Tranquil Tibet

I have wanted to visit Tibet since I first moved to China in 2013. Unlike other places in the country, foreigners require special permission to visit Tibet and must be part of a tour to visit the area. Because of the administrative hurdles and the price involved in joining a tour, I have always pushed aside going to Tibet and chose to visit somewhere else. But with the pandemic, Jun and I decided that 2021 would be a good time to visit.

My instincts in getting permission and booking a tour to Tibet being cumbersome were correct. Jun found a great travel agency—Tibet Vista—that worked with us to navigate through all the paperwork and tailored a tour for us. When the Tibet government officially opened up visitor permits in the window when we wanted to visit, Jun and I submitted the paperwork as soon as we could compile all the documents. Then we waited. And we waited until the week of our trip. Then we waited until two days before we were to leave. Finally, we received word that I was permitted to visit Tibet. They would ship my permit to the hotel we were staying at overnight for our layover in Chongqing.

I was finally going to Tibet!

Day 1

The first day of our trip had us fly to Chongqing. Jun had asked the tour agency to send the permit to the hotel immediately and we would pick it up when we checked in. When we arrived in Chongqing, though, Jun noticed that the package was in the city but not at the hotel. He called SF Express to see what the deal was. They said that there was some issue in delivering it, but they would deliver it by 6:00 pm the next day. Jun was furious since our flight left at 6:00 am the next day and the package was supposed to have arrived the day before—today at the latest. After talking to different service representatives he was told they would look for it and call him back by 8:00 pm.

A bit down that my permit might be lost we decided to go out to a local hot pot restaurant near the hotel. The place was built in the basement of a building and was a tiny place. The food was amazing, and we were able to distract ourselves from the predicament.

Around this time we got word from SF Express that they had found the package and we could come to their distribution hub near the airport to pick it up. When we got there, we had to wait a bit to get it. Eventually, an agent finally handed the package to us. We both felt relieved.

We went back to the hotel and got ready for bed before our early flight the next day.

Day 2

Early the next morning we went to the airport and checked in. They didn’t even check my permit at the airport. After quickly going through security as there was no one there, we walked to the boarding gate area. Soon we were on the plane flying to Lhasa.

When we got there, I had to get my permit checked and given the official okay to enter Tibet. That went quickly. Soon Jun and I were meeting our tour guide—Tenzin—who would help us over the next week.

From the airport, we drove north for about an hour before we got into the city. Tenzin asked us if we wanted to go straight to the hotel or if we wanted to visit Norbulingka. We decided that we were ready to start to explore Lhasa and would wait to check-in.

Norbulingka is the traditional summer residence of the Dalai Lama. The seventh Dalai Lama Kelsang Gyatso built it in the mid-eighteenth century. The grounds cover an area of about 36 hectares. There are 400 rooms inside the complex. The complex is a nice mix of traditional Tibetan architecture and gardens. Visiting the palace was a nice start to introduce ourselves to Lhasa. Although Jun had visited the city before, this time was the first for him to have a guide to inform us of the intricate stories weaved with the built environment.

After we had walked around Norbulingka, we drove to the InterContinental Lhasa Paradise where we would stay for most of the week. Our tour guide and driver left us for the day. For the rest of the afternoon, we would be free to roam around the city. Check-in went quickly and we were even given complimentary drinks. Our room was nice and spacious. After settling in we decided to go get lunch.

From the hotel, we went to a local restaurant called Jixiang Shengxue. It’s a family-owned restaurant with a house museum within it. As you waited for the food, one of the owners gave a short tour of the house and shared some stories of the family and restaurant. Each customer also received a small gift. It was a sweet way to make us feel welcomed. When we got back to our table our food arrived and we were amazed at how the food tasted. It was a nice first meal in Tibet.

After lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon at Lalu Wetlands National Nature Preserve. Located north of Potala Palace, the park is the largest urban and wetland park in the world. From the northern areas of the park, you had wonderful views of Potala Palace. Walking around the park was nice and we got to see many different flowering plants and animals. Being surrounded by so much vegetation also helped us better acclimate to the higher altitude. We were mostly fine. When we exerted ourselves, though, we did feel the change in altitude.

