Discover Daocheng & Yading in Western Sichuan’s Tibetan Area

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Join us in this schedule, July 6–17,2017

China is a great and marvelous country with rich culture and natural landscapes.The most attractive part is located in Western Sichuan.In this expedition, we’ll have fun with giant pandas in Bifengxia Panda Base out of Chengdu to the edge of Sichuan Basin.Trek into the heart of Western Sichuan to discover unique and beautiful Tibetan culture , and marvel at the mesmerising landscapes of Daocheng-Yading, known as last Shangri La on earth.
We will have an introductory day in Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan , famous for its tea houses, temple gardens, and literary traditions. Then our expedition begins with a drive to Ya’an and the Bifengxia Panda Base. The riverside towns along our route, Ya’an and Baoxing, formed through centuries of trade and acted as gateways where Sichuanese and Tibetans could learn each others’ contrasting ways.
After Baoxing, we begin to view the distinctive architecture and religious iconography of Tibet.Locals in this part of eastern Tibet belong to groups like the Qiang and the Jiarong, and are culturally distinct from other Tibetans.Nearby Fengtongzhai Panda Reserve is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site for Giant Panda Protection and it was in this area that the French Catholic priest Père David obtained four panda skins. In the late 19th century, he first described this enigmatic species to westerners.
Farmers by tradition, the Jiarong have long interacted with lowlanders of the Sichuan Basin, bartering bricks of tea carried by pony along ancient trading routes through the mountains. Over the years,they have built many great stone watchtowers whose purpose even today remains uncertain.
Leaving the gorge country behind, we will see a shift to the lifestyles of the Tibetan Plateau: less farming, more livestock, and summers spent in portable black felt tents with yaks and goats close at hand. Horses (and increasingly motorbikes) are an important means of transport.
Buddhist symbols dominate the landscape in a very literal sense. Hill slopes are decorated with esoteric arrays of prayer flags and colorful banners. The same message is carved repeatedly, hypnotically, into riverside boulders.
Around the towns of Bamei and Tagong, long-haired Khampa men ride horseback in their traditional robes, adorned with coral and turquoise, images of their favorite lama worn discretely. Gold-roofed monasteries align with sacred, snow-covered peaks. After a night in the plateau town of Litang, a cultural hub of eastern Tibet, we will traverse a region denuded by glaciers and now covered in diverse alpine wildflowers.
Our journey will culminate among the sacred peaks of Konkhaling, first described to the Western world by botanist-explorer Joseph Rock, who visited and photographed this area in 1928.
After more than a century of chaos and deprivation, Konkhaling, now a part of Yading National Park, has emerged with new infrastructure that enables visitors to reach the sacred circle of peaks much more easily than Joseph Rock did.
The landscape at Yading is powerfully scenic and ecologically significant. Mountains of limestone approach 20,000 feet at elevation; their glaciated summits, each named for a Tibetan deity, are symmetrical and enveloped in snow of the purest white. Tibetan pilgrims come from far and wide to perform kora, walking around the peaks in a clockwise direction. Alpine plant diversity is tremendous. Colorful and species-rich taxa like gentians, primrose, rhododendron, and ground orchids will all be in full flower at the time of our visit.
This expedition—in both its natural and cultural aspects — is extremely conducive to photography, with fantastic skies, clear mountain air, and huge contrasts between the sacred and the profane, the traditional and contemporary aspects of Tibetan/ Chinese culture.

