Nangchen and Jiuzhaigou N.P. revisited

Last year (2018) I traveled in the land of the yaks and visited the remote area of Nangchen. As I wrote in my blog about that travel, I visited Gaden Monastery there. We (my guide, my driver and me) had some problems visiting this monastery because nobody could tell us where this monastery was located. But I found it thanks to the navigation app MAPS.ME. There are a lot more monasteries in Nangchen, but at that time we couldn’t locate them. So I wanted to revisit Nangchen and look for other monasteries. But this time I did my homework. I got the GPS coordinates of the monasteries and could locate them at home thanks to Google Maps and Wikimapia. On Google Maps with the satellite layer on I could really see them. So I knew for sure they were there. And I saw the roads leading to these monasteries. I marked these monasteries also on MAPS.ME. MAPS.ME is the app to use for road directi0ns because you can download the maps of China at home and use them offline while driving there. It turned out working fine. Also because the Chinese navigation app my guide used, didn’t give the roads. But I had them on MAPS.Me. Remember, Nangchen is a very remote area and is not often visited by travelers / tourists. Not even Chinese ones. Later in this blog I will tell you more about my travel in Nangchen. But I will start with where my travel started (in Chengdu) and describe my travel chronologically from there on. So the Nangchen part will be somewhere in the middle of this blog.

I also wanted to revisit Jiuzhaigou N.P. again. The park was closed since it was hit by an earthquake in august 2017 and is very recently with some restrictions reopened. And I was lucky on this point too!

Chengdu – Moxi – Kangding

I knew that in the beginning of my trip I would visit Litang. But Litang is located at an altitude of about 4,000 meters. That is very high and can give health problems if your body isn’t accustomed to the high altitude. I come from a country at sea level (Holland) and I travel two times a year to high altitudes. So I know how my body normally adjusts to the high altitude. Luckily I don’t really have a problem with the high altitude but the first days I take the medicine Diamox as a precaution. Diamox really helps your body to accustom to the high altitude. But I knew it was important not to go at once from Chengdu to Litang.

When you start traveling west, to the Tibetan areas in Sichuan province, and you arrive at the mountains, there is a beautiful National Park called Hailuogou Glacier Forest Park. I hadn’t been there before so I wanted to start my travel there. From Chengdu we drove the first day of the round trip to the small, ancient, Tibetan town of Moxi, where the entrance of the park is. Moxi turned out to be a very lovely small town. Yes, it’s touristic but not (yet) too much. The wooden houses gave it a nice ambiance. I loved to stay there one night. The next day we (as I talk of “we” I mean my guide, my driver and me) visited Hailuogou. The entrance of the park is in Moxi and you drive up in the valley of the park with buses. The park is on the eastern side of Gongga Mountain, the king of mountains in Sichuan. The reason for Hailuogou’s worldwide fame lies in its spectacular contemporary glaciers at low altitude. So Hailuogou glacier is one of very few glaciers which can be visited throughout the year. We drove up by bus to camp 3. From there we had to climb up the stairway for a few hundred meters to about an altitude of 3,000 meters to see the glacier. The weather was fine that day. But when we arrived at the scenic area for viewing the glacier, it had become very misty and unfortunately we couldn’t really see the glacier. But the forest we walked through while climbing up (and down) was very beautiful. There was also a nice little Tibetan temple with stupa in the park. After visiting the park we drove to Kangding where we spent the night. It was important to spent the night there to get accustomed to the altitude because Kangding is located at an elevation‎ of ‎2,560 meters.

Tagong and Litang

After spending the night at Kangding we drove to the little town of Tagong. Visiting Tagong requires a detour off of the main highway. But it’s worth it. Tagong is at an elevation of 3,725 meters and is 112 kilometers from Kangding. In the main square of the town you find the big Tagong Monastery / Lhagang Monastery. It’s a lovely monastery of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism. In Tagong you have an excellent view on nearby Mount Zhara Lhatse ( or the Yale Snow Mountain) with a temple with a golden roof in the forefront. There were many Chinese tourists visiting Tagong, who were there clearly on a day trip. They were constructing buildings near the temple with the golden roof which makes it now difficult to make a nice picture of Mount Zhare Lhatse with this temple. But it’s a pleasure to visit Tagong. And the route to Tagong goes through a small valley with a river with many mani stones in it. Very photogenic!

