From Baiyu དཔལ་ཡུལ་, we set out for Dege སྡེ་དགེ་. The route is 110kms and follows the Yangtze River འབྲི་ཆུ་. Jomda county འཇོ་མདའ, in the Tibet Autonomous Region, lies on the far side of the river. There are at least 2 unguarded bridges that cross the Yangtze into Jomda county along the way to Dege.The route, which does not have any public buses, is spectacular. Most of the route is around 3200m. Small villages are found on both sides of the river (picture below is on the Jomda side). There are plenty of yaks in this area, but most of the Tibetans are farmers. The houses are all built in the unique brick/log style that is found throughout the former Dege Kingdom area. The road was not so good as it took us nearly 4 hours ro reach Dege.
Dege is arguably the heart of the Kham region of Tibet. Dege was formerly a kingdom and included the counties of Jomda, Baiyu, Sershul as well as all of modern day Dege county. When we arrived in Dege, all of the best hotels in town were full (there aren't that many good hotels in town). So we settled for the Golden Yak Hotel located on the main road near the bus station. It was a decent hotel owned by local Tibetans, but a bit overpriced. After getting checked into the hotel, we set off to explore Dege.
In addition to the amazing beauty of the area, the main attraction in Dege is the Parkhang Printing Press སྡེ་དགེ་པར་ཁང་. Though there are actually many printing presses across Tibet, the Parkhang Printing Press is by far the most famous. It supplies roughly 70% of the Tibetan buddhist monasteries of Tibet with scriptures. The artisans continue to hand carve each block of wood that is used for the scriptures, in the same way they have done for several centuries. It is quite amazing to watch. If you purchase a ticket to go inside the printing press (Y50 per person) you can see the entire process. In the early morning, you can see hundreds of Tibetans prostrating around the printing press.
Dege is actually quite small and easy to get around on foot. In addition to the printing press, there is the Gonchen Monastery, located a couple hundred meters above the printing press. This Sakya sect monastery is fairly large and is a good place to explore. The monks live in traditional style log homes behind the monastery. There are also many mountains in the area to hike. Dege sits at 3100m and the highest mountains in the area are well over 5000m high.
We spent days 22 and 23 of our trip in Dege. On the morning of day 24, we left for Manigango, 100kms east of Dege. Between Dege and Manigango is the monstrous Chola Pass which rises to 5050m / 16,570 feet. It is one of the highest passes in Kham and has huge drop-offs. The road leading up the pass is in poor condition with huge holes and in some places, small boulders. When you do finally reach the top, if the weather is clear, you will be rewarded with an amazing view of Mt. Chola, which rises to 6168m. The glaciers of the mountain are in plain sight and it is quite amazing.
Manigango is a small town at a major intersection. The road south of Manigango goes to Garnze while the road going north goes to Sershul and Jyekundo. The town sits at 3850m above sea level. We stopped in Manigango to have lunch and restock our supplies. After spending a couple of hours in town, we drove 13kms west to the holy lake of Yilhun Lha Tso, where we would camp for the next 2 nights. Yilhun Lha Tso sits just above 4000m near the base of Mt. Chola. The lake waters are a brilliant turquoise color. There are huge carved prayer stones all around the lake which are hundreds of years old as well as a large chorten on the north end. It is an amazing lake, to say the least.
The camping fee at Yilhun Lha Tso is a reasonable Y15 per person per night. This does not include a Y20 entrance fee per person. So all together it cost Y50 for each adult to camp 2 nights at the lake...a very good deal in my opinion given the amazing beauty of the area. We set up camp along the north shore of the lake near the large chorten. From our camp spot, we had a great view of the lake and Mt. Chola in the background. Guidebooks report that the mosquitoes are quite severe around the lake and we quickly found it to be true. There are an extreme amount of mosquitoes at the lake. Insect repellent is an absolute must, which fortunately, we had.
