 4am and returning to Darchen town at 8:00pm

Here at this first rest point, you will see pilgrims prostrating around the holy mountain. Young pilgrims will carry the clothes and goods for the elderly to a certain point and then go back and prostrate the trail themselves again.  In this way they are actually doing the entire pilgrimage circuit 3 times.

For a young, healthy Tibetan, prostrating every 2 steps takes about 16 days to get around the whole mountain kora (this is a minimum for younger ones- older folks take longer.) Although there are about 8 simple teahouses on the trek that provide food and lodging, there are not enough Guesthouses for 16 days of total travel since the usual trek takes 2 nights/ 3 days. So pilgrims who are prostrating the entire trek often just sleep on the ground in warm blankets and sheep fur lined robes along the trail.

11:00am – Arrive at Serdshong Check Point (this is 7km from Darchen town).  The government may check your official Tibet permits here.From this point walk another 2.6km to the first teahouse.

12:15pm- Arrive at first teahouse by bridge at 4,747 meters in altitude.
This is about the halfway point to the teahouse where we will sleep this first night.To the teahouse bridge is 9.6km from Darchen town, and it is another 11km to our sleeping destination at Dira Puk Monastery through the Lha-Chu valley.

At this first teahouse, the food offerings are very scarce. You can buy a bowl of instant noodles for 10 RMB, refill your bottle with hot water for 8 RMB, or a coke or a soft drink for 6 RMB.  As you get further from civilization into the trek, these prices will go up slightly at each successive teahouse.

1:00pm- Depart first teahouse  after lunch
From the first teahouse walk 6.8 km to second teahouse

This is a 1.5 hour walk
From the second teahouse walk 4.2 km to the third teahouse at Dira Puk Monastery.

This is a 2 hour walk.  As you approach a large bridge with prayer flags on it, you will need to ask your guide where your guesthouse is in relation to this bridge. This bridge leads to the actual Dira Puk Monastery which you can see in the distance.  This is the old sight for simple guesthouses (and some groups still stay here).  Our particular accommodation was in in a corrugated tin building with an all dirt floor that lay on the main trail  right under the shadow of Kailash (so we stayed straight on the trail  and did NOT cross left to the Dira Puk Monastery). As with most things in western China, there was construction here and this area was developing rapidly, even for being so remote.  When we were there at the teahouse we saw several workers building a large 2-story concrete guesthouse which dwarfed the corrugated tin shacks and canvas tents where we were staying in size.

4:30pm – Arrive third teahouse at 5,080 meters where we will be sleeping the first night.

Note on sleeping:

Sleeping at 5,080 meters is almost as high as sleeping at Mount Everest base camp on the Tibet side.  Even though your body will feel very tired, this will probably not be a great night of sleep for you because sleeping at altitude in such sheltered but primitive conditions will likely not yield a full 8 hours of rest.  The simple guesthouse does provide plenty of blankets and cooked us a simple meal of hot rice and boiled egg and tomatoes.

Overall the walk on the first day is 20km and involves about 6-7 total hours of walking time (not including lunch and rest time)

Along the way there are 2 tents (teahouses)  with hot water and instant noodles and these are nice places to stop to rest, refill, and get out of the bright sun and blowing winds.

Trek Day 2

The second day of our trek around Kailash will take us up and over the Dolma La Pass, the highest pass on the circuit at 5,636 meters. Although this is certainly the hardest day of the 3 day trek, excellent mountain and glacier views will follow you for most of the day. From the Dolma La Pass, you will descend to Zutul Puk Monastery (aka Dzutrulpuk Gompa on the second map), elevation 4,820 meters. The total trekking distance this day is 22 kilometers

This day you will walk 22 km total – up and down the high pass.

The total altitude gain is 556 meters up and then you will descend to 4,817 meters at the Zutul Puk Monastery.  So the second night of sleeping is about 200 meters lower than the first night’s camp (this is good news!).  There are at least 2 teahouses where it is possible to sleep after descending Dolma La but both of these are more primitive than the one at Zutul Puk Monastery and, in the case of the first one you reach after the pass,  is much higher in altitude.  The first teahouse you come to after the Dolma La pass is at 5,236 meters (17,180 feet) – this one is about 4km after the Dolma La Pass.  The second teahouse (which is only a 30 minute walk from the Zutul Puk Monastery teahouse) you come to after the Dolma La pass is at  4,807 meters (15,771 feet).  If you were really having a hard time, it would be possible to stop and sleep at either of these teahouses after Dolma La pass.  But because the Zutul Puk Monastery teahouse has real hot food (and not just instant noodles) and was much more protected from the elements and felt a lot cozier, we were glad we pressed onto to the Zutul Puk Monastery teahouse even though it meant a longer day.

7:00am- Wake up at 5,080 meters in Teahouse near Dira Puk Monastery.  Eat a simple breakfast of Tsampa or noodles in the teahouse.

You are going to want to have an early start because it is a long day and the snow and the wind comes in often in the afternoon, while the mornings generally have a better chance of giving clearer weather that is more comfortable for trekking.

7:30am – Depart teahouse

 It is 8 km to the high Dolma La pass at 5,636 m

The road continues to be flattish with a slight incline for the first 4km of your day.

10:00am- Arrive at the last tea house before the Dolma La pass.

This is about half way to the pass.  Make sure you get lots of rest and plenty of snacks here because the next 4km up to the pass is going to be the most challenging section of your whole trek, not only because you will be at the highest altitude of the whole trek but also because the last 1 hour of the trek up to the pass is the steepest trail you will encounter on the trek.

This is last place for water and snacks for another 13 km, so make sure you fill up your water bottles with hot water.  You are going to need a lot of water to fight those high altitude headaches on the pass!

10:15am- Depart for high pass

The trail from the last teahouse before the pass starts out as fairly flat.  Then you make a right turn at a gully and you start to go up dramatically.

About 30 minutes before the actual pass, there is a false summit of prayer flags as you go under a bunch of flags and ascend to the ridge line.  I made a big push for the top thinking I only had 1 minute left to the actual pass and actually ended up wasting a lot of energy because I was still another 30 minutes from the real Dolma La Pass.

Do not make the mistake I made!  When you get to this first cluster of prayer flags (that are like a little colorful cave you have to walk through and duck under) know that you are roughly at the halfway point between the sharp turn up the gully and the top of the pass.

The Dolma La pass had about 1 meter of snow on the top but there was no need for crampons, Yak Trax, or boots.  The snow here was consistently between 30-100 cm thick but was all trampled down by the 1000’s of pilgrims who had all walked the same path in the previous weeks.  I did not posthole even once in the hard packed snow up at the top of the pass.

12:30pm- Arrive Dolma La High Pass at 5,636 meters/ 18,500 feet. Spend a few minutes celebrating and taking pictures but do not stay too long up here!  Your body will definitely be wanting to descend as quickly as possible as every step down will give you that much more available oxygen!

1:00pm- Descend
The first hour of the descent from the pass is a relatively steep.
The descent is often on slippery snow and you will need to watch out for pilgrims prostrating face first down the hill.  I had to step around a few pilgrims as they prostrated down the hill and it made for tricky footing on the narrow, icy trail.
You will probably want trekking poles as this is steeper than the ascent to the pass and some of the melting ice can be slippery.

2:00pm- Cross Ice river

After one hour of navigating slippery switchbacks, you finally level out more on a usual evenly- graded trail.  However you have one more small obstacle before you are scott free.  At the bottom of the switchbacks you have to cross an frozen river (or lake?)  The body of water is frozen with several meters of ice and so it will certainly hold your weight as you walk across it’s 50 meter long ice sheet.  But do be cautious here with your footing as walking on solid ice can certainly result in a pretty big fall on your butt or your side.  With a backpack this ice crossing is a little unwieldy but doable if you take it slow.

I was pretty tentative crossing the ice as I was not sure, at first,  if the ice sheet would hold me.  My body weighed 90 kilograms and I had two backpacks (one on the back and my friends strapped to the front) and I was afraid if I fell in I could not get my hands free from the tangle of straps on the backpacks.  But after a few steps out on the ice I saw I could trust the ice to hold my body weight just as it had done 1000’s of pilgrims who walked before me on this same path.

From here on out, most of the trail is smooth sailing and you can make good time as you descend to a lower, more comfortable altitude.

3:00pm- Arrive at first Teahouse after the Dolma La Pass

We had a late lunch here at 5,236 meters (17,130 feet).  It was a nice place to wind down from the intensity of the snow and the altitude up on the pass and I laid down here for a few minutes.  As I closed my eyes I could feel the swirl of light from the bright snow stimulating my eyes behind my closed eyelids.  I was very thankful I had good polarized sunglasses because I could only imagine how overstimulated my eyes would have been in the 360 degrees of bright snow without the eye protection.

This teahouse is pretty simple and only offers instant noodles and soda.  While that was not exactly checking the list for all my hunger cravings, it made for a refreshing stop.

From this teahouse the trail becomes a dirt road that a car could drive on and all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other and make good time to as you hike another flat 10km slightly downhill to your sleeping destination.

6:30pm- Arrive at Zutul Puk Monastery

Get settled and sleep at  Zutul Puk Monastery.  This guesthouse offers a nice stone block guesthouse with cozy rooms. Our rooms did not have any heating but putting 6 people into a small room was more than enough (that combined with the ample thick blankets available) to keep us cozy throughout the night.

The guesthouse has a simple stone building with squat toilets outside and offers a little restaurant where you can eat simple bread and home made Tibetan fried noodles, french fries,  and Tsampa.

Trek day 3

The third and final day of our trek will cover 10 kilometers from Zutul Puk Monastery back to the town of Darchen. After the trek, we will return for one final night along the shores of scenic Lake Manasarovar.

From Zutul Puk Monastery to Darchen the road is all down hill and flat but is long

8:30am- Breakfast – Tsampa and Tortillas with Egg at teahouse

9:00am- Depart / walk down on a dirt road

1:00pm- Arrive Darchen/ eat lunch in Darchen

2:30pm- Drive to Lake Manasarovar / 30 km

4:00pm- Arrive Lake Manasarovar / Check Into Guesthouse on Lake (has beds and blankets but no shower/ toilet is a simple concrete squatty)

 

Lake Manasarovar lies at 4,590 m (15,060 ft) above sea level, a relatively high elevation for a large freshwater lake on the mostly saline lake-studded Tibetan Plateau.

Lake Manasarovar is relatively round in shape with the circumference of 88 km (54.7 mi). Its depth reaches a maximum depth of 90 m (300 ft) and its surface area is 320 km2 (123.6 sq mi). Lake Manasarovar is considered one of the 4 greatest and holiest lakes in Tibet. It is said just a single dip in the lake’s frigid waters can wipe away a lifetime of sins.  It is connected to its “evil twin”, the nearby black waters of Lake Rakshastal,  by the natural Ganga Chhu channel. Lake Manasarovar is near the source of the Sutlej, which is the easternmost large tributary of the Sindhu. Nearby are the sources of the Brahmaputra River, the Indus River, and the Ghaghara, an important tributary of the Ganges.

Like Mount Kailash, Lake Manasarovar offers a holy pilgrimage and this kora is 110km in length around the the lake’s shore.

You will see pilgrims prostrating around the lake against the brutal winds and fierce colds of the high altitude lake.  Many of the Tibetan pilgrims, despite their naturally silky black hair, look as if their faces and hair are all totally white from weeks spent prostrating in the dirt and salty sands around the lake.

This is one of the most inhospitable places in the world yet somehow there is a lively population of shorebirds and migratory ducks that live off the insects that bury in the shore’s muddy banks.

Curiosity got the best of me and I decided to try to jump into the lake’s water for a swim.    I was expecting to dive into the waters to wash off several days of dirt and stench from hiking but I found that the lake shore was very shallow and muddy.  With only a water depth of around 6 inches (15cm) for the first 100 meter of shoreline, there was no choice but to plop in the mud and roll around the mucky waters.  As I was traipsing around the mud I totally submerged both of my Crocs in the mud and almost lost them forever to the sucking, sinking abyss.  I rooted through the icy mud for a minute and recovered my shoes but I decided it was time to get out of the soupy pool of muck on the shores of Lake Manasarovar.

