Daocheng Yading The Last Shangri La

Lost horizon, a novel written by James Hilton, has attracted millions of people searching for this mysterious land. Not until 1931 was Daocheng Yading discovered by a journalist named Joseph Rock. The discovery was later published on National Geographic magazine. Little did he know that the world would be so amazed at how magnificent this land is. Hence, came a theory claimed that Yading resembles the Shangri La in the orginal fictional story. Now, within widespread information about Yading, coming here is not an obstacle but it does still lack detailed guide in English. If you are still not sure about where to start, please take a look at this post. Be noticed that you may find other destinations within Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture along the main Daocheng Yading in this writing.

Understanding

Daocheng Yading (稻城亚丁) llies on an elevation of roughly 4,500 meters above the sea in Daocheng county, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan province, China. Conquering this area is not a piece of cake as it seems. You may expect AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), a symptom of physical conditions which relate to dizziness, dyspnoea and epistaxis.

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Daocheng Yading lies on a high elevation of more than 4,000 meters above the sea

These will take effect right immediately or slowly after you reach this elevation. Be aware that AMS may appear to anyone, no matter how strong or weak you are To prevent your body from suffering this, please take care of your health by eating nutritious food, exercising days before the trip  as well as taking some vitamin supplies or minerals. Another tip is to travel slowly from low elevation to higher area so that you are able to get familiar with the height. 

Best Season

The best season to visit Yading and Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (甘孜藏族自治州) is autumn and spring. During autumn, you may expect yellow leaves exist everywhere on you route. Due to biological facts of plants, You may not find any or  just a few trees with red leaves. Mostly as I observe, the higher the area is, the later autumn foliage last. So, it can be said that Yading is the very last region to expect foliage while those at other areas in the same region have faded away.

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Autumn is the best season to experience the beauty of Ganzi Prefecture.

For Daocheng Yading, most of the year, autumn reaches it peak at 20th October to early November. Xinduqiao Town and Litang is earlier with autumn peak at 10th to 20th October annually. For Danba county, the best time to visit is from early to mid November. There is also a high chance of snow and sleet in late October so please determine yourself the best time to go by yourself. With spring season lasts from early April to early July, the whole Ganzi Prefecture may have pink blossoms and some snow left after the winter. This will be the most suitable season for anyone who wants to experience the mild weather with flowers. Temperature may be as slow as 5 degrees at night and reach 10 to 15 degrees at daylight. 

Transportation

  • Now, the Daocheng Yading airport makes traveling to this area at ease with just 50 minutes of flight from Chengdu, Xian or Chongqing. Flight price varies from 50 US $ as the cheapest to as high as 300 US $ depending on the season. You shall check flights on Trip.com rather than other agencies since this website offer really good rate and sufficient customer service. I traveled to China twice and most of the time I use their service without worrying about issues. They do approve refunds at least 4 hours before flights with some airlines, which is not usual with other agencies. From the airport arrival hall, there are dozens of drivers waiting for you outside. Please bargain with them to have a good rate. Most of them just have 4 seat – car with limited English or no English speaking. Rate is roughly 100 RMB per person to Shangri La but they do stop at some places for you to visit before reaching the destination. You may share the car with other visitors and ask them to drop you off at Daocheng County with just 40 to 50 RMB per person.
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Daocheng Yading airport is the highest civilian airport in the world
  • Car rental is also a good idea for anyone who is afraid of AMS. Average traveling time from Chengdu to Shangri La (a small town in front of Yading nature reserve) is 20 to 24 hours of driving with approximately 900 kilometers. Range of price is from 1,000 RMB for a day with 7-seat car or less depending on your itinerary. 
  • Taking bus from either Chengdu or Shangri La town of Yunnan is an option for solo travelers. From Chengdu, you can find buses at Chadianzi Bus Terminal that departs at 6AM daily with fare of more than 250 RMB per pax. The bus takes 20 hours to reach Daocheng County. From there, please chatter a van or stay in the country for a night and depart to Yading early morning the next day. Price should not be higher than 500 RMB for a 7 seat – car from Daocheng County to Yading entrance. Besides, bus from Shangri La town aka Zhong Dian town takes 7 hours to reach Shangri La town of Sichuan or Yading entrance with fare of around 150 RMB.