After we reached the southeastern gate of the park we decided to go back to the hotel and rest before dinner. When we got back, we realized how exhausted we were after the long day we had. We decided to just eat at the hotel and call it a day. Well, I ate as Jun had lost his appetite by then. With that in mind, we went to bed early to rest up and hopefully feel better the next day. 

Day 3

On the morning of the third day of our trip, we visited Drepung Monastery. The monastery is one of the largest monasteries of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Built in 1416 along the West Valley Mountain north of Lhasa, the monastery houses three monastic colleges. The size of the monastery is like a small village. Jun and I enjoyed going around the complex to see the intricate details within each hall and temple.

We spent all morning there. Our guide explained the history of Tibetan Buddhism and the significance of the different statues and artwork found throughout the complex. It was a lot of information to take in but brought to life how rich and beautiful Buddhism is.

From there we went to visit Sera Monastery on the other side of northern Lhasa. When we got to the area, we first had lunch at a local Tibetan restaurant. The owners only spoke Tibetan, so Jun and I had to rely on our tour guide and other customers to help us converse with them. The food was great and their milk tea delicious.

After lunch, we went and visited the monastery. Built in 1419, it is the second-largest monastery in Tibet. The entire complex is quite impressive. Walking around the place without a guide can be a bit confusing as there are halls and temples where you have to climb up to visit them. The entire place was quite beautiful and serene.

After we visited the monasteries, we went back to the hotel to rest for the rest of the afternoon. In the early evening, Jun and I went to Potala Square to see the palace at dusk. Looking up at the palace for the first time so close was amazing. Pictures don’t do it justice as it is massive. Jun and I took many pictures as we walked around the square and surrounding park.

Soon though we were hungry, and we ended up having dinner at a Xinjiang restaurant near the square. They had a nice tea is some of the biggest teacups I have ever seen. It was a nice meal to end our day.

Day 4

On this day we first visited Potala Palace. Built in the seventh century by Songtsen Gampo, it had been the residence of the Dalai Lama from the fifth Dalai Lama to the fourteenth. The palace is divided into two main sections. The bottom White Palace and the upper Red Palace. The White Palace had been the administrative area for the government of Tibet. The Red Palace had been for the office of the Dalai Lama. The palace is a dzong fortress or a fortified monastery. From most places in Lhasa, you can see the palace.

Photos are prohibited for the interior of the palace, but it was fascinating to see the different rooms within the Red Palace. Many of the rooms have remained in a state of stasis since the late 1950s when the Dalai Lama left. Yet, at the same time as a palace museum, the rooms have morphed into exhibitions and places of worship for people.

After we had walked through the Red Palace, we walked down the back to Zongjiao Lukang Park. While we waited for our driver, Jun and I watched local Tibetans dance in one of the dancing squares. It was interesting to watch as there were people of all ages.

From the park, we went to the area around Jokhang Temple. Before visiting the temple, we had lunch at Lhasa Kitchen. We enjoyed our Nepalese and Indian meals. I especially liked the masala tea we had. It was a nice way to get ready for the afternoon.

After lunch, our guide took us through the security check into Barkhor Square so we could go to visit the temple. Jokhang Temple is the most sacred and important temple in all of Tibet. King Songtsen Gampo founded the temple in the seventh century. The temple is located in the middle of an ancient network of Buddhist temples in Lhasa. Pilgrims walk around the market square surrounding the temple to show their devotion and to pay homage.

The temple is quite small compared to many of the other temples we had seen, but it is rich in cultural and religious relics. The temple is wonderfully maintained, and it was a joy to visit the temple. After viewing the different rooms of the temple, we walked around Barkhor and did some shopping.

From there Jun and I went back to the hotel to rest before we went to visit Nanshan Park to see the city at twilight. The park is quite extensive, and you can hike up one of the mountains that surround the city. Being late and with the high elevation, Jun and I opted not to go to the top. We did hike up to some of the lower scenic viewpoints to see the city. It was quite nice to be out in nature and to see the city from the vantage points offered by the park.

