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:
You can also contact us anytime at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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
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 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 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 .
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.
A Colorful Tibetan dance in a local square
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!
Here are the top 20 team building event outcomes that most clients value:
每个群体都是不同的, 你独特及混合的个性和项目要求带来了特定的需求, 以确保你的员工能够尽可能富有成效地工作。团队建设的真正价值在于你的员工将体验到的活动应用到工作中, 以及他们如何团队建设被用作一个愉快、难忘和有影响力的工具, 将你的团队需要内化的关键想法或信息带回生活和工作中。
ཚོགས་པ་རེ་རེའི་ངོ་བོ་དང་ཁྱད་ཆོས་སོགས་མི་འདྲ་བས་ཚོགས་པའི་དགོས་མཁོ་རེ་རེ་ཡང་མི་འདྲ་བ་ཆགས་ཡོད། ཁྱོད་ཀྱི་ལས་ཁུངས་ཀྱི་་ལས་མི་དག་གིས་ལས་ཆོད་ཡོད་པའི་སྒོ་ནས་མཉམ་ལས་བྱེད་པའི་ཆེད་དུ་བྱ་འགུལ་བྱེ་བྲག་པ་དང་དམིགས་བསལ་བ་མཁོ་སྤྲོད་བྱེད་ཐུབ། ཚོགས་པའི་སྒྲིག་འཛུགས་དང་མཉམ་ལས་ཀྱི་རིན་ཐང་གཙོ་བོ་ནི་ཁྱོད་ཀྱིས་ལས་མི་དག་གིས་བྱ་འགུལ་འདི་དག་བརྒྱུད་ནས་འཚོ་བ་དང་ལས་ཀའི་ཁྲོད་དུ་སྦྲོ་སྣང་དང་བརྗེད་པར་དཀའ་བ། ཤུགས་རྐྱེན་ཆེན་པོ་སྤྲོད་ཐུབ་པའི་བསམ་ཚུལ་དང་རྩལ་ནུས་གང་རུང་ལས་ཀ་དང་འཚོ་བའི་ཁྲོད་དུ་འཁྱེར་རྒྱུ་ཡོད་པ་དང་། དེ་ཡིས་ཀྱང་ཁྱོད་ཀྱི་ལས་ཁུངས་དང་ཚོགས་པའི་ནང་དུ་ཕན་ནུས་ཆེན་པོ་བསྐྲུན་རྒྱུ་དེ་ཡིན།
1.) Exposes existing team dynamics, issues, and behaviors
༡ ཁྱོད་ཀྱི་ཚོགས་པའི་གནས་སྟངས་དང་གནད་དོན། ཚོགས་མའི་འབྲེལ་བ་སོགས་གསལ་བོར་བཟོ་བ།
2.) Improves group morale and promotes team bonding amid adversity
2. 在逆境中提高团队士气, 促进团队合作
༢ དཀའ་ངལ་དང་གནད་དོན་ཀྱི་ཁྲོད་དུ་གནུས་པའི་ཚོགས་པའི་སྤུས་ཀ་་ཇེ་མཐོར་གཏོང་བ་དང་། ཚོགས་པའི་མཉམ་ལས་ཀྱིས་སྤུས་ཚད་ཇེ་མཐོར་གཏོང་བ།
3.) Increases appreciation of roles, purpose, and group-established expectations
༣ ཚོགས་མིའི་ལས་བགོ་དང་དམིགས་ཡུལ། ཚོགས་པ་སྤྱིའི་མངོན་འདོད་སོགས་གོང་མཐོར་གཏོང་བ།
4.) Accelerates process of team roles and forming of a shared vision
4 加快团队角色的过程, 形成共同的愿景。
༤ གནས་སྐབས་ཀྱི་ཚོགས་མིའི་ལས་བགོའི་གོ་རིམ་དང་། ཡུན་རིང་གི་ཕུགས་འདུན་གཅིག་གྱུར་ཡོང་བ།
5.) Inspires an appreciation of individual strengths and weaknesses
6.) Develops creative problem solving along with time and crisis management skills
6. 随着时间和危机管理技能的提高, 开发创造性的问题解决方案
༦ གསར་གཏོད་ཀྱི་ཁྱད་ཆོས་ལྡན་པའི་གནད་དོན་ཐག་གཅོད་ཐབས་དང་། དུས་ཚོགས་དང་འགལ་རྐྱེན་ཐག་གཅོད་སྟངས་གོང་མཐོར་གཏོང་བ།
7.) Illustrates advantages of cooperation over competition
8.) Ignites an increase in efficiency and emphasis on sharing resources
9.) Enhances Communal support and encouragement and boosts team productivity
10.) Inspires better conflict resolution skills and communication
11.) Improves decision making and individual leadership skills
12.) Increases appreciation of leveraging talents and creating a work / life balance
༡༢ འཇོན་ཐང་ཅན་གྱི་མི་སྣ་བེད་སྤྱོད་ཡག་པོ་དང་། ལས་ཀ་དང་འཚོ་བ་དོ་མཉམ་ཡོང་བར་བྱེད་པ།
13.) Relieves stress levels through activities that inspire laughter and learning
14.) Replaces of limiting beliefs with possibility thinking
15.) Inspires ownership and accountability for results in all team members
16.) Increases Self-confidence and problem solving skills
17.) Reduces turnover of high-performing talent by forging interpersonal trust
18.) Develops ability to find opportunities in change and overcome challenges
19.) Increases commitment to defined goals at all levels of your organization
20.)Promotes individual and group growth with fun and memorable experiences
Look back at the top 20 list above, note the outcomes that you feel are most relevant to your organization, and contact Elevated Trips to discuss how we can transform your group into a more productive team.
回顾上面的Top 20列表, 记下您认为与您的组织最相关的结果, 并联系Elevated Trips, 讨论我们如何将您的团队转变为更高效的团队。
+ 86 13734685336
Why Was the Jiayuguan Pass So Important?
Jiayuguan Pass used to be the starting point of the ancient Great Wall built during the rule of the Ming Dynasty (1368– 1644). It was the most important military defensive project in north western China because it guarded the narrowest point of the western section of the Hexi Corridor in a narrow corridor of otherwise impassible mountains. This was the vital defensive frontier fortress that had sealed China off from invaders since the Han Dynasty (BC 202—220). After the Jiayuguan Pass was constructed, the army of the Ming Dynasty used it to protect inner China from the invasion of nomadic groups. At the same time, the Jiayuguan Pass also played a key waypoint on the ancient Silk Road. Foreign travelers and traders came from Europe, Middle Asia, and entered into China from this gateway. While the commodities of China were also exported to Central Asia and Europe from this pass. Along with the foreign trade, a cultural exchange of religion, art and custom also flourished. It was this trade of ideas that has not only forever changed the western world but also China itself.
The History of Jiayuguan Pass
During the early period after the Ming Dynasty was established, barbarian armies of the Yuan Empire and Turpan constantly invaded the Hexi Corridor area. The Chinese general Feng Sheng was consequently ordered to construct a defensive pass to protect China from invasion from both the Yuan and Turpan peoples. He chose the Jiayu Mountains as the final staging ground for his defensive strategy because, as time has shown, this pass has been extremely hard to penetrate but comparatively easy to defend. The construction started in the year 1372, and the many troops completed the first stage of the work quickly. The first stage of the Jiayuguan Pass consisted of several ramparts surrounded by some barracks. The subsequent construction took 168 years to complete and finally became the western starting point of the Great Wall of Ming Dynasty.
Even though the walls and towers have been partially damaged by centuries of war and weather, the Jiayuguan Pass is still one of the most intact surviving ancient military buildings in China. Several restorations have been undertaken to protect the original design of its fort, towers and walls. But travelers can still see much of its original construction.
Layout of Jiayuguan Fort
Jiayuguan Pass is an immense military complex which covers more than 33,529 square meters and consists of an inner city, an outer city and an outer moat.
The inner city has the shape of a trapezoid with an imposing wall that is 11 meters high and 640 meters long. It was used as the third barrier in a series of walls and towers against incoming enemies. Two defensive gates, Rou Yuan Men and Guang Hua Men, were built in the western and eastern sides of the city. Towers for guards and commanders were built on the walls as lookouts into the vast desert beyond the city. The central area of the inner city housed the office of the commander and a Guanyu Memorial Temple. There are even bridleways for carrying horses up to to the city wall.
The outer city was the second barrier enemies would encounter. Unlike the inner wall which was built from loess, the outer city was made of exceptionally strong bricks and this section of the wall was connected directly to the long stretches of Great Wall that scattered out from the outer city. A striking plaque was inserted on the wall above the gate.
Moat and Battlefield
A deep moat encircles the Jiayuguan Fort outside the outer city. Just 50 meters in front of this moat is a battlefield where 1000’s of men died in combat defending (or invading) China’s northwestern border.
Things to do at the Jiayuguan Fort
1.) Learn about history in the Great Wall Museum
Before entering the fortress, take a short visit to the Great Wall Museum to learn some interesting facts about both the Jiayuguan Fort and the Great Wall. The museum contains some excellent historic photos and relics of this area.
2.) Camel rides
Just in front of the back gate, you can find many locals offering chances to ride a camel or to just take photos with the camels. Don’t be afraid of the camels, they are very docile. Should you decide to go for a ride, a local camel guide will accompany you.
If you want to take a look at the Jiayuguan Pass from the Gobi desert you can try the exciting four-wheel drive ATV’s. These four wheelers offer a chance to get away from the crowds and see the desert in a purer form.
Nearby Places to Visit
The entrance ticket for Jiayuguan Pass costs 120 RMB/person, and this price also includes the admission fees for visiting the Overhanging Great Wall and the First Mound of the Great Wall. But these 3 locations are not very close to each other. So make sure you leave extra time to get out to these destinations as well.