Itinerary

For me, I traveled totally 11 days to reach most parts of this region. Long may it seems, I still did not have enough time to deeply absorb cultural features and traditional values there. For Yading, 2 days is a little bit short to visit all the trekking routes but it anyway help you to cover most of the tourist spots inside the reserve. You should take a look at my itinerary first and customize it on your own thoughts. Bear in mind that there is great distance among all the places, If you choose car rental as your vehicle, lengthen the plan is a must. 

Day 1: Chengdu 

Day 2: Chengdu – Daocheng – Shangri La

Day 3: Shangri La – Yading – Chonggu Monastery – Pearl Lake (Short circuit) – Yading village

Day 4: Yading village – Luorong Grass Land – Milk Lake – Daocheng County

Day5: Daocheng County – Litang – Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling Monastery

Day 6: Litang – Tagong – Muya Golden Tower – Xinduqiao Town

Day 7: Xinduqiao Town – Danba County – Jiaju Tibetan Village

Day 8: Jiaju Tibentan Village – Danba County

Day 9: Danba County – Chengdu

Day 10: Chengdu 

Day 11: Chengdu – Kuala Lumpur 

This intinerary, accoding to me, best suits anyone who does not have much time for traveling by car or bus. If you have plenty of time, think about traveling by car for 15 days to reach Siguniang Moutain and Miyaluo Reserver

Accomodation

For us, most of the trip we stay in homestay or hotels reserved on Trip.com since hotels in China, especially at rural places are hard to search on Booking.com or Agoda. As I showed you how powerful this website is regarding China traveling, I decided to rely on their services and it really did not disappoint me at any point. Except for 2 nights at Chengdu for which I use Booking.com to look for a backpacker hostel, all goes fine with Trip.com’s properties. 

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Our room in Shangri La (Sichuan) the day before we move to Daocheng Yading

Some of the properties require advance payment through Trip.com while some does not demand, which mean you opt between prepaid reservation and later payment. Once a reservation is made, they will confirm with you whether it is successful or not just in a minute through your registered email. Navigating through the app is also easy with customer care section appear right on your reservation in case you have some inquiries about the places.

  • For Shangri La (Sichuan) – we stay at Los Angeles Homestay (稻城洛客民宿客) – Which can be found on Trip.com with the name Luoke Inn. Room rate is good with just 15 US $ for a double room. They do have free hot water available 24/7 at the receptionist. Room is spacious, clean and well maintained. You are also provided free shampoo, shower cream and towels. The owner does not speak English but can use translating app to converse with you. He can also show you where to have lunch and dinner if you demand. Note that they are just some steps behind the bus stop to Yading reserve entrance.
  • For Yading Village inside Yading Reserve – It’s convenient to stay inside the park since traveling outside and returning will cost you double the charge for sightseeing bus. The village is not beautiful or interesting but just a place for you to rest after visiting all the spots, so don’t expect hotels to be high-end or luxurious. Nights at the village is also boring with nothing to do except having dinner and watching rising stars. We stay at Dawa Hostel (稻城达瓦民居). I did not recommend this property after one night there, but if you are strict on budget, have a look at them as a last resort. Their room is the cheapest among all the options I found on Trip.com with just 25 US $ for a double room. Most hotels or homestay in Yading village is ridiculously expensive which can be up to 100 US $ a night. This property is owned by a tibetan woman. She does not speak any English but just Mandarin. The door is broken and the bathroom is extremely dirty and stinky. At least it’s cheap and has electricity blanket for you at night. 
  • We choose to stay at Daocheng Xiangpica Inn (稻城不远远方青年旅舍) for just one night since Daocheng County is just a stop over for us. The room rate is unbelievably cheap with just 4 US $ for a person in a triple room. The owner can converse English very well. However, the location is far from main streets and really dark to go outside at night.
  • In Litang,  we stay at Grassland Night Hotel (理塘草原之夜宾馆), which is in an ancient street. The hotel is near to the monastery with moderate walking. You can easily get access to Litang ancient streets by just making a left turn and walking straight from the property. The boss is friendly and helpful. She upgraded our room for free without any charge because we have so many luggages. The room rate is not cheap but worth the price. You have a large room for two with decent decorations and modern toilet inside the room. Everything is really good that I appreciate the kindness of the boss. She also helps us to hire a car with drivers for a reasonable price. 
  • Xinduqiao is famous for its landscapes with stretching mountains. Despite such a great fame within China, this spot is not that popular to foreigners, which means you can’t find many hotels there. Even on Trip.com, it’s hard to seek for one that find satisfied and suit my expectations but at least, there are some of them on the website. Please stick around Wazexiang, a township just some kilometers away from Xinduqiao to have the best views of the area. Xinduqiao right now is so crowded with more and more buildings and construction being built to serve mainland chinese tourists. You should have a look at my previous hotel Garze Traveler’s Inn (甘孜新都桥行者驿栈). The property is not really good if you choose basic room but it’s near to a hill that has a panorama view of the whole town. 
  • In Danba, you may want to stay at either Danba County or Jiaju Tibetan Village. In case you stay at Jiaju village, you must pay an entrance fee of 50 RMB per pax unless a local driver takes you to the village himself without paying anything. You are just required to pay once and it’s valid for 3 days including the sightseeing bus that drives you to viewing platform. For Danba County, it’s easier for you to hire cars or buy bus tickets to other places. Food and beverage is cheap and available anywhere. Meirengu Guest House (丹巴甲居美人谷客栈) is where we choose to stay in Jiaju Tibetan village since we want to have free time wandering the village’s area. It’s exactly what you may expect for a homestay vibe with friendly owner, chances to understand more about local people’s life, excellent countryside dishes and free treat of fruits. Everything there is decorated in a simple way that portrait the life of Danba ethnic group. Room is basic but warm and has a unique tibetan style as you are residing in the countryside. As located on the top, the room has a straight view toward the opposite valley and mountains.

