Tag: Tibetan Plateau

Trekking Mount Kailash 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!

Amazing Kanbula Video

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

Griffith University in Gansu Video

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.

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!

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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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/

 

 

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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Mala Tang (麻辣烫): Tasting Chinese Street Food

Malatang (simplified Chinese: 麻辣烫; traditional Chinese: 麻辣燙; pinyin: málàtàng; literally: “spicy numbing hot [soup]”), is a common type of Chinese street food that is especially popular in Beijing but can be found all over China. It originated in Sichuan Province, but the regional varieties differ mainly from the Sichuanese version in that the Sichuanese version is more similar to what in northern China would be described as hot pot.

Malatang is named after its key ingredient, mala sauce, which is flavored with a combination of Sichuan pepper (which represents the “ma” or the numbing flavor) and dried chili pepper (which represents the “la” or the spicy sauce) . The word málà is composed of the Chinese characters for “numbing” (麻) and “spicy (hot)” (辣), referring to the feeling in the mouth after eating the sauce.

Malatang is said to originate from the Yangtze River near Sichuan. In ancient times, boating was a big industry and many people made a living by towing boats. Working under the damp and foggy weather made boat trackers feel very sick. And when they were hungry, they cooked herbs in a pot and put Sichuan pepper and ginger into the soup to eliminate dampness. Malatang was created, then vendors discovered the business opportunity, and spread it throughout China. And now it is becoming an international food sensation.

Unlike hot pot, which is made to order and shared only by diners at a private table, malatang originates from street food cooked in a communal pot. Diners can quickly pick their raw veggies and noodles and meats, and either eat on the spot or take away. In addition to largely being considered a street food in China, there have been many excellent chain restaurants that have sprung up in the last 10 years and these restaurants offer a great variety of sauces and ingredients (as you can see in the video above).

Skewers

Some malatang shops charge a flat rate per skewer and you can get as many skewers as you like, depending on how hungry you are. Typically a table with a big and flat saucepan is set up on the street, with a large number of ingredients in skewers being cooked in a mildly spicy broth. Customers sit around the table and pick out whatever they want to eat. Given the large number of ingredients available, normally not all ingredients are in the saucepan at the same time, and customers may suggest what is missing and should be added.

All skewers normally cost the same. In Beijing as of June 2012 they cost one RMB each (or about 1/6 of a US dollar). Customers keep the used wooden sticks by their plates, and when a customer finishes eating, the price to pay is determined by counting the number of empty sticks.

Self-service selection of ingredients at a malatang shop, with vegetables and noodles in the foreground and fish and meat in the back

 

A ready bowl of malatang soup

By weight

In the mid-2010s malatang shops became popular in North China, especially Beijing. In these shops the ingredients are usually displayed on shelves, and customers put their desired ingredients into a bowl, like choosing food from a buffet. Behind the counter the selected ingredients are cooked in a spicy delicious savory broth, usually at very high temperature for 3–4 minutes. Before serving, malatang is typically further seasoned with lots of garlic, black pepper, Sichuan pepper, chili pepper, sesame paste, and crushed peanuts (and these condiments can also be prepared in a separate side dish that makes for very enjoyable dipping ). The price is calculated based on the weight of the self-selected ingredients (just as you would weigh a frozen yoghurt and pay based on weight at the counter). In Beijing,  one person’s bowl might weigh half a kilogram usually costs between 15-20 RMB as of November 2015. And most malatang bowls outside of Beijing also cost around 15 RMB, making this a very affordable and interesting option for lunch or dinner. And- if you are feel like sharing, you and 1-2 other friends can lump all your ingredients in one huge communal bowl and can eat the same soup out of one pot.  That is what all the besties and couples in China do, anyway 🙂

 

Common ingredients

Here is the stuff you usually get to pick from in this “Choose Your Own Adventure” soup:

  • bean curd
  • beef (chunks)
  • dumplings
  • fish balls
  • lettuce
  • spinach
  • broccoli
  • other mixed greens (including cilantro, cabbage, and onions)
  • lotus root
  • all sorts of mushrooms
  • fresh and instant noodles
  • pork liver
  • pork lung
  • fresh seaweed
  • potato slices
  • quail eggs
  • Spam
  • Chinese yam
  • sheep intestines
  • numerous types of dried and frozen tofu (chunks, squares, balls, etc.)
  • various flat and long noodles made from potato and rice powder
  • nian gao rice cakes

 

So there you go!  I hope you get out into some local markets and try this amazing culinary delight!

 

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).

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.

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!

The Complete Packing List for Mount Kailash

Mount Kailash is a high altitude behemoth in western Tibet and provides some of the most stunning trekking in all of Central Asia.  The highest point of the 3 day trek is 5,636 meters.

For this trek you are going to need some serious cold weather gear.  But at the same time, because you will be sleeping in tea houses that provide food, beds, and blankets there are definitely some things you will NOT need to bring.  Here is the packing list I recommend for anyone doing the trek in 3 days.  As always, the less stuff you bring, the more your back and legs will thank you!

 

Packing list for Mount Kailash

Tops

  • 2 x Synthetic or merino long underwear top (one of these is for sleeping)
  • 1 x long sleeve wicking hiking shirt
  • 1 x fleece jacket
  • 1 x Goretex rain jacket
  • 1 x Down puffy jacket for cold nights or when you are not hiking

Bottoms

  • Synthetic or merino long underwear bottoms
  • 1 x pair of waterproof rain or snow pants
  • 1 x pair of fall or winter weight soft shell pants

Feet and head

  • 4 x pair of wool hiking socks (keep one dry pair for sleeping)
  • Boots or trail running shoes with a good tread (I wore a low top Salomon trail runner in the first week of May 2018 and was fine but you will need to check weather and snow reports as some years get up to 5 meters of snow on the Dolma La Pass)
  • Gaiters for snow and mud (especially if you are wearing low top shoes)
  • 1 x synthetic or wool winter hat
  • 1 x sunhat (the sun up at altitude is intense!)

Other

  • 1 x foreign passport
  • 1 x day pack (20-30 liters)  – If it is bigger than 35 liters you are carrying too much stuff!
  • 2 x one liter water bottles (can be refilled with boiled water at the teahouses for a small fee)
  • 1x mid-weight winter gloves
  • 1 x sunglasses (preferably polarized for the bright snow)
  • 1 x chapstick or lip balm
  • 1 x suntan lotion
  • 1 x small bottle of Tylenol
  • Optional:  Diamox – for altitude sickness (consult your physician beforehand)
  • Optional: 1 x small aerosol bottle of oxygen
  • 4 x small packs of tissues (paper is not provided in the rustic “squatty-potties”)
  • 1 x cell phone or camera
  • 1 x charging cord and external battery charger (the tea houses have solar powered electric outlets but the electricity is spotty)
  • 1 x hand sanitizer bottle (there is no running water on the trek)
  • 8 x Snickers or Clif Bars
  • 500 RMB for food (assuming your lodging is already paid for by your tour agent)
  • Optional but recommended:  1 x set of trekking poles (the descent from the high pass can be rather steep and icy)
  • Optional:  a thin sleeping bag liner to add warmth/sanitation to blankets provided by the tea house
  • Optional:  “Hot Hands” – single use heat packs for keeping your hands and feet extra warm

 

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!