Overhanging Great Wall (Xuanbi Great Wall)
The Overhanging Great Wall, also known as the Xuanbi Great Wall. It is 8 kilometers away from the Jiayuguan Pass Fort and 14 kilometers from the city. In ancient times, it was a part of the Jiayuguan Pass, and was connected with the fort. More than 460 years later, most sections of the walls have disappeared. The remaining section is 750 meters long, rising up 150 meters and hanging on a cliff face. Unlike the sections of Great Wall near Beijing, these sections were constructed with loess because of the lack of water in this area. Hiking up the Great Wall here takes only about a half an hour.
The First Mound of the Great Wall
The First Mound of the Great Wall is also known as The First Strategic Post of the Great Wall on Tripadvisor.com. Jiayuguan Pass is the western starting point of the Great Wall and the First Mound is considered the westernmost point of the pass. It is a mound of yellow loess which is believed to be the only remaining ruins of a former watchtower of the ancient Great Wall. Most of the other wall sections connected to the tower have disappeared and been covered by blowing desert sand so it is significant that this one last monument still stands as a testimony to this particular section of the Great Wall. To visit the First Mound of Great Wall, you have to transfer 7.5 kilometers from the Jiayuguan Pass Fort.
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 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.
According to legend, in 366 AD a monk named Yuezun had a vision of a thousand radiant Buddhas on the cliff face. This powerful vision inspired him to begin excavating the caves. From the 4th to the 14th century, hundreds of caves were then hand carved out of the rock cliff face containing scriptures, statues, and vibrant Buddhist paintings.Today almost 500 caves remain and there are more than a thousand painted and sculpted Buddhas within the caves which contain the world’s largest collection of Buddhist art.
Excavated into a mile of cliff face outside Dunhuang, an oasis town at the edge of the Gobi Desert, the site’s Chinese name Mogao Ku means “peerless caves.” Indeed, these caves are “peerless” and are one of the largest and best preserved artifacts in all of Asia. The decorated caves’ walls and ceilings, have a total area of 500,000 square feet and are covered by elaborate paintings depicting stories of the Buddha, Buddhist sutras, portraits of cave donors, ornamental designs, and scenes of social and commercial life. The caves also contain more than 2,000 brightly colored clay sculptures of the Buddha and other important Buddhist scholars, the largest sculpture being over 100 feet tall.
The settlement of Dunhuang was one of the first places where Buddhism entered China, through a steady stream of meditation, monks, and merchants who moved north and east from India along the Silk Road. As a major stop on the Silk Road, Dunhuang was a crossroads of Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and even Christian thought. Although this is an area of specifically Buddhist worship, the art and objects found at Mogao reflect the meeting of cultures along the Silk Road, the collection of trade routes that for centuries linked China, Central Asia, and Europe. Discovered at the site were Confucian, Daoist, and Christian texts, and documents in multiple languages including Chinese, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Old Turkish. Even Hebrew manuscripts were found there.
After the 15th Century, the caves lay forgotten and were buried by the sand of the Gobi Desert for many centuries until they were rediscovered by a monk. In the 1890s a Daoist monk named Wang Yuanlu appointed himself guardian of the caves. In 1900 he discovered a cache of manuscripts, long hidden in a small sealed up cave, coming upon one of the great collections of documents in history. Despite their great age, the sculptures and wall paintings in the Dunhuang caves remain remarkably well preserved, thanks in part to the dry desert climate and their remote location.
As more and more archeologists investigated the cave over 50,000 ancient documents were found there. The Library Cave (Cave 17), which was unsealed by Wang Yuanlu, contained nearly 50,000 ancient manuscripts, silk banners and paintings, fine silk embroideries and other rare textiles dating from before the early 1000s, when this cave and all its contents were concealed for reasons still unknown. Shortly after this discovery, many of the objects from the cave were acquired at the site by explorers and archaeologists from the West and Japan.The materials found in the Library Cave offer a vivid picture of life in medieval China. Accounting ledgers, contracts, medical texts, dictionaries, and even descriptions of music, dance, and games were among the finds.
Many of the objects found in the Library Cave can actually be viewed online now. Museums and libraries across Europe and Asia with objects from the Library Cave in their collections have digitized them and made them searchable for free via the International Dunhuang Project, based at the British Library.
The Buddha himself meditated in caves before achieving Enlightenment, and sacred cave sites are found throughout the Buddhist world, including in Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. India is home to some 1,200 cave-temple sites, China 250. The Mogao site at Dunhuang is the largest of these.
Top 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!
- NOLS Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training
- The NOLS Wilderness First Responder (WFR) handbook
- Wilderness Medical Associates’ field protocols for Wilderness First Aid certified professionals
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:
- Wounds & Infections
- Knee & Ankle Injuries
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.
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.
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.
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.
If 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
- The pump at the bottom of the hill (ie, your heart) isn’t putting out enough force to move the water adequately
- The water itself (ie, your blood) is leaking out of the pipe, or there just isn’t enough of it
- 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.
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
- 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:
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).
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.
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 🙂
Here is the stuff you usually get to pick from in this “Choose Your Own Adventure” soup:
- bean curd
- beef (chunks)
- fish balls
- 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
- 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!
How to Take the Train in China
Here are the basic steps you will need to follow for a successful journey
Step 1: Arrive at the railway station at least 1.5 hours before your train departs
Step 2: Pass through the security check and ticket check at the station’s entrance
Step 3: Find the right waiting room and wait for boarding
Step 4: Check in at the right boarding gate
Step 5: Go to the train platform for boarding
Step 5: Settle in, and store your the luggage and sit down (or lie down) to enjoy your trip
Step 6: Upon arrival, get off and exit to your destination.
Now let’s look into the details of this process…
7 Things to Know Before Riding A Train in China
You may have heard that train travel in China can be a delightful adventure and this is absolutely true. My family recently took the train from Xining to Chengdu and we thoroughly enjoyed the journey in our private soft sleeper rooms. Our kids (ages 4 and 6) really loved the experience of being in their own bunk bed and looking out the window while the beautiful, lush Sichuan countryside passed by. The whole 14 hour drive was quite magical for them.
The train in China is really a memorable experience – for adults and children alike. There are many times in our lives when we just have between 12-50 hours to relax, read a book, and watch beautiful dream-like landscapes through a train window.
But there are a few things you need to know before you depart on your journey to make it a success (and not a stressful undertaking).
Read on for things you should know before taking a train in China, like how to get to/through the railway station, how passengers are searched at security checkpoints, what drinks/food can be purchased on the train, and what the toilets are like. When you travel, it is the details that will make the difference in your journey and knowledge is power 🙂
1.) How to Read Your Train Ticket
Go to the Right Departure Station
Check the departure station carefully. Most cities in China have more than one railway station and they are often far away from each other (usually 30-90 minutes away on different sides of the city). It is recommended that you find out how to get to your station in sufficient time before your departure. And make sure you are going to the right station. If you are arranging a taxi or preparing to board a subway or bus to your train station, make sure you check with your hotel staff first or travel agency just to make sure you know exactly which station to get to and how to get there.
A train ticket from Guilin Railway Station to the Liuzhou Railway Station
(NOTE: This is train #D8265 / Train Car #: 3 / And Seat #: 6A/ This train departs at 9:50am on April 8, 2016)
If you accidentally go to the wrong station, you will find that the electronic boards do NOT show your train’s schedule at all (this is your first hint you may have gone to the wrong station). By the time you realize your mistake, you likely will not have enough time to transfer to to the correct station and you therefore will probably miss your train as it will take more than hour to transfer to the right departure station.
If you miss your train, you can make an alteration at the ticket window in the correct departure station for the next train on the same day. The alteration is free of charge, and you will get a refund for the difference if the next train’s ticket is less expensive, or you will be asked for an additional payment if the next train’s ticket costs more.
Don’t Get Off at the Wrong Station
It is also important to correctly read the information for the arrival station. For example, the southbound train from Beijing will first reach Guilin North Railway Station (桂林北站) and then Guilin Railway Station (桂林站). So make sure you know which station you are getting off at.
Getting off the train at the wrong destination can cause you to pay a penalty fare if you continue the journey too far, or require a trip across the city if you get off too early. If you have scheduled a pick up at your destination this may also cause a great deal of confusion with your party as they may be waiting and looking for you for hours at a station you are not at.
Pay attention to the announcements on the train as they will tell you which station you have arrived at. If you take an overnight train, a member of staff will wake you up to exchange your sleeper card for your original paper train ticket about half an hour before arriving at your destination.
Here is a tip once you have reached your destination:
Look at the arrival time for your train and set your alarm for 1 hour before that time. Sometimes trains arrive a few minutes early or late for their scheduled arrival times so make sure you account for this. Once the train stops you may only have one or two minutes to exit (especially if your train is continuing onto another destination). So make sure you are all packed and you have all your charging cords, electronic devices, and all your luggage all packed and ready to go.
Get a visual idea of how to read China train tickets.
2.) Luggage Allowance — Pack Smartly
Sometimes the excitement and anticipation of travel is half the fun, so make sure that you leave plenty of time to pack for your travel and get all those last minute items. Separate your belongings into large luggage and small carry-on items. Important things, such as travel documents, tickets, money, and valuable items should be kept on you at all times. Having a fanny pack, day pack, or purse is handy. The outside of train stations are notorious for pickpockets so keep your things close to you and always be mindful of your luggage and do not leave items unattended. Remember to put your tickets and passport away safely after the ticket checkpoints. If you lose these – your vacation will suddenly not be so fun.