Once it started getting dark, we went to have dinner at a new fusion restaurant near the park called Senchu ForestFood. The restaurant has a wild décor of outdoor ruins. The tables sit on sand with plants all over the place. Mixed in with the plants are replicas of ruined Greco-Roman statues. It was a bit odd but fun, nonetheless. The food was great, though.

By then it was late, and we both were ready to go back to the hotel.

Day 5

Our fifth day in Tibet had us venture out of Lhasa. We drove south towards Yamdrok Lake and the Lhagoi Kangri mountain range. The drive south was beautiful as the weather in Tibet was becoming more autumn-like. While there were still wildflowers in the fields, many of the trees were starting to turn a beautiful shade of yellow. Before we ventured through the Ganbala Mountain Pass, we first stopped by the Yarlung Tsangpo River to take some pictures and stretch our legs a bit.

We then drove through the pass and stopped at the Yajiang Hegu Sightseeing Platform to see the views of the river and the lake. The view from up here was stunning. The lake itself was an amazing turquoise color. With the rolling clouds moving across the sky, it was a bit magical.

From there we went down to the lake to walk along the shore. Yamdrok Lake is one of the three largest sacred lakes in Tibet. The view from the lakeshore was equally amazing. It was also nice to be a bit lower in elevation.

After we had walked around the lake, we went to the small town of Langkazi where we ate at the Lhasa Restaurant. The restaurant caters to foreigners as we saw when another group of foreigners was leaving as we arrived. When they left we were the only ones left at the restaurant. The food was amazing. I particularly enjoyed my hot ginger lemon tea.

After lunch, we continued our drive to visit Karola Glacier. Before we got to the glacier, our tour guide had us stop at what appears will be a new park or viewing platform, but it hasn’t officially opened yet. The views from this area are gorgeous and I understand why they would wish to open it up for others and to protect it from unintended harm from visitors.

A short drive from there we arrived at Karola Glacier. The glacier originates on Mount Noijin Kangsang, one of the four holy mountains of Tibet. The walk around the based on the glacier was amazing. The views of it were spectacular and it was nice having the place essentially to ourselves. As we were walking, we even saw Himalayan marmots hopping out of their burrows and looking around. They were so cute. I wished I had my long-range zoom lens with me at the time. They were so adorable.

While it is possible to go up higher to see the glacier, Jun and I decided to only go halfway as our bodies felt taxed the more we exerted ourselves in the high altitudes. The views from even halfway up were still impressive.

After we had walked around the area we started our trip back to Lhasa. Along the way, we stopped again at Yamdrok Lake to stretch our legs and enjoy the view. Soon, though, we were on our way back to Lhasa. When we got back to the hotel, Jun and I decided to order some food to the hotel and just relax the rest of the night by ourselves.

Day 6

On our sixth day of the trip, we went north of Lhasa to visit Namtso National Park. The drive up to the lake led us to traverse through different mountain valleys with different micro-climates. We left the relatively nice and sunny fall weather of Lhasa for the colder and rainy weather of these valleys.

The drive up to the national park was beautiful. Although along the way I had to stop for a bathroom break which ended up adding 30 minutes to the trip since the nearest bathroom was one that we had passed before. Strangely and fortunately there was a U-turn in the highway that we used to go back to the public rest area.

When we got back on track, we first stopped in the town of Dangquka to check-in at the hotel we would stay for the night and to have lunch. Once we had everything settled, we were on our way to the national park.

We drove through the Lagenla Mountain Pass to traverse the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains to get to Namtso Lake. The pass was beautiful. It was great to see snow and to see the views from both ends of the pass.

When we got down to the other side of the mountains, we got out tickets to take the bus to the area of the lake most visitors explored. Jun and I soon found ourselves on the Tashi Dor peninsula. From there we walked around the area for a bit and enjoyed the scenery. The reflection of the landscape in the water was quite spectacular.

Walking around the lake was nice, but we did notice that there were thunderstorms in the distance that were approaching. One side of the lake was sunny with white marshmallow-like clouds. The other side of the lake was dark and ominous. We realized our time would be short, but we took every opportunity we had to enjoy our time there.