 

Danba

Danba used to be an important stop on the Tea and Horse Caravan that traded Chinese tea for Tibetan salt and horses.  One look at the surrounding terrain and it is not hard to imagine that it must have been a grueling journey to get here with 200 pound backpacks full of tea leaves over the treacherous mountain passes. Even today, to reach Danba you have to travel through almost 100 km of nearly continuous interlinked tunnels that penetrate through the steep cliffs that protect the area. As you pass through these concrete tunnels, remember the coulies who had no shoes on their feet and had to walk the very craggy mountains that you now are driving under. 

Danba county varies greatly in altitude, from peaks that are as high as 5,820 meters to river valleys as low as 1,700 meters. The Big Jinchuan and Small Jinchuan Rivers meet here, marking the beginning of the Dadu River.

The county’s landscape varies a great deal and can change quickly in vertical relief, from the high-altitude snow-capped mountains to the low altitude grasslands and valleys.

Danba is the hometown of Jiarong Tibetans, a small subgroup of Tibetans who are known for residing in the lowest part of the entire Tibetan Plateau.  Because of the relatively low altitude (at 1,893 meters/ 6,211 feet) this is a very isolated and fertile valley.  While many other Tibetans often struggle to eek out a living by herding yaks on the unforgiving, windswept grasslands and alpine tundra at 4,000 meters, the Jiarong Tibetans have the benefit of some of the richest (and warmest) cropland available in all of western China. It is not uncommon to see piles of corn or basketfuls of Sichuan peppercorn adorning the large 4 story stone houses that Danba is so famous for.

Usually distributed along the southern mountain slopes and facing the sun for optimal solar radiation,  the whitewashed homes consist of three or four stories, all made of local stone.  Each of these large castle-like homes houses an extended family and is surprising in its elaborate architecture. The exterior walls of the top floors are usually painted yellow, black, or dark red and  are decorated with the patterns of the heavens and other religious designs. The ground floor is usually used for feeding and bedding livestock, while the upper floors contain the hearth and heart of the home: the kitchen, storeroom, living room, and scripture hall. On the 4 corners of the roof there are 4 white turrets which are used to offer sacrifices  to the local deities thought to govern the nearby hills, trees, rivers and fields. Prayer flags hanging around the houses ripple in the wind, adding more charm and color to the already ripe green and yellow fields of the region.

Outside the handcrafted homes, orchards of apples, pears, peaches and pomegranates adorn the outer pastures of the valley. In the hillside fields villagers plant crops such as highland barley, rapeseed, corn, and potatoes and these crops enjoy a much longer growing season that almost any other part of the Tibetan Plateau.

Claimed as the “most beautiful ethnic village in China” by Chinese National Geographic The Danba Valley is actually divided into several small villages.  While there are a few luxury hotels in the area, most tourists find themselves cozying up in the stone castle-homes of the friendly Jiarong Tibetans for a delightful homestay experience, sometimes even complete with Yak Butter Tea and an ethnic Jiarong dance. The principal villages that you are likely to encounter as a tourist include: Zhonglu 中路, Jiaju 甲居, and Sopo 梭坡. There are entrance fees in each of these places although many times if you get there after 6:00pm you will find the ticket collectors have gone home for the night. Of the three villages, Sopo 梭坡 has the greatest number of watchtowers although Jiaju and Zhonglu certainly see the greatest numbers of visitors.

Jiaju Tibetan Village and Zhonglu Tibetan Village

Lying in the north of Danba, Jiaju Tibetan Village in Niexia town stands out from all the other villages. It is about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the county town and occupies an area of 1,200 acres (486 hectares), with more than 140 families residing here. Generally speaking, a house is owned and occupied  by one just one extended family. Some houses have a more convenient location right in the center of the village while others are farther away from the village gossip and activity. Stepping into the Tibetan homes, you will find yourself in a world of wonder. The walls, beds, and cabinets are all adorned with delightful patterns such as lotuses, trees, rivers, mountains, and lamas in various bright colors,. 

You can spend the whole day wandering around the village and exploring the marvelous interior of local Tibetan homes with beautiful stone and wood work. The entrance fee was 50 RMB as of August 2016, however if you come after 6pm, nobody will be there to charge. There are plenty of houses to sleep in across the village as most villagers are accustomed to housing visitors and showing them local hospitality.  Accommodation prices vary from 40 – 100 RMB per night per person, and homestays may include a freshly cooked local dinner.

Aside from Jiaju Tibetan Village, the Tibetan houses in Zhonglu Town and Badi Town are very famous too. The narrow winding road from Jiaju brings you further into the mountains to Zhonglu, less visited than Jiaju, but equally beautiful. The Zhonglu village is surrounded by forest, so if you are looking for a relaxed nature walk you may find this interesting. 

Both Jiaju and Zhonglu are are authentic and traditional Tibetan villages where you can still find locals picking Sichuan peppercorns in their hand woven baskets or up in a tree picking the fruit from their pear trees.  Jiaju Village is more popular for tourists because it has more houses, while Zhonglu is more secluded and fewer travelers go there.

Suopo Stone Watchtowers (Diaolou)

Suopo has in total 84 watchtowers, the largest concentration in the area, and as such is the best place to see Danba watchtowers. One can view the plethora of towers from across the road or can walk through the village for a closer look. The history of these stone towers dates back to around 2000 years ago. Local Jiarong Tibetans claim that these towers were constructed mainly as a result of battles their ancestors had in defending their local lands and wealth.  Although apparently the towers have also been used as spiritual high places to exorcise unwanted demons and spirits from harassing the Danba Valley. 

Dangling

Located 68 km northwest to the town of Danba, Dangling is a gallery of natural alpine lakes, forest, hot springs, grassland and a perfect hiking destination in Sichuan. Thankfully, it is still a relatively undeveloped and untouched place in Tibetan area of northwest Sichuan. Over 24 mountains here hover over 5,000 meters and many of these still remain unclimbed and unexplored even in 2018.

Whether you go for the nature, the culture, or the architecture, a trip to Danba is surely going to be a trip of a life time and is certainly worth 2-3 days of your travel itinerary.

Qutan Monastery – another incredible day trip!

Qutan Monastery used to house between 400-500 monks. But if you visit it today the monastic staff has been reduced to a skeleton crew of exactly 11 monks who are now in charge of lighting butter lamps and caring for the grounds of this large, holy complex.

Driving from Xining, you can take the G6 highway east towards Ping’An and Lanzhou.
After 44km on the G6 you take the exit for Ledu 乐都 and then get off the freeway ramp into the small, relatively obscure town of Ledu. Ledu in the original Tibetan language means “entrance to the valley” and anyone driving from Lanzhou to Xining must pass this tiny town in order to enter the valley that bisects the large mountains to the north and south of the highway.

Once you have crossed the freeway toll exit and paid your highway toll you immediately take the next right onto the main street of Ledu. After a few kilometers traveling east on this main street you will see a road veer slightly to the right and up a hill with a sign pointing to “Qutan Monastery” and “Qutan Ski Resort”

Take this road and it is about another 20 minute drive to the actual monastery.