Packing light is important. You can find all kinds of tips about packing light on the internet and everyone has their own style of packing. If you are not able to lift your luggage above your head, the train stewards can assist you in this task. Often times, luggage can either be placed under your hard or soft sleeper bed or in a public overhead compartment (which has no lock or door). Therefore, it is important to have your luggage zipped up or closed securely using a combination lock.
When taking an overnight train, you should consider taking flip-flops, bathroom supplies (toilet paper and a toothbrush), and perhaps earplugs and an eye mask. Take a book or an iPod to help pass the time.
Carry-On Luggage Regulations
- Ordinary passengers: 20 kg (44 pounds)
- Children with a half-price ticket (1.2m–1.5m) or no ticket (under 1.2 m): 10 kg (22 pounds)
- The total length of each item cannot exceed 160 cm, unless it is rod-shaped.
The above limitation is not applicable to wheelchairs, which can be taken on to the train for free.
The limitations for luggage are not as strict as they are for airplanes.
Senior travelers or passengers with excessive luggage can hire a porter at the station entrance — they are easily spotted as they wear sleeveless red jackets and red hats. The price is approximately 10 to 15 yuan. They will help to load the luggage onto the train. Beware of people that offer to help you carry your luggage who do not wear the official train uniform. These people will rip you off to carry your luggage only for a few minutes and they should be avoided.
3.) Arrive At the Station 2 Hours Before Your Train Departs
Arriving at a train station generally follows the same rules and processes that you would follow if you were to arrive at an airport. If you are not a fan of taking risks, it is always better to arrive early at the railway station (especially if you have to pick up your tickets at the station). Nobody likes waiting around, but we suggest that you arrive 2 hours before your train’s departure time.
Here are a few reasons to leave yourself a little extra time:
Leave Extra Time to Get to the Station —In Case of Traffic, Getting Lost, and Crowds
Some railway stations can be as vast as an airport and are situated a long way from the city center. It’s a good idea to leave your hotel or last activity in plenty of time in case of traffic, queues, crowds, or in the event of getting lost. Give yourself enough time to enjoy a relaxing journey. Usually 2 hours is enough, but the time can be reduced if going to a very small, local train station.
There Are Many Things to Do Before Boarding— Long Distances and Lines
A crowded train station
The distances between the ticket office, security check, waiting room, and station platform can be quite long, and it is sometimes necessary to walk from one side of the station to the other.
Remember that you are not doing this alone; there will be hundreds of people doing the same thing, meaning that you might be standing in waiting lines for a long time (especially around holidays and times of high-season travel such as Chinese New Year, October Holiday, and May Holiday). From the moment you arrive at the train station, you will likely need to be queuing in crowded lines (And remember- Chinese people do not always form or respect an orderly single-file line. So you may have to be a little aggressive to maintain your spot in line).
At the station entrance you will need to pick up your ticket at the “ShouPiaoChu” or 售票处. This is often separate from the train station entrance itself and they may not allow you into the station until you have been to the nearby ticket pick up office to get your ticket. Here at the ticket pick up gate, you will have to stand in line (maybe a half an hour or more, unless you’ve used a ticket delivery service or got your tickets delivered in advance to your hotel), then pass through a ticket and ID check followed by a security check. After this you will need to locate and walk to your train’s specific waiting area, then, after a 10-15 minute walk through a busy station, will need to wait again in line at the waiting room ticket gate.
Explore the train station if you get to the station early.
Things to Do If You Get There Too Early
No time needs to be wasted, even if you get there early. For first-timers, early arrival at the railway station gives you a good chance to explore the station and observe the locals. You can purchase some food or drinks at the shops so that you won’t go hungry during the journey. If you are traveling with kids, an early arrival gives you some time to calm them down and prepare for a good trip.
Bear in mind that the station will stop the check-in facility 5 minutes before the train departs. So don’t lose yourself in the stores at the train station. You are recommended to get to the waiting room at least 30 minutes before the train departs (especially if you want to find a seat amidst 100’s of other passengers waiting for the same destination).
4.) Security Checks
Prepare Your Passport and Ticket
All passengers and luggage are required to pass through a security check at the station entrance. Please prepare your train ticket and passport (or Mainland Travel Permit). You need to line up for the security check, just like at an airport. After the security check keep your passport and train ticket on your person, and don’t lock them in your suitcase, because you are going to need them for another ticket check or two when you board the train.
There may already be a long line at the entrance so, as we have already mentioned, you are recommended to arrive at the train station early.
5.) Boarding Smoothly
Getting to the Right Waiting Room, Gate, Platform, Car, and Seat
Find the Right Waiting Room Using the LED Screens
An LED screen at Beijing West Railway Station
After the security check, you need to find the right waiting room. A train station may have many waiting rooms for different trains. And usually the information on the screen is in Chinese only, although some screens display both English and Chinese.
Look up at the large LED screens for your train number, and see which waiting room is allocated to your train number. Your train number is a letter with numbers displayed on the top middle part of your train ticket, such as G655 or D3201. A large LED screen shows different trains’ departure schedules in rotation, so you might have to wait for the screen to change once or twice to see your train information.
Usually the waiting room information shows the floor and room number, such as”2楼1候”,meaning ‘2nd floor 1st waiting room’. You could ask someone near you for help to get to the right waiting room, by pointing at your ticket then the LED screen, then saying, “Wǒqùnǎr?”(我去哪儿/wo choo narr/ ‘I go where?’), or read the Chinese yourself.
Get to the Right Gate
An LED screen of check-in gates
A waiting room may not only have one platform gate (like in an airport). There may be several gates going to different platforms to board different trains, so don’t line up at the wrong gate.There are generally rows of seats either side of a gate’s lining up aisle.
LED screens for each gate in each waiting room show different trains’ numbers, departure times, and platform information. If you know Chinese, you can listen to the broadcasts for boarding information.
Get to the Right Platform
Once you get to the right gate, generally, you can check-in with your train ticket 15 minutes before departure. Before you walk along the long corridors to the platform, look up at the LED screen for the last time and find your platform number. Look for your platform number showing which stairway to walk down to get to your platform.
Getting to Your Seat/Bunk
Seat number sign on a bullet train
Check your train ticket for your car number (listed as: 车 on your ticket) as you descend to the platform. There will be staff at each train car door. You could show your ticket to a member of staff. He/she will check that you are boarding the right train car. The character 车 denotes your car number.
Once on the right car, find your bunk number (shown by 铺 on your ticket: 上 for top, 中for middle, 下 for bottom), or seat number (shown by 座 or “seat” on your ticket), usually displayed on the luggage racks around head height.
Chinese “Cheat Sheet” for Getting Help
You could carry a card (or an image on your device) listing useful sentences written in Chinese to find your waiting area, platform, coach, and seat, and show these sentences to any staff member or passer-by, along with your ticket(s):
|我搭这趟火车, 请问我的候车室在哪里?||I am taking this train; would you please tell me where the waiting hall is?|
|我搭这趟火车, 请问我在哪个站台上车?||I am taking this train; would you please tell me which platform I should go to?|
|我搭这趟火车, 请问我在哪个车厢?||I am taking this train; would you please tell me which coaches I should board?|
|我搭这趟火车, 请问我的座位是哪个?||I am taking this train; would you please tell me where my seat is?|
6.) Know What’s on the Train
Food, Water, and Toilets
Different trains offer different services and facilities. High-speed trains are modern and comfortable, while normal speed trains may not be so convenient for foreign travelers.
G, D, and C: High Speed Trains — Modern Facilities for a Convenient Journey
When taking high-speed trains, lettered G, D, or C, you can enjoy a more comfortable train journey.
Seating: High-speed trains are fully air-conditioned. The seats are adjustable, just like seats on a plane, for you to sit comfortably. What’s more, there is a 220V AC socket under each seat for your devices.
Food: High-speed trains offer different types of set meals (including Muslim food).You can go to the restaurant car to have a meal, where they offer made-to-order meals at 20 to 50 yuan per dish. Or you can buy a set meal from the attendant’s trolley. You can also go to the canteen bar to buy some snacks and drinks.
Water: Free boiled/cold water is available between the coaches.
Toilets: Chinese/Western-style toilets and handicapped restrooms are available between the coaches. However, the toilets have usually run out of toilet paper or don’t provide toilet paper in the first place.
LED screen: Every coach with an LED screen indicates the speed of the train.
Luggage racks: There are luggage racks over the seats at either side of a coach. You can take a 24-inch suitcase on board and place it on a luggage rack. There are some shelves between the coaches for large baggage. Shelves for large suitcases, suitable for a 70cm (28-inch) suitcase.
K and T Number Trains: Normal Speed Trains — Not as Comfortable
Normal speed trains are not as convenient and comfortable as high-speed trains. If you have to take such trains, you are recommended to buy tickets for soft seats or hard/soft sleepers. If you choose to book the hard seats for your party, you should be prepared to sit next to a lot of Chinese men playing cards, making loud jokes, and smoking cigarettes all around you for long hours. The hard seats are slightly cheaper than the hard or soft sleeper beds but offer little in the way of privacy or cleanliness.
Seating: Hard seats are not adjustable. There are no power outlets. Normal speed trains, apart from the oldest number-only ones, are fully air-conditioned.
Food: Some trains don’t have a restaurant car, but most T and K trains do, and there is often a staff member who walks through the coaches selling somewhat overpriced simple small items, snacks, and drinks from a food trolley.
Our suggestion is to purchase some simple food and drinks before boarding, such as a takeout from KFC or McDonald’s.
Water: There is free boiled/cold water is available between each coach car. Make sure that the water is labeled as “drinkable” because all the other faucets on the train provide water that is NOT suitable for drinking. There are sometimes hot water kettles available in the soft sleeper cabins where you can store your boiled water in case you want to prepare some instant noodles or Starbucks VIA coffee.
