Two months into my travels through China, I met a man who told me that I could access an entire network of Tibetan villages from China’s state Western Sichuan, without crossing the border and without having to deal with permits and transportation. A permit to Tibet can be difficult to obtain, expensive and long winded but I had always wanted to go, so I was extremely intrigued.
The conversation went on and at 7am the next morning I was at Chengdu`s bus station buying a ticket and about to embark on a day’s journey up into the mountains of Western Sichuan, to the city of Kangding…
Kangding: The Gateway to Tibet
It was a 12 hour bumpy bus ride to Kangding, and apparently we were lucky, sometimes the roads were so terrible that travelers had been known to wait over night for the locals to clear the road of fallen boulders. So we had an easy ride.
Kangding is more of a modern town than the villages beyond, home to both Tibetans and Hans Chinese. It was recommended to us to stay a night here, to prepare for the altitude (Kangding is 2600m above sea level) and decipher the itinerary for the rest of our trip up the mountains.
Throughout the rest of the villages, one can experience Tibetan Buddhism and their mysterious culture. Endless grasslands full of wild yaks, temples, monasteries, and traditional Tibetan architecture. The people are beautiful, modest, and pay homage to the holly mountains.
We stopped for a night, enjoyed some wonderful hospitality at Zhilam Hostel (which I would highly recommend hiking up to although it is a bit of a mission, the view from this hostel of the city and mountains beyond is unmissable) and prepared for our trip further up the mountain.
The Village of Tagong
From Kangding we took a three hour drive to the village of Tagong, here we were 3,800m in altitude and could definitely feel it! Tagong is a very small village known for its grasslands, wild yaks which roam around freely, and monastery. One can get lost in the beautiful landscape for days, happily wandering around, exploring Sichuan’s Tibetan Wild West.
Here we stayed at Khampa Cafe. A Guesthouse owned by Max from Czech Republic and his Tibetan wife, never have I felt so welcomed into a community and so instantly at home in a new and somewhat daunting environment.
The first night we arrived to a huge thunderstorm, which resulted in the entire village losing power, so we sat on the terrace of our Guesthouse, drinking buttermilk tea made with barley and yaks` milk, watching the storm with a group of locals, some Buddhist monks, and other travelers. It was bliss, and just a taster of the relaxed atmosphere that were these villages.
Exploring Sichuan’s Wild West
The next few days were spent wandering the grasslands, exploring monasteries, visiting other villages, hiring motorbikes and cruising for days around the outback. The people were the friendliest I have ever known, the food so wholesome and delicious. I could have stayed forever.
Navigating our way through the villages was made easy by the use of a map that we managed to pick up along the way, not only a map but a guide of every village in the region, written by two travelers years ago. This map was a life saver and below is a link to some of the guides the villages.
Of everywhere I have traveled over the years, here is where I’d go back to in a heartbeat, I hope I have managed to persuade some of you to put Western Sichuan on your list!
Read more about traveling through China here