Food and drinks

Sichuan is undoubtedly famous for its unique style of cooking with chilies, peppers and red oil that it’s claimed to be one of the 5 most important styles in China’s cuisine. However, the further you travel to the west, the less perfection and authenticness of Sichuan style it is regarding cooking method. The fact is that this region consists of mostly Tibetan group and other ehtnic minorities. There are Han people but not that many as compared to the southern or eastern part of the province. This means you may expect some traditional tibetan dishes in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture as Yak’s meat hot pot, grilled Yak meat, Yak’s butter tea or anything made from Yak – a species of cattle that is raised mostly in high valleys, grasslands or highland. 

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Sichuan food is rich in oil, pepper and chilies

For me, I do not find Sichuan food that extremely tasty or healthy since they prefer frying and using too much oil in their dishes. Nonetheless, I still try to experience as many kinds of food I encounter as possible. Traveling is a joy of enjoying new exposure to strange and unusual things even you may not find it cheerful or interesting. All of these does not mean I hate any favourite food during the trip but it’s just not the best as I always heard from fellow travelers or Chinese themselves. 

Food price can be considered reasonable and kind of cheap at most spots I have visited. For breakfast, it normally costs 10 to 20 RMB for a single bowl of noodles or a tray of buns. Asian loves to share food with their friends during lunch or dinner. So, provided that you are traveling by group, a meal for 6 costs at least 150 RMB for rice and side dishes of meat, stir fried vegetables or soup. From my real experience, a dish of pork, beef or seafood is often more expensive than those made from chicken. It varies from 20 RMB to 50 RMB for a local restaurant. Street food is hard to be found at Ganzi Prefecture but available everywhere in Chengdu. Hot pot or a generous pot of Tibetan hot beef soup is among the most pricey meal that we had. For hot pot, a set for 6 pax costs roughly 800 or more depending on your add-ons and choices of meat or ingredients. Tibetan hot beef soup is rumoured to be made by original Yak meat without adding normal beef, so it’s always costly to order this at a restaurant. Tibetan food is far more healthy and easy to be consumed than standard chinese food since they do not use so much hot spices or chili paste. Don’t forget to try Yak butter tea once you come to any Tibetan region. It’s the legendary of a smooth, nutritious and delicate beverage consumed only by Tibetan people. I love the richness of Yak butter and the frugal taste of hot tea. Not to mention that it’s low-cost and can be found mostly everywhere. 

Some of the dishes you may want to try in Sichuan is Dan Dan Noodles, Sichuan Hot Pot, Fry Pancake, Hot Red Oil Dumplings, Mapo Tofu and Kung Pao Chicken. These varies represent the typical cooking style of this province. Regarding my personal opinion, Dan Dan Noodles, Kung Pao Chicken and Mapo Tofu are worth trying and kind of tasty. 