After about 2 chilly, muddy minutes in the lake, I dashed onto the shore where I had stashed my clothes away from the blowing winds and as I trotted over to get some clothes on I was hit by an intense sand storm. The sand pounded right into my face and sent a terrible chill through my body.  Shivering and with my heart pounding from the bitter cold, I put my clothes on and desperately ran the 200 meters back to my guesthouse to get warm and dry.

After this little excursion, I opted to go 200 meters up the road to a natural hot spring bath house.  The hotspring had been piped and captured in a concrete building that offered 10 private wooden tubs with the hot spring water, so it was not exactly a totally natural outdoor experience.   There were also no towels or soap provided-  just a tiled room and a wooden tub full of hot water.  Nonetheless, it was wonderful to wash off and get clean and this certainly made for the perfect end to days on a dusty trail and a wild Kailash trek.

7:00pm- The guesthouse on the shore ofLake Manasarovar offers a simple Tibetan restaurant and we had dinner here.

After dinner I walked along the lake shore and got some great pictures of a brilliant sunset over Lake Manasarovar.  When it turned darked, I turned in for sleep in the simple concrete rooms at the guesthouse (with no running water or heat or electricity).    The guesthouse was cold and there was no electricity or heat in our room but most of the clients wore 3-4 thick blankets to keep warm.

I was definitely ready to descend to a lower altitude!

Exploring Wild Qinghai

 

Most people have never heard of Qinghai Province.  Located on the northeastern corner of the Tibetan Plateau and with a total population of only 5.6 million people, Qinghai is a wide open, high altitude land of nomads and snow leopards, Tibetan cowboys and wild yaks.  Qinghai also holds a wide array of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and mosques to dazzle the eye.  Despite its relatively small population, this is a massive land area with 722,000 square kilometers in total area, making it bigger than the individual countries of France, Afghanistan, Thailand, or the whole of the United Kingdom.

Qinghai Province is the source of China’s two largest rivers, the Yangtze River and the Yellow River.  This unique Montana-like Plateau offers towering mountains, red rock canyons, and is full of meandering rivers and alpine lakes.

Want to know where to travel in Qinghai?

Check out our trip locations all over wild Qinghai:

Rebkong

Dawu

Xinghai

Maduo

Yushu

 

This is definitely the place to get off the map and experience #AdventureTravel at its finest!

 

This Chinese Grandma is Blowing Everyone’s Mind!

Watch Ms. Qi in action in Chinese!

 

Why do the elderly in China have to look after grandchildren all day and do housework? We should be free to live our own lives,” Qi told Pear Video.

By 2050, it’s predicted that a quarter of China’s population will be 65 or older. This statistic  was at 9.7% in 2013, according to the data company Statista.  As of January 1, 2016, all Chinese couples are allowed to have two children and the 35 year old one-child policy was dropped. The predicted decline in the number of people of working age is thought to have persuaded the Communist Party to drop the one-child policy in 2016.

Longer life expectancies, economic reform, and a low birth rate mean China is now facing an ageing population crisis.  As China is faced with an increasing elderly population, many wonder what China will do to cope with and care for this quickly growing population segment. “Filial piety”, a concept taught by Confucius showing the value of respect towards parents, elders and ancestors, is an important value in Chinese society and culture.  This is so ingrained in Chinese thought that most elderly in China live with their children in their old age.

But one women, Ms. Qi, is redefining how society thinks and feels about its older population.  Ms. Qi is showing the world that getting old doesn’t mean the end of fun or a high quality of life.

This 73-year-old retired teacher in China is breaking the stereotypes that are about what old people usually do after they retire. Instead of embracing a traditional easy retirement, Ms. Qi has chosen a life of adventure as she backpacks around the world and has won millions of fans on Chinese social media.

Ms. Qi says in her Pear Video interview that she has been traveling all her life, visiting countries in Europe, North America and Asia.

Pear Video followed her as she embarked on her latest trip to Quanzhou in China’s southwest Fujian Province. She stays in a dormitory in the video, and says she saves money by travelling with students and sharing journey costs. This 3 minute video has gone viral and, consequently, has ignited much online debate about the traditional idea that China’s elderly should move in with their children and spend the rest of their lives taking care of grandchildren.

Ms. Qi says that meeting young people is one of the most important things about her travels and then commented, “I talk with them and they have lots of fresh things to say”.

Her mother is still alive, and Ms. Qi says she video-calls her 92-year-old grandmother every day to let her know how she is. Qi also often posts pictures on social media for her children and grandchildren.

“I have a public account,” she says about her blog, “And I’ve had it for about 5 months. I write everything: my memories, my inspirations – a diary of memories for my children and grandchildren.” For Qi, this is a way to capture her memories and preserve them for future generations.

In China, old people are expected to depend on the younger generation for their care and upkeep. Ms Qi has shown a very different way of living than her peers.  Because of her unconventional life and her intrepid adventures, her video has been seen by millions of people. She has become an inspirational and positive person to talk about and has made many start to reconsider their own conventions and ideals! Online bloggers and the younger generation are seeing Ms Qi as a new role model for old age.

“I hope I can be like her when I’m old,” says one of her devoted followers.

Another follower said it like this: “There are not enough people like this: today’s elderly seem to think that they can’t be the same as when they were young.”

No matter how you say it, this Grandma has got some get up and go and we are cheering for her in her awesome travels!

 

Seven Incredible Days in Ladakh!

 

Ladakh ( known as the “Land of High Passes”) is a region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir that currently extends from the Kunlun Mountain range to the Great Himalayas in the south. Ladakh is inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent and is one of the most sparsely populated regions in all of India because of its high altitude and extreme weather.   The culture and history of this ancient land are closely related to that of Tibet. While the Ladakhi language is different from Tibetan, about 60% of the language can be mutually understood by both Tibetans and Ladakhis.

Ladakh is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and historic culture. Ladakh is the highest settlement in India and as such the population of this expansive land is a meager 274,289.  Among this population there is a mixture of many different ethnic groups, predominantly Tibetans, Monpas, Dards and Muslims. In 1979, the Ladakh District was divided into the Leh District (mostly occupied by Tibetan Buddhists) and the Kargil District (mostly occupied by Shi’a Muslims).

Life in Ladakh is mainly characterized by rhythms of spirituality because the native people have been devoutly faithful to its ancestral customs and traditions.  Life here is simple and relatively untouched by the fast pace of technology and development that is so endemic across the rest of India.  In the winter, hot water is hard to come by, and any running water at all (including flushing toilets or running faucets) is even harder to find.  Leh, the capital of Ladakh, just got its first major provider of high speed internet in 2018 and most homes in the region still use wood and dung stoves for heat.  The architecture in Ladakh exhibits strong influences from Tibet and India and many homes and structures are made from a simple construction of rammed earth and sticks.

The culture of Ladakh is mystical and is quite similar to Tibetan culture. The most popular cuisines of Ladakh, mostly of Tibetan origin, are Thukpa (noodle soup), Momo (meat or potato dumplings) and Tsamba (Barley flour porridge) . Religious mask dances play an important part of Ladakh’s cultural life and religious ceremonies. The traditional music of Ladakh includes the folk instruments like the Surna and the Daman (a type of shenai and a drum).

Ladakh is a highly charged spiritual center and I was most excited to unearth its secrets in my 7 days of travel. This was to be the 10th wedding anniversary celebration for my wife and I. We started our marriage thru-hiking 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada in 2008. Now, 10 years later, we felt that Ladakh was the perfect place to represent the life we have lived together since that time on the Tibetan Plateau. This was both a shared adventure for our family and a new experience for all of us to enjoy the culture and grandeur of an ancient land.

And so we felt the electricity of excitement wash over us as we landed in the Leh airport as our necks craned furiously this way and that to try to take in all the glory of Leh’s majestic mountains…

 

Day 1

As our plane touched down in Leh IXL airport we were immediately surrounded by gnarly mountains.  The tallest of these mountains just around 30km from town is 6,150 meters / 20,177 feet. I had read that the only way to access Leh in the winter time is by airplane.  It is literally closed off to the rest of the world by road because the high passes are too icy and too high to be crossed safely in the winter.  During the summer months there are many Indian tourists who drive over the pass from Srinagar but in these lonely winters the whole town shuts down and 97% of all hotels and business close their doors.  The entire industry of Leh is focused either on a very short burst of tourism in the mild summers OR a large contingent of Indian military bases who work year round to protect the well guarded border with Pakistan. Looking at these snowy 5000 meter/ 16,400 feet jagged mountains that surround the town I could see why nobody was coming in or going out on the roads. This is a desolate, isolated place.

The flight attendant announced that the air temperature is -7 Celsius outside. While that is certainly in the range of cold, below-freezing weather, I was still surprised.  The travel agency that was hosting us had told us it could get down to -25 Celsius during the day so I was prepared for something quite Siberian (it turns out that it did later actually get that cold on the high passes outside of town). We had to get off the airplane and get onto a bus that drove us to the airport arrivals building.  I stepped outside with no jacket and instantly felt the rush of the mountain wind. We crammed into an old 1980’s jalopy bus and it rattled across the tarmac with several Indian travelers standing up in the aisle. We were almost certainly the only white people in the whole military-style rickety bus. I was surrounded by huge men with whispy mustaches.  These men had a  hardiness- something that speaks of legend and bravery- of life in the Himalayas.

As we walked into the tiny airport in Leh (which literally had one door to get in the airport and only a solitary gate where all the flights board) it at first felt familiar because it was decorated with red paint and the colorful treasure vases and gems of Tibetan Buddhism.  I had seen this type of decor a 1000 times on the other side of the Himalayas in Tibet.  The columns all resembled those of a Tibetan monastery with the eternal knot and other Tibetan religious icons swirling around the pillars.  In fact, it felt more like a small countryside monastery or a home then it did an airport. Except for the singular turning luggage carousel this could have been a well furnished restaurant (except there was no food to purchase here and the whole space was freezing). The tall, steel, restaurant-style space heaters that you see on an outside patio at in upscale Italian bistro- these were scattered around the inside of the airport and passengers wearing all their winter jackets were all bundled around them like campers around a bonfire.  I had never before seen an airport that was so cold that you needed space heaters to keep from freezing as you picked up your luggage from baggage claim.

My wife took the luggage off the carousel amidst the disorganization of everyone trying to get their luggage at once.  Meanwhile, I headed about 50 feet over to the exit hall where there were luggage carts strewn about willy-nilly.  As my hands gripped the metal bar of the cart I was shocked.  This was probably the coldest metal I had ever touched in my life and we were still inside the airport.

My wife and I placed our luggage on the chilly cart and as we did we tuned into the repeating loud speaker announcement that was continually saying that we needed to rest for our first 24 hours because of the severe altitude. We were certainly happy for that advice as we had woke up at 4:00am to catch  our 6:40am flight from New Delhi DEL to Leh IXL.  We wanted nothing more than to hit a comfy bed and curl up for a long winter’s nap.

Rinchen, owner of Atisha Travels, recognized me as I filled out my arrival form (compulsory for all foreigners) and patted me on the shoulder with a warm welcome.  I had not even left the baggage  claim area and somehow my tour organizer was standing next to me.  I guess in a small town of 30,000 people a guy like this knows everyone and can just stroll through security to pick up his guests.  I was also a little taken aback by the fact that he immediately knew my face even though we had never met before.  I guess there were not too many other foreign faces in the crowd so it was an easy process of elimination.

We hopped into the white Toyota Innova van that would be our faithful mountain companion for the next 7 days.  This is apparently the nicest vehicle you can buy in all of Ladakh and is the standard for most private foreign tourist groups.  In America, it would be a mid-end family mini van.  But here among the clunky army trucks and the Indian Tata tractor trailers this is seen as a luxury vehicle. The Toyota Innova is the Mercedes of Ladakh.

Because the town is so small we drove 20 minutes and we had already passed the airport area military bases, downtown Leh, and were now on the opposite side of town.  We arrived at a little alley way with a modest metal signed painted with the words “Shanti Guesthouse”. We walked through an outside stone-walled corridor and were in the lobby of one of the only places that were still open in the winter.  While almost every other hotel and tour operator had packed their bags to vacation on the warm beaches of Goa, Southern India, Nicky and her crew at the Shanti Guesthouse stuck around to brave the brutal winters and host Indian and foreign tourists who were preparing to walk on the frozen Zanskar River.  This is an epic 100km walk over a frozen ice sheet that takes around 10 days to complete.  This trek is known globally as the Chadar Trek and the small amount of tourists permitted to walk this savagely cold river represent most of the groups coming through in the dead of winter in January and February.   This means that Shanti Guesthouse with its 30 rooms was fully booked out every single night while we were there. Much of the only other accommodation available was in local Homestays (which are much more rustic than this official hotel).