This road to the monastery is currently a narrowly badly paved road with a good deal of bumps, potholes, and poorly maintained road repair that winds through a few dusty Tibetan villages to about 8,000 feet in altitude where it drives in front of the monastery. However, as I was driving the road on January 5, 2018 I noticed a good deal of construction and it appears that within the next year the government is planning on building a 4 lane elevated highway to this formerly unknown and remote spot to promote tourism among local Chinese.

After crossing a bridge to the monastery you can park directly in front of the outer courtyard. Unless you are Tibetan or Mongolian, you will need to pay the 50 RMB/person entrance ticket fee for the monastery in the small white tin shack on your right as you enter the monastery.

Once you pay your ticket, you can enter the first courtyard with two large and beautiful temples set among a peaceful environment. During the winter I was practically the only person in the whole monastery complex and we had to ask a monk to unlock a few of the temples which had been bolted shut.

Being one of the few people wondering the temples and the old style stupas made this a very thoughtful and quiet winter experience. The back corners of the monastery were very dark and cold and it felt like no one had set foot there in a few hundred years. And it was certainly one of the cleanest monasteries I have ever been to. Every courtyard and temple was immaculately swept and I did not see a single piece of trash or debris anywhere. I guess the advantage of having such a small staff is that there are not as many people to clean up afterwards.

It would be easy to spend about 2-3 hours meandering around the various halls, temples, courtyards, and stupas of the monastery. Of particular interest are the hand painted Thangkas painted on the back wall of the main temple.

These 7th century artifacts are easily 10 meters high and 10 meters wide and I have actually never seen another Thangka wall painting (not painted on a canvas but directly onto the wood frame of the wall) that was either this big or this original. If nothing else, it would be worthwhile to walk through the temples just to see these incredible pieces of preserved history. Other things of interest in the temples include a giant drum with a 1 meter-diameter leather cow skin stretched over an impressive metal frame. I tapped every so lightly on this skin and it belted out a very deep tone, like the tone of an ancient leviathin rising out of the water from beneath. My mind instantly raced to a time when monks pounded on this monstrous drum and the base vibrations must have shaken and stirred the entire surrounding village with reverence and awe.

If you have a day or a half a day in Xining, I can highly recommend this trip to Qutan Monastery. If you have another 1 hour or so to kill you can drive another 8km up the road (sometimes a little icy in the winter) to Qutan’s smaller sister monastery that has the same small amount of monks taking care of the monastery.
This sister monastery only has 2 temple halls and does not offer much in a divergence from the original Qutan Monastery, so don’t get your hopes up too much here. But the monastery does provide a great view into the high mountains of this valley.

This smaller sister monastery also overlooks the Qutan Ski Resort, which is nothing more than a small bunny-hill type plain with a 5% slope grade where novice Chinese learn to ski. While this “resort” would be an insult to any serious skiiers, the slightly inclined slope looks like a fun place to bring the family in the winter for tubing or just sliding around the snow. With an entrance ticket price of 70 RMB per person this pseudo-ski resort doesn’t offer much in the way of real skiing but could be a nice day trip for families looking to fight off the long wintry “cabin fever” from the chilly winters in Xining at 2,300 meters above sea level. In either case, some may find the gaudy, cheaply built ski resort here as an utter contradiction to the peace and stillness found in both the upper and lower Qutan Monastery complex. I am sure, at the very least, it makes the monks in their red-robed reverence very curious and even cautious about how quickly the world around them is changing.

Dawu

Dawu is a great place to launch a road trip into either the Nyenbo Yurtse mountains (to the south) or the glaciers of the Amnye Machen range just to the west.  It is one of the last outposts of civilization and with a fantastic monastery on the edges of town, it would be easy to spend 1-2 days here acclimating and filling up with good, hot food.

It used to take about 10 hours to drive the horribly bumpy dirt road from Dawu to Huashixia 花石峡 to drive past the glaciers of Amnye Machen. But now with a brand new highway, the drive takes about 4 hours through 2 new tunnels that pierce right through the heart of the snowy mountains.  The tunnels have taken away some of the rustic beauty of the formerly adventurous drive whereas you used to drive over 4,500 meter mountain passes covered with prayer flags just at the base of the Amnye Machen glacier.  But they have also made the drive much more reachable and certainly much safer than the dangerous icy passes used to be. Be warned of Chinese construction:  it happens fast and when it does it is not always marked well.  In driving from Huashixia and Maduo to Dawu in November 2017, it took me about 1 hour to find the entrance to the highway to Dawu just 15km north of Huashixia among a confusing new construction site of  circling “cloverleaf” highway ramps. Also note that as of November 2017 that none of the off ramps between Dawu and Huashixia were open, in particular Xueshan 雪山, which leaves the traveller with few options for lunch stops or gasoline.  Make sure you fill up your gas tank as you depart Dawu because you might not be able to get gas for another few hours along this beautiful, high altitude road. 

Golog (or Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Chinese: 果洛藏族自治州; Tibetan: མགོ་ལོག་བོད་རིགས་རང་སྐྱོང་ཁུལ་), is an autonomous prefecture occupying the southeastern corner of Qinghai province, in western China. The prefecture has an area of 76,312 km2 (29,464 sq mi) and its seat is located in Maqen County in Dawu. 

Golog Prefecture is located in the southeastern part of Qinghai, in the upper basin of the Yellow River. Gyaring Lake and Ngoring Lake on the western edge of the prefecture are considered to be the source of the Yellow River. However, these lakes do receive water from rivers that flow from locations even further west, in Qumarleb County of the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

The lay of the land of the prefecture is largely determined by the Amnye Machen mountain range (maximum elevation 6,282 m), which runs in the general northwest- to-southeast direction across the entire prefecture, and beyond. The existence of the ridge results in one of the great bends of the Yellow River, which first flows for several hundreds of kilometers toward the east and southeast along through the entire Golog Prefecture, along the southern side of the Amnye Machen Range.  The Yellow River continues until it reaches the borders of Gansu and Sichuan Province and then turns almost 180 degrees and flows toward the northwest for 200–300 km (120–190 mi) through several prefectures of the northeastern Qinghai, forming a section of the northeastern border of the Golog prefecture.

Several sections of the Sanjiangyuan (Source of the Three Rivers) National Nature Reserve are within the prefecture.

Guoluo Airport Or Golog Airport (Chinese: 果洛机场) is a small airport that has been recently under construction in southeastern Qinghai Province outside of Dawu town.  The airport is in the Caozichang (草子厂) on the Dawutan Grassland (大武滩草原). Construction Began on 14 September 2012  with an estimated total investment of 1.24 billion yuan and the airport was expected to start operation in 2015. I personally have not heard of this airport being open as of 2017 but I am sure that when it does its flights will not be terribly cheap but will allow those with a good traveling budget to avoid the 10 hour drive it takes from Xining to Dawu.

The airport will have a 4,000 meter runway (Class 4C), and a 3,000 square meter terminal building. It  is projected to handle 150,000 passengers and 375 tons of cargo annually by 2020.

