Dates: Aug. 19 - Sep. 2, Yours to choose
Kangding, Tagong, Garze, Dege, Sershu, Mado, Xining
Private 4X4 vehicle with driving distance 2400KM
Starts and end in Chengdu (with inclusive return flight from Xining)
The heart of Western China welcomes you as your driver navigates the throngs of cyclists which mix with the rhythm of a modern city. After a rest at your hotel, you're off to dinner and a visit at China's historical Three Kingdoms era Zhuge Liang Memorial Temple and Jinli Ancient Street.
Your private guide will escort you to the Giant Panda Research and Breeding Center for close up viewing of these curious creatures who are more native to Sichuan than the people themselves. In the afternoon you'll enjoy a stroll into China's past on a visit to Luodai Historic Town followed by an evening's entertainment at the Sichuan Opera.
Leaving Chengdu , today you head out of the Sichuan basin to penetrate deep into the mountains that guard the approach to the Tibet-Qinghai plateau. You pass through a virtual time warp on your six hour journey. Everything becomes new: landscape, climate, cuisine, language, customs, and of course, the people. On the first evening in Kangding (elev. 2600m) you'll visit Ngachu monastery, followed by a community dance (feel free to join in!). Distance: 325km.
The first thing you notice the next morning is that everywhere you look goes up! Kangding is perched on the edge of the Tibet-Qinghai plateau. A cable car (or optional walk) to the top of Paoma Mountain look-out will follow breakfast. The afternoon will include a fascinating introduction to this new land you've encountered with a visit to the Tibetan Museum of Cultural History. And a stroll through the markets later in the day will give you an idea of why this town has been a key historical trading center between Tibetans and the Chinese.
This morning is up, up, up… and over Zheduo Mountain (4200m) to the renowned nomadic trading village of Tagong (3700m). Weather permitting, along the way you'll see the peak of Mt. Gongga (7566m) - the highest peak in China outside of the Himalayas. A visit with the nomads and an optional short horse trek on the grasslands will precede a visit to an Ani-Gonpa (Tibetan nunnery). Then you continue rolling north across the plateau before you descend into the farming valley of Daofu(3000m). Distance: 220km.
Todays travel involves following the seemingly endless river valley as the vivid green heights of the grasslands above expand to elevations you believed grass didn't exist. Before you reach the day's destination at Ganzi (3400m) there is one more mountain pass to scale that provides a stunning view of a range of mountains that sits above Garze described by some as the "Alps of Kham", due to their high alpine beauty. Distance: 165km.
Continuing to traverse the base of the "Alps of Kham" as they reach north and west toward the cradle of Kham culture, the first stop of the day is the nomadic trading post of Manigangou and a picnic at majestic Yulin Lake. The afternoon includes stunning views as you cross the pass of Trola Mountain (5050m) and descend into the canyons that lead to the secluded town of Dege (3300m) - a popular destination for many pilgrimages throughout Tibet. Distance: 210km.
A town so rich in cultural and religious expression makes your biggest challenge of today trying to decide how much time to linger at the numerous sites, and how to best capture it all with your camera. One of the main highlights of the day includes a tour of Dege's Buddhist Printing House which produces hand printed scriptures that go all over Tibet and beyond. An exploration of the extensive monastic community above the printing house will also provide plenty of opportunity to engage with the locals.
Today's route traces back out of the canyons to the high grasslands that will carry you to the highest town in all of Kham - Sershu (4200m). The two epic mountain passes along the way provide the best possible exposure to high elevation nomadic culture and lifestyle that can be found short of venturing by horseback into this untamed land. Distance: 330km.
Turning east, today's adventure begins your exposure to the Amdo Tibetan areas that lie between Sershu and the tour's destination of Xining. Cruising across the plateau between 4200m and 4700m, this section of the tour offers access to some of the highest grasslands in the world (on good roads too!). The area is mostly uninhabited due to freezing temperatures and snow that can happen year round. The day's destination is Mado(4200m). Distance: 375km.
Forming the upper basin of the Yellow River, the stunning views around the twin lakes of Tso Gyaring and Tso Ngoring make today's day trip very worthwhile. The beautiful lakes are backed by the snow capped Kunlun Mountain Range that is visible on a clear day. There is also nomadic and religious life proceeding as usual in the area in and around these lakes, and with an old monastery situated between the two there is plenty to keep your camera busy. Distance: 200km.
The last overland portion of your trip awaits you as you prepare to visit the ethnic mixing bowl of Xining. After a good nights rest at a lower elevation and a two hour drive on good road to Xining, you are ready to head out on foot in the afternoon to explore the Muslim district with its many mosques and quaint restaurants offering their delicious specialty: mutton. Distance: 150km.
Today's short flight involves a huge shift in climates: from the arid heights of Xining back to the lowland city of Chengdu (1500m) in the agricultural basin of Sichuan. Rumor has it there is a (not so secret) surprise awaiting you. We believe there is no better preparation to be had the night before your onward travels than a restful night at the Shangri-la Hotel, Chengdu, including a farewell banquet and trip celebration. Flight time: 1hr 40min.