Like we thought, it soon started to rain and we could see lightning and hear thunder in the distance. Jun and I found our tour guide and we got back on a bus to head back to the entrance. And from there we went back to Dangquka. As we drove through the mountain pass it started to snow and hail lightly. We had left at a good time!

When we got back to the hotel, Jun and I rested a bit before we went out to dinner at a dry hotpot restaurant called Damxung Yuxiaochu. The place was nice, and the food was great. By the time we were done, it had started to rain again. We quickly walked back to the hotel to call it a day. I enjoyed falling asleep to the drops of rain hitting the room windows.

Day 7

Early the next day we got back on the road to head back to Lhasa. Along the way though, we stopped at two places.

The first place we visited was a rustic nunnery called Chimelong Nunnery or Phyirmil Lung Nunnery. The nunnery is situated in a quaint mountain village within a mountain pass. The outside is well maintained and inside the main hall the artwork was amazing.

From the nunnery, we then went through another mountain valley pass to visit Tsurphu Monastery. This monastery is what is known as a gompa, or a Buddhist fortification of learning. The surrounding area was gorgeous, and the complex was significant in size. This monastery is the seat of the Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery was founded in 1159, destroyed in 1966, and rebuilt in the 1980s.

The complex is quite impressive and there are meditation halls for laypeople in the mountains. Jun and I enjoyed walking around the complex and learning about the history of the place. Before we left, we had a simple lunch at the monastery with some great milk tea.

We then drove back to Lhasa. Our tour guide and driver dropped us at the InterContinental and then we rested for a bit before we went out to Barkhor Square. Jun and I decided we would have dinner at Makye Ame. The food there was amazing. After dinner, we walked around the area and ended up near the Great Mosque of Lhasa. From there we decided to head back to the hotel and call it a night.

Day 8

Our last day in Lhasa had us have a leisurely morning at the hotel. We had a nice breakfast and walked around the hotel. We then packed our things and checked out. Our tour guide and driver then drove us south to the airport. We had a quick lunch there and then soon found our way to Chongqing for our connecting flight back to Shenzhen.

Overall, the trip to Tibet was great and it was a wonderful place to be. In many ways, it was like traveling to a different country within China. While I did not enjoy having to deal with all the paperwork to visit, I would certainly entertain the idea of visiting Tibet again one day.

A Weekend in Shaoguan

Jun and I decided to go to Shaoguan in northern Guangdong for a long weekend to celebrate his birthday. With the recent COVID-19 cases in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, we didn’t want to venture out of the province in case other provincial governments placed travel restrictions. Thus, we chose to see this situation as an opportunity to travel within the province and explore Shaoguan.

Day 1

On the day of our trip, we woke early so we could catch the high-speed train from Futian. After grabbing some breakfast at McDonald’s and going through security, we soon found ourselves waiting in line to get on the train. When we got on the train, we ate our breakfast and then rested until we got to Shaoguan.

When we arrived, we took a Didi to the Holiday Inn. Check-in at the hotel went quickly; we were able to get into our room and freshen up a bit before we ventured out into the city.

We first visited Nanhua Temple, a Chan Buddhist monastery founded in 502 AD. The grounds of the temple cover an area of 42.5 hectares in beautiful terrain surrounded by mountains and near a river. The main area of the complex houses the main prayer halls and is popular with tourists. Outside this core area, though, are more serene areas where you could walk without meeting anyone. Jun and I enjoyed this part of the monastery.

When we left the temple, we decided to have a quick lunch nearby at a dumpling and noodle restaurant. We also bought some ice cream since it was hot that day. We then walked around the plaza in front of the temple. This area was a bit more modern with more abstract interpretations of Buddhist art. I appreciated the juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary art and architectural styles.

The temperature by then was quite hot and we decided to go back to the hotel to rest. When we got back to the hotel, we took some time to relax. Then in the later afternoon, we decided to visit the area around Fengcai Tower.