Daocheng County 稻城县

Daocheng is not large but just a small town that serves as a rest stop for people who want to take a break after days at Yading reserve. With it decent location, one may take a bus back to Chengdu or rent a car to Litang township later since there is a bus terminal at the edge of the town. Terrain changes rapidly on the highway S207 that connects Daocheng, Shangri La and Yading reserve. We were surprised by how marvelous the landscape is. You may see a forest of yellow golden pines on the right side but suddenly the mountain evades and right in front of your eyes is a land full of solid rocks and stretching platform with cattle around. 

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On a road ouside Daocheng County

In Daocheng, you may want to visit the Premier Tallinn Towers (尊胜塔林) just 1 kilometer away from the town’s center. This is a sacred land with a number of white stupas containing the relics that are used as a meditation site. The whole structure is a pyramid itself with stairs coming up to the largest stupa on the top. The site is free of charge but please keep quiet and do not disturb the tibetan people chanting and walking around since they are performing their rituals with extreme respect. I feel so peaceful to be here although I have no idea about what they are praying but it’s definitely a good practice. You are also not allowed to climb to the highest stupa since it’s a taboo in Tibetan culture.

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The Premier Tallinn Towers in Daocheng County

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People are praying when going around the sacred site

Yading Nature Reserve 稻城亚丁风景区

Yading should be planned for 2 days if you want to visit all the common places that tourists head to. The park should be divided into 3 main parts as the area from the entrance to Yading village, the short circuit from Zhaguangbei Station to Pearl Lake, passing through Chonggu Grassland and finally the long circuit from Luorong Grassland to Milk Lake. You can’t conquer the whole park for just one day since it is so far to walk so much from Zhaguangbei station to Milk Lake. For anyone who doesn’t have time, you should take the short path to be safe since the long path takes you at least 10 hours to visit and return to the starting point. For the loop from Milk Lake or Five Color Lake back to Pearl Lake, it’s off the beaten path and hard to complete if you are not used to with the route and weak in physical condition. I rarely see anyone follow this path during my visit there since you have to camp at least one night at such a high elevation without any food or drink available at the loop. 

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Yading Nature Reserve with a breathtaking beauty in late October

The best itinerary is to finish the short circuit first to get familiar with the elevation then proceed to the long circuit early the next day. Then you are able to get out of the park late evening and opt to stay at Shangri La or Daocheng County at your choice.

Ticket price is 120 RMB for a return sightseeing bus and 150 RMB for entrance ticket. Bear in mind that once you go out of the reserve, the bus ticket is immediately invalid and you are required to buy a new one. I just need to scan ticket for once at the entrance and during my 2 days inside the park, no one ask to scan the ticket anymore. That’s why I recommend staying back at the village.

The boarding gate is quite far from the ticket office and not suitable for those with suitcases. Seat is free to settle but the window at the most backseat can be opened to enjoy the landscape. The bus will stop at a viewing platform before reaching Yading village (稻城亚丁风景区村) – The second stop but it’s renovated right now in October 2019.

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Yading vilage is right inside the nature reserve

So, they will keep on going to the Yading village. The first stop in Yading village is called the second station. It’s right in the center of the village while the third station is the last part of the village. Please take note as your hotel may not be in the center.

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The third stop in Yading village is the end of the village itself

The last station is Zhaguangbeng (扎灌崩) station. It’s a nice woody platform overviews Chenresig mountain. There are a dressroom, a small cafeteria and a snack bar for you to buy essentials before you start the trip. From there, you have to walk for 5 minutes to reach the first spot – Chonggu Grassland. During the walk, you are rewarded with the first magical view of foliage pines and the flowing stream under it. On the right of your side is the top of Mt. Chenresig shining bright through the first sunny rates.

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Zhaguangbei station

Chonggu Grassland (冲古草甸) is the starting point for your first trekking circuit. You can also take an electricity cart to Luorong Grassland from here.

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Chonggu Grassland

The famous Chonggu Temple 冲古寺 is just 300 meters away with a breathtaking view to Chenresig mountain – one of the three highest holy mountains inside the park. The whole area is covered by thick yellow pine forest in October until early November before all change to be deeply in white snow in middle November to early April. Outside the temple, there are a lot of mani stones carved or inscribed with the six syllabled mantra of Avalokiteshvara, as a form of prayer in Tibetan Buddhism. Most of them are formed into a pyramid varies from small size to big size.