Ten things to know before visiting Chengdu

Here are 10 interesting things for you to think about when planning your trip to Chengdu…

  1. Visit the home of the Giant Panda.

Chengdu is probably most famous for being the home of one of China’s great treasures, the magnificent giant pandas. This creature’s name in Chinese is XiongMao 熊猫 and that literally means “Bear Cat”.   Both Chinese and foreign tourists flock to the panda centers of Chengdu to view these unique creatures in their natural humid bamboo habitat. While pandas are technically considered omnivores, and do occasionally eat small animals and fish, bamboo makes up 99% of their diet.  Every day a single panda may gnaw lazily on bamboo for up to 12 hours and may eat as much as 12kg of the plant in that time.

The panda is an internationally recognized icon of China and is strictly protected by the Chinese government. The research being done to ensure pandas continue to flourish in China is led by top researchers in Chengdu. The entire country rejoices when news of a new panda cub’s birth is announced. They are very proud of the creatures and the work being done to protect them. Sadly, these beautiful bears are endangered, and it’s estimated that only around 1,000 giant pandas remain in the wild today. That’s why we need to do all we can to protect them!

For those with an interest in conservation and preservation efforts, the panda research centers offer informative programs and viewing opportunities that allow the public access to the efforts to save the giant panda. Some of the top places to interact with this preservation include: the Panda Breeding and Research Center, the Bifengxia Giant Panda Base, and the Dujiangyan Panda Base.

2. Chengdu offers amazing museums

Chengdu offers many historical and cultural museums for those with an interest in Chinese history and development. Some of the best museums to visit are the:

Sanxingdui Archeological Site and Museum in Guanghan

Go back in time 1000’s of years as you venture 40 km northeast  of Chengdu to the the Sanxingdui Archeological Site, offering a trove of  artifacts that date back as far back as the Bronze Age.  Exhibitions in this museum date as far as 5000 years, with a wide range of relics such as bronze masks, jade articles, and some interesting gold pieces. It is the largest museum in southwest China, with a vast array of precious relics that reflect it’s name as “the origin of the Yangtze River civilization”.

In 1986 two major sacrificial pits were unearthed that stirred academic attention around the world. Archeologists realized that the relics found at these pits and subsequent discoveries were the remains of a previously unknown city and civilization that existed during the Shang Dynasty period (1600–1046 BC).

Wenchuan Earthquake Museum

The 2008 Sichuan earthquake, aka the “Great Wenchuan Earthquake” occurred at 2:28pm on May 12, 2008.  Measuring a 8.0 on the Richter Scale, the earthquake’s epicenter was located 80 kilometres (50 mi) west/northwest of Chengdu.

 

The earthquake was also felt in nearby countries and as far away as both Beijing and Shanghai—1,500 km (930 mi) and 1,700 km (1,060 mi) away respectively—where office buildings swayed with the tremors of the earthquake. Strong aftershocks, some exceeding a 6 on the Richter Scale,  continued to hit the area up to several months after the main quake, causing further casualties and damage.

Over 69,000 people lost their lives in the quake, including 68,636 in Sichuan province. 374,176 people were reported injured, with 18,222 listed as missing as of July 2008.  The earthquake left about 4.8 million people homeless, though the number could be as high as 11 million.  This has been rated the 21st deadliest earthquake of all time.

The Wenchuan Earthquake museum preserves this event and details the relief work after the earthquake and holds a monument to the earthquake victims  The museum also models the Wenchuan earthquake site, offering audio, visual, and tactile  simulations to help visitors understand the size and feel of the earthquake.

3. Chengdu locals speak a different dialect of Mandarin.

In many parts of China, the local dialect differs from “Putonghua” or standard Mandarin. Provincial dialects are often difficult to understand and differentiate between, even for native speakers. In the Sichuan province this dialect is known as Sichuanese or “Sichuan Hua”. 

Notoriously, “Sichuan Hua” tends to blur the stronger “SH” sound into simply the hissing of an “Ssss”.  Classically many visitors find it hard to barter about price because the “Shi” of the number ten ends up sounding a whole lot like the “Si” of the number four. But not to worry – most vendors carry calculators so that helps bridge the divide as you negotiate and haggle 🙂

4. The food is some of the best (and spiciest) in China!

Have you ever been to Chinese restaurant in the west and seen a menu listing “Szechuan Beef” or “Szechuan Chicken”?  That is an variant spelling of Sichuan and indicates that these dishes have made it all the way around world, albeit a little changed for the western palate. If you ask anyone in China where to find the spiciest food, they will tell you its in Sichuan Province. Chengdu is famous for its spicy hot pot and many other mouth tingling dishes. This is because of the world famous Sichuan peppercorn  that is grown in the region. The spice gives a numbing feeling to all the dishes it is used in, which is a great favorite with the Chinese palate. It may take some getting used to at first, but the spicy food of Chengdu is a regional cuisine not to be missed. 

5. Sichuan opera is a classical Chinese art form.

Chengdu is an excellent place to witness a performance of a traditional Sichuan Opera. Sichuan Opera is like the precursor for today’s rioting Cirque Du Soleil performances with features including acrobatics, fire spitting, and illusionists. Among some of the greatest illusions are the magical “face changing” acts which are a a celebrated tradition and part of one of the oldest regional opera cultures. This unique performance is practiced almost exclusively in Sichuan and the best masters of the art can be seen in Chengdu. 

6.The Leshan Giant Buddha and other marvels

Many of the ancient sites around Chengdu reflect the influence of Buddhism, as well as the agricultural history of the region.

In particular, the Leshan Giant Buddha, or  乐山大佛, is a huge statue which is carved into the stone on the side of Mount Lingyun. The stone sculpture faces Mount Emei, with the rivers flowing below its feet. It is the largest and tallest stone Buddha statue in the world and it is by far the tallest ancient statue in the world. The Giant Buddha is about 71 meters high and 24 meters wide. Just the feet alone have an 8.5 meter wide instep, an area large enough to accommodate 100 people. The big toe itself is large enough to accommodate a dinner table.

The statue depicts a seated Maitreya Buddha with his hands resting on his knees. The Maitreya is thought to be the future Buddha, who will appear to preach the dharma (teachings of Buddha) when the teachings of Gautama Buddha have long been forgotten. The construction began in 713 AD during the Tang Dynasty and was completed in 803 AD.

As the platforms inside the scenic spot are steep and narrow and can get quite congested with tourists, taking a boat on the adjacent river may provide a better way for tourists who are not good at climbing to view the fullness of this huge Buddha. Taking a boat to look up at the Giant Buddha is highly recommended in peak tourist season (July-October).

Several drainage passages are hidden in the Buddha’s hair, collar, chest, and in the holes in the back of his ears and chest,  and these prevent the Buddha from serious erosion and weathering under the heavy Sichuan rains. The buddha has been carefully maintained on a regular basis throughout his 1,200-year history, however moss does grow on the statue.But for something this old, it is really remarkably preserved. 

If you are looking to better understand Buddhism and historical architecture inside the city limits, you may also want to check out, the Wenshu Monastery, the Wu Hou Temple, the Dufu Thatched Cottage, and the Jinli Old Walking Street.