For Y80 per person, you can take a horse about 2 hours to the south end of the lake where the glaciers come down the mountain. The route is quite rough though. I set out to hike it and had to turn back about 3/4 of the way there. Since it was late summer, the glaciers were melting causing the ground to be very soft and extremely muddy. For Y35 per person, you can ride horses along the lakes north shore. My two young boys had a great time riding a horse. Our 2 days at the lake were awesome. The nights were a bit cold, with temperatures right around 0 C / 32 F, but we had good sleeping bags and didn't get too cold. Mid-morning on day 26 of our trip, we broke camp and were on the road to our next desintation.
From Yilhun Lha Tso, we set out for Dzogchen Monastery རྫོགས་ཆེན་དགོན་པ།, one of the largest Nyingma sect monasteries in Tibet. Located 50kms northwest of Manigango, Dzogchen monastery sits at the base of the jagged, glaciated mountain of Mt. Dorje Ziltrom, which rises to 5816m. The monastery is huge and is quite spread out. Though we only were at the monastery for 2 or 3 hours, we could have easily spent several days there hiking and exploring there. The region is amazing.
After a picnic lunch at Dzogchen monastery, we continued north to Sershul. Sershul county is the highest, poorest and coldest is Garnze prefecture. All of the county sits well above 4000m and is mostly home to Tibetan nomads. We arrived in Sershul in the late afternoon and were hoping to stay at the Shangde Nyima Hotel, the best hotel in town. I pulled up and inquired about a room and they told me they were completely full. We were really hoping to take a shower in Sershul before arriving in Jyekundo and camping again. I went to every hotel in town and only 1 had rooms available. We looked in a "room" and it was completely disgusting. I refused to stay there, so we kept driving. Around 30kms past Sershul is the small town that goes by the same name. In the small town of Sershul སེར་ཤུལ་, there is a huge Geluk sect monastery and fortunately the small guesthouse in town had some rooms available.
The guesthouse was quite clean and had comfortable beds. There was a restaurant next to the guesthouse that served basic, but good Tibetan food. We actually saw a couple of foreigners in town. On our entire trip, we saw very few foreigners. Most of the places we went, we didn't see any. The two foreigners were volunteering in the area. After a restful night sleep, we departed on day 27 for one of our last destinations.
On Day 27, we drove 140kms on great roads to Jyekundo. Though I had been to Jyekundo སྐྱེ་རྒུ་མདོ་ since the earthquake, it was my wife's first time back since the region was rocked by a 7.1 earthquake on April 14th. I will write a more detailed update on Jyekundo in the coming days. Since the town is completely gone and does not have any hotels, our only option was to camp. Some other friends of ours directed us to a beautiful valley behind the famous Gyanak Mani Temple, about 5kms before you enter Jyekundo. There is a small village there surrounded by 4500+m mountains. We set up our camp along a small stream about 500m beyond the small village. It was a great campsite to spend our last 2 nights of our journey.
All of us were beyond exhausted. We had been traveling across the rough roads of Kham and Amdo for nearly a month. Though we were happy to be back in Yushu as a family, we were definitely ready to sleep in our own beds. We were able to meet up with a couple of good friends while in Jyekundo who filled us in on the latest developments regarding rebuilding the town and region. I will share more about that in the coming days. We relaxed our last full day in Jyekundo wishing that the earthquake had not forced us out of our home. The reason we did this long summer adventure was because we could no longer live in Yushu.
At 6am on day 29, we left our camp and began the long 815kms drive to Xining ཟི་ལིང་. Since the earthquake, the government has done major road construction on the Xining-Yushu Highway and the road is the best it has ever been. Nearly the entire route is now paved, including both sides of the Bayanka La pass. We made the long drive in record time.
In total, we covered just under 5000kms over 29 days. We basically did one huge circle through the Amdo regions of Gansu and northern Sichuan before entering the Kham regions of western Sichuan, northwest Yunnan and southern Qinghai. Many of the places I had visited before, though the towns in far southern Sichuan and northwest Yunnan were all new to me. It was an incredible journey...one of the best I have taken in Tibet so far.
If you have any questions about the route I traveled or questions about travel in other regions of Tibet, please feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org