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Chonggu Temple with a magnificent view

There is also a dreamingful forest full of golden foliage pines in autumn that leads to the Pearl Lake behind the temple. Tibentan people hang their praying flags (Lungtar) around the trees to wish for peace and fortunes. The temple is a holy site, so please have good behaviors and gestures to the monks there. It’s free of charge to visit the site at the moment. The monks have instant noodles for sale at just 10 RMB per box with free hot water if you wish to have lunch or breakfast there. You are also allowed to use the tables and benches as long as you settle everything back after yourself.  

 

The path behind the temple is paved with wooden logs on the soil. So, it’s a little bit hard to walk on these but the scenery inside the forest is nothing different from a fairy tale. We were surrounded by tall yellow pines with a background of the Chenresig mountain. Shade from the forest made me feel freakingly cold as the temperature dropped down to 0 degrees though there are still plenty of sunshine at 12 PM. The mountain became clearer and more massive as we came straight toward it.

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The wooden path that leads to Pearl Lake

Passing through the thick fantastic forest, we were standing in front of a metal staircase leading to Chenresig. You couldn’t imagine how impressive the terrain is at that moment. It was just like you are stepping to the real heaven. The yellow pine trees on two sides are add-ons that tone up the landscape.

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The latter metal staircase that take you to Pearl Lake

After walking for almost an hour and a half from the starting point, we reach the end of the staircase where we had a panorama look over to the mountain with a ring of yellow trees circling Cheresig’s foot. That is not the destination as Pearl Lake is still 500 meters away by another metal canopy walk. After another 15 minutes, we finally reached the last spot – Pear Lake (卓玛拉措).

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Pearl Lake is a wonder that you can’t miss in Yading

Pear Lake is just a small emerald lake with some blue reflection when there is enough sunlight. The canopy walk lead you to circle around the lake with a small platform look over the center of the lake. It was later than 2 PM at the time we reached there but still there were so many chinese and foreign tourists sitting around to take photos and viewing the amazing view of Chenresig mountain. The water is crystal clear with emerald blue reflection from far away. It is said that the source of water is derived from snow on the mountain melting down. Some prayer flags and lucky pockets are hung around the tree to represent the belief of Tibetan people toward this lake. 

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Me and the Pearl Lake 😀

If you are fast, expect to finish the circuit in just 2 or 3 hours. In case you want to slowly enjoy the view, more time should be spent on this site. Returning back to Yading village is just approximately 30 minutes for both waiting for sightseeing bus and riding time. Please take note that the bus leaves for Yading village is different from the one leaves for main entrance, which is separated by a sign.

Night in the village is nothing interesting but insanely cold and lack oxygen. Temperature may slow down to under – 5 Celsius Degrees. The later the night is, the more you will feel it lacks oxygen. You can buy oxygen supplying bottle at the small grocery store in the village with 50 RMB for the big bottle. Some hotels do offer fresh air supplying service for 200 RMB or 300 RMB for one or two rooms the whole night. 

Next morning, You should start the long circuit at 7am. Take a bus to Zhaguangbei station and walk up to Chonggu grassland. There, it’s time to make up your mind whether to use electricity cart or the walking platform. Electricity cart cost 50 RMB for one way and 80 RMB for a return ticket. It takes 20 minutes to reach Luorong Grassland using a forest route. Meanwhile, the wooden walking platform takes it longer up to 3 hours to reach Luorong Grassland but offers more beautiful views with red bushes and flowers along the walk. We opted for electricity cart since we were running out of time on that day for starting at 8.30 AM. 

Luoroung Grassland (洛绒牛场) is a vast area named after those cattle raised by local tibetan here. There are a number of horses, mountain goats, peacocks, Yak and wild rabbits appear around the grassland. The best time to spot these animals is late afternoon when they are fed up with grass on the grassland. This wide area is paved with long wooden boardwalk toward the Jampeyang mountain and leads to the paths of Milk Lake. 

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Luorong Grassland from above

 

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Some mountain goats appear in Luorong Grassland

There are horses for rent with 400 RMB one way and 700 RMB for returning. However, don’t expect them to take you to the foot of Milk Lake or Five Color Lake. They just help you not to waste your energy for the first two parts of the whole four parts. From then on, you still have to hike yourself.