7. Chengdu is a regional migration magnet.

Chengdu is the second largest city in the western half of China (after Chongqing) and one of the cities in China with the most potential for international investment. Many international and large national companies operate in Chengdu, which draws a large population of young working people both internationally and locally. 

The city is vibrant with the spirit and the spice of its economy. Old meets new on its busy streets as some of the oldest tradition and meals can be eaten and observed alongside modern developments and state of the art research. Chengdu provides a unique view into the fascinating leap China has made into being a global power. If you want to see a unique blend of old and new China, Chengdu is one excellent place to start.

8. Chengdu has the biggest building in the world!

The New Century Global Center is about twice the size of both the previous mall record holder in Dubai and the biggest mall in Guangdong called the New South China Mall. It is designed to be a self-contained town.

The center is a mall on steroids and is 18 stories high and a colossal 1.5 million square meters (16 million square feet) in area. Built in 2013, it contains a water park, IMAX theater, and 2 hotels with 1,000 rooms, as well as many, many high end stores.

9. You should visit in the fall

While visiting Chengdu is popular amongst local Chinese tourists from June to August, Chengdu summers can be both hot and crowded. The temperatures in Chengdu often resemble the spice of its food — sweltering hot! Visiting Chengdu from September- November ensures that you avoid the sweltering summers, gloomy winters, and the rainy season from spring to summer. Fall provides cool temperatures and easier transportation for visitors looking to see the most Chengdu has to offer. (Just avoid the October Holiday from October 1-7!)

10. Awesome hiking opportunities

Four Sisters Mountain

Mount SiGuNiang is also known as the Four Sisters Mountain Range.  Here there are 4 distinct peaks and the highest of these is Peak 4 (aka YaoMei) at 6,250 meters. You can start the hike at RiLong village which is  about 240 km away from downtown Chengdu and this trip takes about 7-8 hours to drive.   The most accessible peak of the Four Sisters is Peak 1, known as DaFeng Peak at 5025 meters. DaFeng peak is considered the easiest peak among the peak to summit as it requires no technical experience.  Peak 2 (ErFeng Peak) at 5276 meters  is a bit more challenging as it involves some basic mountaineering and some technical climbing equipment. Peak 3 and Peak 4 are longer trips and require a higher level of mountaineering. Trips to summit Peak 1 can usually be accomplished in 8 days with  3-4 days of trekking and 2 days of round trip driving. 

Gonga Shan

An 8 hour drive from Chengdu, Kangding is like a sort of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with quick access into the impressive mountains all around it. Just a short 30 minute walk up the hills of Kangding will yield spectacular views of the neighboring alpine peaks. Outdoor activity opportunities abound with particular focus on hiking and mountain biking. And just a short 30 minute drive from Kangding is the trekking trailhead to Minya Konka, or Gonga Shan, Sichuan’s tallest beastly mountain, standing at a staggering 7,556m, and is consequently of huge spiritual importance to Tibetans.

Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU) is located 20km (12 mi) outside of the Chengdu city center and is one of the main air hubs in China, recently ranked 4th in passenger volume. It serves flights to/from most major cities in China, many smaller cities within Sichuan, and some international destinations including Amsterdam, Bangkok, Denpasar, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Kathmandu, Paris, Melbourne, Sydney, Moscow, Osaka, Kuala Lumpur, San Francisco, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo.  And there are new international routes being added quite often.

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.

The jagged peaks and alpine lakes of Nyenbo Yurtse

I had been planning this trip for months and yet somehow it was still two days before the scheduled departure date and I still had no idea if I was going or not.

This is not the usual way I run things; usually trips are booked complete with guides, hotels, transportation months before and all the ducks are in a row. But sometimes on the high Plateau you have to be flexible. Especially when you are traveling by yourself to scout out a future trip.

The cause of the delay in this case happened to be a tiny fungus.

I had been contacting my local guide friends for months and had been asking them about going to Nyenbo Yurtse. I had seen pictures and blogs and heard that this was an epic hike amidst shark-tooth snowy mountains and crystal-blue alpine lakes and I wanted to experience this myself. So I made a plan. I would take my family here – including my 5 year old and 3 year old children. They would ride on horseback over the high pass at 15,000 feet (which is high but has a fairly gentle grade) and my wife and I would carry backpacks full of supplies.

This trip had 3 potential purposes:
1.) To have an adventure with our family
Since we had trekked to Annapurna base camp in the last years with our family in Nepal, we have wanted to take our kids out into the mountains for another go. In walking the 8-day Annapurna Sanctuary trek we had stayed in teahouses and had carried our kids on our backs in baby backpacks and the kids loved being in nature after a long time of being surrounded by concrete in a city in western China. Rose and I had started our marriage and honeymoon by walking 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada and backpacking was a big a part of our life together and our mutual passion as a married couple. So it was naturally important for this passion for the natural world to overflow out to own kids. Now they were old enough they could get to some fairly high places, walk a little, and appreciate the wonder around them. So since that last big trek in Nepal, I had been scheming about how to get our family out. Nyenbo Yurtse seemed like a perfect way to do that. And I knew we could hire a horse and guide so it seemed like a sure fire bet to be able to bring them along.

2.) Scouting the trip for Elevated Trips
As an outdoor adventure and trekking business on the Tibetan Plateau it is my job to to get out and find some of the most off-the-track, inspiring destinations in the wilderness. I like to go to these places myself first and then look at the trip from the eyes of potential clients to see how food and lodging and logistics all can work out to make the best, highest quality trip possible. From all the rumors from local nomad friends, Nyenbo Yurtse was a must-see and offered some of the most stunning views and best trekking around. I wanted to add this trip to our offerings not only just for the clients who would come, but as another way to build bridges to local Tibetan communities to help out their local guides, horse men, hotels, and taxi drivers. As with every Elevated Trip, community impact was as high on our priority list as was serving an excellent, unique experience.

3.) It was my 36th Birthday!
I have made it a tradition to celebrate my birthday in the wilderness. Last year I went camping by myself amidst beautiful red rock gorges on a grassy mountain overlooking 14,000 foot LaJi Mountain. I wanted to celebrate and look back on my short life on this earth by enjoying it untouched beauty. And it just so happened that the weather forecast looked pretty good for June 6!

So I had good reasons for going. And I had dates set in motion. The only problem was that I had been contacting my local guide friends in the area and none of them could seem to be able to book in a horse guide. This was an essential part of the plan to be able to get my kids over the high pass because there was no way these kids were going to be able to walk 30km over 3 days in the mountains on their own two feet. I sent several phone calls and emails and never heard anything back from my local contacts.

Then it got to be about a month before the expected departure on June 2 and I still had no guides or pack horses definitely lined up. So I called my guide friend again and he said, “Sorry. I just can’t find any guides for you right now. They are all out in the grasslands picking caterpillar fungus.” I asked many other foreign and local friends with connections around Nyenbo Yurtse and they echoed the same reply. EVERYONE from middle school students to middle aged dads was out in a money-making caterpillar fungus CRAZE!