We arrived at the Guesthouse at 9am.  It was still early but we all felt totally bushed.  They let us partake of their amazing Indian buffet breakfast and then let us take a mid-morning nap in an unoccupied hotel room while they prepared our room.
Our whole family snuggled under a giant fluffy white duvet and had an amazing sleep.

In the afternoon we drove to the downtown area and had Tibetan momos and Thukpa noodle soup in one of the few restaurants still open in the winter.  Then we took a short drive 10 minutes above town to Shanti Stupa (there is also a series of about 400 steps you can walk up from the bottom of the Guesthouse but we opted for the car ride as we had our kids with us). The Shanti Stupa was a gift from Japan and has an amazing overlook into the nearby mountains. I was eager to photograph the surrounding mountains and this was the perfect place to jump into shooting some of the most incredible panoramas.

We returned to the guesthouse in the mid afternoon and after a nice buffet dinner at the Shanti Guesthouse, our family headed in for an early night. Everything was exhausting.  I felt like I had to take a nap every time I walked up the 12 marble steps to our second floor guest room.  Everything I did at that altitude took the breath out of my lungs and left me gasping for air.  Even bending over to tie my shoes got me out of breath and this simple task took about 5 minutes to complete because I had to take a break a few times. I felt like a 85 year old man who had been smoking his whole life. Yet I had never smoked and was in relatively good shape and I was only 36 years old.

Like many first nights at altitude, I did not sleep well.  That first night in Leh, I was laying in bed for 12 hours but only 7 hours of that time allowed me much sleep. At one point I woke up and was terrifically thirsty for water because of the severe dry climate.  I wanted to listen to an audiobook and drink some water to bide the long uncomfortable night, but it took an hour for me to lean over and grab my headphones and my water bottle because I was in such a daze. I was neither awake nor asleep, my head throbbed and I felt like I was in some form of foggy sleep purgatory. I can only imagine how the mountaineers on Mount Everest feel at the top.  They must be very disoriented and confused in both their waking and fitful sleeping.

The only actual activity we managed this first day was a brief 15 minute car ride up to the Shanti Stupa and a 200 meter stroll around downtown.  Yet that minimal amount of activity had thoroughly worn us out in our first 8 hours at 3,500 meters/ 11,483 feet. Based on this experience, I highly recommend doing nothing in your first 24 hours in Leh.

The lady on the airport intercom was absolutely right!

Day 2

We had a late morning and ate breakfast at 9am.  We met Tenzin, our driver and guide for the week, at 10am and took off to the Leh Palace. Then we drove through the downtown area of Leh and up a winding overlook sitting above Leh.  It was only a 15 minute drive and suddenly we were climbing the steps up into the dark, mud-daubed halls of Ladakh’s iconic Leh Palace.  Ladakh is well known for tall medieval-looking imposing palaces sitting high up on vertical, lofty cliffs.  I was eager to see and photograph these extremely picturesque fortresses hovering above the valleys like untouchable sentinels. But I was surprised to see that such a Palace was just right above the town of Leh.  We were right over the town and the view was incredible!  And, best of all, we had the whole palace to ourselves in the winter low season.

Leh Palace is one of the most important historical monuments of the Ladakh region. Modeled on the Potala Palace of Lhasa in Tibet, this 9-story royal palace was built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century. But later in the 19th century, the royal Ladakhi family abandoned the palace when the Dogra kingdom took control over the Ladakh region. The design and architecture of the palace is similar to the Potala Palace and it resembles the fine Tibetan architectural style with high sloping walls that slope inward at a precise 85 degree angle thrusting upward into the sky like a series of chimneys from a Charles Dickens novel. The dark, relatively unlit interior of the palace is decorated with beautiful motifs and murals and remains rather primitive and rustic.  Walking inside the Palace, it is easy to feel that even for royalty this was a stark and cold place with few creature comforts.

The palace is open to the public and the roof provides fantastic panoramic views of Leh and the surrounding areas. The real highlight of the Leh Palace is winding up through creaky old wooden steps through 9 floors of low ceilings and narrow hallways.  I truly felt like a kid exploring his grandma’s attic for the first time and somehow the passage was leading me not only back in time but to further into the discovery of a mythical Narnian land.  I have to truly say that I enjoyed the exploration of the fairy tale palace as much as my kids as they eagerly climbed the steep steps to the top.

There are several places along the way to stop and take photos on many of the different levels of the Palace, including some medieval open windows where you can actually stand on a barely supported balcony if you dare to step out of the window and onto the ledge.

From the top of the Leh Palace there is an excellent view of the 6,150 meter mountain, Stok Kangri, in the Zanskar mountain range.  There are excellent views across the Indus Valley to the south, with the Ladakh Mountain range rising behind the palace to the north.

After about 1 hour exploring the Leh Palace we drove around the corner to the slightly higher neighboring Namgyal Tsemo Monastery.

Founded in early 15th century, Namgyal Tsemo monastery is renowned for its three-story high solid gold idol of Maitrieya Buddha. Situated on a mountain top behind the Leh palace, the monastery offers similar views as the nearby Leh Palace but from a slightly higher and wider vantage point.

The gompa was founded by King Tashi Namgyal in 1430 AD who was a major follower of Buddhism. As a mark of his respect to Buddhism, the king built the partner monastery above his palace. Situated at the cliff of Namgyal hill, its architecture is impressive.

The view of Leh from the gompa is breathtaking as the view changes with light. For this reason Namgyal Tsemo monastery is a favorite with photographers.

Down the hill side there is the Shankar Gompa which is also associated with Namgyal Tsemo monastery. It is a daily ritual followed by monks to walk from the Shankar Gompa to worship Buddha and light butter lamps at Namgyal Tsemo.

There is actually a mountain path from Leh Palace that runs up into the saddle where Namgyal Tsemo Monastery sits.  This is about a 30-40 minute walk and many either walk up or down between the monastery and the Palace.  If you do take the path rather than driving between the 2 points be warned that you should take steps very slowly and with deep breaths. Overexertion, even on something as simple as a 30 minute hike, can really hit you later on in the day and may make you really feel the first signs of Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS.

After seeing Leh Palace we had a terrific Indian lunch back at the the Shanti Guesthouse and had a rest.

In the afternoon we drove 30 minutes to Shey Palace and had a terrific view of the colors of sunset as they danced over the Leh Valley and highlighted the snowy mountain tops.

We drove another 15 minutes  to our guide’s house, right between Tiktsi Monastery and Shey Palace.  This was hands down one of the highlights of our journey as we got to experience true Ladakhi hospitality and participate in making authentic momos.  This was a process that involved rolling the dough out, cutting it in circles, and stuffing the dough with a delicious mixture of pork and special spices and herbs.

Our hosts steamed the momos and we had a delicious dinner!  Of course, the ones we rolled out didn’t look as good as the perfectly pinched folds of their professional dumplings but, nonetheless, they were all very tasty!

It was an incredible night spent laughing and drinking Chai tea by their warm fireplace and I have to say it was really on that night that I so fell in love with the warmth and kindness and good humor of the Ladakhi people.

We left our delightful hosts at 11pm and were back at our guesthouse by 11:30pm for a much better night sleep than we had had the previous night.  Now we were getting better acclimatized and our breathing was a little less troubled than the night before.

Day 3

Every day we ventured a little further from the town of Leh out into the true wild beauty of Ladakh. On this 3rd day we started to feel a little bit more ourselves and generally started feeling better acclimated. From Leh we drove 3 hours to Lamarayu Monastery. Along the way we stopped at Alchi Monastery. This is a very special monastery because it records the history of Tibetan Buddhism BEFORE it moved into the Tibetan Plateau. Most of the monasteries we saw in Ladakh were created when Buddhism moved from India to Tibet and then returned back into India. But this monastery is from the 11th century and predates much of the the movement of the teachings of the Buddha before it moved north across the Himalayas. After a 15 minute walk down a small alley way through a very tiny village, we arrived in the middle of Alchi Monastery. From a position of size this was not much to look at. There must only have been a handful of monks that still take care of this old countryside monastery. While I have been in monasteries in Tibet that hold thousands of monks and you can hear the roar and bellow of chanting and drums and horns, the only sounds that whispered about Alchi Monastery were the tinkling of a few windchimes and the pittering songs of chirping sparrows. This was a peaceful place.

What Alchi Monastery lacks in size in makes up for in history and character. The woodwork from the stupas and the few small temples (each little bigger than a quaint wooded cottage) bears definite fingerprints of Indian architecture. The wood is dark and stained with years under the bright sun and the the lattice work on the windows is definitely different from the carvings on any other Tibetan Buddhist monastery I have ever seen. Even the main stupa in the monastery courtyard had features that were markedly different from those on the Tibetan Plateau. This stupa has a cave built inside of it where you can walk in under the holy relics inside. Essentially there is a small 2 meter high stupa within the greater 7 meter tall stupa and you can walk in under the smaller (and assumedly holier) stupa. There is a small set of prayer wheels around the monastery and we took the quick 10 minute kora around the compact complex. On the far side of the kora we passed a single pilgrim walking around the monastery clockwise. I stopped as the pilgrim passed and climbed a fenced wall to get a peek into the nearby the flows of the legendary Zanskar River. From there I saw a perfect turquoise blue river that was flowing under a massive vertical cliff face. This view alone made Alchi Monastery so worth it. Altogether we spent about 35 minutes around the monastery. You can pretty much take the whole thing in about 20 minutes because of its size.

We departed Alchi and drove another 1.5 hours on our way to Lamarayu Monastery. Along the way we drove by the confluence of the Zanskar River and the Indus Rivers. It was stunning to see where the glacial ice meets at the convergence these two rivers. Seeing these two rivers pour into one was like watching two brilliant turquoise snakes intermingling and mating and shedding their skins and scales as they merged into one larger churning snake basking against the sunlit backdrop of dramatic reddish mountains with not a scrap of vegetation on them.

20 minutes before we got to the monastery we stopped at a landscape that is literally called the “Moonland”. This is an all yellow and brown landscape that has mountains and hills that arise out of the ground like a network of burgeoning bubbles. There must be 1000’s of tiny humps and ridges (at least they looked tiny to us from far away) and they all sit within a 1 mile area on top of each other like some alien super colony of termites. I am not exactly sure what the surface of the moon really looks like, but I can only imagine that the first astronauts there must have experienced something close to this in the eerie sense of barren unfamiliarity as they stepped out of their moon rover for the first time.

After a few pictures of the Moonland, we dropped down to 9,500 feet to Lamarayu Monastery. This was, ironically, the lowest altitude we were at in our entire stay in Ladakh. Lamarayu Monastery is one of many picturesque monasteries that sits perfectly perched high atop a steep hill. In fact, the location of the monastery doesn’t just make for a great picture, it truly evokes wonder that long before cranes and backhoes and CAD there were men in the 12th century who climbed these great mountains and built 7 story structures in the highest and most impossible spaces. Just the act of building the monastery seemed like an act of spirtual discipline and determination. The distance we drove from Leh became immediately worthwhile. We spent an hour just walking around this impressive structure and taking 100’s of pictures from every angle as we gazed down across the valley and into the jagged peaks that protect and encircle the monastery like menacing guards. There was something very sacred here and I walked slowly around the high, steep walls of the monastery over the rubble and scattered stones of staircases that had crumbled and fallen over 10 centuries of weather and erosion.

While my wife entered a few temples to look at the ornate Thangka paintings, I walked the perimeter of the monastery like a curious child digging a tunnel through the underbelly of a sand castle. Then we both ascended to the roof of the monastery for more incredible views along a line of lonely flapping prayer flags. It was 360 degrees of jaw dropping beauty up there and I really could have stayed on that roof laying in the sun like a lazy cat all day long.

Like Alchi Monastery (and just about every where we went) there was a still reverence here. But this monastery – even more so than the other hill top structures – seemed to also carry a commanding, kingly authority. There was something quite grandiose about this monastery in its geography and in its ancient foreboding walls. This was like a mighty castle looking down on all its subjects in the valley below, confidently certain of its regal position.

