Our time in Shangri La was great. It was nice to have a nice break in the middle of our trip. On Day 14 of our trip, we set off for Daocheng, known as Dabpa འདབ་པ་ in Tibetan.Daocheng, in southern Sichuan province, is 310kms north of Shangri La. Unfortunately, we had to cross the high mountain passes on horrible roads once we reached the Sichuan side of the mountains. The roads through the Tibetan areas of Sichuan are definitely the worst on the Tibetan Plateau. I have been on remote mountain roads in rural Qinghai and the Tibet Autonomous Region that are far better than the roads in western Sichuan. After a long 9 hour drive, we arrived in Daocheng.
In Daocheng, we were pleasantly surprised at the newly opened Peng Song Cuo Holiday Inn. For only Y100 per night, the room was spacious, clean and had plenty of hot water. It was the best deal on a hotel room that we had on the entire trip. Daocheng is a pleasant small Tibetan town. It lies at 3750m is a nice, beautiful valley. Just a short 2 hour drive south is the Yading Nature Reserve, which is quickly becoming a major tourist attraction in southern Sichuan. The next morning, I took our vehicle out to get washed and to get a few bolts in the front bumper tightened. I met a young Tibetan guy who owned a car was and quickly became friends with him. My new friend invited me in for a cup of butter tea and fresh yogurt. The hospitality of the Tibetan people never ceases to amaze me. I wish we had more time to explore Daocheng, but unfortunately, we only had 1 night.
After our brief time in Daocheng, we drove 150kms north to Litang ལི་ཐང་. The road was surprisingly good and it only took us a little over 2 hours to cover the distance. The route took us through an alpine forest with large, clear rivers running through them. The scenery was amazing. After the forested area, we gained more altitude and the geography changed to rolling grasslands filled with Tibetan nomads.
In Litang, we stayed at the backpacker friendly Litang Potala Inn. We paid Y150 for a good sized triple room. The hotel had a good cafe on the second floor that had free wireless internet. When in Litang, you have to eat at Mr. Zheng's restaurant. It is located about 600m past the Potala Inn on the left side of the road. Mr. Zheng is a friendly Chinese guy who has lived most of the past 15 years on the Tibetan Plateau. He speaks English fairly well and makes great food (great for the area anyway). He also has plenty of travel advice for the area.
Litang is the birthplace of the 7th and 10th Dalai Lama's. The 10th Dalai Lama was born in a remote part of Litang county, but the 7th Dalai Lama was born in the old part of Litang town. The original building that the 7th Dalai Lama was born in still exists. It is over 300 years old and is maintained by descendants of the 7th Dalai Lama. The original structure now has a newer Tibetan style house surrounding it. If you go to the birthplace, the gatekeepers will gladly open the doors for you and let you look around for free. It is quite fascinating.
The largest monastery in the area is the Litang Monastery, home to several hundred monks.There is a kora all around the monastery, which sits on the north side of town. On the other side of town, there is a large stupa (chorten མཆོད་རྟེན་) where many locals go each day to worship. The best times to go to the large stupa are early in the morning and then again in the mid-afternoon. There are many worshippers there at that time. There is no entrance fee to the stupa.
Litang, sitting at 4014m, is a great place to see traditional Kham Tibetan culture. The Tibetan men stand tall and most of them carry long knives which are more like swords. Litang is not the cleanest town, but there is plenty of Tibetan culture as Tibetans make up well over 90% of the county's population. We spend days 15 and 16 exploring Litang. On the morning of day 17, we were on our way.
Our next destination was Batang འབའ་ཐང་. Batang is 180kms west of Litang. The scenery between the two towns was not only some of the best on our trip, it is some of the best scenery anywhere on the Tibetan Plateau. There are several high snow-capped mountains along the way along with large grasslands home to nomads. Shortly after leaving Litang, we came across a small group of older Tibetan men who were on pilgrimage to Lhasa ལྷ་ས་. These men were barely 2 weeks in on their 7+ month pilgrimage to the Tibetan capital. These men prostrated all the way to the ground every 3rd step. We stopped and talked to them briefly before continuing on to Batang.