But first let me explain. Caterpillar fungus, known as Ophiocordyceps sinensis, is considered by wealthy Chinese as an important traditional Chinese medicine, especially as an aphrodisiac. O. sinensis parasitizes larvae (aka caterpillars) of the ghost moth family and then germinates in the larvae, kills and mummifies it, and produces a fruiting body that is like a tiny stick that emerges from the corpse and stands upright, poking like a tiny pencil tip a few centimeters out of the ground. The fungus is ground into a tea or powder and taken either as pill or is drank as a tea. This fungus parasitizes a specific species of high altitude caterpillar that is almost only exclusively found in the Himalayas at altitudes primarily between 3,000 to 5,000 meters in the mountains and so Tibetans and Nepalese mountain villages have a good corner on the production.

Tibetans call the caterpillar fungus “Yartsa Gunbu” and in rural Tibetan economies with few sources of income besides yak and sheep, this is a very big deal. In rural Tibet, the fungi contributed to 40% of the annual cash income to local households and 8.5% to the entire GDP in 2004- and the market has been growing quickly since that figure 13 years ago. In 2008, one kilogram of caterpillar fungus sold for between $3,000 USD (for the lowest quality specimens) to $18,000 USD (for the best quality larvae). These days in 2017, a kilogram could sell for as much as $75,000 USD in the upper end of consumer markets in Beijing or Shanghai.

Needless to say: Caterpillar fungus is big money for often marginalized communities. So every May and June schools and businesses close for a month or so and every Tibetan nomad and their mother and their kids are all out looking for this treasure. In a day, a single nomad might scour 20-40 pieces of this fungus and could easily make $300 USD selling it to traders in their community. That is one person over one day. Multiple those numbers by entire villages, families, and communities over a month and they start to add up. Some Tibetans tell me that they make 80-90% of their entire yearly income in just a period of 30 days by picking huge amounts of this fungus from the
rich pasturelands of their yaks.

Given the incredible (and very strange) economic boom of caterpillar fungus, it is no mystery that not a single horse guide could be found at this time for me. Every single Tibetan horseman would consider my usually generous standard guide fee as small potatoes compared to the money he and his family could make by digging up the fungus. If I had been looking for a guide in July or August or September this would not have been a problem. But in late May and early June, It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. And so, after about 20 phone calls, emails, texts to a multitude of friends, I was sitting two days before the trek without a horse guide. I had held out hope we would find a horse guide but now it was crunch time. And this meant things were not looking too good for my family to go trekking in Nyenbo Yurtse.

I talked it over with my wife. We had been traveling a lot and had just spent 2 months in about 6 different states in America. She said she would like a break from traveling but she gave me her blessing in being able to do the trip myself.

So I made a last minute decision.

After months of planning the itinerary as a family trip, I would go to Nyenbo Yurtse myself. If I had to I knew I could carry my own 40 pound backpack if there were no guides to be found. So I called my friend, Phil, and asked if he was up for a last-minute adventure to hike Nyenbo Yurtse. We gave Google Earth a search and we looked at the trail and the mountains and figured at least the first half along the alpine lake looked straight forward (after that we were not exactly sure which pass we were supposed to cross but figured between us we could ask someone in the trailhead mountain town to figure it out along the way).

His wife, amazingly, said he could go and we set the departure time for June 2 morning. We did not even have the departure time or confirmation of going until around June 1.

This was probably the most last minute trip I have ever been on. I packed and we set off on June 2 morning.

This is the route we took and this is exactly how I would recommend getting there to and from Xining.

June 2, Day 1
Xining – Labrang

We drove 239km from Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province to Labrang in Gansu Province (Xiahe in Chinese) over 5 hours. In Xining we started out at 2,300 meters and worked our way up to 2,900 meters in elevation in Labrang. This drive, just a few years ago, used to take 8-10 hours to navigate horribly muddy and pot-holed roads (and the trucks broken down in the muddy pits along them) that were especially difficult to drive after crossing the bridge over from Qinghai to Gansu Province. However, now there is a raised highway between Xining and Rebkong (TongRen in Chinese), which is roughly the halfway point to Labrang. This section from Xining to Rebkong is very fast with multiple newly built tunnels that run for a few kilometers directly through mountains and now only takes about 2.5 hours and offers excellent views of the emerald waters of the Yellow River.

June 3, Day 2
Labrang – Maqu

Once in the heart of the Gansu grasslands in Labrang we continued south another 103km, or 2.5 hours, to Luqu, another small town in the grasslands. Luqu offers little in terms of interest for visitors but has some nice noodle shops and makes a good lunch stop along the way for hand-pulled noodles.

After Luqu we continued another 80 km, or 2 hours, south to Maqu. The town of Maqu is seated right on one of the first bends of the Yellow River and we visited a small monastery with about 100 monks just 2 km north of Maqu town. The monastery is quite small and we found there was not very much going on in terms of activity in the monastery but was still interesting to explore the mud-daubed houses of the monks as well as the main temple hall. The highlight for us in this monastery was walking to the top of the hill where the former monastery ruins were and looking down on the town and the large bends of the Yellow River as it winded in and out of the grasslands below us with very dramatic twisting curves for as far as the eye could see. The monastery outside of Maqu is 3,600 meters in elevation while the town itself, as a central region of the Golok Tibetan tribe, is around 3,500 meters.

June 4, Day 3
Maqu – Jigdril

We left Maqu in the morning after a nice Tibetan breakfast of yoghurt and Tsampa and drove for our last and final stint of 5 hours to Jigdril (Jiuzhi in Chinese). After two days of good driving on well paved roads, we were in for some harder driving today as we crossed over the Yellow River two times. The drive from Maqu to Jigdril turned out to be only about 4 hours, but 2 hours of this time was spent going 20km/hour or less on very bumpy dirt roads. These roads will likely be fully paved in the next two years but until then, this is a backcountry road that is under repair and, in wet conditions, it would be best to have a good 4WD vehicle to navigate some of the longer sections of inches-deep mud and potholes.

We arrived in Jigdril in early in the afternoon. Jigdril town, at 3630 meters, is the on Qinghai side of the border of Sichuan and Qinghai Province. From here it is only 75km to the south to the town of Ngawa in Aba Prefecture in Sichuan Province. If one were to drive from Chengdu, rather than Xining, you could drive from Chengdu to Barkam, Barkam to Ngawa, and then Ngawa to Jigdril over 3 days. Jigdril County, one of the 6 counties of the Golok Autonomous Prefecture, has an average elevation of 3,800 meters and is most famous for the incredible peaks of Nyenbo Yurtse National Park.

Once we settled into our hotel, we hiked up from the main street of Jigdril and crossed the local river outside of town to gain about 200 meters in elevation to get a better view of the town. It was a great warm up hike and from here we got our first views of the Nyenbo Yurtse mountains, hovering just 50km from Jigdril town. The rain and fog cleared just as we crested the grassy hill and the peaks of Nyenbo Yurtse, now covered in fresh snow were gleaming against the blue sky and then new rays of sun. I was getting my first views of the mountain and I was getting very excited!