The tower is located in the center of Shaoguan. It was built during the Ming Dynasty in 1497. It’s the oldest structure within central Shaoguan, which is located on a peninsula. From there we bought some drinks and walked around the area. As we walked through some of the alleys of this part of the city, we got to see smaller shops selling traditional foodstuff and wares. I enjoyed wandering around these meandering alleys. Eventually, we ended up next to the river and walked alongside it towards the tip of the peninsula where the Qu and Zhen rivers meet to form the North River. Located here is an island with Tongtian Tower built on top. You can see this tower from many different angles in this part of the city.

By this time Jun and I decided it was time for dinner and we went to a local restaurant, Meijixian, that Jun found. Jun and I enjoyed our meal and left happy. After dinner, we took a walk back to see Tongtian Tower lit up and ended our day there. We soon took a Didi back to the hotel and went to bed.

Day 2

We woke up early and went down for breakfast to fuel ourselves for the day ahead. On this day we visited Danxia Mountain World Geopark, a UNESCO World Heritage site. About an hour’s drive north of Shaoguan, we both were excited to get there.

Jun ordered a Didi and soon we were on our way to the park. When we got there the driver was unsure where we should alight. We ended up near the cable car station where we wanted to be, but we still needed to walk a bit from where the driver left us.

When we did get to the cable car station, we bought our tickets and soon found ourselves heading up to the top of the Zhanglaofeng area. This part of the park was not busy, and it was easy traversing the area. Going around Zhanglaofeng was nice. From different vantage points, you get to see the surrounding land and the beauty of this place.

After going around this area, we decided to go down the mountain and explore the Xianglonghu area of the park. This area was focused around Xianglong Lake, which was quite serene. There was a really neat bridge made of rock that was fun to traverse. Unfortunately, much of the area is under renovation and we were unable to explore this area in its entirety.

From here we decided to take a boat to the entrance of this area so we could take a bus to visit the Yangyuanshi area. Fortunately, we caught the bus before it left and found ourselves in Yangyuanshi. As we were walking through the village of Duanshi we decided to stop and have lunch at one of the restaurants there, Xiangyue. The food was great and helped us recharge for the rest of the afternoon.

When we finished, we hiked through the Yangyuanshi area. We took it slow here since it was quite hot in the afternoon sun. Happily, there were vendors throughout the park who sold cold water. This part of the park was focused on the rock formation that is reminiscent of a penis, but the rest of it was more of a hike around the central rock formation of Ximeizhai. When we got halfway up it, we decided we had no desire to climb the rest of it in the heat. We then went back down and explored the forested area around Tongtai Bridge. This area was cooler because of the dense tree canopy. The bridge itself was interesting. It’s a natural rock formation, and you can see across from it Ximeizhai. By the time we circled Tongtai Bridge, it was late in the afternoon. We decided we were too exhausted to continue. We soon got a Didi back to the hotel and enjoyed the air conditioning.

When we got back to the hotel, Jun and I decided we were too tired to go anywhere else and ordered room service from the hotel’s Cantonese restaurant, Jiang Shang Lou. Not expecting anything great, we were pleasantly surprised at how delicious the meal was. It ended up being a nice way to end the day.

Day 3

On our last day in Shaoguan, we decided we would keep things simple and visit Shaoguan National Forest Park. It’s a mix of a city and a nature park. We went there so we could see the views of the city from Shaoyang Tower. The walk up to the tower was nice and easy. The views of the city from the top were impressive. It helped us appreciate the beauty of the area and why people settled here.

The best part about reaching the tower was the moderate wind blowing. It helped keep things cool and felt refreshing. Soon, though, we had to go back down and check out of the hotel. After getting back to the hotel we packed our things, checked out, and went to the train station. While there we had a quick lunch and soon found ourselves back on the train heading for Shenzhen.

The entire trip was nice, and it was a great way to spend a few days celebrating Jun’s birthday. It left us recharged and ready for our next adventure!

Sublime Sichuan

For the May holiday in China, the government scheduled five consecutive vacation days. Jun felt that since it coincided with the end of my school term it would be a good time for us to take a long vacation. We both took some extra days and extended our holiday time so we would have nine days off. At first, we wanted to visit Tibet. But the government hadn’t lifted the restrictions on foreigners traveling to Tibet. Jun then decided we would do the next best thing and visit the western areas of Sichuan which are culturally Tibetan. 

