Trekking in Gansu: Lanzhou-Labrang-Langmusi-Zagana
Trekking in Gansu: Lanzhou-Labrang-Langmusi-Zagana
Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province is often known as the beginning of the Silk Road. But Gansu is so much more than camels and desert trading towns. This is the best of trekking and hiking in Gansu and after spending over 10 years crafting this itinerary, this is the culmination of so much of our work in our relentless search for stunning mountains and incredible hikes and captivating culture.
Travel south from Lanzhou to Gansu’s largest Gelugpa monastery to Labrang Monastery in Xiahe town. Then venture out into the best hiking Gansu has to offer in incredible open grasslands of Langmusi, and into the “Rock Box” canyon of Zhagana. This wild country combines some of our favorite hikes in all of western China and will be a nature-lover’s delight!
Here is a look at some of the very special locations on this trip as you trek through Gansu…
Our exciting hiking itinerary starts in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province with over 4 million residents. Lanzhou is the start of many of the Silk Road journeys through China. But if you turn south, rather than west, it is also the gateway into Amdo Tibet and high grasslands and rocky mountains.
Bingling Monastery and Cave Grottoes
From Labrang we will make our way to the the Bingling Temple. The Bingling Temple (simplified Chinese: 炳灵寺; pinyin: Bǐnglíng Sì) is a series of grottoes filled with Buddhist sculptures carved into natural caves and caverns in a canyon along the Yellow River. In fact, we will start and finish our visit to the grottoes on an awesome boat ride across this vast and scenic reservoir. It lies just north of where the Yellow River empties into the Liujiaxia Reservoir(劉家峽水庫; Liújiāxiá Shuǐkù). Administratively, the site is in Yongjing County of Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu province, about 100 km (62 mi) southeast of Lanzhou.
With a 1.5 hour drive from Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu, this is a very accessible day trip from Lanzhou. While this is not exactly trekking in Gansu, this is a not to be missed site of incredible historical and artistic importance.
The Bingling Caves were a work in progress for more than a millennium. The first grotto was begun around 420 AD at the end of the Western Qin kingdom. Work continued and more grottoes were added during the Wei, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. The style of each grotto can easily be connected to the typical artwork from its corresponding dynasty. The Bingling Temple is both stylistically and geographically a midpoint between the monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan and the Buddhist Grottoes of central China, such as the Yungang Grottoes near Datong and Longmen Grottoes near Luoyang.
Stand on the corner of the monastery pilgrimage and allow the smells of burnt juniper and grain offerings to fill your nose. Listen to the creaking of spinning prayer wheels and bells tinkling in the wind as you enter Labrang monastery. Here, as you amble around the world’s longest stretch of prayer wheels along a 3.5km long path around the monastery perimeter, you will encounter Tibetan pilgrims who have come to Labrang Monastery to pray for their friends and family. The monastery, with 1,600 monks, 18 temple halls, and six separate institutes of learning is a small city in and of itself and dominates the western part of Labrang town. The white walls and gilded roofs and endless alleys offer limitless opportunities to glimpse monastic life in action. And if you are up for some extra trekking in Gansu, you can walk the big kora on the mountain behind the monastery for about 1.5 hours as you pass Tibetan prayer flags, roaming sheep, and Tibetan pilgrims prostrating around the temple.
Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo)
Located right on the border of Sichuan and Gansu Province, Langmusi is a town that offers two distinct monasteries- one on each side of the provincial border. Langmusi (郎木寺; Lángmùsì – Tibetan: Taktsang Lhamo) means in the original Tibetan, “den of tigers”. While there are no tigers to be found there today, one can walk the deep rocky Namo Gorge just outside of town, past the bubbling spring that is the source of the White Dragon River, and can easily see how this Bavarian-esque landscape could have once been the remote mountain sanctuary for such wild beasts. This is some of the best trekking in Gansu and we will spend 2 whole days hiking outside of Langmusi town. Our first day hike will take us to the top of a soaring Red Rock Cliff at 3,700 meters and then our second day hike will take us into the Namo Gorge up into the craggy peaks at 4,000 meters that overlook Langmusi town.
