The overland route from Xining to Chengdu through Amdo has become more popular in recent years. This 10 to 12 day trip goes through some of the best regions of the northern Tibetan Plateau. This journey begins with spending a couple of days in Xining (ཟི་ལིང་). Xining (ele. 2275m) is the capital of Qinghai province and is the largest city on the Tibetan Plateau. The city has an interesting mix of Chinese, Tibetans, Mongolians, Tu, Hui and Salar people. It is easily one of the most diverse cities in China. From Xining, you can take day trips out to Kumbum Monastery, Gonlung Monastery or Qinghai Lake.
From Xining, the mid-sized Tibetan town of Rebkong (རེབ་གོངར) lies 180kms south. Rebkong (ele. 2400m) is famous all across Tibet for producing some of the most skilled painters, specifically thangka painters. Rebkong has 3 large monasteries in the vicinity. Rongwo, Gomar and Wutun monasteries are all great for exploring. Staying 2 or 3 days in Rebkong will give you enough time to see all of the major sites.
A little over 100kms southeast of Rebkong is Labrang Monastery (བླ་བྲང་བཀྲ་ཤིས་འཁྱིལ་) located in the picturesque town of Xiahe. Labrang (ele. 2900m) is the largest and most important monastery in Amdo. It is home to over 1500 monks. Labrang sits in a valley with mountains, rivers and forests surrounding it. It is truly one of the most beautiful places on the Tibetan Plateau. Along the way from Rebkong to Labrang, you pass through the Gangya Grasslands which are home to numerous Tibetan nomads herding their yaks and sheep.
Around 230kms south of Labrang is the small monastery town of Taktsang Lhamo (Langmusi). Taktsang Lhamo (ele. 3300m) sits along the Gansu-Sichuan border. Along the way from Labrang, you will pass through grasslands that are home only to Tibetan nomads. When it snows, the mountains surrounding the town are awesome. The 2 monasteries of Kirti and Setri sit in beautiful locations. Horse trekking is available for reasonable daily rates.
About 100kms south of Taktsang Lhamo is Zoige (Ruo'ergai). The town itself isn't that impressive, but the grasslands along the way definitely are. The grasslands around Zoige (ele. 3440m) are some of the best in Amdo. During the summer, most nomads around Zoige (མཛོད་དགེ) live in either black yak wool tents or in white canvas tents. The nomadic way of life in this area is very laid back. The Tibetans here are very friendly and always enjoy seeing foreigners.
From Zoige, the town of Songpan lies 180kms to the south. Songpan (ele. 2880m) is nice little town that is worth staying in for 2 or 3 days. Songpan is well known for its horse treks. Horse treks from 1 day to 2 weeks can be arranged. Near to Songpan is the 5588m Mt. Xuebao which is quite impressive. Songpan has a mixed population of Tibetans, Chinese and Hui Muslims. From Songpan, it is only a 2 hour drive to Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve.
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