Day 1

The start of our trip began after I had attended the annual graduate student conference my university runs. I’m an online graduate student living in China, but my university is based in the United States. As a result, the conference ran from midnight to shortly before 6:00 in the morning. I was exhausted and got about two hours of sleep before we had to leave for the airport.

Those two hours must have been enough because I was able to make it through the day. When we got to the airport, we met with Jun’s cousin who we invited to join us on the trip to Sichuan. Last year when the pandemic hit, she found herself in Sichuan but was unable to do anything as everything closed when she got there, and she had to leave early before cities stopped allowing people to travel to and from places within the country. This opportunity was a chance for her and us to explore western Sichuan!

We first arrived in Chengdu and spent the night there before heading out to the western parts of the province. When we got to Chengdu we first checked in at our hotel and then ventured to Chunxi Road. We went and explored Taikoo Li, which is a shopping district built within older Chinese buildings. In the heart of the district is an old Buddhist monastery, Daci Temple. The grounds of the temple were gorgeous. It was verdant with so many different types of plants that it was a joy to walk around and explore this temple.

Soon it was getting late, and we were hungry. Jun picked a nearby Sichuan restaurant for dinner, Tianfu Zhanggui, that was a wonderful place for a meal. I enjoyed the donut-like snack.

After dinner, we walked around the area near Anshun Corridor Bridge. It was nice to walk this area at night. The first time I visited Chengdu I stayed near here, and it was fun to see what things changes and what things remained the same.

Day 2

Our day started early, which I was not happy about as I wanted to sleep in more. But I got up and went down with everyone else for a quick breakfast. Then it was back to our room to get our stuff and go back down to check out and meet our driver for the next week.

Jun hired a car and driver to take us around the western areas of Sichuan. He ended up being a tour guide as well who informed us of important things we needed to know. He was a great guy and an excellent driver.

Once we got everything loaded in the car, we were soon on our way to our first destination: Luding. This stop was a quick break from driving. Luding is known for its bridge, which is significant in the history of modern China. A significant battle was fought there during the Long March that helped secure this key crossing. Because of the holiday, the line to cross the bridge was long. We decided we would visit the adjacent temple and take a view of the bridge from up there. Jun and his cousin found it interesting because they had read about Luding Bridge and the battle there when they were in school. This information was all new for me.

We then got back in the car and drove to our main destination of the day: Hailuogou Glacier Forest Park. Located next to Moxi Town, the park is known for its glaciers and spectacular forests. It’s the only glacier forest park in China. It was amazing!

When we got there, we took a bus up the main area of the park. From there we hiked up to see the No. 1 Glacier. Then we hiked down the mountain to visit different areas of the park. Everywhere we went there was something new to see. Each area had its unique feel towards it. Jun mentioned it reminded him of a fantasy world. And some sections definitely had the feel of a storybook setting.

By the time we left we were amazed at all that we had seen. We were also very hungry. When we got back to Moxi, our driver took us to the hotel where we quickly checked in and then we went in search of food. We ended up having beef hot pot and some vegetables. For the first time, I ate ferns, which wasn’t bad. Nothing I would seek to order in the future, but still not bad.

Jun and I then went for a walk around the town before going back to the hotel. When we arrived back at the hotel, we were both soon out for the night.

Day 3

Early the next day we checked out of our hotel, got in the car, and went to a restaurant to get breakfast on the go. We were off to our next destinations: Tagong Grassland and Moshi Park. The drive took us through the mountains, and it was quite eerie up there as it was foggy and snowing. At one scenic area, Zheduoshan Snow Visiting Platform, there were so many people there that we decided to skip it and head on to the grasslands. The weather was so bad that it wasn’t worth it. Soon, though, the weather did clear up and we were treated to some magnificent views of the surrounding mountains.

We then drove through Xinduqiao where we would spend the night. We stopped there for lunch before going to Tagong Grassland.

When we got there, we walked around a bit and saw the expense of the area. While it was late spring, the grasses are more prominent in the summer. Our view was quite limited, and we stayed there only a short while.