If you are looking for trekking in Gansu, this is Mecca!
Located in Tiewu County, in the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Gansu Province, Zhagana is a little sleepy mountain town with a small population of about 2000 local residents. This town sits at a similar elevation to Langmusi at 3,200 meters and, like Langmusi, offers a “little Switzerland” warmth and quaintness. In the local Tibetan dialect Zhagana actually means “Rock Box” and as soon as you get your first breathtaking view of Zhagana you will know why. The town is seated under the soaring 1000 meter tall rock cliffs that make this one of the most picturesque towns in all of western China and the Tibetan Plateau. The main attraction here, of course, is the hiking, featuring not only deep, narrow canyons and gurgling rivers but verdant coniferous forests. If you have traveled for any length of time in Amdo Tibet, you will know that it is hard to find a good, green forest (or any shade at all) because most of the altitudes are too high and the weather is too severe for anything to grow up here. Zhagana is a refreshing exception to these harsh barren landscapes and we are sure you are going to want to spend some time journaling or napping under these tall beautiful evergreen trees as they sway in the breeze above you.
This charming town will take you back to a simpler time when farmers threshed their own barley and carved their own woodwork. There is a small monastery you can visit here and most of the residents still carry the prayer beads of Tibetan Buddhism. The town is at the heart of Amdo Tibet’s nomadic culture and is a crossroads for nomadic yak herders to trade their goods after they have ridden into town from the high surrounding rugged 4,000 meters. The town often can be quite misty in the morning and this gives a very magical feeling as the mist burns off from the high altitude sun and reveals the terraced mud-walled homes and the hay piles stored up for winter livestock feed.
The Zoige Wetland(aka Ruoergai Wetland), is located on the first major bend of the Yellow River on the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, just on the border of Gansu and Sichuan Province. This extensive wetland area contains about 1 million hectares of peat bogs, carex swamps, lakes, and high altitude grasslands. The wetland consists of several natural parks including the Gaihai National Nature Reserve, Zoige National Nature Reserve and the Hongyuang Riganqiao wetland nature reserve.
As an alpine wetland ecosystem, the Zoige Wetland area maintains a high degree of biodiversity and receives a high amount of rain every year compared to the rest of the Tibetan Plateau around it. Awarded the title as “best of all the wetlands in all of China” by Chinese National Geographic magazine, the Zoige wetland is a unique example of the flora and fauna on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalaya region. This area is also a national first level protection site for black-necked cranes that breed here.
The Tibetan name Zö/Hzöགཙོས། is pronounced Dzoi in Standard Tibetan and pronounced Hdzoi/Hdzu in the local dialect. Zö is the traditional name for a Tibetan Ibex and you can see statues of this animal throughout the town.
Today the city has been named Hezuo or 合作
Hezuo is the capital city of Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in southern Gansu Province. Standing at the junction area of Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces, it is the hub of nomadic activity of the central plains region and the Amdo Tibetan region. And it is also the center of commerce between historical Tibetan and Chinese trading.
Located at the northeast edge of the Tibetan Plateau, Hezuo is 276 kilometers south of Lanzhou.
Hezuo’s main attraction is the 9-story Milarepa Temple. It is said that there are only two temples of this kind in the whole Tibetan area, and the one in Hezuo is the only one which has nine floors and is dedicated to a primary founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Milarepa. Milarepa is one of the few saints who is thought to have attained enlightenment in one lifetime. He is often pictured as very thin and bony (as he was meditating and fasting in a cave for most of his latter years) and with his hand to his mouth as he would often sing his lessons and teachings to his disciples so they could better remember his ideas.
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Morning or early afternoon - Private Transfer to Hotel (about 60 minute drive from Lanzhou train station)
3:00pm - Arrive at Hotel in Lanzhou and check in. Settle into hotel and rest
4:30 pm - Meet in the lobby of the hotel/guesthouse and go out for dinner as we sample the specialties of the Lanzhou.From roasted sheepto barbecue kabobs, Muslim pickled vegetables, and specialty 8 Treasure Tea, Lanzhou is a hub of the Silk Road and as such has many unique dishes to offer.