Toilets: Most trains only have Chinese-style squat toilets, which are usually quite wet and dirty. Some soft sleepers / deluxe soft sleepers have Western-style toilets which are a little cleaner. In either case, keep your bathroom expectations pretty low and bring lots of hand sanitizer and wet wipes. Never enter a bathroom without shoes as the floors can be quite wet and messy.
Luggage racks: After you board the train, you can place your baggage on the luggage rack above the seats. If you are on a sleeper carriage, you can place your baggage on the opposite side of the berths, under the lower berth, or under the small desk in your compartment.
5 Places to Buy Food for Your Train Trip in China
Chinese people always buy snacks for short-distance trips and food for long-distance train trips. Generally, the food prices at the train station and on the train are higher than those in the outside restaurants or stores. If possible, you should take your own food or snacks. I have some friends that always prepare a nice bottle of wine and some imported cheese and crackers for their journey and think this is a great practice. With a little preparation, the train ride can be a fun little traveling picnic!
There are five places you can buy snacks or food in and around the train:
- Shops or fast-food chain restaurants around your hotel or city center, such as Subway, KFC and McDonald’s. You can buy the food in advance then go to the train station to board your train. You have more options if you prepare the food in advance.
- Small shops at the train station. There are lots of shops at the station. You will find fruit, bread, milk, and eggs in the shops and these are something similar to what we would consider American “gas station food”. You can pay for these items using Chinese yuan cash OR Wechat or Alipay
- The platform at the train station. When the train stops at a station, you can get off the train to buy some food. There are vendors selling local dishes or more simple food. You will find food like boiled corn cobs and tea-flavored boiled eggs. But make sure you only take a few minutes as you do not want the train to leave without you!
- There is a dining car on long-distance trains that is open to all passengers and this area sells snacks, beer, and soft drinks. There is a canteen bar on high-speed trains. Try to go there as early or as late as possible because it will be very crowded at meal times. The dining car offers prepared and heated packed meals and the prices range from 15 to 45 yuan.
- Railway attendants take trolleys through the cars frequently and you will hear them yelling by your cabin. There are packed meals at meal times and each one is about 25 yuan. The Chinese meal includes rice, meat, and vegetables. You can buy instant noodles too (which almost all the Chinese eat). There is free boiled water on each car. At other times, the attendants also sell drinks, snacks, packed fruit, and some toys for kids.
7.) Travel Safely
Train travel in China is a fairly safe and standardized process, especially when compared to traveling in India or Nepal. Yet good advice never hurts.
When you are traveling with young children, keep them close by your side and keep an eye on them. Don’t allow kids to run up and down the train coach/platform, or lose them in the station. Beware of pinching fingers in the (automatic) doors. Hold onto the hand knobs and rails while walking inside the coach. The bathroom floor can be slippery (and sometimes a little nasty), so be careful in there.
Don’t leave your valuable belongings unattended. There is a power socket under the seat (on high-speed trains) or on the small table (on non-high-speed overnight trains), which can be used to recharge your devices. Never leave your valuables unattended. When taking an overnight train, keep your carry-on items close to your body. Your passport and ticket should always be kept with you.
Travel in China With Us
If you are planning to take a train during your China trip, please see our recommended tours below for inspiration. You can enjoy hassle free travel with Elevated Trips. All you have to do is arrive in the train or plane station and we take care of everything else.
If you have more questions on train travel, do not hesitate to contact us here.
With a population of 80,000 people and at an elevation of 3,840 meters, Shigatse is the 2nd largest town in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. As the seat of the Panchen Lama and the former capital of Tibet, Shigatse is a must visit stop on the road from Lhasa to Everest Base Camp.
You can spend a whole morning walking the Tashilunpo Monastery in Shigatse and then doing the pilgrimage kora around the monastery. If you have the time, spend 2 nights in this town and get refreshed before you head out into the wild highlands of Mount Everest Base Camp.
The drive from Lhasa to Shigatse (via Yamdrok Lake and Gyantse) is a total of 355 km. It is best to break this drive up into two days, spending the first driving day (260km) from Lhasa to Yamdrok Lake to the Karo La Glacier to Gyantse. And then the second day driving 90km from Gyantse to Shigatse.
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.
“Why do the elderly in China have to look after grandchildren all day and do housework? We should be free to live our own lives,” Qi told Pear Video.
By 2050, it’s predicted that a quarter of China’s population will be 65 or older. This statistic was at 9.7% in 2013, according to the data company Statista. As of January 1, 2016, all Chinese couples are allowed to have two children and the 35 year old one-child policy was dropped. The predicted decline in the number of people of working age is thought to have persuaded the Communist Party to drop the one-child policy in 2016.
Longer life expectancies, economic reform, and a low birth rate mean China is now facing an ageing population crisis. As China is faced with an increasing elderly population, many wonder what China will do to cope with and care for this quickly growing population segment. “Filial piety”, a concept taught by Confucius showing the value of respect towards parents, elders and ancestors, is an important value in Chinese society and culture. This is so ingrained in Chinese thought that most elderly in China live with their children in their old age.
But one women, Ms. Qi, is redefining how society thinks and feels about its older population. Ms. Qi is showing the world that getting old doesn’t mean the end of fun or a high quality of life.
This 73-year-old retired teacher in China is breaking the stereotypes that are about what old people usually do after they retire. Instead of embracing a traditional easy retirement, Ms. Qi has chosen a life of adventure as she backpacks around the world and has won millions of fans on Chinese social media.
Ms. Qi says in her Pear Video interview that she has been traveling all her life, visiting countries in Europe, North America and Asia.
Pear Video followed her as she embarked on her latest trip to Quanzhou in China’s southwest Fujian Province. She stays in a dormitory in the video, and says she saves money by travelling with students and sharing journey costs. This 3 minute video has gone viral and, consequently, has ignited much online debate about the traditional idea that China’s elderly should move in with their children and spend the rest of their lives taking care of grandchildren.
Ms. Qi says that meeting young people is one of the most important things about her travels and then commented, “I talk with them and they have lots of fresh things to say”.
Her mother is still alive, and Ms. Qi says she video-calls her 92-year-old grandmother every day to let her know how she is. Qi also often posts pictures on social media for her children and grandchildren.
“I have a public account,” she says about her blog, “And I’ve had it for about 5 months. I write everything: my memories, my inspirations – a diary of memories for my children and grandchildren.” For Qi, this is a way to capture her memories and preserve them for future generations.
In China, old people are expected to depend on the younger generation for their care and upkeep. Ms Qi has shown a very different way of living than her peers. Because of her unconventional life and her intrepid adventures, her video has been seen by millions of people. She has become an inspirational and positive person to talk about and has made many start to reconsider their own conventions and ideals! Online bloggers and the younger generation are seeing Ms Qi as a new role model for old age.
“I hope I can be like her when I’m old,” says one of her devoted followers.
Another follower said it like this: “There are not enough people like this: today’s elderly seem to think that they can’t be the same as when they were young.”
No matter how you say it, this Grandma has got some get up and go and we are cheering for her in her awesome travels!
Ladakh ( known as the “Land of High Passes”) is a region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir that currently extends from the Kunlun Mountain range to the Great Himalayas in the south. Ladakh is inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent and is one of the most sparsely populated regions in all of India because of its high altitude and extreme weather. The culture and history of this ancient land are closely related to that of Tibet. While the Ladakhi language is different from Tibetan, about 60% of the language can be mutually understood by both Tibetans and Ladakhis.
Ladakh is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and historic culture. Ladakh is the highest settlement in India and as such the population of this expansive land is a meager 274,289. Among this population there is a mixture of many different ethnic groups, predominantly Tibetans, Monpas, Dards and Muslims. In 1979, the Ladakh District was divided into the Leh District (mostly occupied by Tibetan Buddhists) and the Kargil District (mostly occupied by Shi’a Muslims).
Life in Ladakh is mainly characterized by rhythms of spirituality because the native people have been devoutly faithful to its ancestral customs and traditions. Life here is simple and relatively untouched by the fast pace of technology and development that is so endemic across the rest of India. In the winter, hot water is hard to come by, and any running water at all (including flushing toilets or running faucets) is even harder to find. Leh, the capital of Ladakh, just got its first major provider of high speed internet in 2018 and most homes in the region still use wood and dung stoves for heat. The architecture in Ladakh exhibits strong influences from Tibet and India and many homes and structures are made from a simple construction of rammed earth and sticks.
The culture of Ladakh is mystical and is quite similar to Tibetan culture. The most popular cuisines of Ladakh, mostly of Tibetan origin, are Thukpa (noodle soup), Momo (meat or potato dumplings) and Tsamba (Barley flour porridge) . Religious mask dances play an important part of Ladakh’s cultural life and religious ceremonies. The traditional music of Ladakh includes the folk instruments like the Surna and the Daman (a type of shenai and a drum).
Ladakh is a highly charged spiritual center and I was most excited to unearth its secrets in my 7 days of travel. This was to be the 10th wedding anniversary celebration for my wife and I. We started our marriage thru-hiking 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada in 2008. Now, 10 years later, we felt that Ladakh was the perfect place to represent the life we have lived together since that time on the Tibetan Plateau. This was both a shared adventure for our family and a new experience for all of us to enjoy the culture and grandeur of an ancient land.
And so we felt the electricity of excitement wash over us as we landed in the Leh airport as our necks craned furiously this way and that to try to take in all the glory of Leh’s majestic mountains…
As our plane touched down in Leh IXL airport we were immediately surrounded by gnarly mountains. The tallest of these mountains just around 30km from town is 6,150 meters / 20,177 feet. I had read that the only way to access Leh in the winter time is by airplane. It is literally closed off to the rest of the world by road because the high passes are too icy and too high to be crossed safely in the winter. During the summer months there are many Indian tourists who drive over the pass from Srinagar but in these lonely winters the whole town shuts down and 97% of all hotels and business close their doors. The entire industry of Leh is focused either on a very short burst of tourism in the mild summers OR a large contingent of Indian military bases who work year round to protect the well guarded border with Pakistan. Looking at these snowy 5000 meter/ 16,400 feet jagged mountains that surround the town I could see why nobody was coming in or going out on the roads. This is a desolate, isolated place.