The whole circuit can be divided into 4 parts:

The wooden boardwalk part is easy, you just need to walk until the boardwalk ends. The horse rental does cover this area for you.

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The wooden walkboard is easy without much effort

The solid soil path is a little bit harder since it’s not flat, but still you can manage to get over it without so much effort. This path is also covered by horse rental. 

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The solid soil path is the second path that horse can be used to cart people

The upper staircase walk is now rebuilt with cement but it’s need to note that this is the hardest part of the whole circuit. The staircase is large, high and steep. Once it is covered with snow, I guess you can’t step on them well since it’s even slippery on sunny day with soft and muddy soil. The elevation is high within this walk, so high that you can see everything under you. Jampeyang mountain is like a massive god that is watching you walking. It took me around 1 hour and a half to conquer this path. I was extremely tired after this path since it was too cold with strong wind that slow down your speed.

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The upper staircase is a nightmare for anyone who does not exercise much

The last path is much easier than the previous one but still hard since you spend too much effort on the first three paths. It is flat with cement boardwalks but far to reach the foot of the Milk Lake. There, you can clearly feel the bitter cold running through your body at this path since there is no shade to hide. Wind is stronger at this altitude at 4,600 meters above the sea. However, it’s the last part, so try your best to reach the destination.

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The last part is not difficult but still a challenge

There is not any food stalls or restaurants, grocery stores or else in this circuit. Some toilets along the route are set up but they are all scarily stinky and dirty. 

The Milk Lake (牛奶海) is located at 4,600 meters above the sea and considered as the last spot tourist can reach on the day. From there, except for Five Color Lake which I’m not interested in, you can trek to the loop coming back to Pearl Lake but it needs to take 5 or 6 hours, which means you have to rest there at night in camping tents. The lake is named Milk Lake since the circle around the water is mildly white. The water is super clear and blue that everyone is so amazed at how stunning it is when the sunlight is strong. Wind is still so strong that just standing there for 10 minutes made me freakingly cold.

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Milk Lake with blue water melt from snow

I have to hide under a bush or walk around to keep my body warm in such late October’s weather. The water is rumoured to be able to treat rare diseases and deaf-mute person. It’s just a legend and I did not find anyone coming there to take water. Snow can be seen from the other side of the lake that cover the surrounding mountains. You can even touch snow if you walk to the other side. 

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You can see how beautiful the lake water is

After taking some photos and enjoying such an unbelievable scene, I walked back to the electricity cart station in 3 hours and coming out of the park. I reached the park entrance at 6.30 PM and it snows heavily a day after, which I was told by a man living there. 

I really appreciate the time being in Yading Nature Reserve. There are so many things I can’t express in this post that you have to witness yourself to prove it. Be ready and pack everything for the next autumn next year in 2020!

Litang – 理塘县

Litang County is among the most famous and important township in Ganzi Tibetan Prefecture. Thanks to the fact that both Dalai Lama VII and X were born here, the town get it fame as a sacred town within people who follow Tibetan Buddhism. The town is located on an altitude of more than 4,000 meters above the sea. It’s even higher than Lhasa and has been given the nickname “The highest township in the world” for a long time. 

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Some of the local Tibetan people I met in Litang

Traveling here is much easier if you depart from Daocheng County. There is a daily bus connecting these 2 towns for just 50 RMB. The bus terminal is just 2 kilometers outside Daocheng. Those who prefer renting car may need to bargain with drivers. Mostly it costs 400 RMB for a 6-seat car or less. The ride takes almost 2 hours to reach the destination, passing through some high mountain passes. If you get used to with Yading Reserve, this spot is not a problem of altitude sickness anymore. 

Streets in the town is clean and well organized. Houses and restaurants are built with Tibetan traditional styles. Walking along the streets, you can see numerous buddhist praying and chanting everywhere. They practice their religion belief even in public space! 

There are some ancient streets with older and more traditional houses built with mud, straws and soil which is near the Monastery. Not only does the monastery serves as a religious site but also a famous sightseeing spot. The structure is the same as any other Tibetan monasteries but it is larger and has a long line of white stupas covering the outside wall. 

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Litang Monastery
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The long white stupas line that surrounds the monastery

From the hill where the monastery lies, you have a bird’s eye – view towards far away snowy mountains and the whole town from above. The contradiction between old houses and buildings that are being built is a warning sign that the town is getting more and more developed. I strongly believe that just 5 more years and there may not be any old houses in this town.