5:30pm - Eat dinner togetherand introduce the schedule for the week
8:00pm - Return to 4 star hotel in Lanzhou to sleep and rest
Day 2 → Lanzhou - Bingling Cave Grottoes - Labrang
8:00am - Eat breakfast buffet at hotel in Lanzhou
8:30am - Drive to Liujiaxia Resevoir
10:30am - Arrive at Liujiaxia Reservoir and take a 40 minute boat ride to Bingling Temple, one of the Silk Road’s finest examples of ancient Buddhist art. The Bingling Temple is a series of grottoes filled with Buddhist sculptures carved into natural caves and caverns in a canyon along the Yellow River. The Bingling Caves were a work in progress for more than a millennium and the first grotto was carved around 420 AD at the end of the Western Qin kingdom.
2:15pm - Depart Liujiaxia Reservoir to drive 2.5 hours to Labrang
6:00pm - Arrive Labrang, settle into a Tibetan Boutique Hotel and rest
7:30pm- Eat authentic local style dinner with local grass fed sheep meat, Tibetan mushrooms, and other local specialties
8:30pm - Settle into our hotel in Labrang
Day 3 → Labrang - Langmusi
8:00am - Eat breakfast in hotel in Labrang
9:00am -Early morning walk to Labrang Thangka wall for pictures
Take a 1-2 hour around Labrang Monastery to walk with pilgrims as they circumnavigate this holy mountain that is thought to represent a protective deity overlooking the town of Labrang.
12 noon - Lunch in Labrang
1:30pm - Drive 3 hours to Langmusi, a town on the Gansu/Sichuan border at 3,200 meters
3:30pm - Stop in the high grasslands to see if you can see black necked cranes nesting in the high wetlands of the Tibetan Plateau near Gyanthan Lake, a high altitude alpine lake.
6:30pm - Arrive in Homestay in Langmusi town
8:00pm - Rest and sleep in homestay
Day 4 → Big day hike in Langmusi
8:30am - Eat breakfast in hotel in Langmusi
9:30am - This is our biggest and most adventurous hike of the whole trip and we will be gone all day for about 8 hours of hiking (although less hiking is also possible for younger kids and in this case there are plenty of rivers and springs to play in along the way ). We will hike above the Langmusi Monastery for an excellent view of the town. Our hike takes us through jagged rock cliffs up unto a high mountain peak to 4,200 meters
12:30pm - Eat a picnic lunch on top of the mountain
5:30pm - Return to Langmusi town and transfer to Tibetan nomad tent stay where we will spend the night with a nomad family.
7:00pm- Homemade dinner prepared by our nomad host family
Day 5 → Langmusi - Zagana
8:30am - Eat breakfast in Tibetan tent stayin Langmusi grasslands
9:00am - Experience nomad life with a relaxing morning in the open grasslands
1:00pm - Eat lunch with our nomad host family
2:00pm Drive to Zagana, an epic mountain town in Amdo Tibet with stunning views of high mistypeaks, notably the Yosemite-like rock face of GuangGai Mountain. Here you can view the traditional village life as you can find people in town still involved in farming and woodcutting
5:00 pm - Dinner in Zagana
7:00pm - Sleep in hotel or guesthouse in Zagana
Day 6 → Day hike in Zagana
8:00am - Eat breakfast in hotel in Zagana
9:00am -Spend the day enjoying the dramatic mountains of Zagana.This is a true trekker’s paradise and whether you are 5 years old or 50 years old there is plenty to do out on the trails here.
3:30pm - Return to Zagana village for an afternoon rest or some last minute souvenir shopping.
6:30pm - Dinner in Zagana
8:00pm - Rest and sleep in hotel in Zagana
Day 7 → Zagana - Tangke Grasslands
9:00am - In the morning spend time in the picturesque country of Zhagana, enjoying some nice short hikes through classic Tibetan villages.