The grasslands were amazing...some of the best in Kham. The road from Litang to Batang was quite good, but we took our time and stopped every few minutes to either talk to nomads or to take a picture of the beautiful scenery. There are two high mountains along the way. The first is 6204m Mt. Genyen, which claimed the life of Christine Boskoff from Seattle in late 2006. The second is Mt. Zhara Lhatse (known as Haizi Shan in Chinese) rising to 5820m. There are great views of both from the road.
The border between Litang and Batang county is at the Haizi Shan pass, which sits at 4685m...well over 15,300 feet above sea level. Below the Haizi Shan pass, the stunning Lake Tsopu (Cuopu) lies near the road. The lake lies directly below Mt. Zhara Lhatse and is one of the most amazing lakes in Tibet. Near the pass, there is a lookout point with clear views of the lake and mountain. We descended the pass and found a quiet area next to the lake to have a picnic lunch.
After our lunch along the shores of Lake Tsopu, we continued to descend towards Batang. As I have said before, the route between Litang and Batang is stunning...truly one of the best stretches of road in Tibet. From the Haizi Shan pass at 4685m, we descended all the way down to 2570m in Batang. This was my first time to Batang and a place I had wanted to visit for a long time. Batang was quite warm...hot even. We were not used to being hot since most of the places we had been in to that point had been a little on the cool side, even though we were traveling in the middle of summer. In Batang, we checked into the "W" Hotel.
Batang is a clean little and modern small town. It is quite different than nearby Litang! Though Tibetans are the majority, there has been a large Chinese community in Batang since before "liberation". The low lying valley of Batang has fertile fields. There are few yaks around as most people are farmers. Apple orchards can even be found in the area. We spent days 17 and 18 of our journey in Batang.
On our first full day in Batang, my family and I drove 32kms west to the border of Sichuan and the Tibet Autonomous Prefecture. The Yangtze River འབྲི་ཆུ་ formsthe border between these two areas. On the east side of the river is Batang and on the west side of the river is Markham སྨར་ཁམས་. Markham county, along with the other 10 counties of Chamdo Prefecture ཆབ་མདོ་ས་ཁུལ་ is closed to independent travelers. The main bridge over the Yangtze was guarded by at least 2 dozen soldiers making it impossible to cross. However, just 8kms west of Batang, there is another narrow bridge that spans the Yangtze into Markham county that is not guarded. We crossed this bridge and spent some time in Markham county talking with locals from a small village. There were no police and no military in this area.
On day 19 of our journey we left Batang and set out for Baiyu, which is known as Pheyul དཔལ་ཡུལ་ in Tibetan. We had initially heard that the road to Baiyu would only take 5 or 6 hours. About an hour into our journey, we found out that it would take much longer. The road from Batang to Baiyu goes along the Yangtze River and is EXTREMELY rough. It took us over 7 hours to cover just 70kms. After driving for most of the day, we stopped roughly halfway between Batang and Baiyu and set up camp in a nice wooded area near a glacier fed river at 3300m. Aside from having at least one black bear near our campsite, it was very relaxing to camp out in the middle of nowhere.
On day 21 of our trip, we arrived in the small town of Baiyu. Baiyu is a nice small town with tall trees lining the main street. We checked into the Huazang Hotel, which was quite nice after spending the previous 2 nights camping. Baiyu sits at just over 3000m above sea level. The impressive Pheyul Monastery lies on the mountains above town and is home to around 650 monks.
Pheyul Monastery is huge and has a large amount of pilgrims worshipping at it. It is a great place to do hiking. I met many new friends here, several of them eager to have their picture taken. Baiyu sees very few foreign tourists since there are few public buses that go to the town.
This is the third of 4 posts on our 1 month trip through Kham and Amdo.