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Detailed Itinerary

Day1 Arrive Chengdu,the bustling queen city of West China and capital city of Sichuan Province. Transfer to the hotel. Leisure for browsing Kuanzhaixiangzi, landmark of the old city. This evening , celebrate your arrival with a Sichuan Food dinner .
Overnight in Chengdu(D)
Day 2 Chengdu to Ya’an
Depart for Ya’an ,an important trading city along the ancient Southern Silk Route. Arrive in Ya’an , enjoy a local fish specialty for our lunch. Afternoon, we will visit one of the ancient towns situated along the trade routes out of Chengdu. At Wangyu, a farming village, houses are built of wood on either side of an ancient and mossy cobbled lane.
Overnight in Ya’an
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Day 3 Bifengxia Panda Base
The morning is the best time to visit the Bifengxia Panda Base. This important facility is located on hill slopes where pandas occupy large, naturalistic enclosures. It is one of the most important research bases for panda conservation in Sichuan. Afternoon, we will have a scenic drive along Qingyi River. Ancient logs are excavated from the river (buried by landslides millennia ago); many species are no longer found in this part of China. The city of Baoxing is a compact Sichuan hill town and is refreshingly cool and pleasant for an evening walk along the river.
Overnight in Baoxing
Day 4 Dawei
We’ll have a morning visit to a Catholic church that was founded in the 19th century. It served as the parish of Père Armand David, a French priest who contributed much insight into Chinese natural history and was the first Westerner to describe the Giant Panda. The chapel is in good condition and is actively supported by locals whose members come to worship and sing together.
This afternoon we will pass Futongzhai(Bee Hive Village) Panda Reserve and cross Jiajin Pass (around 12,000 feet at elevation). Along the way, we transition from spruce forest to alpine grasslands, with several wonderful opportunities to photograph alpine wildflowers like Mecanopsis blue poppy, Edelweiss, and Silene. From the crest of the pass, we will descend into the semi-arid Xiaojin river valley, passing forests of larch, spruce, and oak.
Our destination, the Tibetan town of Dawei, supports a venerable Tibetan Buddhist monastery, much of which was well preserved through the tumultuous 20th century. Accommodations are in a pleasant family-run hotel that overlooks the town.
Days 5/6 Dangba
By following the Xiaojin River , we’ll pass by fields of Sichuan pepper that scent the air. Intriguing, centuries-old stone watchtowers rise from precarious locations. A particularly impressive watchtower guards the entrance to Wori village, where we can walk on a path among riverside dwellings. Further along, Mengu is the site of an old iron bridge wrought entirely from chain. The Tibetan farming village of Zhonglu has beautifully crafted homes amongst fruit orchards, and many ancient watchtowers.
Today’s destination, the town of Dangba, is situated where several valleys come together to join the powerful Dadu River, an important tributary of the Yangtze. Gorge-bound Dangba is amazingly compact, but nearby villages retain the characteristic architecture of the Jiarong Tibetans, who are indigenous to this region. We will have a second day in Dangba to visit the Jiaju Tibetan cultural landscape
Day 7 Xinduqiao
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Today, we will leave the river gorge country, ascending a forested tributary valley that opens onto the grasslands of Kham (eastern Tibet). If the weather cooperates, we will have great views of Yala Snow Mountain, rising behind several monasteries that gain stature from their proximity to this majestic peak. In this season, the hills are brilliant green, visited by grazing yak and cattle. At the highest elevations, people still use traditional black tents for temporary accommodation when they are with their animals in the summer.
Around Bamei and Tagong, local people have decorated the hilly landscape with huge, colorful mandalas of ceremonial flags, derived from Tibet’s ancient pre-Buddhist shamanistic religions, and gigantic mani prayers assembled from painted stones. Stones along the river are covered with painted mani prayers and beautifully executed images of Tibetan deities. At Muya Monastery, we will see monks and local craftsmen carving prayer stones, which they color brightly before placing them around the edge of the monastery. Descending from Tagong, we pass through the fertile scenic valley of Xindu, where we link to the main road in eastern Tibet.
Day 8 Litang
In the morning, explore and photograph the traditional architecture of Xinduqiao, then cut across the grain of the landscape, crossing one mountain pass on either side of the spectacular Yalong River gorge. The busy town of Yajiang lies along the Yalong river, while yaks and horses range the adjacent highlands. The meadows are an important point on the road to Tibet. In order to make a smooth descent to the Yalong Valley, the audaciously-engineered new road includes several 360 degree loops. Our destination for tonight is Litang, one of the eastern Tibet. It offers one of our best opportunities to become acquainted with the horse-based Tibetan culture of Kham.
Day 9 Riwa
Today, we will traverse high plateau landscapes and then descend to the valley town of Riwa, gateway to Konkaling sacred mountains. We will pass an area that was glaciated during the ice age (curiously, for all its height, most of the Tibetan Plateau was not glaciated).
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Today, the habitat here is still recovering: frost-rounded boulders blanket the landscape like a crop of giant potatoes, and glacial lakes shimmer in the distance. Out on the horizon, the mountains still retain ice caps. Streams flow everywhere, and alpine plants will be in full flower at the time of our visit. Highlights will include Rheum (wild rhubarb), primrose, and lousewort (Sichuan is a center of diversity for all of these genera), cinquefoil, dwarf rhododendron, saxifrage, and many others. This will be a wonderful time to poke among the boulders in search of botanical curiosities! The highest elevation today is about 15,400 ft.
In the afternoon we will descend, passing Tibetan villages where people farm mountain crops like barley, buckwheat, and mustard. We will pass the market town of Daochang to reach Riwa for an overnight at moderate elevations near the gateway to Yading National Park and the Konkaling sacred peaks.
Day 10Yading National Park & World Biosphere Reserve
Today, we will visit Yading National Park, a scenic valley between the high peaks of Konkaling. It was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2003. Joseph Rock, an Austrian-American explorer, came into this region in 1928 on a National Geographic expedition. Some of his most interesting comments and finest photographs came from here. The 20,000- foot, glacier-covered limestone summits of Konkaling are sublimely beautiful, although they are frequently cloud-cloaked in summer. Whether or not we are so fortunate as to glimpse the high peaks, we will certainly find the region remarkable, with distinctively textured rocks and rich alpine vegetation. Here are some of the highest forests in the world, with dense stands of larch and spruce growing at elevations over 14,000 ft. The Chonggu monastery near the entrance to the valley is especially important for Tibetan pilgrims who come here to walk around the peaks.
Day 11 Daocheng to Chengdu
We will drive to Daocheng for a flight to Chengdu. Enjoy the Sichuan opera this evening and a festive farewell!
Day 12 Transfer to the airprot. Trip ends.