Our next stop, though, was wonderful. Moshi Park is mainly known for its stone forest. The rock formations in the park developed due to the geologic movements and weathering known for this part of China. They were quite amazing to walk around. In some places when you walked through the formations it felt as if you were in an alien landscape. We all enjoyed our visit.

Soon, though, it was time to go check-in at our hotel for the night and find dinner. The hotel Jun chose was quite nice with really friendly staff. The restaurant he initially chose was, however, troublesome. When we got there, they didn’t have any seats and when we tried to find out how long we would have to wait they never responded. We decided it wasn’t worth it to wait and went and had dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. That ended up being a great idea as dinner was wonderful. They had a mapo tofu that was delicious with a unique flavoring I hadn’t had before. It was a nice way to end the day.

Soon, we went back to our rooms and called it a day.

Day 4

After breakfast and checking out, we were soon on our way to Litang.

When we got to Litang we first had lunch there before going to walk around the Old Town area. One thing we noticed about the Old Town was how well preserved the buildings were. The other thing that struck me was how much the architecture reminded me of the American Southwest with adobe-like structures. The first place we went when we were there was a temple sacred in the life of the seventh Dalai Lama. This region is culturally Tibetan and part of the Gelukpa sect of Tibetan Buddhists. The walk around the Old Town was beautiful with the different buildings and sights to see.

Soon, though, we were off to the main sight of Litang: Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling Monastery. One of the most sacred temples in Buddhism, the third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso, founded the monastery in 1580 on the site of an older monastery. The current monastery is a reconstructed building due to events in the 20th century. The interiors of the buildings are amazing and intricate. The sheer size of the rooms was cavernous.

Once we had walked around the temple, we then went up a hill to overlook the temple and the town. At the top of the hill were prayer flags. The views were amazing, and it was nice walking around the prayer flags and experience the calming effects of being in an out-of-the-way place.

Soon, though, we found ourselves back in the car and off to Xianggelila (Shangri-la). While driving we stopped within Haizi Mountain Nature Reserve to see Rabbit Mountain and a glacial lake. Both places were spectacular, but the elevation was making it hard to take in enough oxygen. We were now well above 4,500 meters above sea level and it was affecting us. My head hurt if I exerted myself too much. I was glad when we were able to travel down into the valley where Xianggelila is located.

The night ended with us in Xianggelila. We first bought some provisions and oxygen for our next day when we would visit Yading Nature Reserve. Then we went to the hotel where we checked in and had a simple meal at the hotel restaurant before calling it a night.

Day 5

The entire day had us visiting Yading Nature Reserve. The reserve is on the Tibetan Plateau and is a sacred location for Buddhists. The fifth Dalai Lama sanctified the mountain peaks; as a result, it is now a pilgrimage site with monasteries and stupas located in the surrounding mountains and valleys.

We were lucky that we were there after the official holiday period ended. Jun showed me pictures from two days before our visit and it was full of people. When we were there, we had to only wait a few minutes to catch the bus from the entrance to Chonggu Temple. From there we then took a battery tram to Luorong where we started the hike upwards. The hike took us up to an elevation of 4,700 meters above sea level.

We took it slow and first went to Milk Lake and then Five Color Lake. The journey was amazing. We were stunned by the views at every turn. Throughout the day we would get pelted with snow that lasted a few minutes and then would stop as the sun came out. By the time we reached back down in the valley in Luorong, the sun was back and there were a lot of animals grazing and wandering around.

We were tired by late afternoon and decided to head back to the hotel and have dinner. We ended up eating at a fish hotpot restaurant. While the food was good it wasn’t necessarily my favorite meal. Afterward, we went back to the hotel to relax and rest our weary bodies.    

Day 6

After the exhausting day we had, today was more relaxing as we were starting the end of our trip and the journey back to Chengdu.

While driving we stopped at a new forest in Daocheng and walked around the area. Human-planted, the forest had a planned look to it. Still, though, it was nice to walk around the trees. From there we next went to Zunsheng Talin, a pagoda that marks the entrance to Daocheng. It’s quite impressive in size. When we were there, pilgrims were walking around the pagoda spinning the prayer wheels.