The flight attendant announced that the air temperature is -7 Celsius outside. While that is certainly in the range of cold, below-freezing weather, I was still surprised. The travel agency that was hosting us had told us it could get down to -25 Celsius during the day so I was prepared for something quite Siberian (it turns out that it did later actually get that cold on the high passes outside of town). We had to get off the airplane and get onto a bus that drove us to the airport arrivals building. I stepped outside with no jacket and instantly felt the rush of the mountain wind. We crammed into an old 1980’s jalopy bus and it rattled across the tarmac with several Indian travelers standing up in the aisle. We were almost certainly the only white people in the whole military-style rickety bus. I was surrounded by huge men with whispy mustaches. These men had a hardiness- something that speaks of legend and bravery- of life in the Himalayas.
As we walked into the tiny airport in Leh (which literally had one door to get in the airport and only a solitary gate where all the flights board) it at first felt familiar because it was decorated with red paint and the colorful treasure vases and gems of Tibetan Buddhism. I had seen this type of decor a 1000 times on the other side of the Himalayas in Tibet. The columns all resembled those of a Tibetan monastery with the eternal knot and other Tibetan religious icons swirling around the pillars. In fact, it felt more like a small countryside monastery or a home then it did an airport. Except for the singular turning luggage carousel this could have been a well furnished restaurant (except there was no food to purchase here and the whole space was freezing). The tall, steel, restaurant-style space heaters that you see on an outside patio at in upscale Italian bistro- these were scattered around the inside of the airport and passengers wearing all their winter jackets were all bundled around them like campers around a bonfire. I had never before seen an airport that was so cold that you needed space heaters to keep from freezing as you picked up your luggage from baggage claim.
My wife took the luggage off the carousel amidst the disorganization of everyone trying to get their luggage at once. Meanwhile, I headed about 50 feet over to the exit hall where there were luggage carts strewn about willy-nilly. As my hands gripped the metal bar of the cart I was shocked. This was probably the coldest metal I had ever touched in my life and we were still inside the airport.
My wife and I placed our luggage on the chilly cart and as we did we tuned into the repeating loud speaker announcement that was continually saying that we needed to rest for our first 24 hours because of the severe altitude. We were certainly happy for that advice as we had woke up at 4:00am to catch our 6:40am flight from New Delhi DEL to Leh IXL. We wanted nothing more than to hit a comfy bed and curl up for a long winter’s nap.
Rinchen, owner of Atisha Travels, recognized me as I filled out my arrival form (compulsory for all foreigners) and patted me on the shoulder with a warm welcome. I had not even left the baggage claim area and somehow my tour organizer was standing next to me. I guess in a small town of 30,000 people a guy like this knows everyone and can just stroll through security to pick up his guests. I was also a little taken aback by the fact that he immediately knew my face even though we had never met before. I guess there were not too many other foreign faces in the crowd so it was an easy process of elimination.
We hopped into the white Toyota Innova van that would be our faithful mountain companion for the next 7 days. This is apparently the nicest vehicle you can buy in all of Ladakh and is the standard for most private foreign tourist groups. In America, it would be a mid-end family mini van. But here among the clunky army trucks and the Indian Tata tractor trailers this is seen as a luxury vehicle. The Toyota Innova is the Mercedes of Ladakh.
Because the town is so small we drove 20 minutes and we had already passed the airport area military bases, downtown Leh, and were now on the opposite side of town. We arrived at a little alley way with a modest metal signed painted with the words “Shanti Guesthouse”. We walked through an outside stone-walled corridor and were in the lobby of one of the only places that were still open in the winter. While almost every other hotel and tour operator had packed their bags to vacation on the warm beaches of Goa, Southern India, Nicky and her crew at the Shanti Guesthouse stuck around to brave the brutal winters and host Indian and foreign tourists who were preparing to walk on the frozen Zanskar River. This is an epic 100km walk over a frozen ice sheet that takes around 10 days to complete. This trek is known globally as the Chadar Trek and the small amount of tourists permitted to walk this savagely cold river represent most of the groups coming through in the dead of winter in January and February. This means that Shanti Guesthouse with its 30 rooms was fully booked out every single night while we were there. Much of the only other accommodation available was in local Homestays (which are much more rustic than this official hotel).
We arrived at the Guesthouse at 9am. It was still early but we all felt totally bushed. They let us partake of their amazing Indian buffet breakfast and then let us take a mid-morning nap in an unoccupied hotel room while they prepared our room.
Our whole family snuggled under a giant fluffy white duvet and had an amazing sleep.
In the afternoon we drove to the downtown area and had Tibetan momos and Thukpa noodle soup in one of the few restaurants still open in the winter. Then we took a short drive 10 minutes above town to Shanti Stupa (there is also a series of about 400 steps you can walk up from the bottom of the Guesthouse but we opted for the car ride as we had our kids with us). The Shanti Stupa was a gift from Japan and has an amazing overlook into the nearby mountains. I was eager to photograph the surrounding mountains and this was the perfect place to jump into shooting some of the most incredible panoramas.
We returned to the guesthouse in the mid afternoon and after a nice buffet dinner at the Shanti Guesthouse, our family headed in for an early night. Everything was exhausting. I felt like I had to take a nap every time I walked up the 12 marble steps to our second floor guest room. Everything I did at that altitude took the breath out of my lungs and left me gasping for air. Even bending over to tie my shoes got me out of breath and this simple task took about 5 minutes to complete because I had to take a break a few times. I felt like a 85 year old man who had been smoking his whole life. Yet I had never smoked and was in relatively good shape and I was only 36 years old.
Like many first nights at altitude, I did not sleep well. That first night in Leh, I was laying in bed for 12 hours but only 7 hours of that time allowed me much sleep. At one point I woke up and was terrifically thirsty for water because of the severe dry climate. I wanted to listen to an audiobook and drink some water to bide the long uncomfortable night, but it took an hour for me to lean over and grab my headphones and my water bottle because I was in such a daze. I was neither awake nor asleep, my head throbbed and I felt like I was in some form of foggy sleep purgatory. I can only imagine how the mountaineers on Mount Everest feel at the top. They must be very disoriented and confused in both their waking and fitful sleeping.
The only actual activity we managed this first day was a brief 15 minute car ride up to the Shanti Stupa and a 200 meter stroll around downtown. Yet that minimal amount of activity had thoroughly worn us out in our first 8 hours at 3,500 meters/ 11,483 feet. Based on this experience, I highly recommend doing nothing in your first 24 hours in Leh.
The lady on the airport intercom was absolutely right!
We had a late morning and ate breakfast at 9am. We met Tenzin, our driver and guide for the week, at 10am and took off to the Leh Palace. Then we drove through the downtown area of Leh and up a winding overlook sitting above Leh. It was only a 15 minute drive and suddenly we were climbing the steps up into the dark, mud-daubed halls of Ladakh’s iconic Leh Palace. Ladakh is well known for tall medieval-looking imposing palaces sitting high up on vertical, lofty cliffs. I was eager to see and photograph these extremely picturesque fortresses hovering above the valleys like untouchable sentinels. But I was surprised to see that such a Palace was just right above the town of Leh. We were right over the town and the view was incredible! And, best of all, we had the whole palace to ourselves in the winter low season.
Leh Palace is one of the most important historical monuments of the Ladakh region. Modeled on the Potala Palace of Lhasa in Tibet, this 9-story royal palace was built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century. But later in the 19th century, the royal Ladakhi family abandoned the palace when the Dogra kingdom took control over the Ladakh region. The design and architecture of the palace is similar to the Potala Palace and it resembles the fine Tibetan architectural style with high sloping walls that slope inward at a precise 85 degree angle thrusting upward into the sky like a series of chimneys from a Charles Dickens novel. The dark, relatively unlit interior of the palace is decorated with beautiful motifs and murals and remains rather primitive and rustic. Walking inside the Palace, it is easy to feel that even for royalty this was a stark and cold place with few creature comforts.
The palace is open to the public and the roof provides fantastic panoramic views of Leh and the surrounding areas. The real highlight of the Leh Palace is winding up through creaky old wooden steps through 9 floors of low ceilings and narrow hallways. I truly felt like a kid exploring his grandma’s attic for the first time and somehow the passage was leading me not only back in time but to further into the discovery of a mythical Narnian land. I have to truly say that I enjoyed the exploration of the fairy tale palace as much as my kids as they eagerly climbed the steep steps to the top.
There are several places along the way to stop and take photos on many of the different levels of the Palace, including some medieval open windows where you can actually stand on a barely supported balcony if you dare to step out of the window and onto the ledge.
From the top of the Leh Palace there is an excellent view of the 6,150 meter mountain, Stok Kangri, in the Zanskar mountain range. There are excellent views across the Indus Valley to the south, with the Ladakh Mountain range rising behind the palace to the north.
After about 1 hour exploring the Leh Palace we drove around the corner to the slightly higher neighboring Namgyal Tsemo Monastery.
Founded in early 15th century, Namgyal Tsemo monastery is renowned for its three-story high solid gold idol of Maitrieya Buddha. Situated on a mountain top behind the Leh palace, the monastery offers similar views as the nearby Leh Palace but from a slightly higher and wider vantage point.
The gompa was founded by King Tashi Namgyal in 1430 AD who was a major follower of Buddhism. As a mark of his respect to Buddhism, the king built the partner monastery above his palace. Situated at the cliff of Namgyal hill, its architecture is impressive.