Feeling the high from a great scenic drive and the inspiring walk around Lamarayu Monastery, we drove back in the direction of Leh town and pulled off the road to stay in homestay just 45 minutes from the hallowed corridors of Lamarayu. We got into the homestay just as the sun was setting and we could feel as soon as it did that the air significantly dropped in temperature from cool and sunny to dark and icy.

Fortunately there was an incredible wood fire in the stove burning in the homestay and we were very cozy inside. There we ate yet another filling and scrumptious dinner of homemade Indian food.

While there was no hot water (and no heat in our small room) we all had 2 thick blankets on us and were quite cozy and warm in the corner bed room of the homestay.

Day 4

Today we drove from the homestay location to the famous Chadar Trek. We spent much of our time on the road. About 2 hours of this time was actually spent on paved road and then we spent another 5 hours in the back of a Japanese Gypsy SUV bumping our heads against the unpadded roof as we navigated a very narrow and dusty road that winded along the steep canyons that hung 600 meters over the Zanskar River.

Probably the most unnerving thing about the road were the places where backhoes were doing construction amidst piles of boulders to help clear and widen the road from treacherous, unpredictable rock fall. It was at these time that, due to the presence of construction on an already tight road, we were no more than a hand’s width away from the unprotected edge on a road that was not much wider than our own car’s frame. The drop below into the river was at least 300 meters and we would have all died instantly if any rock fall or sudden driving malfunctions were to push us over the edge. I trusted our car and our driver and I just tried not to think about that possibility too much as I knew that our guide had driven this bumpy mountain pass many times with many different groups.

The Zanskar River was made particularly famous by the BBC documentary called “Human Planet”. One of the series in the documentary highlighted a Ladakhi girl who had to cross 100 km of the river to get from her father and mother’s humble dirt-walled home to her small boarding school so she could start her semester with her classmates. The journey across the ice looks particularly daunting and several times she walks with her father across crackling, dangerously thin ice so she can make it to her studies. The particular climax of the whole episode is where most of the ice on the river has melted and there remains only a narrow, life threatening sliver of ice as the single passage along the bottom of the steep canyon walls. Every conceivable path is blocked for this little girl except a thin sheet of ice that is clinging to the side of the river bank; all the rest of the river is surging with the terrible current of fast-flowing, hypothermia-inducing melt water. There is only a small margin of ice less than half a meter wide for the girl and her father to belly crawl under an overhang so she can make it to school. The young girl bravely and faithfully follows her father’s experienced movements through the narrow ice passage and she squirms to an area that is more stable and well protected. Ultimately, the girl heroically makes it to her school for the year without any incidents. But the whole affair leaves the viewer with a sense of awe that so many sacrifices and challenges are undertaken just to make the commute to elementary school.

Since this famous scene in BBC’s “Human Planet”, thrill-seeking curious trekkers have found their way to the north of India to see and discover the river for themselves.

For these reasons, the Chadar Trek (which means “Ice Trek” in Ladakhi) is like no other trek in the Himalayas. Like the girl’s journey in the film, this trek involves walking on a frozen sheet of glass that is ever shifting and creaking above the current of the waters underneath it. Dramatic mountains rise on both sides of the river adding to both the beauty and the danger. While the trek does not gain much altitude because you walk along the icy surface of flat river, it almost feels like an expedition to the North Pole where the temperatures drop down to -35 degrees Celcius at night. The food rations are transported on improvised wooden sledges by local Ladakhi porters and the trekkers find their lodging in such wild and strange places as caves along the rivers’ edge and by beaches littered with sharp ice wedges and snow crevasses.

The trek allows you to get to know the Zankari culture up close through the lense of locals and their hospitality. One of the highlights of the trek is the magnificent Nerak Waterfall that is frozen completely from top to bottom. The best (and only) time to do this trek is from mid-January to mid-February. That is when the Zanskar river freezes and the ice is thick enough to walk across – at least for most of the trek. There are a few sections where the trekkers actually have to traverse the canyon walls like mountain goats on the crags in order to avoid thin or non-existent ice and the rowdy whitewater currents of the below surging river.

I had seen the “Human Planet” documentary and, like many watchers, I was immediately taken by this alluring, bewitching icy serpent. I had even been planning to take my family on the full 10 day trek up and down the Zanskar River and had determined that I would pay a local Ladakhi porter to pull a sled with my kids on it so they did not have to walk across the slippery ice. When I presented this plan to my wife she was not so keen. Having talked to locals, we realized that trek was realistically safe enough for our children, especially under the watchful and experienced eye of local Ladakhis who knew exactly where to step for the best passage on the ice sheet. But I think the real sticking point for our children would have been the blistering cold. It is one thing to walk on a river as an adult in -25 Celcius because we’d be producing some body heat in our movement. But for kids to sit on an ice sledge in that kind of weather and then to spend the night in an uninsulated tent on the ice felt a little imposing for us.

My wife, though, is pretty adventurous so she did compromise with me to at least go out and see the Zanskar River close up. So we opted to make a day trip out of it so at least we could have fun sliding about on the ice without having to commit to 10 days of relentless cold.

As soon as we got out of the car and skidded across the ice, my wife looked at me with a big smile and said, “I wished we had done all 10 days with the kids!” Once we were out there we could see that whole trek was well organized and well equipped. There were fancy cook tents that provided hot meals every night for the trekkers and private bathroom tents and meeting tents that housed each and every expedition. Every day, the government of Ladakh allows exactly 100 trekkers to be out on the ice. These trekkers are usually divided between 5-10 different expeditions, most of which are comprised of Indian travelers who want to walk on the ice. After being on the ice and hanging out by one of the main base camps for a few hours, it was easy to tell that most of these native Indians were wealthy suburban tourists who were looking to get out the busyness of Delhi or Mumbai to have an adventure. These were regular people – doctors, accountants, taxi drivers- and seeing those regular people out doing something extraordinary really made me feel like our family could have probably done the whole trek. My wife and I both agreed that with the right ultra thick and warm sleeping bags (which can be rented from the Chadar Trek expeditions), we could have managed the trek with our kids.

But, in the end, we were totally fine that we did not do the whole trek. After all, it gave us something to come back for. The day we spent out slipping and sliding on Zanskar River was precious. Our kids had a blast throwing huge chunks of ice into parts of the exposed river. And we even got to borrow a little miniature sleigh to pull them along the ice. They loved every minute of it and it was really quite sunny and warm out on the ice under the afternoon sun.

After playing on the ice, we drove back to Leh and got into the Shanti Guesthouse for a nice night in the heat of the hotel’s working radiator. And boy did a hot shower feel good that night!

Day 5

Despite the perceived (but probably not actual) danger of the Chadar Trek, there was something that was haunting me far more than walking on shifting ice. I had heard about the highest motorable road in the world. And I had even watched a few YouTube videos as cars drove carefully over the packed snow and ice on tires covered with chains and with nothing on the edge of the road to protect them from sliding off into a Himalayan abyss. And it all sounded pretty gnarly to me.

The Khardung La is a dirt-road pass that crosses over an elevation of 5,600 meter / 18,300 feet. After driving over some pretty narrow mountain roads myself in Tibet, it wasn’t the steep drop off that really concerned me. It was that I was bringing my family to an elevation higher than any we had been to before. My wife and I had climbed to over 17,000 feet around Lhasa before we had kids, and living on the Tibetan Plateau our kids had even been to 14,000 feet a few times with us on family backpacking trips. In all these conditions we had all done very well in regards to health and acclimatization. But 18,300 feet was a whole new level. This was starting to get up near the top of North America’s tallest mountain, Mount Denali. This was the stuff of epic mountaineers and crampons and oxygen tanks.

But through a lot of research and planning and after many talks with our experienced tour agency, we decided that it was possible. Our kids were, after all, no more likely to get Acute Mountain Sickness than any other adult. We just were not sure if they did start to feel nauseous up there how they would react. But we did know this: we had spent plenty of time acclimating in and around Leh, we had emergency oxygen in the car if we did run into any disconcerning situations, and the best cure for any altitude related sickness is to descend quickly to a lower altitude. Since we were driving up from 11,500 feet to 18,300 feet in a matter of about 2 hours we knew we could descend pretty quickly in our car along the road.

So with those contingencies in hand, we set out to drive over the world’s tallest motorable road with our two children. As we drove up, I kept glancing at the back seat looking for headaches or other signs of discomfort. Other than our son feeling a little sleepy, we got up to the high pass without any incident. And, of course, we snapped a few selfies on the top and we did not spend much time up there in that rarified air because we wanted to descend quickly. All in all, I was very proud of my family for doing so well and we all felt very good considering the winding roads and the high altitude. All my fears about the big high pass were put to rest.

And then came the really fun part. As we descended from the Khardung La into the Nubra Valley, we could see large stretches of sand before us. There was, too, a river that braided in and out between the piles of sand as it wove into the foot the hovering mountains. As we crept down in altitude, the whole valley opened up into a flood plain full of blowing dust. This was the famous Nubra Valley, famous for the indigenous fuzzy two-humped Bactrian camels that lived there. These camels were some of the only animals in the world who could survive in both the extreme cold and lack of water. There were obviously quite specialized to make it at 10,500 feet in one of the driest, toughest places in the world.

Once at the bottom of the valley, we visited Diskit Monastery and the statue of India’s largest future buddha. This statue had to be at least 30 meters tall and it sat on a golden throne that overlooked the entire expansive desert valley. From the future buddha statue we drove through long stretches of highway into the real heart of the Nubra Valley right smack into the rolling sand dunes. At around 5 meters high, these dunes were certainly not anything near the size of the dunes you might see in the Sahara Desert. But there was a very certain texture on them that made them enchanting. The wind blew the sand into an intricate pattern of miniature waves and ridges that almost made the dunes look like they were covered with crochet work.

After jumping into the dunes and rolling down them like we were lost raiders fleeing desperately in the desertscape of planet Jakku in Star Wars, we headed to a remote desert camp. After about an hour drive we arrived at this camp and had a wonderful soak in their hot springs tubs. The water was so hot (being directly piped from the ground) that we had to wait two hours for it to cool off before we could even get in it. But our whole family eventually had a wonderful bath and that was a great way to wash all the sand off our bodies from jumping about the sand dunes.

With an incredibly relaxing hot springs bath we were all very relaxed and clean! That night we slept awesome!

Day 6

Day 6 was our last full day in Ladakh and we definitely took advantage of every daylight hour.
We woke up in our VIP hit Springs Camp and had a warm cup of Chai and jumped in the van.
The sun was just cresting the snowy peaks and the soft morning light played on the new morning snow.

We drove back to the small town where we had lunch the day before and ate a simple breakfast of eggs and Indian bread.

Knowing that we were going to be a long way from civilization on our drive out to Pangong Lake, I wanted to stock up on Snacks and drinks for the 8 hour car ride ahead of us. I stopped in a very small convenience store in a town of about six single-room concrete-block buildings (which altogether had probable total population of around 15 locals) set out in the middle of the Nubra Valley desert. Half of the buildings in town were buried under 3 meters of rubble and trash because of a recent flood that had surged through the floodplain of this desert valley. Desert landscapes are not used to receiving large amounts of precipitation or snow melt and this basin had fully been washed out and submerged in a recent deluge. The town was already very forlorn and rustic looking and having the few buildings in it being destroyed by a flash flood made it even more lonely. To add to the desperate feeling, there was a pack of 10-15 starving wild dogs who roamed the 50 meter-long strip in town looking for food scraps. They were all quite scraggly and were constantly biting and arguing about the pecking order of the group. Just the day before, our guide Tenzin was attempting to feed these wily dogs and had gotten bit pretty severely on his left hand. The dog bite bled on his finger and we were unable to find any Tetanus or rabies shots in the nearby town of Diskit. So a caution to travelers: do not feed the wild stray dogs and be careful to keep your fingers and your food close to your body. Some dogs may be aggressive enough to try to take food from your table or from your hands so have your radar up and do not leave your food unattended.

I was curious what the small dark convenience store had in the way of supplies. I was really just hoping for a few bottles of water and some Snickers. The convenience store had a strange assortment of goods from chips to laundry detergent to pots and pans and plastic flowers. I knew I was in the middle of nowhere when the only bottle of water that was for sale in the whole dimly lit store was an already used half-filled bottle. They obviously had no water for sale. I bought a few juice drink packages of sickly sweet mango syrup juice and hoped that would be enough to stave off thirst and headaches as we drove over another 5,400 meter/ 17,716 foot pass back to Leh. For snacks there were no Snickers. But they had some dried lentil beans which turned out to be quite tasty.