June 5, Day 4
Day one of the trek

We had a quick breakfast of dumplings and tea eggs at a local restaurant and got a taxi to drive us to the Nyenbo Yurtse trailhead. The drive took about 1 hour from Jigdril town (which cost us 150 RMB for a one way trip in a local taxi) and took us over two spectacular high passes, both filled with prayer flags set against new fallen snow. AT the the entrance of Nyenbo Yurtse National Park, we paid 120 RMB per person for our entrance tickets. There is a boardwalk here with a few Chinese tourists, but most of these don’t venture more than a few hundred meters into the park. The trek starts on this boardwalk and winds to the the left of the the alpine lake. The trek starts at 4,026 meters and for the entire 10 km of the first day of the hike, you maintain this elevation as you walk for 6km along the lower alpine Shuntso Lake shore and then another 2.5km along the upper Shuntso Lake that flows into the lower lake.

In our case we actually walked on the path to the right of the lower lake because it had just been raining for 3 days straight and the trail to the left of the lake (usually the one used by trekkers) was said to be very mucky and slippery by our horse guide. There is actually a circular pilgrimage (and thus good trail) around the whole lower lake. So this was no problem. However, in walking the path to the right of the lake we came to the small river where the upper lake flows into the lower lake. We had to take our shoes off and wade up to our knees across about 20 meters of fairly shallow, icy water to cross to the main trail. This was not a problem for us but I imagine this is why most trekkers start on the left, rather than the right, side of the lake.

From the very first moment the hike is stunning. On most hikes you have to gain a few hundred meters and hike 10km or so before you get into the really spectacular scenery. But as soon as you step into the park, there are huge rugged peaks right before your eyes tucked right behind the shores of the turquoise alpine lakes. This hike is very unique because you gain zero total elevation on the first day and yet have incredible views and rewards all the way. Even if I had not done the three day trek, I still would have made the 3-day, fifteen hour drive down to the park AND paid the high park entrance fee, just to spend one day around the lower shores of lower Shuntso Lake.

It is absolutely fantastic to walk along the shores of lower Shuntso Lake and listen to the waves gently lapping against the beach shores with an incredible backdrop of dramatic cliffs. It makes for a very relaxing and wonderful hike and there is no sudden uphill to shock your system into the wilderness on this first day.

After 10 km of walking along the lower and upper lakes camp at upper Shuntso Lakes we arrived at the top of the upper lake and made our camp here. It was very windy here and as soon as we arrived a snow storm blew in. We scrambled to set up our tents quickly in the hail and the snow. Within 20 minutes the storm blew through and the sun was reappearing again to reveal an incredible snowy mountain behind our camp against a bright, clear blue sky.

At our Camp 1, we cooked dinner, made a small fire from some scrubby bushes along the lake and went to bed after a very satisfying first day in the mountains.

June 6, Day 5

Day two of the trek

Departing the upper lake from Camp 1, we ascended 200 meters over a gently sloping sheep trail about 3km over a small pass that was tucked back and to the left of the valley we slept in. From the top of this pass you curve in left enter a large boulder field with scattered truck-sized boulders that are littered throughout an alpine grassland. The trail then flattens out a bit for 1km and you walk further back into a gorgeous alpine valley with sharply pointed peaks all around you. Once you walk into the heart of this valley there are two very clear passes (both of which had snow on them as of June 6) as the valley floor splits into a “Y”. Take the path as it leads to the left and continue to ascend this pass via a sheep trail. I inquired about the pass on the right of the valley and our guide said it was both too steep and too snowy to cross and front the looks of it I fully agreed with his assessment.

From this “Y” in the valley – this is where the hike got quite challenging. We would now ascend the final 300 meters to the high pass over about 1 km.

This is the steepest and most difficult part of the whole hike. The trail rises at about a 7% grade up into the snow-covered, rocky pass through 2 “false summits”. While this grade is not, in itself, particularly steep or dangerous, it is enough of an incline that it gets the heart beating at such a high altitude climbing from 4,200 meters to 4,500 meters. This is where we were especially glad that we had hired a pack horse and horse guide. Getting up the pass was difficult work with a day pack and I can only imagine how tough it would have been with a full, 40 pound backpack full of a tent, food, and sleeping equipment.

Today was also my 36th birthday and I could not think of a better to have spent it! It was absolutely one of the most spectacular things I had ever seen. Crossing the high pass in ankle deep snow was exhilarating. The sun was bright and we could look down the valley to several towering spires, each shooting off the main ridge of the mountain like an arm sticking upright into the cold, clear air.

The high pass was higher than any point in the entire 48 United States and all but the 5 highest peaks in all of Europe. The weather could not have been more perfect. Up here it would be very easy to get snow or rain but we were bathed in the warm sun and could see in all directions.

From the prayer flags and the yak skull on the pass we descended another 4km to our tent site on an upper slope of a third alpine lake. This is where we made Camp 2 at around 4,100 meters.

From here, at this nomad camp, we had an incredible sunset over the mountains with reflections glimmering below in the 7km crystal blue alpine lake. This was a great tent site and we enjoyed a dinner of warm pasta with our Tibetan guides after a long and epic day walking across the pass.

 

June 7, Day 6
Day three of the trek

We woke up in the morning and descended over 4 hours about 12km past the last lake to a small cement road in the back end of Nyenbo Yurtse National Park. We had arranged a 2pm pick up with our previous taxi driver and I think I hit the parking lot at exactly 2pm – so that was pretty good estimation as far as timing.

Coming down off the mountain and skirting this last and longest lake of the hike, I felt excited and energized. I was like a horse heading home to the stable. I was ready for a good warm meal, a hot shower, and clean cotton sheets and now I was only a few kilometers from finishing the trek. I barely stopped, except for a few times to take pictures. The trail was flat or downhill and the views of the long lake were invigorating. I got a good deal ahead of my friends in my excitement and arrived at the outflow of the final lake at least 30 minutes before them. I laid on the grass overlooking the lake under the heat of the high altitude sun and took in the last three days of hiking now behind me. Given the good weather (and the fact that no one else was around) I decided to take a quick naked swim in the lake. The blue color of the lake was just so inviting that I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to finish the trek off with a cool dip!

I gingerly walked with my bare feet over shrubs and sharp rocks along the shore, found a small beachfront, and dived into the chilling water! I was probably only in the water less than 20 seconds! It was all direct melt from the nearby glaciers and it was some of the coldest water I had ever been in. I think it was just about the same temperature as Guitar Lake at the base of Mount Whitney in the Sierra Nevadas of California – at least from my memory of that freezing experience!

I rushed out of the lake and let the sun evaporate the cool water droplets off my body. Just as I was exiting the lake, I saw my friends turn the corner of the trail and approach me. They had caught up much quicker than I had anticipated – just soon enough to catch glimpses of me shimmering and diving into the frigid waters. Inevitably at least one of my friends took a picture of me swimming for good measure.

I put my clothes back on, ate a terrific picnic lunch on the shore, and we set off for the last few kilometers of our hike. We could now view the cement road in the distance and it seemed like only a stone’s throw away. We were practically home! I figured this was going to be easy-peasy!

But, as I arrived in the parking lot, I was totally spent. My high energy and enthusiasm from hours before had waned significantly. Now I was baked in the sun and felt like I was walking away from one of my high school wrestling matches – having left every ounce of energy in the arena. The sun and the work finally caught up to me and my legs were starting to feel quite tired and a little shaky.

