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  • Kevin

Tibetan Sichuan : Planning

Updated: Dec 21, 2022


It is always the same, I decide it's time to plan a trip and so scour the internet to decide on a where and a when.

Recently the country I want to visit has been decided by necessity due to the ongoing Covid pandemic. In February 2020 my wife wanted to go to visit her family in Vienna and so, transiting Helsinki, that's where we went. Only to then be marooned in Austria as Covid closed borders and we were unable to return to our expatriate home in Shanghai ! 9 months bedding down on a living room floor followed - that was likely good for my back if not marital relations :)

Still, what a fabulous city to be confined to! And as movement increased and borders reopened we traveled around the beautiful country of Austria (where we'd previously spent 3 years of our lives so it was lovely to return there) and thence on to Croatia, to Italy, including Venice and the Dolomites (Cortina etc.) and I then went on to spend a month hiking, camping and photographing in those gorgeous Dolomite mountains.

Now, having been back in China for a year, that irresistible urge surfaced again. It had to be a Chinese province so Xinjiang, Tibet or maybe Sichuan, which lays within the confines of the Tibetan Plateau, bordering Tibet proper, and is choc full of gorgeous mountains, lakes and ethnic Tibetans, that can consist of up to 94% of the population in the regions bordering Tibet, assure you of a genuine Tibetan experience in terms of culture, food and language ... so due to restrictions (and quarantines) on travel around or outside of China at this difficult time, Tibetan Sichuan it was !

Tibetan Sichuan

Just a note here for those that are confused by my terminology of Tibetan Sichuan. Tibet (the Tibetan Autonomous Region, the old Tibetan region of Ü-Tsang) as most people know it today is actually only part of a much larger Tibetan region (in terms of a common people, language, culture and religion). There are two other ethnically Tibetan regions that also form part of China, Kham that is in Gansu, Yunnan and Sichuan provinces and Amdo which is in the province of Qinghai.

Arrow Lake waterfall : one of the most beautiful waterfalls at Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China. At
For me the Arrow Lake waterfalls are some of the most beautiful waterfalls at Jiuzhaigou.

Tibetan Plateau - Unbelievably Vast ! Note also that geographically the Tibetan Plateau to the North, a large part of which is in modern day Tibet, also runs into what is historically and geographically the North of Western China. Let's look at the mind-blowing statistics to put this into perspective. The Tibetan Plateau stretches approximately 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) North to South and 2,500 kilometres (1,600 mi) East to West. It is the world's highest and largest plateau above sea level (ave. around 4.000m or 13,000 ft high, which gives it its nickname "the roof of the world") and with an area of 2.5 million square kilometres (970,000 sq mi) it is about five times the size of France or roughly 1.5 times the size of Alaska! Over 90% of the population are engaged in farming and herding, with the upper altitude limit of crops being around 4500 m, whilst the nomads reside above 4800 m up to 5500 m. For comparative purposes the Tibetans living on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau live at an altitude that is as high as the Andeans in South America. And there are over 7,000 Buddhist monasteries just in Tibet alone ! That's a lot of work and travel for me as a travel photographer !

The Route Decision now made, destinations, a route and a schedule needed to be assessed and planned. The route I decided on started with a 3.5 hour flight from Shanghai to the 'panda city' of Chengdu and thence a 70 minute flight into Jiuzhai-Huanglong airport. Just a 110 kms shared taxi from my first destination at Jiuzhaigou.

The full plan (below) was for a 30-35 day trip of the region, covering a total of a ca. 1,700 kms route, with the exact number of days depending on ease of mobility and whether a location was deemed to be worthy of more or less of my time. Ha !

1. Shanghai - Chengdu (flight change only) - Jiuzhaigou

2. Jiuzhaigou - Huanglong

3. Huanglong - Songpan

4. Songpan - Heishui

5. Heishui - Miyaluozhen

6. Miyaluozhen - Bipenggou

7. Bipenggou - Siguniang

8. Siguniang - Danba

9. Danba - Garze (Ganzi)

10. Garze (Ganzi) - Kangding

11. Kangding - Hailuogou

12. Hailuogou - Chengdu (not shown)* *There have been some changes - shown at the end of this post.

If anyone has been following me on Instagram (thedragonsfather) then they'll know that the minor covid outbreak in Chengdu was to have a major effect on travel in Sichuan. PCR tests became de rigueur, and I was not allowed to board buses, check into hotels or indeed even enter some National Parks, without one, and with only a 48 hour validity it meant that I spent at least half of my time traveling to hospitals, queuing for, taking the tests and waiting for the results (12-24 hours) before I could move on to the next town/village. In the end, with the threat of a 2 week quarantine in a remote hotel hanging over me, I was forced to re-route, Maoxian to Mianyang, stay overnight and then get catch a flight the next evening back to Shanghai, after only completing around ⅓ of my schedule. Leaving a new extended route (below) to be completed next Spring when I'll return to pick up where I've left off and indeed having added a couple of new stops in Litang & Daocheng.

There will be blog posts coming up (over the next week) on Jiuzhaigou, Huanglong, Heishui and Maoxian ! Plus a new gallery will be added to the website proper with the best shots of the trip. That said I still spent many hours on this trip on buses, enjoyed some spectacular scenery, made some wonderful new friends and gained a new-found love for the amazing region of Tibetan Sichuan ! All that will be documented right here on The Dragon's Father. New Plan for Spring 2022 below !

1. Shanghai - Mianyang

2. Mianyang - Maoxian

3. Maoxian - Miyalouzhen

4. Miyaluozhen - Bipenggou

5. Bipenggou - Siguniang

6. Siguniang - Danba

7. Danba - Garze (Ganzi)

8. Garze (Ganzi) - Kangding

9. Kangding - Hailuogou

10. Hailuogou - Litang

11. Litang - Daocheng

12. Daocheng - Shanghai Next post, coming very soon, is on the utterly spectacular lakes and waterfalls of Jiuzhaigou!

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