So another warning: When traveling to Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake, I recommend bringing 2-3 days of water in your car because bottled water can be hard to find. As it was, there was no place for us to get clean water for around 24 hours so we had to live off the few almost empty bottles we already had in the car and those sweet box drinks. We turned out to be okay but we were definitely cutting it pretty close in regards to hydration at altitude.

It was another 4 hours drive to Pangong Lake across the vast seas of rolling high desert. There were moments when the winds had completely covered the single track road with drifting sand and we had to drive over newly formed and ever shifting sand dunes in an attempt to find the other side of the road where the pavement continued several 100 meters out. And there were times the road just totally ended without warning and we found ourselves skirting disheveled fields of rocks with no clear path. Apparently in the summer lots of temporary tents pop up offering souvenirs and snacks in this area of Nubra Valley. But in the winter season this was a truly wild, forgotten place. We did not see another single car or a person for hours. One time I saw a lonely Ladakhi nomad walking by himself on the road and I found myself wandering wherever this man could have come from or where he was walking to. There seemed like no point of reference for his journey as we hadn’t seen a town or anything resembling a house for an hour.

We arrived at Pangong Lake around 2pm. There was no one else out on the whole lake except us. The only two people we could see from a distance were two local Ladakhis wearing ice skates and hockey gear who were hitting an ice hockey puck around on the frozen lake. It was strange to see signs of western development and recreation out there in the wilderness. But what I did not know at that moment was that the crowds were already preparing to gather around the shores of the frozen lake for a world record breaking Guinness Book of World Records event. Just the next day was to be the competition for world’s highest ice hockey game. Unfortunately we missed this game by a day since we had to fly out but apparently most of India’s Olympic hockey team is drawn from the ranks of local Ladakhis who love love and cherish the sport!

Pangong Tso (Tibetan: སྤང་གོང་མཚོ) is Tibetan for “high grassland lake” (“Tso” is the Tibetan word for “Lake). This an endorheic lake in the Himalayas situated at a height of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft). It is 134 km (83 mi) long and extends from India into China. Approximately 60% of the length of the lake lies in China and 40% of the lake is in India. The lake is 5 km (3.1 mi) wide at its broadest point. All together it covers 604 km2. During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline in nature. It is not a part of the Indus River basin area and is geographically a separate land locked river basin.

The brackish water of Pangong Lake has a very small amount of hardy micro-vegetation. Reportedly, there are no fish or any other aquatic life in the lake, except for a few small saltwater-tolerant crustaceans. The lake is in the process of being identified as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. As such it will be the first trans-boundary wetland in South Asia under this convention.

In the summer the waters of the lake are a brilliant blue and this is said by many to be India’s prettiest lake. However, the lake in winter lacks the bright colors of summer and gray ice stretches across the shores and the rim of the lake is spotted with brown vegetation and is chilled by piercing winds that rush across the flat surface. But there is still a rugged beauty here in the silence of winter.

In winter the Indian army drives their trucks across the lake to reach remote outposts that protect this disputed border.

We drove from Pangong Lake back to Leh without stopping too much. On the way back to Leh, we crossed India’s second highest motorable road at 5,400 meters / 17,716 feet. As we descended the high pass back into the Leh Valley the sun was setting right in front of us on the ridges and peaks that stand over Leh. It was a perfect view of dancing pinks and oranges that eventually faded into misty purples and then the ink black night sky.

This was our last night in Ladakh.

Day 7

We got up early in the morning to fly out of IXL Leh airport. As I mentioned before this is a very small airport. Because it is so small I figured there would not be much time spent in getting from one place to another and I thought we could get through security in 1 hour. Thankfully our guide told us we really needed a full 2 hours to make it the 50 meters from the entrance to the flight departures gate.

I was, at first, a little skeptical of this warning, but the whole place is actually very chaotic and it literally took us the full two hours from our drop off at the airport to the time we were at the airplane gate.

Be aware that in India (or at least in Leh) there are several extra steps in flying out that we do not have in America.

The following list shows exactly why we took 2 hours to make our way through a building that was no bigger than a hometown grocery store.

1.) Getting in the door

There is exactly 1 door to get in the airport from the freezing cold weather outside.
Everyone was standing in the freezing cold at 6:30am in the dark parking lot in a confused gaggle (remember that Indians do not celebrate the concept of an orderly “queue”, so you may need to push your way to the front).
There were so many army soldiers all crowded about the doorway all ready to leave their military posts to go home and see their family. Fortunately, a kind airport attendant let us in the front of this mob of people because we had kids with us. Then once we were through the door we had to go through the presecurity check outside of check in to enter into the airport.
Here they examine your bag and after it goes through a X-Ray machine they tag it.
Strangely, at this presecurity check they ask for your flight ticket – which is unusual because you do not even get your ticket until you go into the airport and check your bags at the desk of your airline. So I was a bit taken aback by this but I was able to pull up my itinerary on my email on my phone.
So make sure you have a paper or electronic copy of your flight reservation handy as they will ask for this.

After your luggage goes through the X-Ray machine they throw your luggage into a jumbled pile of 100’s of bags.
Note to travelers: There is no order and all the bags get completely buried here so make sure when you sort through the pile to find all your luggage so that you do not forget small bags like laptop cases, purses, or backpacks which could get easily misplaced in the mess.

2.) Check bags and get tickets

This is what you would expect to be the most normal, standardized process in the whole airport. You walk up to your airline counter and you hand them your passports. The airline attendant taps a few things on her computer and she prints out your boarding passes and voila! – you are free to fly!

But the Leh airport was not quite that simple. As we were standing in line all sorts of people started to cut in line in front of us. This included a ton of army people.

When we finally got up to the counter they took all of our 5 large bags and put them on the conveyor belt weigh station at one time. Apparently Air India weighs the total of your bags rather than each bag individually so they want to weigh them at the same time.
Therefore we had 5 suitcases tottering on that small scale next to the check in counter for all 4 of us. As the rules were explained to us, you get 25 kg per person on Air India (that could be divided between 20 bags or 1 bag- it does not matter to them ).

It took the flight desk about 20 minutes to find our ticket in their system and during that time the power went out in the airport and my poor son was left in the bathroom with no light to see.

Eventually the Air India Staff was able to locate our reservation and we did actually get tickets. In the meantime our whole family bought a few cups of Chai and hoped that somehow they had not goofed our online reservation.

3.) Go through security

One of our hand bags/carry on items did not have a bag tag from the presecurity checks. So when I went to go through security the official there made me turn around and go all the way back to the front door to get a baggage tag. What I did not understand was that these bag tags were all the same generic tags that had the company logo. Every tag was identical and had no individual bar code or cereal number to identify this as a special bag or even your own personal bag. But for some reason they would not let me through without this useless piece of paper dangling from my bag. I suspect this is arbitrary proof that my bags had been through the outside X-ray pre-security screen and they accidentally missed tagging my bag in the chaos. Which, of course, is arbitrary proof that the whole process could do with a little streamlining.

So I dragged my tired son back across the airport and we tagged his little child suitcase and then we were allowed to go through security. At this point my wife and daughter had already gone through the second security screen and were waiting on the other side for us with a Indian pastry filled with microwave-warmed chicken.

4.) Examine your baggage

After you have put your carry on bags through a second redundant X-Ray machine you have to physically go outside in the freezing cold by the airplanes and see where all the checked bags are coming out. Again, the checked bags are lying in a pile and, for some reason, you must positively identify that, yes, your bags have in fact travelled the small length of the carousel and are sitting next the airport bus that will take you to your plane.
I suspect this is because the airport is so disorganized and chaotic that they have lost bags somewhere around this point and need people to make sure that nothing got lost on the hidden conveyer belt from check in to the time you get on the plane.
(Or this might be an added layer of security).

5.) Get in line for your flight

There is only one departures gate in the whole airport. Right next to this gate there is a sign that says “To Gates” and points left. So it would appear that you are to follow the ambiguous arrow to your gate. But actually the sign just points you to walk into a wall and there is really nowhere to go. For some reason this sign is basically placed directly over the one single gate. In fact, if you are standing at the sign close enough to see it’s words, you are already in line to board your plane and therefore have no reason to follow the sign. By this one gate there is no flight info listed on a screen to tell you which flight is boarding.

There were 100 army soldiers in civilian clothes waiting in line, so I just figured we could joined in that line. So like a sheep following the flock, I just got in line. Because there was no flight board or announcement I accidentally got in the wrong line. But eventually we figured out that this was the flight boarding before ours. I guess this is the problem with only having one gate. You might be in the right place, but you never know which flight you are actually in line for.

That first line was boarding a flight to Delhi. We got in the next line at the same gate which flied out to Chandigarh.

6.) Load on a crowded bus and boarded the plane

Just like the bus on our arrival this was an old jalopy that had standing room only. But the people of India are so hospitable that they gave our family some of the last remaining seats so our kids did not have to stand on the moving bus.

In summary, the Leh airport takes a long time to get through. If you are flying in or out of Leh expect that there will be about 2-3 extra steps in the check in process and a lot of people (mostly military) milling around the airport.
So leave yourself lots of time and expect mid amounts of disorder.

But once you are in the airplane what you can expect is the most terrific views of the Himalayas below you (and a lot of turbulence in the first 20 minutes of your flight). Ladakh offers many highlights and opportunities to see the raw breadth of the immensity of Himalayas. It is fitting that as you fly out from this mountain mecca that you pass over the very mountains that have given Ladakh its remote and untouched character.

As I watched the mountains pass away into the clouds I knew I would come be back to this land of mountains, monasteries, and mysteries.
One time was really just not enough!

Thanks for reading our story and hope it helps you along your own travels to Ladakh!
Keep coming back for more travel and trekking tips!

The Best Snacks of Sichuan

Sichuan cuisine is a style of Chinese cuisine originating from Sichuan Province in Southwest China. If you are a newbie to this kind of food, Sichuan dishes will surprise you with their bold flavor and spiciness, mainly from the large use of garlic and chili peppers, as well as the minty and slightly numbing flavor of the famous Sichuan pepper. Our advice is to be bold and give it a try.

In this article we will offer some insight on the most popular and delicious Sichuan snacks!

Liangfen ( 凉粉 )

Liangfen is a common but quite popular Sichuan snack which is served cold. In fact, the name Liangfen simply means “cold noodles”.  It is generally a white, almost translucent, thick starch jelly, made from mung bean starch, but it also can be made from pea or potato starch.

The starch is boiled with water resulting in a viscous paste that is spread on a pan in the form of a sheet and then cut into thick strips. The liangfen strips are then served cold in a bowl with sesame paste, soy sauce and chili oil, seasoned with pieces of carrot, chopped green onion, fresh coriander and crushed garlic. This snack although served cold will warm up your body due to its spiciness and rich flavor. It is really an amazing combination of hot and cold in one dish.

 

Suan La Fen ( 酸辣粉 )

Suan La Fen, aka “Hot and sour sweet potato noodles”, is a well known Sichuan street snack. The main ingredient behind this snack is the thick sweet potato noodles which are much chewier than common flour-based noodles or the instant noodles you may have eaten in college. These noodles are served in a warm stock of either pork bone or chicken bone and is seasoned with tones of pre-fried garlic in chili oil, vinegar, sesame oil, light soy sauce and the Chinese five spices powder. The topping varies from red braised beef, minced pork sauce, or red braised large intestines combined with chopped green onion, fried peanuts and pickled mustard. You can find this snack in almost every city in China, so just give it a go.

 

La Tiao ( 辣条)

La Tiao is one of the most popular snacks in China and it got its international fame in 2016 when this snack was haphazardly featured in a BBC documentary about Chinese New Year celebrations. Apparently the 2 commentators were eating this snack during the filming of the documentary and the audience picked up on this little detail in a big way! Now it is becoming an international sensation!  This snack consists of tofu skins fried in a mixture of water, soy sauce, fresh ginger, sugar, salt, Sichuan pepper, chili powder, myrcia and Chinese fennel species. The end result is similar to potato chips but much richer in taste and pretty spicy. Although very delicious, this snack is rich in gluten, so if you’re gluten sensitive you might want to stay away from this one.

