When we weren’t going over mountains, we were passing through tiny Tibetan settlements. It was a breathtaking ten hours.
Daocheng is a nothing town. But it is a necessary stop on the way to Yading National Park, which I had impulsively decided to visit, based upon nothing but a google image search. The next day, I took a minibus, followed by a shuttle bus into the national park. After finding that the only place to stay in my guide book had been knocked down, I was fortunate to come across an English speaking Chinese guy who took me to his hostel. He then talked me through directions to a nearby place called frog lake. I dumped my bag and set off on a wonderful three hour hike.
It’s so rare to find any sort of solitude in China, but on this walk, it was just me and a couple of 6000m peaks. It really was a very special hike. I arrived back and met Roy from Israel and Levi from Australia, who I had previously come across in Shangri-la. They were supposed to be a few days ahead of me, but plans had not worked out as expected.
Anyway they very excitedly asked to join me on my plan for the following day; a 32km hike around one of the mountains. Called the kora, the hike takes place all over 4000m, and was expected to take between 10 and 14 hours. We set off the next day a little later than planned and straight away lost the Chinese tourists, who boarded the electric buses to take them to the sightseeing spots. This meant for a glorious start to the hike with uninterrupted views. Upon getting to the meadow, we posed for photographs with various Chinese groups and shared their food, all wanting a souvenir of the strange sights they found of the mountain. They seemed to find the shorts decision absolutely hilarious.
That was the end point for the Chinese tourists who went back to their hotels leaving us with another five to six hours of hiking left. They obviously knew something that we didn’t, because when we got to around 4700m, everything got very cold, the wind picked up and the sleet fell. Visibility dropped considerably.
It was a case of walk as fast as you could, because we hadn’t brought much in the way of warm weather gear. An hour or so later, we sheltered in a cave and consulted the instructions we had for the walk. We were soaking wet and had a problem namely that we weren’t on the path anymore. The golden rule of the hike being: ‘always keep the mountain on your right’, was proving to be tricky due to not being able to see any mountains.
Instead we wandered over to three small huts, built into the rock face. We noticed one had a fire and poked our heads in to ask which way to go. The mother and her older son indicated for us to sit down around the fire and dry off. They gave us hot water to drink, and a piece of stale bread. The hut could have measured no more than a few metres. The fire sat at the centre surrounded by a few slabs of rock. To the side were two blanket beds, on a bed of leaves. A few condiments and a couple of pots were at the back. That was all. Other than seeing the huts in the danakil depression, I have never come across such a basic standard of living and yet the warmth we felt from the inhabitants over the next half an hour to an hour was something I won’t forget. At one point a man came into the hut and promptly darted out again, in shock at seeing us. He soon returned, confused and everyone laughed.
By the time it had brightened up, everyone in the three huts had gathered to wave us off. The mother insisted, through pointing and shaking her head, to guide us back up to the path. She then carried on her way at a terrific pace, passing her prayer beads through her hand, reaching down and throwing mud off the path with every corner she took and singing buddhist mantras aloud.
The rest of the walk was tough going, with the rain still falling. However, as we got over the final pass, the clouds began to lift and we arrived back in around eight and a half hours. Much quicker than expected, which I put down to the route probably being four or six km shorter than expected and the terrible weather meaning the only way to keep warm was to keep walking. All in all an amazing experience and what is sure to be a real highlight of my time in China.
The next day we returned to Daocheng and after an overnight stop we carried on north to Kangding, another ten hours away. Kangding is a bit of a mess of town. Known as one of the entrance points to the Tibetan autonomous region, it probably doesn’t have the charm that it may have once had. It is essentially one big building sight. That said the temples were nice and there was something lovely about there being so many monks everywhere I went. It also had a fantastic Tibetan restaurant. On the first night I shared the yak stew with Yan. On the second night I returned and had it to myself. It was glorious.
One more bus journey was needed to reach the capital of Sichuan – Chengdu. This time it was a relatively short one, coming in at eight hours. I might regret this one, but I think it may be the last long distance bus ride I have to do on the rest of my trip. It’s trains from here on in!