The view of Leh from the gompa is breathtaking as the view changes with light. For this reason Namgyal Tsemo monastery is a favorite with photographers.
Down the hill side there is the Shankar Gompa which is also associated with Namgyal Tsemo monastery. It is a daily ritual followed by monks to walk from the Shankar Gompa to worship Buddha and light butter lamps at Namgyal Tsemo.
There is actually a mountain path from Leh Palace that runs up into the saddle where Namgyal Tsemo Monastery sits. This is about a 30-40 minute walk and many either walk up or down between the monastery and the Palace. If you do take the path rather than driving between the 2 points be warned that you should take steps very slowly and with deep breaths. Overexertion, even on something as simple as a 30 minute hike, can really hit you later on in the day and may make you really feel the first signs of Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS.
After seeing Leh Palace we had a terrific Indian lunch back at the the Shanti Guesthouse and had a rest.
In the afternoon we drove 30 minutes to Shey Palace and had a terrific view of the colors of sunset as they danced over the Leh Valley and highlighted the snowy mountain tops.
We drove another 15 minutes to our guide’s house, right between Tiktsi Monastery and Shey Palace. This was hands down one of the highlights of our journey as we got to experience true Ladakhi hospitality and participate in making authentic momos. This was a process that involved rolling the dough out, cutting it in circles, and stuffing the dough with a delicious mixture of pork and special spices and herbs.
Our hosts steamed the momos and we had a delicious dinner! Of course, the ones we rolled out didn’t look as good as the perfectly pinched folds of their professional dumplings but, nonetheless, they were all very tasty!
It was an incredible night spent laughing and drinking Chai tea by their warm fireplace and I have to say it was really on that night that I so fell in love with the warmth and kindness and good humor of the Ladakhi people.
We left our delightful hosts at 11pm and were back at our guesthouse by 11:30pm for a much better night sleep than we had had the previous night. Now we were getting better acclimatized and our breathing was a little less troubled than the night before.
Every day we ventured a little further from the town of Leh out into the true wild beauty of Ladakh. On this 3rd day we started to feel a little bit more ourselves and generally started feeling better acclimated. From Leh we drove 3 hours to Lamarayu Monastery. Along the way we stopped at Alchi Monastery. This is a very special monastery because it records the history of Tibetan Buddhism BEFORE it moved into the Tibetan Plateau. Most of the monasteries we saw in Ladakh were created when Buddhism moved from India to Tibet and then returned back into India. But this monastery is from the 11th century and predates much of the the movement of the teachings of the Buddha before it moved north across the Himalayas. After a 15 minute walk down a small alley way through a very tiny village, we arrived in the middle of Alchi Monastery. From a position of size this was not much to look at. There must only have been a handful of monks that still take care of this old countryside monastery. While I have been in monasteries in Tibet that hold thousands of monks and you can hear the roar and bellow of chanting and drums and horns, the only sounds that whispered about Alchi Monastery were the tinkling of a few windchimes and the pittering songs of chirping sparrows. This was a peaceful place.
What Alchi Monastery lacks in size in makes up for in history and character. The woodwork from the stupas and the few small temples (each little bigger than a quaint wooded cottage) bears definite fingerprints of Indian architecture. The wood is dark and stained with years under the bright sun and the the lattice work on the windows is definitely different from the carvings on any other Tibetan Buddhist monastery I have ever seen. Even the main stupa in the monastery courtyard had features that were markedly different from those on the Tibetan Plateau. This stupa has a cave built inside of it where you can walk in under the holy relics inside. Essentially there is a small 2 meter high stupa within the greater 7 meter tall stupa and you can walk in under the smaller (and assumedly holier) stupa. There is a small set of prayer wheels around the monastery and we took the quick 10 minute kora around the compact complex. On the far side of the kora we passed a single pilgrim walking around the monastery clockwise. I stopped as the pilgrim passed and climbed a fenced wall to get a peek into the nearby the flows of the legendary Zanskar River. From there I saw a perfect turquoise blue river that was flowing under a massive vertical cliff face. This view alone made Alchi Monastery so worth it. Altogether we spent about 35 minutes around the monastery. You can pretty much take the whole thing in about 20 minutes because of its size.
We departed Alchi and drove another 1.5 hours on our way to Lamarayu Monastery. Along the way we drove by the confluence of the Zanskar River and the Indus Rivers. It was stunning to see where the glacial ice meets at the convergence these two rivers. Seeing these two rivers pour into one was like watching two brilliant turquoise snakes intermingling and mating and shedding their skins and scales as they merged into one larger churning snake basking against the sunlit backdrop of dramatic reddish mountains with not a scrap of vegetation on them.
20 minutes before we got to the monastery we stopped at a landscape that is literally called the “Moonland”. This is an all yellow and brown landscape that has mountains and hills that arise out of the ground like a network of burgeoning bubbles. There must be 1000’s of tiny humps and ridges (at least they looked tiny to us from far away) and they all sit within a 1 mile area on top of each other like some alien super colony of termites. I am not exactly sure what the surface of the moon really looks like, but I can only imagine that the first astronauts there must have experienced something close to this in the eerie sense of barren unfamiliarity as they stepped out of their moon rover for the first time.
After a few pictures of the Moonland, we dropped down to 9,500 feet to Lamarayu Monastery. This was, ironically, the lowest altitude we were at in our entire stay in Ladakh. Lamarayu Monastery is one of many picturesque monasteries that sits perfectly perched high atop a steep hill. In fact, the location of the monastery doesn’t just make for a great picture, it truly evokes wonder that long before cranes and backhoes and CAD there were men in the 12th century who climbed these great mountains and built 7 story structures in the highest and most impossible spaces. Just the act of building the monastery seemed like an act of spirtual discipline and determination. The distance we drove from Leh became immediately worthwhile. We spent an hour just walking around this impressive structure and taking 100’s of pictures from every angle as we gazed down across the valley and into the jagged peaks that protect and encircle the monastery like menacing guards. There was something very sacred here and I walked slowly around the high, steep walls of the monastery over the rubble and scattered stones of staircases that had crumbled and fallen over 10 centuries of weather and erosion.
While my wife entered a few temples to look at the ornate Thangka paintings, I walked the perimeter of the monastery like a curious child digging a tunnel through the underbelly of a sand castle. Then we both ascended to the roof of the monastery for more incredible views along a line of lonely flapping prayer flags. It was 360 degrees of jaw dropping beauty up there and I really could have stayed on that roof laying in the sun like a lazy cat all day long.
Like Alchi Monastery (and just about every where we went) there was a still reverence here. But this monastery – even more so than the other hill top structures – seemed to also carry a commanding, kingly authority. There was something quite grandiose about this monastery in its geography and in its ancient foreboding walls. This was like a mighty castle looking down on all its subjects in the valley below, confidently certain of its regal position.
Feeling the high from a great scenic drive and the inspiring walk around Lamarayu Monastery, we drove back in the direction of Leh town and pulled off the road to stay in homestay just 45 minutes from the hallowed corridors of Lamarayu. We got into the homestay just as the sun was setting and we could feel as soon as it did that the air significantly dropped in temperature from cool and sunny to dark and icy.
Fortunately there was an incredible wood fire in the stove burning in the homestay and we were very cozy inside. There we ate yet another filling and scrumptious dinner of homemade Indian food.
While there was no hot water (and no heat in our small room) we all had 2 thick blankets on us and were quite cozy and warm in the corner bed room of the homestay.
Today we drove from the homestay location to the famous Chadar Trek. We spent much of our time on the road. About 2 hours of this time was actually spent on paved road and then we spent another 5 hours in the back of a Japanese Gypsy SUV bumping our heads against the unpadded roof as we navigated a very narrow and dusty road that winded along the steep canyons that hung 600 meters over the Zanskar River.
Probably the most unnerving thing about the road were the places where backhoes were doing construction amidst piles of boulders to help clear and widen the road from treacherous, unpredictable rock fall. It was at these time that, due to the presence of construction on an already tight road, we were no more than a hand’s width away from the unprotected edge on a road that was not much wider than our own car’s frame. The drop below into the river was at least 300 meters and we would have all died instantly if any rock fall or sudden driving malfunctions were to push us over the edge. I trusted our car and our driver and I just tried not to think about that possibility too much as I knew that our guide had driven this bumpy mountain pass many times with many different groups.
The Zanskar River was made particularly famous by the BBC documentary called “Human Planet”. One of the series in the documentary highlighted a Ladakhi girl who had to cross 100 km of the river to get from her father and mother’s humble dirt-walled home to her small boarding school so she could start her semester with her classmates. The journey across the ice looks particularly daunting and several times she walks with her father across crackling, dangerously thin ice so she can make it to her studies. The particular climax of the whole episode is where most of the ice on the river has melted and there remains only a narrow, life threatening sliver of ice as the single passage along the bottom of the steep canyon walls. Every conceivable path is blocked for this little girl except a thin sheet of ice that is clinging to the side of the river bank; all the rest of the river is surging with the terrible current of fast-flowing, hypothermia-inducing melt water. There is only a small margin of ice less than half a meter wide for the girl and her father to belly crawl under an overhang so she can make it to school. The young girl bravely and faithfully follows her father’s experienced movements through the narrow ice passage and she squirms to an area that is more stable and well protected. Ultimately, the girl heroically makes it to her school for the year without any incidents. But the whole affair leaves the viewer with a sense of awe that so many sacrifices and challenges are undertaken just to make the commute to elementary school.
Since this famous scene in BBC’s “Human Planet”, thrill-seeking curious trekkers have found their way to the north of India to see and discover the river for themselves.