 

Niu Rou Gan ( 牛肉干 )

This is a very traditional snack that is commonly given as a gift amongst Chinese people. If you are wondering what souvenir to bring your father or uncle – look no further! Niu Rou Gan explained in simple words is a spicy dry beef jerky, however there is more to it. This is so much more than just Jack Links jerky! The beef meat undergoes a three step process: boiling, stir-frying, and drying. During the first two steps the meat will be treated with diverse spices like Sichuan pepper, bay leaves, anise, cinnamon, fennel seeds, cardamom, sesame seeds, chili and many more. Therefore, when slowly chewing on this snack you can slowly taste the full spectrum of flavors derived from the spices. This one is especially good if you can manage to find it made from yak meat!  The yak meat is a little richer than cow in taste and usually is 100% grass fed straight from the high open plains of the Tibetan Plateau!

 

Baozi (包子)

 

The world knows this as a steamed bun, but China knows this as Baozi. This snack- often eaten as a breakfast staple by most local Chinese- is a simple but delicious bread-like bun, filled with meat or vegetables and then steamed, usually in a wooden wicker basket. The meat baozi is usually filled with a mixture of ground pork and sliced pork belly, as the extra fat ensures that the filling remains mouthwatering and juicy. The vegetarian baozi on the other hand is filled with various combinations of mixed savoy cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, and rice all seasoned with soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, salt and sugar. In the end, every one has their own favorite baozi, as there is a wide selection of it.

Personally, I could eat carrot and potato baozi all day long!

Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

Get out of the heat and chaos of Bangkok (a city of 18 million people) and away from the crowds on the beaches and experience the more relaxed pace of life of Northern Thailand through true adventure.

Chiang Mai is a 13th-century ancient city of the Lanna Kingdom with over 700 years of history. This is a great place to experience the spiritual side of Thailand, with over 300 Buddhists temples in the city alone. Chiang Mai is a city of culture and tradition in transition. It has a distinct culture (of the Lanna Kingdom), with more temples than any other city in Thailand, and has a lot of historical sites including portions of an old city that are still intact. The inner city of Chiang Mai is a perfect square that is surrounded by an old dirt and brick wall twith a moat on all sides.

There are at least 10 different hill tribes in Northern Thailand, many of them divided into distinct subgroups. The tribes have sophisticated systems of customs, laws and beliefs, and are predominantly animists. They often have exquisitely colored costumes and dances, though many men and children now adopt Western clothes for everyday wear.

Elevated Trips offers an amazing tour of this northern Lanna Kingdom .  During this tour we will hike through the jungle to discover remote hill tribe villages.  We will also have the opportunity to spend time with these hill tribe hosts and guides to learn about their unique cultures and to sleep in a local homestay.

Come and experience this amazing landscape as the local people do organically – on foot and through the rivers that are the arteries of life and culture to this still wild land.

 

Should I ride an elephant in Thailand?

Into the Heart of the Jungle from Ben Cubbage on Vimeo.

The elephant has been a major part of Thai society and a symbol of national pride for many centuries.   The Thai elephant (Thai: ช้างไทย, chang ) is the official national animal of Thailand and has been used as the gift of kings and a staple of the ancient Thai army in fighting wars with invading tribes. The elephant found in Thailand is the Indian Elephant (Elephas maximus indicus), a subspecies of the Asian Elephant. In the early-1900s there were an estimated 100,000 domesticated or captive elephants in Thailand. By mid-2007 there were an estimated 3,456 domesticated elephants left in Thailand  and roughly a thousand wild elephants. It became an endangered species in 1986.

There are two species of elephant: African (much larger with bigger ears) and Asian. Asian elephants are divided into four sub-species, Sri Lankan, Indian, Sumatran and Bornean.Thai elephants are classified  as Indian elephants. However, Thai elephants have slight differences from other elephants of that sub-species. They are smaller, have shorter front legs, and a thicker body than their Indian counterparts. Thai elephants also have beautiful pinkish spots behind their ears.

Elephants are exclusive herbivores, consuming ripe bananas, leaves, bamboo, tree bark, and other fruits. Eating takes up 18 hours of an elephant’s day because they poop 40 minutes after eating and so they need an immense amount of food to satisfy their extreme size and constant appetite. They eat 100-200 kilograms of food per day. A cow (female) will eat 5.6 percent of her body weight per day. A bull (male) will eat 4.8 percent. Thus a 3,000 kilogram cow will consume 168 kg per day, a 4,000 kg bull 192 kg per day. As elephants can digest only 40 percent of their daily intake, the result is about 50–60 kg of excrement per Elephant per day. As elephants will not eat or sleep in unclean surroundings fouled by dung, their instinct is to roam to a new area.

With elephants being such an important part of Thai society and such a unique part of the ecosystem in general, it is important how we treat them as their numbers decrease and their native habitat rapidly disappears amidst fast-paced urbanization and development.

One of the most popular ways that foreign tourists have engaged these giants in the past 20 years has been to ride on the backs of elephants. This, of course, has offered an amazing chance for humans to get up close and personal with these intriguing and beautiful animals.

This activity has become particularly controversial in the last few years with many new brochures advertising “No Elephant Riding”.  As a public outcry has emerged against Elephant mistreatment,  elephant farms and sanctuaries have responded by offering more ethical experiences which involve Elephant bathing, feeding, and walking beside (rather than riding on top of) elephants.  These efforts show a positive move in tourism to try to live beside nature rather than “dominating” it or “using” it for one’s own material pleasure. 

I want to address two areas of concern regarding elephant abuse.

1.) Ethical Elephant Training and Care

The first area is how Elephant trainers have been treating and training their elephants.  Like anything that is commercialized and sold to the public, there are very reputable and ethical Elephant camps which treat their elephants with love and respect, and there are certainly a fair share of tourism experiences that put profit ahead of the elephant’s well being.  As soon as the elephant camps make money their number one goal, putting quick profits ahead of the health and needs of the elephants, these animals quickly become caged and abused and neglected. Elephant trainers may abuse their elephants in the same way a sideshow traveling circus might force their animals into submission with mean and abusive tactics and shelters that are inadequate for these normally wild animals.

No doubt, it is these places which have given Elephant tourism a bad name in the last few years. In response to the abuse of elephants, many rehabilitation camps and sanctuaries have arisen to take care of abused and neglected elephants.  These rehabilitation camps are a good start to engaging ethical experiences which allow access to elephants in a sustainable and compassionate manner for the tourist. 

The variety of positive and negative experiences makes it important for the tourist in Thailand to be selective and educated about which elephant camps they choose.  Do your homework before you go and do not just hire some guy on the street or from the airport.  Plan your elephant experience with intentionality and thought.

Here I want to address one particular issue, which is the equipment elephant trainers use.

An elephant guide is a tool that is used to teach, guide and direct an elephant. In the past, some people have called this an ankus or a bullhook. These names are outdated and do not provide an adequate explanation for the proper use of the tool. “Ankus” is a term used to describe the elephant handling tool used in many Asian countries, which is much sharper, longer, harsher, and more warlike than most modern day guide tools . The term bullhook was coined over 100 years ago by circus men who called all elephants, regardless of sex, bulls. Both the ankus and the bullhook have been associated with elephant abuse in the past and, in fact, the bullhook is now illegal in California for use in elephant training.

Elephant management has evolved  a lot since then, and its tools and their uses have evolved as well. The elephant guide consists of a blunt hook mounted on one end of a plastic or wooden shaft (usually about 1 foot or a forearm’s length). The ends on the hook are tapered to a point so that the elephant can feel the pressure of the guide through their thick skin, but blunt enough so that the hook does not scratch or penetrate the skin. The design of the guide allows the elephant to be directed with either a pushing or pulling motion. The elephant guide adds a physical and visual cue to a verbal request. To train an elephant to raise its foot using an elephant guide, the keeper places the guide behind the foot. The keeper then touches the back of the foot with the guide and using only slight pressure, uses the guide to prompt the elephant to lift its foot. When the foot reaches the desired level, the elephant is praised and given a treat. Once the behavior is fully trained, the guide is no longer necessary as a visual/physical cue, as the elephant responds to the verbal request alone.

I have seen many blogs across the internet that take a photo of an elephant trainer holding this 1-foot long tool with its curved hook and they say something like, “How can you hurt the elephants with this cruel device?”

I admire their compassion for animals and their voice on the internet.  There certainly are trainers who may misuse this tool in anger or abuse or misinformation and, to these trainers, the cry for justice and better practice is sound.  But I asked Thom at Thom’s Elephant Camp about this device and her answer made sense to me.  Whether or not you believe in spanking, as a parent you learn part of your relationship with your child is discipline and correction.  A small boy left without correction would easily put himself in danger or might break things or harm others.  The same is true for an elephant, except that this is a 3,000 kg animal who could easily kill a human with one move or squeeze of its trunk or one misstep of its foot.  In such a precarious working environment, certainly love and relationship are the foundation of effective communication but there is a place for correction for the safety of all those involved.  If the mahouts did not yield this tool, those in and around elephants (including visiting tourists) could easily be trampled.  Used lovingly and wisely, I do not think it is unreasonable to use an elephant guide as a tool to navigate around the elephant’s body and to aid in training.  After all, if you consider the extreme size of an elephant and the toughness of its skin, using a tool that is about as big as a paint roller is actually quite minimalistic in terms of discipline.

Many elephant experiences are offered in the Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area as Northern Thailand offers mountains and jungles that are still fit for elephant habitats and a little more protected from the rapid urbanization of Bangkok and the beaches of Pattaya, Phuket, and While I was traveling through Pai, Northern Thailand there are a number of elephant camps available there for the many backpackers to choose from.

After some research on the internet, our group chose to go with Thom’s Elephant Camp.

First of all, let me say if you do a little research yourself on TripAdvisor you may instantly come across some negative reviews of Thom’s Elephant Camp.  I read reviews that the elephants were cooped up and chained, including baby elephants who were being mistreated.

Let me refute these reviews by saying that Thom of Thom’s Elephant Camp is a 4th generation Mahout (professional elephant trainer) who he has the deepest care and veneration for her elephants.  When asked if she had children, Thom laughed gently and told me, “These are my children.”  After I spent the afternoon with Thom, I knew she was not just giving me a pat answer; Elephant Care was the central truth and the very axis of rotation of her life.  Thom has established her Elephant Camp in Pai over 20 years ago and todays has 3 very healthy and happy girl elephants who are all 25, 35, and 54 years old respectively (elephants often live to 70 years old in captivity).  Among her 3 “children” none of these elephants were attached to a chain and they all slept in the wild jungle at night and often freely roamed around a massive, uninhabited Jungle. And there were no baby elephants. 

I believe the negative reviews were written by a well meaning but confused tourist who mistook the unsigned copycat (and much newer) Camp across the street for Thom’s Elephant Camp.  This Camp, just 20 feet away from Thom’s, does, in fact, chain their elephants and does allow tourists to ride on a metal cage on the back of their Asian Elephants, parading for a few minutes down the local paved street in a very unnatural environment.  So it would be easy to mistake the two establishments and confuse Thom’s for another less ethical business. 

The other possibility is that Thom’s reputation is being incorrectly attacked by jealous businesses who stand to gain a share of Thom’s well established market.  Competing  businesses have been known to write falsely negative reviews on TripAdvisor (and other travel review sites) to discourage business in their competion.  With the increase in web-based reviews, there is better access to decentralized knowledge on the web for better researched travel and this information has greatly empowered the discerning traveler with far better choices.  However, the popularity and dependence on web-based reviews has also opened the door for unethical and dirty practices, equivalent to presidential election smear campaigns, in corners of the tourist market.  While this is not a certainty regarding the negatively biased reviews of Thom’s, I will say it is not terribly difficultly to create a fake email address and TripAdvisor account to say nasty things against rival businesses.  Thom herself had her own very good reasons to suspect such malicious activity and I told her it was a shame that likeminded businesses could not collaborate to better a community rather than greedily competing as if there was not enough to go around for everyone.

Wherever the negative reviews come from, it is evident they are hurting Thom’s business.

Once the first elephant Camp in Pai, Thom has lost a good deal of her once-thriving business because a handful of errant reviews.