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Tibetan flags on the hill

Yaks grazing grass on the other hills as well as flying Tibetan flags blown by the wind did make me feel so comfortable for standing there enjoying the simple life as a nomad. It’s a great idea to stand there and watch the sunset but we were running out of time to catch that magnificent view. 

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The hill beside Litang monastery

Night in the town is not really interesting. If you want to eat hotpot, pay a visit to Tian Tian restaurant owned by Mr Zhang. He can speak some English and really love speaking with tourists. His Yak meat hotpot is so tasty and healthy that you just want to keep on eating forever. If you want to chat with him just feel free to do. He is so funny and generous. He also helped us to grab a taxi back to our hotel. A hotpot costs roughly 350 RMB for six persons.

Tagong – 塔公

Tagong is a small town lying between Danba County and Xinduqiao Town on highway S215. During our journey to Xinduqiao, we asked the driver to stop here for a while. The only reason for this is to visit Muya Golden Tower (木雅金塔). I was in deep love with the structure of this monastery. The top is coated in real gold while the while line of stupas and red wall do tone up the whole monastery. They have a background of snowy mountains behind.

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Muya Golden Tower in Tagong
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All the three colors is really catching in sunlight

Surrounding is a large prairie that has a good look to the monastery. However, I was shocked to know that entrance fee for the prairie is 15 RMB per person though there is nothing to do there except looking to the monastery! It’s the Tibetan woman sitting in front of the gate who charge this fee. They also have services of horse riding for you there. Outside the monastery, there are a lot of food stalls established nearby for tourists. To have good shots of this site, you have to enter the prairie and stand on a small hill, that’s why you can’t be outside. They are so smart with this trick! However, I still feel sympathy for them since they may have nothing to do there beside earns from tourism. 

The town is not so large, so we won’t stop for food or rest but just going around on our car. From the town, you can see far away snow moutains, which is not a usual scence to see.

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The town from above

Xinduqiao – 新都桥镇

Xinduqiao is, for a long time ago, claimed to be a heaven for photography and peaceful sceneries. Due to its fame, the town now is a massive land new hotels and restaurants built just to serve chinese and foreign tourists. Hardly ever any beauty may I find in the town area or its suburbs. Now, it can be said that the town is nothing different from a normal town at anywhere else. There is no stretching grassland with Yaks, no awesome view of far away Tibetan house anymore. Everything is changing rapidly that you can not recognize the original town anymore. Perhaps the fame of a photography heaven has been lost to a town of tourist.

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Xinduqiao in late October

I still have 2 days in Wazexiang town (瓦泽乡), which is 8 kilometers away from today Xinduqiao Town notwithstanding Xinduqiao really disappointed me in some aspects. Wazexiang town lies on the main road of G318. There are fewer hotels and restaurants in this area than in the main Xinduqiao town. You can walk to the hill closeby to have an overview down to the town. It’s still much better than Xinduqiao. Rather than walking along the main street and enjoy the foliage there, not many activities can be done at this part of Ganzi Prefecture.

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Wazexiang is less touristic than Xinduqiao but still not my thought about photography heaven
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A look out from a hill toward Wazexiang town

Not to mention that chattering a car to Xinduqiao from Litang costs us 700 RMB for a 6-seat car for somehow roughly 300 kilometers on the road. The driver can stop along the road for photo taking if you desire. 

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View from a restaurant in Wazexiang Township

At night, the whole town is not lively but calm and quiet. Restaurants are mostly attached with the hotel itself and not really cheap. You are expecting to pay for around 70 RMB per pax for dinner. If you can grab a taxi to Xinduqiao center, it will be better with convenient stores for some biscuits or snacks.

The next morning is a milestone in the whole journey as that was the first time we saw snow. It snows mildly in early morning and then heavily at about 8 AM. Everything was covered in snow which look interesting and dreamingful.

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Xinduqiao is covered by snow

The whole Xinduqiao was covered with snow. Snow is on the roof, on the road and even on your clothes. While we departed to Danba County, it still keeps snowing for approximately 50 kilometers. Everyone was so fascinated with this scene and stop a while for photography. It’s literally the same as landscape in fairy tales! Finally, snow stops at 10 AM and the sun was shining bright on our head. When there is daily light, snow is reflected with twinkling white color.