For these reasons, the Chadar Trek (which means “Ice Trek” in Ladakhi) is like no other trek in the Himalayas. Like the girl’s journey in the film, this trek involves walking on a frozen sheet of glass that is ever shifting and creaking above the current of the waters underneath it. Dramatic mountains rise on both sides of the river adding to both the beauty and the danger. While the trek does not gain much altitude because you walk along the icy surface of flat river, it almost feels like an expedition to the North Pole where the temperatures drop down to -35 degrees Celcius at night. The food rations are transported on improvised wooden sledges by local Ladakhi porters and the trekkers find their lodging in such wild and strange places as caves along the rivers’ edge and by beaches littered with sharp ice wedges and snow crevasses.
The trek allows you to get to know the Zankari culture up close through the lense of locals and their hospitality. One of the highlights of the trek is the magnificent Nerak Waterfall that is frozen completely from top to bottom. The best (and only) time to do this trek is from mid-January to mid-February. That is when the Zanskar river freezes and the ice is thick enough to walk across – at least for most of the trek. There are a few sections where the trekkers actually have to traverse the canyon walls like mountain goats on the crags in order to avoid thin or non-existent ice and the rowdy whitewater currents of the below surging river.
I had seen the “Human Planet” documentary and, like many watchers, I was immediately taken by this alluring, bewitching icy serpent. I had even been planning to take my family on the full 10 day trek up and down the Zanskar River and had determined that I would pay a local Ladakhi porter to pull a sled with my kids on it so they did not have to walk across the slippery ice. When I presented this plan to my wife she was not so keen. Having talked to locals, we realized that trek was realistically safe enough for our children, especially under the watchful and experienced eye of local Ladakhis who knew exactly where to step for the best passage on the ice sheet. But I think the real sticking point for our children would have been the blistering cold. It is one thing to walk on a river as an adult in -25 Celcius because we’d be producing some body heat in our movement. But for kids to sit on an ice sledge in that kind of weather and then to spend the night in an uninsulated tent on the ice felt a little imposing for us.
My wife, though, is pretty adventurous so she did compromise with me to at least go out and see the Zanskar River close up. So we opted to make a day trip out of it so at least we could have fun sliding about on the ice without having to commit to 10 days of relentless cold.
As soon as we got out of the car and skidded across the ice, my wife looked at me with a big smile and said, “I wished we had done all 10 days with the kids!” Once we were out there we could see that whole trek was well organized and well equipped. There were fancy cook tents that provided hot meals every night for the trekkers and private bathroom tents and meeting tents that housed each and every expedition. Every day, the government of Ladakh allows exactly 100 trekkers to be out on the ice. These trekkers are usually divided between 5-10 different expeditions, most of which are comprised of Indian travelers who want to walk on the ice. After being on the ice and hanging out by one of the main base camps for a few hours, it was easy to tell that most of these native Indians were wealthy suburban tourists who were looking to get out the busyness of Delhi or Mumbai to have an adventure. These were regular people – doctors, accountants, taxi drivers- and seeing those regular people out doing something extraordinary really made me feel like our family could have probably done the whole trek. My wife and I both agreed that with the right ultra thick and warm sleeping bags (which can be rented from the Chadar Trek expeditions), we could have managed the trek with our kids.
But, in the end, we were totally fine that we did not do the whole trek. After all, it gave us something to come back for. The day we spent out slipping and sliding on Zanskar River was precious. Our kids had a blast throwing huge chunks of ice into parts of the exposed river. And we even got to borrow a little miniature sleigh to pull them along the ice. They loved every minute of it and it was really quite sunny and warm out on the ice under the afternoon sun.
After playing on the ice, we drove back to Leh and got into the Shanti Guesthouse for a nice night in the heat of the hotel’s working radiator. And boy did a hot shower feel good that night!
Despite the perceived (but probably not actual) danger of the Chadar Trek, there was something that was haunting me far more than walking on shifting ice. I had heard about the highest motorable road in the world. And I had even watched a few YouTube videos as cars drove carefully over the packed snow and ice on tires covered with chains and with nothing on the edge of the road to protect them from sliding off into a Himalayan abyss. And it all sounded pretty gnarly to me.
The Khardung La is a dirt-road pass that crosses over an elevation of 5,600 meter / 18,300 feet. After driving over some pretty narrow mountain roads myself in Tibet, it wasn’t the steep drop off that really concerned me. It was that I was bringing my family to an elevation higher than any we had been to before. My wife and I had climbed to over 17,000 feet around Lhasa before we had kids, and living on the Tibetan Plateau our kids had even been to 14,000 feet a few times with us on family backpacking trips. In all these conditions we had all done very well in regards to health and acclimatization. But 18,300 feet was a whole new level. This was starting to get up near the top of North America’s tallest mountain, Mount Denali. This was the stuff of epic mountaineers and crampons and oxygen tanks.
But through a lot of research and planning and after many talks with our experienced tour agency, we decided that it was possible. Our kids were, after all, no more likely to get Acute Mountain Sickness than any other adult. We just were not sure if they did start to feel nauseous up there how they would react. But we did know this: we had spent plenty of time acclimating in and around Leh, we had emergency oxygen in the car if we did run into any disconcerning situations, and the best cure for any altitude related sickness is to descend quickly to a lower altitude. Since we were driving up from 11,500 feet to 18,300 feet in a matter of about 2 hours we knew we could descend pretty quickly in our car along the road.
So with those contingencies in hand, we set out to drive over the world’s tallest motorable road with our two children. As we drove up, I kept glancing at the back seat looking for headaches or other signs of discomfort. Other than our son feeling a little sleepy, we got up to the high pass without any incident. And, of course, we snapped a few selfies on the top and we did not spend much time up there in that rarified air because we wanted to descend quickly. All in all, I was very proud of my family for doing so well and we all felt very good considering the winding roads and the high altitude. All my fears about the big high pass were put to rest.
And then came the really fun part. As we descended from the Khardung La into the Nubra Valley, we could see large stretches of sand before us. There was, too, a river that braided in and out between the piles of sand as it wove into the foot the hovering mountains. As we crept down in altitude, the whole valley opened up into a flood plain full of blowing dust. This was the famous Nubra Valley, famous for the indigenous fuzzy two-humped Bactrian camels that lived there. These camels were some of the only animals in the world who could survive in both the extreme cold and lack of water. There were obviously quite specialized to make it at 10,500 feet in one of the driest, toughest places in the world.
Once at the bottom of the valley, we visited Diskit Monastery and the statue of India’s largest future buddha. This statue had to be at least 30 meters tall and it sat on a golden throne that overlooked the entire expansive desert valley. From the future buddha statue we drove through long stretches of highway into the real heart of the Nubra Valley right smack into the rolling sand dunes. At around 5 meters high, these dunes were certainly not anything near the size of the dunes you might see in the Sahara Desert. But there was a very certain texture on them that made them enchanting. The wind blew the sand into an intricate pattern of miniature waves and ridges that almost made the dunes look like they were covered with crochet work.
After jumping into the dunes and rolling down them like we were lost raiders fleeing desperately in the desertscape of planet Jakku in Star Wars, we headed to a remote desert camp. After about an hour drive we arrived at this camp and had a wonderful soak in their hot springs tubs. The water was so hot (being directly piped from the ground) that we had to wait two hours for it to cool off before we could even get in it. But our whole family eventually had a wonderful bath and that was a great way to wash all the sand off our bodies from jumping about the sand dunes.
With an incredibly relaxing hot springs bath we were all very relaxed and clean! That night we slept awesome!
Day 6 was our last full day in Ladakh and we definitely took advantage of every daylight hour.
We woke up in our VIP hit Springs Camp and had a warm cup of Chai and jumped in the van.
The sun was just cresting the snowy peaks and the soft morning light played on the new morning snow.
We drove back to the small town where we had lunch the day before and ate a simple breakfast of eggs and Indian bread.
Knowing that we were going to be a long way from civilization on our drive out to Pangong Lake, I wanted to stock up on Snacks and drinks for the 8 hour car ride ahead of us. I stopped in a very small convenience store in a town of about six single-room concrete-block buildings (which altogether had probable total population of around 15 locals) set out in the middle of the Nubra Valley desert. Half of the buildings in town were buried under 3 meters of rubble and trash because of a recent flood that had surged through the floodplain of this desert valley. Desert landscapes are not used to receiving large amounts of precipitation or snow melt and this basin had fully been washed out and submerged in a recent deluge. The town was already very forlorn and rustic looking and having the few buildings in it being destroyed by a flash flood made it even more lonely. To add to the desperate feeling, there was a pack of 10-15 starving wild dogs who roamed the 50 meter-long strip in town looking for food scraps. They were all quite scraggly and were constantly biting and arguing about the pecking order of the group. Just the day before, our guide Tenzin was attempting to feed these wily dogs and had gotten bit pretty severely on his left hand. The dog bite bled on his finger and we were unable to find any Tetanus or rabies shots in the nearby town of Diskit. So a caution to travelers: do not feed the wild stray dogs and be careful to keep your fingers and your food close to your body. Some dogs may be aggressive enough to try to take food from your table or from your hands so have your radar up and do not leave your food unattended.
I was curious what the small dark convenience store had in the way of supplies. I was really just hoping for a few bottles of water and some Snickers. The convenience store had a strange assortment of goods from chips to laundry detergent to pots and pans and plastic flowers. I knew I was in the middle of nowhere when the only bottle of water that was for sale in the whole dimly lit store was an already used half-filled bottle. They obviously had no water for sale. I bought a few juice drink packages of sickly sweet mango syrup juice and hoped that would be enough to stave off thirst and headaches as we drove over another 5,400 meter/ 17,716 foot pass back to Leh. For snacks there were no Snickers. But they had some dried lentil beans which turned out to be quite tasty.