Another reason for my exhaustion was because of the terrain in the last section. I had just spent the last 1.5 hours traversing a wetlands marsh and hopping from grass clump to grass clump to try to keep from plunging into the soggy mud that surrounded the Nyenbo Yurtse river basin. The high amounts of precipitation that fell in the week previous to our trek had left this latter trailhead an alpine bog as the little streams flowing into the larger river had swelled and overflowed into all the surrounding grasslands. The whole ecosystem below my feet had become one interconnected swamp; when I stepped on one part of the grasslands, the whole thing tumbled and shook in other parts sending a ripple effect throughout the whole rooted, soggy mass. There were times I had to walk 100 meters off course just to find a place where I wouldn’t sink too deeply into the mud. It was all a good deal of mental work for what I thought would have been flat, easy walk.

After passing a nomad herding his yaks along the river bank, I hopped from one tiny tufted island to the next, each just about 1- 1.5 meters apart, sometimes almost not making the connection due to the slippery, squishy mud. But, I finally made it to the parking lot by 2pm and laid down on my backpack. It felt good not to be walking anymore

We paid our horse guide and exchanged contact information. He was now going to do the entire 3 day trek in reverse (in less than one day’s time) to return to his family tent in the next valley and to continue his labors to find and pick the treasured caterpillar fungus.

As for me – I was tired but felt well rewarded. The Nyenbo Yurtse trek had been a truly enthralling birthday event and I could think of few other times in my life when I had felt so alive and so joyful. Despite the mud and the hard work, it had been so worthwhile to do the trek and I couldn’t stop scrolling through my pictures because it was almost hard to believe that I had really been in such a beautiful place with perfect weather. Now it was back to the hotel in Jigdril for a night of rest!

This was definitely one of my best birthdays to date!

 

June 8, Day 7
Jigdril – Henan

This was the long drive day. I had driven to Nyenbo Yurtse in 3 days and we were heading back to Xining in 2 days. This meant a 10- hour driving day through incredible grasslands (particularly famous for their high quality, fresh yak yoghurt).

The road took us back into Gansu Province and then winded off to a newly paved road back into Qinghai Province. Throughout the journey, I picked up a few different hitch-hiking nomads. I had an extra seat in our car and I figured they did not want to walk back home another 25km in the rain.

We stopped for the night in Henan town in Qinghai Province. This was a slightly surreal Mongolian resettlement town in the middle of nowhere. The buildings were all made in the cheap-concrete communist fashion that is so endemic to most grasslands communities on the Plateau. But each building- looking like it was crumbling and falling down after only a few years of use- bore some characteristically Mongolian symbols, especially the blue and white eternal knot and other interlaced motifs. All the signs bore 4 different languages: Mongolian, Tibetan, Chinese, and English. The English, or “Chinglish” was a real highlight. I couldn’t find a single storefront sign that made 100% of sense. Most were just badly translated attempts at English phrases form technology that had not caught up to its place in time just yet.

Some of the real winners were…

(note that as I type them are VERBATIM as they actually appeared):

dongxiang shouzhu pasta museum” (actually just a hole in the wall noodle shop – not a full blown museum 🙂

“He zhou delicious steamde dumpings restaurant” (I think this was supposed to be a dumpling joint)

“Kodak electrical appliance supermarket” (a tiny store that had nothing to do with photography but instead sold horse bridles and plumbing supplies)

“I can I show shoes shop” (probably self explanatory)

“Macro blue department store” (a 7-11 type store that sold plastic balls made in a factory in Guangzhou)

“Casserole yang jia ma la tang” (a Muslim restaurant that sold chicken head soup)

“Snow mountain sand negative” (I never actually figured out what this store was actually selling).

“Global Mobile Square” (a cell phone store that sold knock offs of Apple iPhones)

Convenience of parity vegetable shop” (Obviously just a vegetable shop with a convenience of parity)

“Shining Underwear” (an underwear shop with a catchy name)

And my personal favorite:
the “Virture Fort Burger” (some rip off of a rip off of a rip off of Kentucky Friend Chicken)

June 9, Day 8
Henan – Xining

Today we drove drove 5 hours from Henan town back to Xining. Our route took us through the nomadic trading towns of Zeku and Rebkong. After Zeku we dropped down from a pass through some very scenic landscapes with forests, rivers, and old Tibetan towns.
Along the way I stopped at high pass in the grasslands and spent about 20 minutes hiking up to a cluster of prayer flags flapping in the wind high over the local villages.

We returned to Xining by late afternoon and after the long drive it was nice to be back home!

Summarizing comments

Overall, I can’t highly recommend the Nyenbo Yurtse enough as a trek. The drive and journey there is incredible, although the last 150 km of road getting to Jigdril is quite slow and bumpy along very muddy and bumpy roads, but that is part of what keeps this destination so well-preserved and off the map of the conventional Chinese tour bus routes.

As far as season, we had incredible weather on June 5,6,7 for our 3 day trek. I had decided to go in the first week of June to avoid both the rainy season and higher rates of Chinese tourists that travel to Nyenbo Yurtse National park in the summer months of July and early August. This was a great decision in terms of weather and having almost the entire national park to ourselves. Once we got past the first 100 meters of the first alpine lake at the park entrance, we only saw a few local nomads out picking caterpillar fungus in their own home turf.

However, I can’t recommend traveling to Nyenbo Yurtse as a trekking destination in early June because, as you have seen, that is the high caterpillar fungus season and it was very difficult for us to find a horse and horse guide who were able to carry our backpacks for us up the mountain. Ultimately, the trek could be done without a horse to pack in our backpacks but I think this would have significantly made the high altitude ascent extremely exhausting and would have taken away a lot from the enjoyment of the beauty. I think most people would have a great struggle to carry their own tent, food, and clothing up a 4,596 meter high pass. The trail is probably never more than a 7-8% grade in slope, but the last 3 km leading to the high pass are very fatiguing because of the lower available levels of oxygen and the continual upward slope.

For the best season I would recommend trekking Nyenbo Yurtse in late August (when some of the Chinese tourists have returned to their big cities) or in early September, when the weather is chilly but likely clear.

I think it is very reasonable to follow my same route in taking 3 days to get to the trailhead, 3 days for actual trekking, and 2 days to return to Xining or Chengdu.

Note on registration in hotels in Maqu, Jigdril, and Henan towns
As of early June 2017, foreigners are allowed to stay in these restricted areas but have to sleep in very specific hotels in town that are registered with the police to be able to officially host foreign passport holders. These are the same hotels that we used on our trip.

Do not be surprised if the police personally come visit your hotel room or need to check and copy your passport in these areas. In Jigdril, police came into our hotel room at 9pm at night just to check our belongings and register our passports. In Henan, we actually had to make copies of our passports and drive to the police station across town to register.

In these restricted places, it is very common to be asked to register in such a manner. This bridge in relationships, along with the obvious route finding help on the Nyenbo Yurtse trail, is one great reason I recommend using a local Tibetan guide along this journey (as we at Elevated Trips always do) so that these procedural encounters with the local police are smooth and easily managed.

 

 

To book this trek of a lifetime in Tibet:

Nyenbo Yurtse (shorter trek)


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