2018 Dates: June 5-15
Kangding, Tagong grasslands, Danba, Zhonglu village
Private vehicle with driving distance 850KM
Starts and end in Chengdu
The heart of Western China welcomes you as your driver navigates the throngs of cyclists which mix with the rhythm of a modern city. Chengdu's Buddha Zen Hotel offers a classy step into China's past, along with a neighbourhood to excite any photographer. After check-in and some refreshments, you're off to dinner and a visit at China's historical Three Kingdoms era Zhuge Liang Memorial Temple and Jinli Ancient Street. Keep your camera at your side as you will quickly become aware of just how far from Kansas you are! A relaxing trip orientation will follow back at the hotel with plenty of opportunity for questions.
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. Despite their relative inactivity, you will be surprised at the challenge of photographing these social furballs. In the afternoon you'll enjoy a stroll into the past on a visit to Chengdu's oldest and best preserved Buddhist temple: Wenshu Yuan. An afternoon rest will be followed by an introduction to the fun of Sichuan Opera (much more than just singing!). Following the show, an early night is advisable in preparation for your journey to an entirely different world tomorrow.
Leaving Chengdu, today you head out of the Sichuan basin to penetrate deep into the mountains that guard the approach to the ancient kingdom of Tibet. Kangding is perched on the edge of the Tibet-Qinghai plateau and this historic trading town remains a convergence of Han and Tibetan populations. 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 walk past Ngachu monastery on your way to dinner, followed by a community dance in the town square (feel free to join in!).
The first thing you notice the next morning is that everywhere you look goes up! The surrounding ridges speak of the protection offered by the strategic location of this historic town. A cable car (or optional walk) to the top of Paoma - 'Running Horse' - Mountain look-out will follow breakfast. The afternoon will include a fascinating introduction to this new land you've encountered on a relaxing photographic stroll through the enclave of Baitu Kan on your way to Dordrak Monastery on the west side of the Kangding valley. A pre-dinner 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.
Today a forty-five minute drive will take you out of town to the scenic mountain pass of Ya Jia Gen. Along the way, scenery of rural Tibetan life in still-ancient villages mixes together with panoramic views from the top of the pass to become a visual extravaganza. An alpine lake at the top will provide a surreal location for a picnic lunch, followed by exploration of the surrounding ridges by foot. You'll return to town by late afternoon in time for a short rest before dinner at the beautiful Malaya Tibetan Restaurant in the heart of town.
This morning is up, up, up… and over the Zheduo Mountain pass (4200m) to the renowned nomadic trading village of Tagong (3700m). Weather permitting, you'll see the peak of Gong-ga Mountain (7566m) along the way - the highest peak in China outside of the Himalayas. This high altitude grassland area is home to many nomadic families who spend their days herding yaks, and on any given day the town is bustling with nomadic traders. A visit to a local monastic community will afford the opportunity to engage with the carvers that engrave Buddhist scriptures on stones for the local pilgrims. There is an optional afternoon horseback ride (approx $50, not included in the tour price) for those with a sense of adventure. Evening includes dinner and a night at a nearby Tibetan style luxury lodge - an astonishing rural oasis worth visiting if only to photograph.
You'll enjoy one of the most scenic drives on the Tibetan plateau. The drive from Tagong to Danba is breathtaking in its rugged beauty. The route provides stunning views of one of the most beautiful mountains in Eastern Tibet, Yala Mountain, as you follow a seemingly endless mountain canyon down to the tucked away town of Danba (elev. 1900m). High up on one of the surrounding hills lies your destination for the next two nights: the quaint Tibetan village of Zhonglu.
Today a relaxing hike on the surrounding slopes will offer stunning views of the valley along with beautiful terraced farms where the locals have cultivated an existence for generations. This area is also famous for its ancient tower ruins that date back hundreds of years to the warring period between Tibetan clans. In the afternoon your host will treat you to an historical and cultural tour of his 700 year old home complete with cultural relics from hundreds of years ago.
Descending from the terraced heights of Zhonglu, this morning follows a tight canyon valley for three hours on a gradual climb to Changping, the gateway village to the alpine wonderland of Four Sisters Mt. The village is a quaint mountain community of local Tibetans who make a living off of serving mountaineers and trekkers who come from around the globe to adventure in the breathtaking mountains known as the Four Sisters (Siguniangshan, in Chinese). Following lunch, enjoy an afternoon photographic walk through the village and surrounding valley. An optional climb to the adjacent ridge for images of the sunset on the mountains will precede a later dinner.
This morning marks your reluctant departure from the mountains, but not before crossing one more 4,000m+ pass (Balang Mt.) for a final view from the Roof of the World. Descending the countless canyons and switchbacks through mountain villages will remind you again why Tibet has remained so cut off from the rest of the world for much of history. After a half day of travel you'll pull into Chengdu in the afternoon to enjoy rest and refreshment in your room at the Buddha Zen. Enjoy an optional bamboo bike ride along Chengdu's Funan River to feel the vibe of the city before a farewell dinner. Following dinner, a fun opportunity for a mini "exhibit" to display your favourite trip images via video projector provides the perfect way to reminisce over the past 10 days.