Sunday, October 26, 2008

Tagong - Chengdu Roundtrip - Tagong Grassland is now open to foreign travelers - our October trip to Tagong

Chengdu Travel - During the summer Olympic period there had been restrictions with regard to foreign travelers being given entry into those fantastic areas to the West of Kangding (Kangding is an easy 6 hour's Motorway and mainroad drive from Chengdu). However we had been getting reports that these were coming to an end and from September tourists were once again being allowed through. Knowing that the best way to check out rumour is to test them - we made the trip to Tagong last weekend - and yes no problems its all open!!!!
When we had to stop at the one security check-point just on the edge of Kangding I wasn't even asked to show my passport (I'm a Brit) - in Tagong a policeman came to talk to us - but he was all smiles - informing us of road construction and telling about the best routes.
The pic is of the towering 7,000m Gongga Mountain viewed from Zheduo Mountain which is just outside Kangding.
This and all the other pics were taken on this last trip - click on them to get a bigger image.

And this is the end-point - the Tagong grasslands - home of nomadic Tibetan Yak herders. A frosty morning pic taken in the intense sunlight that's found at this 3,000m plus location - take your sunblock (my nose is still a little sore).
You can get here - with a good driver - in about 10 hours from Chengdu. If you take public transport give a day to drive to Kangding and then pick up one of the many minibuses for the last stage of your trip on day 2.

This area isnt just nomads and grasslands - there are also farming communities - with lovely villages and more tranquil scenery.

But of course we also have our mountain scenes - this is at 4,300m at the Zheduo Pass - prayer flags and peaks making for a photographers dream.

The light here is just incredible - the river that flows through Tagong, here there is forest on the valley sides.

A lot of the roads are being rebuilt to a high standard - and much of that work is already finished. Trvel here is easy - and getting even easier. In normal tourist seasons there is no need for 4WD.

There's my wife - I kept on losing her with the camera!!!!

This is what it looks like when you get very close to the vegitation line - its a tad chilly here, and snow was starting to fall. This is on the road to Moxi.
You don't have to be an ace mountaineer to get up here - just drive a car and walk up a track. However go slowly - the air is thin.
with regard to altitude sickness - here are tips -

1. - making sure not to over exert yourself when high

2. - taking oxygen - you can buy small cheap spray canisters of O2 with a mask. I've never used them, and can't vouch for the quality of content - but by the evidence of rubbish cans lots of tourists use them.

3. - taking Tibetan herb medicine - which being organic shouldn't mess with other medications. I've tried this and it seems to work - but then again there is the placebo effect and mind over matter!!!!

4. - to stem the symptoms - drink lots of water - getting altitude sick often feels like a hang-over - you get de-hydrated.

5. - If you really do get sick go down again. In normal cases you recover very quickly when you descend.

This is nice country - again a view up from the Zheduo Mountain - this time from the new airport road.

The new temple on the Tagong Grassland - basking in the early morning sunlight.

Looking down onto the grasslands near Tagong - on that airport road.

A backdrop to the Tagong Grasslands is the holy Yala Mountain - this shot gives you the holy feel!!!

More rolling grassland at Tagong - there's also a few autumn colours that enliven this pic.

Mustn't forget Stupas - here is one and that Yala Mountain.

Most of the people we guide this way are birders - but even if you're not a wildlife freak its hard to ignore the fantastic nature here.

It might be just a Sparrow - but you don't often see 'em sitting on Tibetan prayer flags.

Vulture meets the moon - lots of big birds floating about!!!

Here's the old Tagong Temple - an important place for Tibetan pilgrimage. Lots of prayer wheels and a great whiff of yak butter!!!!

A smaller temple on the road out of Tagong - these places look very neat.

There she is - found her again - this time hiding behind a Stupa.

We have a van so we like to give folk lifts - for the price of a photo. Here are 3 nuns - on a pilgrimage to Tagong Temple.

Three farming girls - those hats look so pretty.

For us the most serious effects of altitude, and changes in air-pressure, were exploding crisp (for you Americans thats - chip) packets - here's another one that's about to go. Wonder if there's money in producing a high altitude packet.

Here's that airport road I've been talking about- the surface still isn't finshed - but its perfectly okay in dry conditions. On this road you can get to Kangding in about 3 to 4 hours (a lot slower if you're always stopping to take the scenery in) .

Our Hotel landlady - we always stay at this friendly place. The food is Tibetan, which includes - yak butter tea - some Tibetan cheese (it doesn't taste much like cheese), barley flour which you mix with yak butter and sugar - and lots more yak butter tea.
Actually I'm not going to rave on about this diet - and the old lady chuckled when she told that she was sure some foreign guests only ate through being polite!!!!
A few other restaurants in the town where you can get away from yak butter!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here she is again - a great place to stay.

Our bedroom - no posters on the wall here.
There are electric blankets to keep you warm - but bathroom and toilet conditions are basic. A bowl for washing and a hole in the floor type toilet for doing other business - but down the road there other establishments that cater for those who need a bit more pampering

To find out more about the grasslands, contact us on -

Chengdu Travel Guide - Viewing the big Buddha from the Leshan side of the river.