The next day we drove to Litang. It had rained that evening and night in Tagong which resulted in white landscapes on the way to Litang. It gave beautiful views! Once we reached Litang the weather had become fine again and there was no snow in Litang. Litang is situated at an elevation of 4,000 meters. That’s why I wanted my body to have enough time to get accustomed to the altitude in the previous days. I luckily had no problem with the altitude at Litang. But I do realize that for others this travel scheme may not offer enough time to get used to the altitude.v

In Litang we visited the birth house of the 7th Dalai Lama. And of course the big Litang Monastery (Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling Monastery). It consists of three main temples. One of these temples was heavily damage because of a fire in 2013. When I visited Litang for the first time in 2014 this temple was under construction. Now – in 2019 – it was almost finished, You could visit the temple inside but they were still busy reconstructing the area with the big statues in the back of the temple. But now the other two main temples were closed because of renovation work.

Derge and Bayu

From Litang we wanted to drive to Bayu to visit the monastery there and stay the night in that town. But unfortunately this was not possible. Although I had another route in mind my guide and driver choose to drive first to Ganze and going from there to Bayu. But we discovered all the roads to Bayu would pass near to Yarchen Gar. And Yarchen Gar is closed to (foreign) visitors since about May of this year. So directly after we took after Ganze the road to Bayu there was a police check point. And we were not allowed to pass. They said we had to go first to Derge and could go from there to Bayu. And so we did.

In Derge we of course visited the monastery with the famous Parkhang Printing Press. Buddhist scripture books are made here using traditional wooden blocks. The second and third floors of the building houses the rooms for proofreading, engraving blocks, printing and binding. It is fascinating to watch the printers, who work in pairs, work as fast as they can to print the scriptures onto paper. The ground floor of the building consists of several halls with religious statues. Lots of pilgrims walked their koras around the building.

After visiting thee printing press at Derge we drove to Bayu. It was a beautiful drive through a small valley with a wild river in it. At the other side of the river is Tibet (TAR – Tibetan Autonomous Region). Just before we arrived at Bayu there was a police check point. But we were allowed to travel on to Bayu. Once in Bayu we discovered that at that moment no hotel in town would take foreign guest because of a very stringent registration process at that time. So we visited the monastery at Bayu and went back to Derge, where we stayed the night. I would have liked to visit another monastery in that region but we concluded that that was impossible at the moment because of the checks.

On to Yushu with a visit to Dzogchen Monastery

The next day we drove all the way to Yushu. A long but beautiful drive. We passed Lake Yilhun Lhatso on the way. We didn’t visit this lake because I have been there already two times. Also we didn’t have the time for a visit because of the long distance we had to drive that day. But I did make a picture of the lake from the road. In the morning we visited Dzogchen Monastery on the way. Dzogchen Monastery is located a bit off the highway in an beautiful valley. I was at this monastery also last year but at that time it was no good weather. So I wanted to visit this monastery again. This time we had good, sunny weather with blue skies. Dzochen Monastery is one of the six great monasteries of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. It’s a large complex that is also under totally new construction. They also have built a very big stupa which very much resembles to the Boudhanath Stupa in the Kathmandu Nepal. And there is also a beautiful new temple with a golden roof at back of the valley.

I also wanted to visit Sershul monastery on the way to Yushu. It located right next to the highway. But when we arrived there it was so busy with cars and pilgrims and tented camps. We weren’t allowed to stop from the police. We heard later that a high lama had died at the monastery and that was the reason it was so crowded there. Once arrived at Yushu we only spent the night there and the following day we went on to Nangchen.

Nangchen revisited

As I stated already, one of the main destinations on this trip was Nangchen. We head great, sunny weather while we drove from Yushu to Nangchen. The landscapes were beautiful. We stopped at a monastery, Rabshi Lungshö Gompa, where they were building a mani stone wall. The monastery is pretty big with four assembly halls and a big stupa. I visited two assembly halls of this monastery. In the first one the monks winked me to come in and showed me around. At the second, bigger assembly hall monks were placing a photo of a lama on a throne. Also special to watch. After this monastery I visited a Nunnery (of which I don’t know the name) a bit further along the road. Two of the nuns spoke excellent English. They had arrived at the Nunnery a few months ago from Lhasa. They showed me the assembly hall and their rooms at the Nunnery. And they asked if I wanted to meet their Rinpoche. Of course I would like to meet him. One of the nuns went to the Rinpoche to ask him. The Rinpoche was looking for texts but he wanted to receive me. It was a very special audience where the Rinpoche asked me many questions and told me a lot of things in Tibetan. And one of the nuns translated it all. I felt very privileged that day. We drove further to Sharnda, the capital of Nangchen and a little town. We checked in to an hotel for the coming days.

