My initial goal was to cross Tibet from Chengdu to end up in Kashgar. But as I started looking more deeply in the actual details, it soon became clear that it would be impossible: a special permit to visit Tibet, an ‘Alien Travel Permit” and “Military Permit” to visit regions outside Lhasa, being accompanied by a government approved guide at all times and being forced to rent an expensive four by four… No this just didn’t sound like the way I like to travel at all.
But as I progressed through my trip, thanks to the numerous long discussions I’ve had with other travellers I realised that Tibet is far bigger than the actual Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Hope came back and I decided to follow the Northern Sichuan-Tibet highway from Chengdu right to the border of the T.A.R. through the towns of Kangding, Tagong, Daofu, Ganzi, Manigango and Dege and continue my way up to Qinghai to Yushu. The regions I’ll cross are known as the Kham and Amdo regions by the Tibetans.
My expectations were high for this part of the trip and that’s always dangerous as reality can often be dissappointing. But nothing had prepared me for what I experienced in this area. In short the culture is a joy to witness, the people are certainly among the friendliest I’ve met and the scenery en-route possibly the most stunning I have ever seen.
The region is home to numerous Tibetan nomads getting around on their horses or motorbikes blasting loud Tibetan music. Tibetan monasteries are everywhere and locals endlessly circumambulate around them spinning their prayer wheels and humming buddhist mantras “Om Mani Padme Hum”. Locals throw coloured prayer papers through the windows as the buses cross unbelievably high passes up to 5050m above sea level. Grasslands are filled with peaceful black-haired yaks and hills decorated by forests of prayer flags flapping in the wind.
In most towns, I was the only foreigner and have therefore had the chance to experience the life of a Rock star for three weeks. It’s impossible to avoid the “Hallo”s, “Tashi Delek”s and handshakes as you walk in the streets. Every five minutes a monk, nomad, pilgrim or even a policeman or military stops me to take a picture of me with their mobile phones. “How do you do”, “Good morning” at any time of the day and “I love you!” are common too and were practically the only words of English I heard in three weeks.
People indeed do not speak a word of English and this coupled with the horrendous road conditions, the often freezing temperatures at this early time of the year and most of all with the wild dogs do make this a very adventurous trip. Wild dogs are the worst! Tibetans are so kind that they wouldn’t kill any animal without a reason. The cities therefore pullulate with them. And of course they are not used to see strange smelling white people and it seems to not please them at all. And this is without mentioning the ferocious Tibetan herder dogs guarding the yaks in the countryside.
Unfortunately the tragic events in Yushu forced me to end the trip a little bit in advance as the police asked me to leave the area. I’ve had incredible luck being two days behind schedule, otherwise I would have been in Yushu, right at the epicentre of the earthquake. The locals weren’t as lucky though and it is deeply sad. These people do not deserve this.
But all in all, this trip was simply unbelievable and I will remember it for a long time. It was definitely a highlight on my trip so far so make sure to check out the picture gallery!
If you plan to take the same route here is a detailed itinerary with some tips:
- Chengdu: I stayed at the Mix hostel, highly recommended. 25 Yuan with breakfast and free internet! Super friendly staff and good vibe.
- Kangding: stay at Zhilam Hostel. Cozy and friendly, a last heaven before the real adventure!
- Tagong: the Jya Drolma and Gayla’s guesthouse is really nice. Contact english speaking Angela for treks and travel information: 13684493301
- Daofu: interesting Tibetan wooden houses and beautiful monastery. I stayed at the Yala hotel. Expensive but the only one I could find. All the other refused to have me in.
- Ganzi: stayed at the Himalaya hotel. Go to the lamasery and the nice ancient Tibetan town. The mountains around Ganzi are beautiful.
- Manigango: slept at the Pani Hotel. There are ok dorms for 20 Yuan. The owner collects bank notes, ask to see his collection it’s quite impressive.
- Yihun Lhatso Lake: do NOT miss this one. One of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen! 13km from Manigango. Just hitchhike. Any nomad will be glad to take you on his motorcycle.
- Dege: the town is ugly but the route to the town is the most spectacular. The printing house is another highlight making it worth the effort!
- Serxu: I stayed at the old town in the hotel next to the monastery. One of the best places to meet monks and experience their life.
- Xiewu: because of the earthquake I had to skip Yushu and go through this little town instead.
- Maduo: overnight stop, NOT recommended. My worst night on the trip.
The whole trip took me about three weeks, but I was stuck because of heavy snow in Tagong for 6 days!