12:00 noon - Lunch in Zhagana town
1:00pm- In the afternoon drive 3 hours into the high grasslands of Ruoergai.
4:00pm- Check into a hotel in Tangke.
6:00pm- Local Tibetan dinner in Tangke
8:00pm- Sleep in hotel in Tangke
Day 8 → 9 Bends of the Yellow River - Hezuo
9:00am -In the morning visit the Nine Bends of Yellow River. This is a national park with an incredible viewpoint of the first major bend of the Yellow River as it flows out of Qinghai Province. HIke up to a viewpoint to see 9 majestic, meandering bends in the river wind through the the high, open grasslands outside of Ruoergai town.
12:00noon- Lunch near the bends of the Yellow River.
1:00pm- After lunch drive 4 hours to Hezuo.
5:30pm- Arrive in Hezuo and check into hotel for the night.
Day 9 → Hezuo - Lanzhou
8:00am - Eat breakfast in hotel in Hezuo
9:00am - Today we start making our way back to Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu Province. But, before we leave Hezuo, we can spend an hour before lunch seeing the 9 story temple of Milarepa in Hezuo town. This temple tells the story of one of Buddhism greatest saints.
12:30pm -Lunch in Hezuo town
1:30pm- As we make our way back to Lanzhou we can stop along the road and breathe in the fresh air and take in the high, verdant pastures that mark this section of southern Gansu.
4:30pm- Arrive in Lanzhou city to rest in the hotel and shower
6:30 - Enjoy a nice warm, hearty dinner in Lanzhou
8:00pm- Sleep in hotel in Lanzhou
Day 10 → Depart Lanzhou
Eat breakfast in our hotel in Lanzhou
Morning: 1.5 hour private transfer back to Lanzhou LHW airport
Depart Lanzhou airport
9 nights / 10 days2-15$ Please Inquire USD/ person
Book with Stripe
Day 1- Arrive Lanzhou
Day 2 - Lanzhou - Bingling Cave Grottoes - Labrang
Day 3 - Labrang - Langmusi
Day 4 - Hike in Langmusi
Day 5 - Langmusi - Zhagana
Day 6- Hike in Zhagana
Day 7- Zhagana - Tangke grasslands, 9 bends of the Yellow River
Day 8- Tangke grasllands - Hezuo
Day 9 - Hezuo - Lanzhou
Day 10- Depart Lanzhou airport
Bingling Temple and Cave Grottoes
Langmusi Grasslands and a hike to the source of the White Dragon River
Trekking in Zhagana in Gansu
Hezuo Milarepa Temple
The high plateau of Thangkor and the first bend of the Yellow River
The price includes:
9 nights of lodging
All meals from dinner on Day 1 to lunch on Day 10
English speaking guide
Private vehicle and all transportation
Airport pickup in Lanzhou on Day 1
Airport dropoff in Lanzhou on the morning of Day 10
All entrance tickets to all activities, monasteries, and national parks mentioned in the itinerary
All meals, lodging, and tickets for your guide
All bottled water
The price does not include:
Tips for your guide (recommended if service is good)
Travel insurance (we require all travelers to provided their own travel insurance for the duration of the journey.We recommend www.worldnomads.comand this is fairly cheap)
I absolutely loved the trip to Qinghai Lake. It was supposed to be me, my wife and our 15mth old son but was wife was ill so I ended up going without her. It was my first time going out all day with my son without my wife and I was a little unsure how it would go. It ended up being an amazing day and Ben was amazing, happy to ‘go with the flow’ and spend the day in a way that best suited my son. My little boy absolutely loved playing in the wide-open spaces, playing with the locals and we even went on a fun speed boat. We had a great little picnic on the beach, with a breathtaking view of the lake. Although I can speak some Chinese, it was super relaxing not having to worry about anything as Ben did all the hard work and I simply got to relax and enjoy the day with my son. I cannot recommend Elevated Trips enough!