My journey started in Shangri-la, with the blessing of a Geshe at Songzanlin Monastery and with the comfort of big fat momos. From Shangri-la we hired one of those so-called ‘bread cars’ (or small conversion vans) for RMB 300 per day and got our butts thrown backwards and forwards for almost 24 hours before finally reaching Daocheng and then Yading in south west Sichuan Province.
Ping An Village in Yading is where most tourists travelling into the nature reserve of Yading spends the night and, dear oh dear, was the accommodation one of the worst I have ever encountered. If one is ever looking for an epitome of the word “shack” look no further than the “villas” of Ping An Village. The “rooms” of the “villas” are basically cubicles demarcated by thin wooden boards about seven feet high and the “ceiling” a piece of synthetic fabric reminiscent of the infamous “red white blue” plastic bags in Hong Kong. During the night, uncertain whether being kept awake by the 4000 odd feet altitude or the hard floorboards from which the beds are made of, I was able to hear horses squealing (or however one calls the strange and peculiar cry horses make) and sand and small rocks falling onto the “ceiling” from the roof above. The conditions were so awful I remember swearing never to go back again, and yet, the beauty of what greeted me the next day was nothing I could ever have imagined.
So is the beauty of Daocheng and Yading enough for one to give up his daily hot showers and down-filled blanket? You judge for yourself…
On our way back, deterred by the “villas” of Ping An Village we drove for about 2 hours to “Azalea Hot Spring Villa”, which is en route Daocheng to Yading and costs a hefty (by Sichuan standards) RMB280 per night for a standard room. After a night without shower and two days of hiking the hot springs of Azalea seemed like heaven, even if that meant having to wear a hideous navy and lime yellow sixties-inspired swimsuit purchased on site. Heaven of course also comes with heavenly food and to me, there could not be more heavenly food than egg and tomato stir-fry, ma puo tofu and braised yak meat!
Before returning to Shangri-la we took a detour to Litang to get a feel for what their renowned annual horse racing festival is all about. Litang hosts the biggest horse racing festival in the Tibetan community every year for about a week’s time in August where supreme skills of horsemanship are demonstrated by monks and herdsmen alike at an altitude of 1350 feet and with the blessing of the Chinese army and the Chinese flag hoisted centre stage. Now, in the dead of autumn, though the vast grasslands of Litang were an interesting taster to the games, the excitement was after all over and so the delight of the day was relegated to Litang’s interesting mix of Kangba culture and Sichuanese food. Kangba is a generic name for the Tibetan areas of southwest Sichuan and its men noticeable for their elaborate hair ornaments made of bright orange corals, dark long hair, menacing looking features, and a fondness for riding motorbikes decorated with artificial flowers in -5’c temperatures.
Back in Shangri-la I stayed at my friend Afang’s Karma Cafe and spent my last day doing nothing more than sampling Afang’s famous Tibetan delicacies of momos and xiabalis (which are respectively steamed and fried yak meat dumplings), enjoying the winter sun on a small hill overlooking Shangri-la old town and listening to Diana Kroll while sipping butter tea on the Cafe’s terrace.
Truly, life can hardly be more beautiful than this.
There are flights from Hong Kong to Kunming and from Kunming to Shangri-la. Alternatively fly from Guangzhou direct to Shangri-la.
Shangri-la old town is about 15 minutes away from Shangri-la airport. You can reach Daocheng on a very tight one day schedule consisting of around 13 hours drive from Shangri-la. Daocheng to Yading is about another 3 hours. The state of all accommodation on the mountains of Yading is, as mentioned, quite poor and cost around RMB20 per bed space. No booking necessary. The most comfortable method of touring Yading is to stay at the Azalea Hot Spring Hotel en route Daocheng to Yading. From the Azalea Yading Nature Reserve is about a 1.5 hour drive away.
Back in Shangri-la, Afang’s Karma Cafe is by far the nicest hostel. Showers and toilets are in the courtyard but very clean and complete with rainforest showers. RMB60 gets you a single room with a large king sized bed. For reservations call +86 13508876901 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org