Chengdu Travel - Some of the best views of the Big Buddha are to be had outside the Buddha park - on a small pebble Island that can be reached by a 1RMB ferry from the Leshan side of the Minjiang/Dadu River. From this island you get to see the huge size of this statue - and see the two other smaller figures that flank it (you cant see these from the park and stair ways that flank the the monument). My pics are taken from this Island on a cold, misty day last winter.

Here's the face - when I first got to see this, as a long-haired backpacker in the 80's, it wasnt so well restored - no nice pink paint and it had a bush growing out of one of the ear. I kind of prefer it that way but I suppose all that repair work is also to stop it falling to pieces. If you look to the sides of the head you can see the handrails of the park path/stairways that go around the statue - you can also guage how huge it is!!!!

Another view with the river - you can also ride in a boat to take a look - but that's far more expensive that going to the Island - but of course you get much closer. On the subject of close, my pics are taken with a telephoto lens - and although you get a great view from the island - you're not right up close to the big boy. For those who need close - then going to the park is the best option. but for quick, easy and cheap - the island makes a great alternative.
To get to the island just find the river in Leshan town and walk in an up-river direction untill you come to the Buddha - and then you'll see the island and the ferry. You may also see some crazy winter swimmers - who brave both the cold and all those toxic chemicals that must be floating around in that soup .

To see the pics in a bigger format - just click on an image.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Chengdu Travel Guide - on top of the world - pics from Western Sichuan

Chengdu Travel - Sichuan is a gateway to Tibet – with large parts of Western Sichuan lieing up on the Tibetan Plateau. When entering this area, the visitor will be among soaring mountain ranges, Yak grazed grasslands, nomadic herders and Tibetan temples – a land of Eagles and Vultures – oozing unique, never to be forgotten travel experiences.

Rolling grasslands - pasture for the Yak herds. This is a common landscape in these areas.

Here, at high altitude, the air is thin - and the environment takes on a harsh rocky beauty, really living up to its top of the world billing.

Alpine forest clings onto the valleys - while snow peaks dominate the skyline.

A Temple near Tagong - with Yala mountain as the backdrop. This photo was taken on a frosty November morning.

A couple of Yakboys doing some inprovised rodeo - actually this Yak is pretty passive - and these animals can also be used as both transport and pack-animals. One of our Tibetan friends told us he used to ride a Yak to school!!! However one thing you've got to watch out for, if you walk on the grasslands - are those dogs that are set to guard the herd - fierceTibetan Mastiffs. But you'll be alright as long as you dont go walking about at night.
The boy in the red coat is a novice monk - he's also got my binoculars!!!!

A lot of ethnic costume is still worn in these parts - here's a girl we found in the temple town of Dege. Her headress is adorned with turquoise.

A monk blinking in the early morning sun as walks past the temple at Tagong. The sun can be strong at these altitudes - its a good idea to bring a good supply of sun-cream.

Prayer flags dot the valleys and often placed at the higest points of passes and tracks. These are at Litang - and are being blown by a summer squall.

Old ladies outside the temple at Tagong.

A bit of grassland nature - this is a tiny Rabbit called a Pika.

Our first car - an old canvas topped jeep- "blimey its cold up here!!!" Nowadays we drive about with a little more cover - and a little less clothing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chengdu Travel Guide - More Pics from Laba He on our Red Panda day

Chengdu Travel - A view into the forest. This is primary growth - and a major conservation point, with regard to this habitat type, is that destructive domestic animals, such as goats and cattle, are not found within the park - their grazing can destroy so much plant growth and regeneration. The vegitation is very thick with large areas of bamboo. It's very difficult to travel directly through this kind of forest, so a lot of viewing is done from the tracks that wind up the valleys.

Sometimes you'll get to hear blood curdling screeches and yells - often from one side of a valley to another - don't be too alarmed its Short-tailed Macaques calling to each other as the troupe spreads in its search for food. In some Chinese parks you get feral monkeys that will come to tourists for food - however at Laba He the monkeys are very wild - but they have found out that raiding rubbish bins can bribg something tasty. Meggie took the picture of this Monkey about 10 minutes before we found the Red Panda.

The dominant male - and he's got an eye on us. He's warning the troupe that humans are present - telling them to keep their distance.

This is viewing platform for looking at Deer and Takin - but its lunch time, not too many animals about now - so we use it as a convenient place for making sandwiches

From the platform we can view country that is around 3000m high - here the forest is dotted with natural alpine pasture - great habitat for grazing animals. During August, this kind of country carries a thick matt of colorful grassland flowers - quite a sight.

A view higher up. The mountains here peak at just over 4,000m - and that's the summer altitude for Giant Panda. The mountain range goes on uninterrupted all the way out to the Wolong area - here we are on the edge of one of the world's richest Panda habitats.

But following the laws of gravity - we who go up must eventually come down - we make out descent by a plank way that takes us through more great habitat - and gives Laba He vistors the chance to enjoy the great scenery.