So another warning: When traveling to Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake, I recommend bringing 2-3 days of water in your car because bottled water can be hard to find. As it was, there was no place for us to get clean water for around 24 hours so we had to live off the few almost empty bottles we already had in the car and those sweet box drinks. We turned out to be okay but we were definitely cutting it pretty close in regards to hydration at altitude.
It was another 4 hours drive to Pangong Lake across the vast seas of rolling high desert. There were moments when the winds had completely covered the single track road with drifting sand and we had to drive over newly formed and ever shifting sand dunes in an attempt to find the other side of the road where the pavement continued several 100 meters out. And there were times the road just totally ended without warning and we found ourselves skirting disheveled fields of rocks with no clear path. Apparently in the summer lots of temporary tents pop up offering souvenirs and snacks in this area of Nubra Valley. But in the winter season this was a truly wild, forgotten place. We did not see another single car or a person for hours. One time I saw a lonely Ladakhi nomad walking by himself on the road and I found myself wandering wherever this man could have come from or where he was walking to. There seemed like no point of reference for his journey as we hadn’t seen a town or anything resembling a house for an hour.
We arrived at Pangong Lake around 2pm. There was no one else out on the whole lake except us. The only two people we could see from a distance were two local Ladakhis wearing ice skates and hockey gear who were hitting an ice hockey puck around on the frozen lake. It was strange to see signs of western development and recreation out there in the wilderness. But what I did not know at that moment was that the crowds were already preparing to gather around the shores of the frozen lake for a world record breaking Guinness Book of World Records event. Just the next day was to be the competition for world’s highest ice hockey game. Unfortunately we missed this game by a day since we had to fly out but apparently most of India’s Olympic hockey team is drawn from the ranks of local Ladakhis who love love and cherish the sport!
Pangong Tso (Tibetan: སྤང་གོང་མཚོ) is Tibetan for “high grassland lake” (“Tso” is the Tibetan word for “Lake). This an endorheic lake in the Himalayas situated at a height of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft). It is 134 km (83 mi) long and extends from India into China. Approximately 60% of the length of the lake lies in China and 40% of the lake is in India. The lake is 5 km (3.1 mi) wide at its broadest point. All together it covers 604 km2. During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline in nature. It is not a part of the Indus River basin area and is geographically a separate land locked river basin.
The brackish water of Pangong Lake has a very small amount of hardy micro-vegetation. Reportedly, there are no fish or any other aquatic life in the lake, except for a few small saltwater-tolerant crustaceans. The lake is in the process of being identified as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. As such it will be the first trans-boundary wetland in South Asia under this convention.
In the summer the waters of the lake are a brilliant blue and this is said by many to be India’s prettiest lake. However, the lake in winter lacks the bright colors of summer and gray ice stretches across the shores and the rim of the lake is spotted with brown vegetation and is chilled by piercing winds that rush across the flat surface. But there is still a rugged beauty here in the silence of winter.
In winter the Indian army drives their trucks across the lake to reach remote outposts that protect this disputed border.
We drove from Pangong Lake back to Leh without stopping too much. On the way back to Leh, we crossed India’s second highest motorable road at 5,400 meters / 17,716 feet. As we descended the high pass back into the Leh Valley the sun was setting right in front of us on the ridges and peaks that stand over Leh. It was a perfect view of dancing pinks and oranges that eventually faded into misty purples and then the ink black night sky.
This was our last night in Ladakh.
We got up early in the morning to fly out of IXL Leh airport. As I mentioned before this is a very small airport. Because it is so small I figured there would not be much time spent in getting from one place to another and I thought we could get through security in 1 hour. Thankfully our guide told us we really needed a full 2 hours to make it the 50 meters from the entrance to the flight departures gate.
I was, at first, a little skeptical of this warning, but the whole place is actually very chaotic and it literally took us the full two hours from our drop off at the airport to the time we were at the airplane gate.
Be aware that in India (or at least in Leh) there are several extra steps in flying out that we do not have in America.
The following list shows exactly why we took 2 hours to make our way through a building that was no bigger than a hometown grocery store.
1.) Getting in the door
There is exactly 1 door to get in the airport from the freezing cold weather outside.
Everyone was standing in the freezing cold at 6:30am in the dark parking lot in a confused gaggle (remember that Indians do not celebrate the concept of an orderly “queue”, so you may need to push your way to the front).
There were so many army soldiers all crowded about the doorway all ready to leave their military posts to go home and see their family. Fortunately, a kind airport attendant let us in the front of this mob of people because we had kids with us. Then once we were through the door we had to go through the presecurity check outside of check in to enter into the airport.
Here they examine your bag and after it goes through a X-Ray machine they tag it.
Strangely, at this presecurity check they ask for your flight ticket – which is unusual because you do not even get your ticket until you go into the airport and check your bags at the desk of your airline. So I was a bit taken aback by this but I was able to pull up my itinerary on my email on my phone.
So make sure you have a paper or electronic copy of your flight reservation handy as they will ask for this.
After your luggage goes through the X-Ray machine they throw your luggage into a jumbled pile of 100’s of bags.
Note to travelers: There is no order and all the bags get completely buried here so make sure when you sort through the pile to find all your luggage so that you do not forget small bags like laptop cases, purses, or backpacks which could get easily misplaced in the mess.
2.) Check bags and get tickets
This is what you would expect to be the most normal, standardized process in the whole airport. You walk up to your airline counter and you hand them your passports. The airline attendant taps a few things on her computer and she prints out your boarding passes and voila! – you are free to fly!
But the Leh airport was not quite that simple. As we were standing in line all sorts of people started to cut in line in front of us. This included a ton of army people.
When we finally got up to the counter they took all of our 5 large bags and put them on the conveyor belt weigh station at one time. Apparently Air India weighs the total of your bags rather than each bag individually so they want to weigh them at the same time.
Therefore we had 5 suitcases tottering on that small scale next to the check in counter for all 4 of us. As the rules were explained to us, you get 25 kg per person on Air India (that could be divided between 20 bags or 1 bag- it does not matter to them ).
It took the flight desk about 20 minutes to find our ticket in their system and during that time the power went out in the airport and my poor son was left in the bathroom with no light to see.
Eventually the Air India Staff was able to locate our reservation and we did actually get tickets. In the meantime our whole family bought a few cups of Chai and hoped that somehow they had not goofed our online reservation.
3.) Go through security
One of our hand bags/carry on items did not have a bag tag from the presecurity checks. So when I went to go through security the official there made me turn around and go all the way back to the front door to get a baggage tag. What I did not understand was that these bag tags were all the same generic tags that had the company logo. Every tag was identical and had no individual bar code or cereal number to identify this as a special bag or even your own personal bag. But for some reason they would not let me through without this useless piece of paper dangling from my bag. I suspect this is arbitrary proof that my bags had been through the outside X-ray pre-security screen and they accidentally missed tagging my bag in the chaos. Which, of course, is arbitrary proof that the whole process could do with a little streamlining.
So I dragged my tired son back across the airport and we tagged his little child suitcase and then we were allowed to go through security. At this point my wife and daughter had already gone through the second security screen and were waiting on the other side for us with a Indian pastry filled with microwave-warmed chicken.
4.) Examine your baggage
After you have put your carry on bags through a second redundant X-Ray machine you have to physically go outside in the freezing cold by the airplanes and see where all the checked bags are coming out. Again, the checked bags are lying in a pile and, for some reason, you must positively identify that, yes, your bags have in fact travelled the small length of the carousel and are sitting next the airport bus that will take you to your plane.
I suspect this is because the airport is so disorganized and chaotic that they have lost bags somewhere around this point and need people to make sure that nothing got lost on the hidden conveyer belt from check in to the time you get on the plane.
(Or this might be an added layer of security).
5.) Get in line for your flight
There is only one departures gate in the whole airport. Right next to this gate there is a sign that says “To Gates” and points left. So it would appear that you are to follow the ambiguous arrow to your gate. But actually the sign just points you to walk into a wall and there is really nowhere to go. For some reason this sign is basically placed directly over the one single gate. In fact, if you are standing at the sign close enough to see it’s words, you are already in line to board your plane and therefore have no reason to follow the sign. By this one gate there is no flight info listed on a screen to tell you which flight is boarding.
There were 100 army soldiers in civilian clothes waiting in line, so I just figured we could joined in that line. So like a sheep following the flock, I just got in line. Because there was no flight board or announcement I accidentally got in the wrong line. But eventually we figured out that this was the flight boarding before ours. I guess this is the problem with only having one gate. You might be in the right place, but you never know which flight you are actually in line for.
That first line was boarding a flight to Delhi. We got in the next line at the same gate which flied out to Chandigarh.
6.) Load on a crowded bus and boarded the plane
Just like the bus on our arrival this was an old jalopy that had standing room only. But the people of India are so hospitable that they gave our family some of the last remaining seats so our kids did not have to stand on the moving bus.
In summary, the Leh airport takes a long time to get through. If you are flying in or out of Leh expect that there will be about 2-3 extra steps in the check in process and a lot of people (mostly military) milling around the airport.
So leave yourself lots of time and expect mid amounts of disorder.
But once you are in the airplane what you can expect is the most terrific views of the Himalayas below you (and a lot of turbulence in the first 20 minutes of your flight). Ladakh offers many highlights and opportunities to see the raw breadth of the immensity of Himalayas. It is fitting that as you fly out from this mountain mecca that you pass over the very mountains that have given Ladakh its remote and untouched character.
As I watched the mountains pass away into the clouds I knew I would come be back to this land of mountains, monasteries, and mysteries.
One time was really just not enough!
Thanks for reading our story and hope it helps you along your own travels to Ladakh!
Keep coming back for more travel and trekking tips!