As an unpaid plug for those looking for an elephant experience in Thailand and as an advocate for all ethical community-based tourism, I could not more highly recommend Thom, both as a person and as an experienced trainer. 

Thom spent all afternoon with us explaining elephant habitats, life span, and gestation while we walked beside the 54 year old elephant in an open jungle and watched her tear down entire banana trees to get the juicy pulp out the fiber of the large tree. After washing the elephant in the river and feeding her bananas, Thom took us to a local hot spring and sat with us as we cooled off with a drink with a cool breeze under an umbrella.

We stayed the night in a very affordable bungalow on Thom’s property.  The next morning Thom took time out of her busy schedule in managing the elephant Camp to eat breakfast with us and teach us more in her sweet, informal, hospitable way about life as an elephant  trainer.

Although Thom does allow for riding on top of an elephant with only a blanket, our group never once got on top of the elephant.

 

2.) Riding Elephants

This brings us our second area of concern: specifically whether or not humans should ride elephants as a tourist experience.

Let me address this question with some pure math.

An average full grown female elephant might weigh about 3000 kg or 6,614 pounds.

If an average female human, around 30 years old, is about 68kg or 150 pounds is riding an elephant then that elephant is carrying about 2% of its weight on its back.

Comparatively, this might be the equivalent of that same 68 kg (150 pound) female carrying a very small, totally compressible 1.5kg (3 pound) backpack on her back with a bottle of water and a rain jacket.

That amount of weight seems pretty manageable to carry for most females. 

In fact, most female travelers easily carry a purse or a backpack that weighs much more than that bare bones simple backpack and they do it happily and comfortably all day long.

So the issue of riding an elephant is certainly not an issue of weight.

The human can ride an elephant as easily as a sparrow would ride on the human’s shoulder.

The problem comes when you put an uncomfortable, rigid metal cage on the elephants’s back and make it walk around in repetitive, endless circles day after day while carrying that same 68 kg human. Suddenly the comparably small weight creates physical friction, abrasion, and irritation, not to say anything of the emotional stress from living as a prisoner under cruel human rule.

So, really, it is not just riding the elephant that presents the difficulty but how you do it.

It is about the mentality of the trainer and the tourist.

Are we treating the elephant with the dignity it deserves as an intelligent, feeling being or are we using it for an Instagram selfie snapshot for our own “fame”?

At Thom’s even those who ride the elephant bareback (without a wire frame seat) are seeking a connection and a mutual relationship with the elephant rather than a singular moment or a picture.  This idea of relationship with the elephant being central to the entire process is Thom’s heart in keeping her elephants and I hope that whatever elephant experience you find yourself at in Thailand represents this same positive ideal.

Dege སྡེ་དགེ (德格)

The historic town of Dege makes up one of the five former great kingdoms of the Kham Tibetan area and many describe this town as the “heart of Kham”. Dege sits in a narrow valley at 3100 meters (10,170 ft) surrounded by mountains and the Sèqū River色曲河 that runs through the town. The city is famous for its Tibetan lamasery which hosts an invaluable treasury of wooden printing blocks with Tibetan Buddhist texts. About 70% of all Tibetan scriptures used across the Tibetan Plateau are produced in this very important printing press. A cultural center (more like a high end gift shop) has opened near the Printing Press & Monastery. Nevertheless the surrounding quarters on the valley’s slopes still preserve the old Tibetan traditions including the temple complex that contains a maze of wonderful old style Tibetan buildings made from rammed earth and logs. If you come here for nothing but the old log-cabin style buildings the trip would be absolutely worth it! This is one of the only places in all of Tibet where you can find such unique architecture, mainly because it is one of the only places that actually had any sizable forest.

If driving from the north, from Yushu, Serxu, Ganzi, or from Qinghai Province, Dege can be reached via the incredible, infamous Trola Pass.. The road between Ganzi and Dege is beautifully paved with the exception of the 5050 m high Tro-la Pass which is in disrepair with many potholes. Also be warned that this high road over the Trola Pass can be very dangerous in the snow or ice so check weather conditions before you set out on your trip. Parts of the pass also wind up the mountain and have no shoulder or railing with a drop of several 100 meters below. So this is not a drive for the fainthearted or inexperienced. But the incredible views from Ganzi over the Trola Pass (5050 m elevation) make the grueling day trip over Trola pass worthwhile.
Coming from the south, one can enter Dege from a route from Chengdu to Kangding. Reconstruction work on the Kangding (Dartsedo) to Ganzi highway (G317 / S303) is complete as of 2014 and the road from Kangding to Dege is now well paved. Dege to Kangding is now a one day journey by bus. You can leave Dege on a public bus at 6am and then arrive in Kangding around 8 or 9 pm. If you have your own 4WD car, Chengdu to Dege can also be driven in one long, epic day, but this is a very good way to get altitude sickness with a very quick ascent from Chengdu at 500 meters to Dege at 3,100 meters . It is recommended to stop at least one night in Kangding to acclimatize.
A new airport called Ganzi Gesar Airport(甘孜格萨尔机场) is about 60 km from Garze; 15 km from Manigango village. As of Spring 2016 this airport was almost finished and certainly presents the quickest (albeit not the cheapest) way to get from Chengdu to Ganzi to Dege.
Derge Gonchen monastery

Derge Gonchen monastery was founded in 1446 by Yogis Hang Stong Rgyal Po and the first local king Bo. It doubled as a palace for the kings, but is most famous for being one of the cradles of Tibetan Buddhist study and practice. Unfortunately, there are only a few old buildings remaining and the newer ones aren’t all that attractive in a sense of ancient architecture. Head farther uphill from the Printing Yard along the river following a road lined with Stupas. The entrance to the main temple is in the big red building on the left.

Dege Buddhist Scriptures Printing House

The Dege Buddhist Scriptures Printing House (Tibetan: Derge Parkhang) is independent from the monastery and is the first substantial building you’ll encounter walking south from the town’s center along the river. The Printing House is in a beautiful traditional temple which was restored in 1991. It is constantly circumambulated by townspeople and pilgrims. Here the admission fee is ¥50/person, and normally photography of the sections with the printing blocks is not allowed, though you can take pictures of the printing process. It is always worth asking your guide if it’s allowed to take a particular photograph as the rules change from time to time. The institution was founded in 1729 by Chogyal (dharma king) Denba Tsering. There are more than 140,000 printing blocks, a large collection of national cultural relics and a library comprising 830 books consisting of 10000 volumes. The last surviving copy of an old history of Indian Buddhism is amongst them. Inside you can wander the corridor lined with shelves accommodating the printing blocks and their protruding wooden handles. On the 3rd floor there is the workshop where 6 or 7 pairs of workers ink the blocks and press the paper on them with amazing speed. This is truly a glimpse into the printing techniques of a bygone era. On the next floor, the prints are dried and then assembled into books. In an extra chamber, large format pictures and scripts are printed on cloth. Once you make your way to the top of the printing press the roof offers nice views over the surrounding Tibetan neighborhood and the new town. A tour of the dark temple concludes the visit.

From the Printing House head west into the old quarter and follow a path leading down to the river. Hidden within a maze of traditional houses you will find the Tangtang Gyalpo Lhakhang, a tiny temple. Most any time of day you can find monks inside chanting scripture.
Dege is certainly worth at least 2 nights stay as a semi-halfway point on a long road trip between Xining and Chengdu. This is a great place to take a rest day along your long journey or to explore the printing press and stroll back through time as you wind through alleys full of handmade red wooden log homes.

Watch our new video and see how we roll

From July 21-25, 2017 we hosted 6 amazing people from Beijing and Shanghai.
We camped on a mountain at 3,700 meters, climbed up to an ancient Buddhist hermitage for a view of incredible red rock cliffs, and watched Tibetan Buddhist monks debate philosophy.

See it all here:

Red Rocks and Monasteries tour

Six days of trekking bliss on Minya Konka

Discover the secrets to this mysterious mountain in this blog post about trekking routes in the region.   In this post we discuss the best seasons to hike this beauty as well as what to expect in a play by play journal of the 6 day trek up to the Riwuche high pass at 4,875 meter (16,000 feet).

Trekking Minya Konka in Spring

On May 11, 2017 I set out with a group of experienced Outdoor Adventure students and staff from a Canadian college for a wilderness expedition to trek Minya Konka, otherwise known as Mount GongGa in Chinese. 

For Tibetans, the taller the mountain, the more powerful the deity that lives on it.  So, by it’s very size and mass at  7,556 m (24,790 ft), Minya Konka is of huge spiritual importance to Tibetans.

The SummitPost reports that until 2003 the mountain was successfully climbed only eight times. In total 22 climbers have ever reached the summit in known recorded history.

While summiting its peak is off-limits to all but the most experienced of mountaineers, there is a more accessible trail which winds around the west of the mountain, following the sacred pilgrimage kora undertaken by many Tibetans each year and this allows for some very stunning trekking.

At this time of year we also found that there were many local nomad families out picking caterpillar fungus.  While each caterpillar fungus is very hard to spot (as little more than just a brown pencil-thin bump in the soil), they can fetch $3- $20 USD per fungus depending on size and quality. And that is the price just at the base of the distribution pyramid.  Once these get to high end markets in Shanghai and Beijing, Chinese consumers will pay great sums of money for this traditional Chinese herbal medicine that only grows in the high Tibetan Plateau. 

The starting point of the Minya Konka kora is just a short 30 minute drive from Kangding; however, we recommend spending a few days in Kangding town (2,560 meters or 8,400 feet) to acclimatize to the altitude before starting your trek. 

The traditional through-trek route takes you past Gongga Shan, along the stunning snow-capped Daxue Shan range of mountains which lie to the east of the trail. It’s possible to start your trek either from the north (Laoyulin near Kangding) and head south (Zimei), or from the south working your way northwards (see below map).

For our trip, we decided to start out at Laoyulin valley nearest Kangding and only go to the high pass at upper Riwuche (listed as “Shang Riwuqie” on the map above) at 4,876 meters or 16,000 feet and then retrace our steps back to the Laoyulin trailhead.  We made this decision on the basis of the snow pack at the top of the pass.  As we approached the high Riwuche pass, we were about 50 vertical meters from the top and we were already up to our hips in deep snow.  The presence of cornices at the pass along with the deep snow discouraged us from going further so we turned back, happy to have gotten an incredible view of the glacier and the 6,000 meter/20,000 foot mountains all around us.  However, we did see two Chinese trekkers go over the pass (and apparently complete the entire through trek).  Both of these brave individuals had full 40lb backpacking packs on and had a great deal of trouble getting through the thick snow.  But after hours of work struggling up the pass and postholing in the deep snow, we saw them disappear over the saddle of the pass and make it through the cornices.  However, I would not recommend doing the through trek of Minya Konka in early May.  If you were wanting to do the entire through trek from north to south or vice versa you would want to attempt this in the months of July, August, September and this would provide you with green valleys and a clear path across the high pass.

Here is a record of our group’s schedule as we trekked Minya Konka.

Click here for more

May 11

Day 1 of the trek

We arose at 6:45am in our cozy hostel so that we could get down to the bus by 7:30am.  Due to construction on the road leading to the Laoyulin trailhead, we wanted to get to the trailhead before 8am, when the construction starts and it is difficult to get by the many machines paving the road.  We arrived at the trailhead at 3,200 meters/10,498 feet and packed our tents, cooking gear, and our food on 4 small Tibetan ponies.  Carrying only our personal belongings and sleeping bags, took off on a small dirt road that wound past a small dam facility.  Within 3km, the road gave way to a proper trail and we were making our way through the rain.

After 7km of soggy hiking from the start at the trailhead, we passed the first pasture where it is possible to camp at 3,600 meters/11,811 feet (listed as “Dacaoba Camp” on the map above)  and opted for a quick and very cold and miserable lunch under the slight protection of a grove of trees just outside the pasture.  We had considered camping here, but the rain and the snow caused us to go on to stay warm through movement. By this time it was snowing and we were all very cold any time we stopped on the trail. 

After lunch we hiked another 8km in rain and snow and walked along the banks of a surging snowmelt river littered with lots of red rocks and dramatic boulders set against boreal forests and high cliffs. At around 4pm we arrived at the second pasture at 3,900 meters/12,795 feet (listed as “Riwuqie Gou” on the map above).  Fortunately, the precipitation let up and we had a chance to warm ourselves by the nice fire our Tibetan guide had made for us.  We quickly set up our tents and got warm, dry clothes on and made a warm dinner of curly pasta and sausages . It felt good to get some hot food in us and to sleep in nice 0 degree Celsius down sleeping bags.