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There are still so much snow even it’s noon with plenty of sunshine

I swear that I have never seen this in my country – Vietnam, a tropical country that does not have snow, except for some special occasion in the northeast tip of the country. 

Danba County – 丹巴县

Danba is among my most favourite destination in this adventure to Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The county offer you a simple way to enjoy the country lifestyle of Tibetan people. People claim that the Jiaju Tibetan Village (甲居藏寨) nearby is among the most beautiful traditional village in China with pretty rustic Danba girls – the symbol of the town that attract tourists coming here. 

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Jiaju Tibetan Village in Danba County

The ride from Xinduqiao to Danba takes less than 3 hours with beautiful landscapes of forest, streams and autumn foliage along the route. You should not pay for more than 400 RMB for a 6-seat car. Be aware that you are quired to pay 50 RMB for entrance ticket to the village if not traveling with a local Danba person. Since our driver is a Danba local, we don’t have to pay anything. If you get a ticket, you have the right to ride bus inside the village which takes you to viewing platforms later. 

The mountain pass is up and down with some strict turns that other drivers may not dare to try. Inside the village, the road is small but cute loading with so many trees around. Our homestay is in a corner with the middle height when compared with others. Houses there are built with the same style of white, red and black coloured stones.

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This is the typical house structure in Danba

If you are a fruit lover, be ready for a heaven of wild fruits here. All is grown naturally without pesticides and fertilizers. Feel free to pick the fruits yourself for as many as possible since no one cares whether who you are and what you are doing!. They even have a lot of walnut trees around that my homestay’s owner treated us for free. What an interesting place!

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The road leads to my homestay with so many trees and wild fruits.

The calming vibe here suits me a lot. You don’t have to worry or stress about work here. Just enjoy the scenery in autumn, looking away at the high mountains and enjoying tea at 15 Celcius Degrees.

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The slow vibe in such a beautiful village

 

Walking through the village, you will find three viewing platforms at accordingly 1,2,3 from the entrance. The most beautiful one that has an overview of the village is the 1st platform. You also can walk down to the Suopo tower – a tall tower serves as a security method to stay away from bad weather or robbers. This used to be the headquater of Chinese red flag army during the war. It’s a historical site itself but was close during our visit.

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The Suopo Tower

However, I like the idea that local people sell wild fruits, walnuts and grilled skewers on 3rd platform. Everyone is really friendly and sociable.

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A women selling walnut in Jiaju village

No matter who you are or where you are from, they treat you with free sample of food and enthusiastically get to know who you are. They are in extreme happy mood when I give them some small valued banknote of Vietnam, Which according to them, is a valuable gift from guests. I happened to meet a Danba girl. She is currently working to develop the tourism here. Rumours are true, Danba women with their traditional clothes is really beautiful in a simple way that you mostly see with ethnic minority group. 

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The Danba girl that I met on that day

The three platforms are well connected with stepping stone. It takes around 15 minutes for hiking using the stone staircase. If you take sightseeing bus, it’s just 5 minutes for a ride. Be careful with the cars traveling on the road and always walk on the right. 

There won’t be any restaurant inside this village but food from the homestay. Our homestay owner has a great talent in cooking. Treats are common Danba dishes with Yak sausage, corn flour cake and yak meat. You can ask them to cook food that suits your budget from at least 200 RMB to 400 RMB for a meal of 6 pax. Breakfast is just 10 RMB for a person with Yak butter tea, cake, porridge and eggs. 

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Dnaba County center

Danba county center has really cheap restaurant with not over 20 RMB for a meal. You can also shop with some essentials on the supermarket near the main square. They do have dancing and singing performances every night to attract tourists there.

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The square at night

The bus terminal is just 500 meter away from the main square and it offers bus back to Chengdu daily at 7.30 AM for 135 RMB one way. Bus takes 7 to 8 hours to get to the destination using the pass of Siguniang mountain (四姑娘山景区) and Wulong Panda Reserve (四川省汶川卧龙特别行政区). So, it’s really convenient if you want to be dropped off at these two spots. 

Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. is a wonderland that you should not miss along with the famous Jiuzhaigou in the northern part of Sichuan province. The journey gives me so much memorable experience with new information and appreciation of Tibetan people’s cultural values. Hope all advice in this post help you in planning the most appropriate for a successful journey to Yading Nature Reserve and Ganzi Tibetan Prefecture. in general. 

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