May 12

Day 2 of the trek

After a breakfast of granola and powdered milk, the sun came out and allowed us an incredible view of one of the nearby 6,000 meter/20,000 foot peaks.  We all took scores of wet clothes and hung them up on every rock, crag, and gnarly little thorn bush we could find in a desperate attempt to get the wet contents of our bags bone dry.  For the most part, it worked out well and we all had dry clothes for the rest of the trip, especially because the rest of the trip was filled with good weather and sunbeams and blue skies over the mountains.

We had a lazy morning packing up our tents for the first time together and breaking camp.  We stayed in Camp 1 long enough that we were able to eat both Breakfast and Lunch there and then departed for a short 3-4km walk up the valley.  The trail continued to have a very shallow, gradual grade as it had for the last day’s walk.  This was certainly a big advantage with 20lb packs and less available oxygen as we gained elevation.  We crossed the river on a sturdy log bridge and made our way past Tibetan nomad tents pitched by entrepreneurial Tibetans looking to cash in on the 3 weeks of opportune caterpillar fungus picking. 

Around 3:30pm we arrived at our camp 2 at 4,100 meters by pile of “Labtse” or stones that have been thrown into a pile to appease local mountain and water spirits.  This stone pile, although very different in purpose,  looked remarkably like a western cairn which serves at a high altitude trail marker.  We set up our camp, filtered water, and had a glorious supper of pasta with cabbage and cauliflower, carrots, and red curry. After a relaxed day of hiking, a good debrief and a good dinner, we felt revived from the way the weather had worn us down the day before.

May 13

Day 3 of the trek

We ate breakfast and broke our Camp 2 at lower Riwuche valley (listed as “Xia Riwuqie” on the map above).  Like every morning, we had to tie the tents and luggage in a special way so that each bag or box could be tied to the side of the wooden saddle on the ponies’ backs.  From there we walked another 4km up to the upper Riwuche valley to arrive at Camp 3.  More gentle slopes greeted us as we made our way from one valley floor to the next.  As a tip to anyone trekking up the valley from north to south as we did, I would suggest for you to stay right of the river until you get to a small wooden log bridge.  We happened to cross the river a few 100 meters too early to the left side and it cost us about 30 minutes in travel time as we bushwhacked our way through brush and uncut trail.  We were never in danger and the result (getting to the left side of the river) was the same. 

Just before crossing into the upper Riwuche valley (listed as “Shang Riwuqie” on the map above) , we ascended a sandy slope that reminded me of sand dunes and once we were over that last hump the entire upper Riwuche valley opened up to us and we were surrounded by monstrous 6,000 meter (20,000 foot) peaks on all sides.  The entire trek had been gorgeous, but as we made this last push it became evident that it just kept getting more unreal. 

We set up camp quickly and half of our group made a quick push to the edge of the glacier lake while the other half rested and worked on dinner.

It took us about 1.5 hours to get up to the rim of the glacier lake from Camp 3.  The first 45 minutes was spent traversing relatively flat terrain and navigating the braiding branches of the river and its snowy banks. Then we ascended steeply up  through a rocky gully that forked to the left of the valley and clambered across boulders to the rim of the glacial lake.  Surprisingly, there was only small patches of 3-6 inch snow as we crowned over the rim so the hiking was very manageable and at no time did we posthole in the snow. On the rim we were right at 4,572 meters (15,000 feet).  We were taller than anything in the 48 United States and, boy, were we feeling it!  We all huffed and puffed to get to the top but it was so worth it!  This, for me, was the absolute highlight of the trip in seeing the light of the coming sunset piercing through the blue edges of the glacial ice across the lake.  The lake itself reminded me of Crater Lake in Oregon in the winter- a high craggy rim that encircled a snowy crater below.  But the backdrop was Denali itself in a rugged alpine stark beauty.  It was the kind of wonder that we were all seeking on the trip; the kind of grandiose scene that makes a man feel very small against jagged and fierce cliffs that could wipe him from the face of the earth in just one fervent blast of wind. Even the high trail along the ridge of the lake was a knife edge.  It was the kind of trail that allows for a  foot or two of width in safe passage but everything on either side looked like a long and dangerous drop. 

Our turn around time arrived.  After a few jumping pictures on the rim, we weaved our way in-between boulders and snowpack.  We descended back to camp 3 and wound back down to the mouth of the lake as it poured gently back into the valley and became a rushing river that surged under a icy veneer.

Within 1 hour of departing the rim of the glacial lake, we were back in camp.  And we exhausted.  Thankfully, a hot dinner awaited us.  We ate our fill, cleaned up dinner, and headed for the horizontal position in our sleeping bags.  A snow storm was starting to blow up and none of us were too keen to linger too long outside of the tent at 4,300 meters/14,107 feet.    

May 14

Day 4 of the trek- a day hike from Camp 3

I promised myself as I went to bed the former night that the next day was definitely going to be a rest day for me.  I had felt I had really experienced my highlight of the trip in the glacial lake and I was up for rest day at high altitude. I was starting to experience a headache and had developed some diarrhea, so I figured I could use some rest from pushing myself the day before.  I told my co-leader that I was happy to stay back in camp that day and just watch the tents, pump water, and cook food. 

That was my plan as I exited my tent into 5 inches of thick freshly fallen snow on the morning of May 14. It seemed like a perfect day to listen to the birds flitter and chirp away as the sun melted the snow that covered our tent.

But that plan for rest totally failed.  What was proposed for the day was a quick one hour jaunt to   a nearby saddle from Camp 3.  I figured I could manage such an easy and quick hike from our camp and then be back to have a full and restful afternoon.  So I put on my clothes and my gaiters, anticipating a short and non-eventful foray within a stone’s throw of our camp. 

But then the fog came in right over the saddle that we were aiming for.  And as soon as that fog settled in behind us, the sun, at the same time,  came blaring through the clouds and revealed a brilliant blue sky directly above us.  We all instantly threw off our fleece layers and merino base layers and within 3 minutes we were all standing in fresh snow in our short sleeves.  This changed everything.  Now the saddle didn’t seem so inviting and it certainly wasn’t going to provide any new or interesting views in that fog.  But the pass – the highest pass of the entire hike- looked clear and sunny and inviting.  In those 3 minutes our plans changed.  We weren’t going up just 50 or 100 meters.  Our group was going for the holy grail – climbing 600 meters to a pass that we were not sure we could make it to.  I told myself I was going to turn around half way and come back to camp early. At least that is the way I rationalized taking advantage of the weather.

But by the time we were half way up, the weather was clear and overcast (which was good because the snow was not too bright) and I could see the high pass.  It didn’t look so far and the snow was surprisingly manageable.  Most importantly, no one else was turning around and going back to camp.  So neither was I.

The trek from Camp 3 to the high pass was about 5km each way.  After we had hiked about 3km we found a group of Tibetan horses grazing in the scant grass and shrubs that clung to the rocks. These were a group of horses that had been carrying two Chinese trekkers. The horses at this point could not go any further so they dropped the trekkers off to ascend the pass on their own two fee. As we got to within 1km of the pass, the snow started getting gradually deeper. Each step sunk in a little more than the last into the snow.  But, fortunately, we had some real bold hikers who were willing to break trail and do the hard work. I just stepped gingerly into their well-laid bootprints and hoped I would not break further down deeper into the snow with my own feet.  In most cases, I was able to stay relatively comfortably above the snowpack. Once we were within 300 horizontal meters of the pass, it got noticeably thicker.  Suddenly we weren’t just floating on top of the snow effortlessly.  But I was sinking into it like I was in a boggy swamp.  Some of my steps plunged me right up to my thigh and it took considerable energy to pull myself out of the snow trap I had right-foot lunged into. Right around this time we came upon two Chinese trekkers with full packs and their local Tibetan guide.  As we had approached over the last few hours we had been trailing them (and they had been making a trail for us in the snow).  But over the last hour or so of ascent to the base of the pass we had noticed they had just completely stopped.  We were curious if they were going up.  Mostly because we, ourselves, had the same question in own minds, “With the snow so deep, will we make it to the top of the pass?”

Inevitably we quickly gained on the hikers, to find they had full backpacks and were planning to cross the pass and carry on the rest of the way to Zimei village on the other side of the pass.  We only had slight day packs with water and snacks and we were struggling to make it through the snow.  I can only imagine what was going through the minds and bodies of these two poor Chinese trekkers with full packs.  Every step they took sent them belly deep into an abyss of snow to then struggle and shake and flail  their way out of a deep hole like an overturned turtle escaping a ditch repeatedly .  But they were determined to make it across the pass. In fact, one of the trekkers was so Gung-Ho that he refused to follow his friends hard-earned footprints and instead went all “Lone Ranger” to try to blaze his own trail.  In snow that is 1-2 meters deep, I can not possibly comprehend why anyone would waste so much time and energy trying to make their own path when there is 30% less oxygen available than at sea level.  It was an amazing example of pride and independence that could have really hurt or endangered this trekker.

I wasn’t the only one worried for these two.  Their Tibetan guide gave them directions on which way to cross the snow to navigate the cornices and the narrow pass.  Then he turned around and went back, leaving them on their own for the rest of the hike.   Apparently he was only hired to guide half the hike and then his plan was to go back down to the valley to help the rest of his family to find more caterpillar fungus. But we watched as the Tibetan guide left his two trekkers to ascend while he descended back down the snow slope.  Then we watched him turn around and make his way all the way back to the trekkers just as they were about to cross the pass.  They had gone the wrong way and it was putting them in not just deep snow but considerable danger of snow or rock slides. The Tibetan guide looked back and saw this and came back to to help the two Chinese trekkers. When he came back we all breathed a sigh of relief because we were seriously worried for these guys. As we looked up to the pass, we saw the Tibetan guide help them find their way over the pass and we were happy for them that they made it.  But we knew that they had a long descent down through a lot of heavy snow.  It made us glad that we had decided not to do the full through trek.

In light of the fact that we were in no way obligated to cross the pass, we decided to stop short at a rock pile just 50 vertical meters from the 4,875 meter (16,000 foot) pass.  We probably could have made it, but we decided that it was not worth all the time and energy to just return to camp even more tired and worn out.

As it was, we were engulfed in a cloud of never-ending white.  And we had hit our turn around time, so we knew it was time to head back to camp.  So that is what we did.  Just at that moment the sun came out and started to turn the hard snow pack to slosh.   And suddenly our journey in the snow became a little bit more arduous in the newly melted softer snow.  We plunged and careened down back to the dirt path and rejoiced when were no longer slogging in the slushy goop snow.

Somehow I had managed to do the exact opposite of rest that day.  I had been to an elevation that qualified as probably the 3rd highest I had ever been to in my entire life (next to Tibet’s Everest Base Camp at 5,200 meters and another hike that took me equally as high).  Once again, I was very tired from a long day at elevation. But I was glad I hadn’t turned around.  It felt good to have pushed through. And it felt even better to snuggle up in my tent.

May 15

Day 5 of the trek

We packed up camp feeling a sense of accomplishment.  We had gotten much higher than we ever thought we would as a group.  Now it was time to head home to the stables.  We power walked out and did 17km downhill passing Camp 3, Camp 2, and Camp 1. We descended from 4,300 meters to about 3,600 meters and our lungs were happy and bursting with all the excess oxygen.  We made a camp in the afternoon and had a blazing fire with all the excess wood in the forest (something that was a rare commodity in the high alpine zones of the last few days). Our knees were tired but we were all in good shape.  We camped in an open pasture at 3,600 meters (listed as “Dacaoba Camp” on the map above).

May 16

Day 6 of the trek

We ate  breakfast and were out of camp by 10:30am.  By 12 noon we were at the Laoyulin trailhead again.  The bus picked us up and by 1pm we were in Kangding.  We grabbed a quick dumpling lunch in town and then headed for a well kept secret that only locals know about:  a real hot springs bath house.  The hot springs flow naturally from the ground but the local Tibetans have channeled this water into a few different private and public pools.  It felt so good to soak in the hot, mineral-rich water and wash 6 days of grime off our bodies and let it steam away.  This was the perfect way to end an incredible walk in the wilderness.

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