The next day we started looking in Nangchen for remote monasteries. That day I wanted to visit Gar Ani Gompa (Gar Nunnery) and Gar Monastery in the far southeast of Nangchen. I had found the road to the nunnery and the monastery on MAPS.ME. But not the last part of the road. This part was missing on MAPS.ME. But on the satellite layer of Google Maps I had seen this last part and also where this last part, a side road, went of the main road. And I saw that there was an entrance gate at that spot. And I marked that spot in MAPS.ME. And it worked out well. The very small road went to a beautiful valley with ever green trees. First we encountered Gar Ani Gompa. We had to drive up high to reach this nunnery at an altitude of about 4,050 meters. It was a very basic nunnery with old, basic houses for the nuns. They were constructing a new temple. The nuns were very hospitable and showed us around.

After saying goodbye we drove further to Gar Monastery. This monastery was recently rebuilt and has a lower and upper part. The upper part is at an elevation of about 4,225 meters. We saw wild blue sheep there. But they were not that wild because some of the sheep were with the monks at a square at the monastery and let themselves be stroked in the hope to get something to eat. I also stroked a blue sheep. A monk opened the locked assembly hall for us. On the way back I saw to my surprise monkeys crossing the road and disappear in the forest. No time to make a picture.

On the way back we saw a monastery lying not far from the road. We turned into the side road to pay this monastery a visit. It was Gonshab Gompa (or Sharjagon Dechen Nyima Osal Choekhor Ling). While visiting the monastery, we got a water blessing from a monk.

A day later we tried to find Dana Monastery. Dana Monastery is really very remote. But I had the road to the monastery on MAPS.ME. The mountain top monastery sits at 4300 meters and is surrounded by jagged peaks that are snow-capped for much of the year. A forested valley lies below the monastery with a glacier fed river close by. Dana Monastery is located about 1,5 hours from the very small village of Jinisai and about 5 or 6 hours west from the county capital of Sharnda. So it would be a long drive to the monastery and back to Sharnda again. We started driving at that morning 8 o ‘clock. The first part went over a very good road and high passes. But then we had to take a very small side way to the village of Jinisai. The landscapes were magical. In the morning a lot of yaks were driven to the grasslands. Around about 12.00 hours we were at Jinisai. At Jinisai we had to take another very small and now dirt road to Dana Monastery, starting with driving over a high pass. And again the scenery was so beautiful. Around 13.15 hours we arrived at Dana Monastery. Dana Monastery is located at an elevation of about 4,400 meters. Dana Monastery is still a very original monastery without new constructions.

After the visit it went the same road back to Sharnda. But a before reaching the village of Jinisai we saw a monastery high upon a mountain peak. We decided to visit it. According to info on Wikimapia this small monastery is called Cera Dzadzonggo Gompa. It’s beautifully located and there were also blue sheep there although they were more wild than at Gar Monastery. After visiting this monastery we drove back to Sharnda.

Back to Yushu and on to Xining

The next morning we drove back from Nangchen to Yushu. The weather was a little rainy. After checking in in our hotel in Yushu we drove to the Gyanak Mani Temple, which is located 5km from Yushu. This place is known for it’s very large mani stone wall. We walked our koras there with the pilgrims and had lunch. It’s such a peaceful place! I also bought Tibetan music in a little shop.

The next day was a long day driving, all the way north to the big city of Xining. It’s a distance of about 800km but it’s driving over an excellent four-lane highway. The road goes mostly through very high altitude grasslands with lakes and mountains in the background. The road also has some high passes to cross. Because of the rainy weather of a day ago there was also a lot of scenery with snow. About 90 km after leaving Yushu we took a short detour to explore Dongtre Monastery, which is situated in a side valley next to the high way from Yushu to Xining. It was early in the evening that we reached Xining.

Rebkong and Xiahe

After staying the night in Xining, we went south again. Firstly we went to Rebkong, where we visited Gomar Monastery, where the monks were just having a prayer ceremony. We also visited Longwu (Rongwo) Monastery and Wutong (Sengshong) Monastery at Rebkong. At Longwu Monastery I was lucky again because the monks – some very young – just finished their prayer ceremony and came out in the street in the monastery. Right towards me. This was a great photo opportunity! After Rebkong we went further south to Xiahe, where we of course visited the big Labrang Monastery and walked the kora around this monastery. There were a lot of pilgrims at Labrang Monastery but I also saw the first western tourists there (after Litang). It’s always nice to be at Xiahe!

Tangke and Barkham

After Xiahe it went to Tangke (Tangkor), where you can enjoy the view on the first bend of the Yellow River. It was – again – a great drive over vast grasslands where herds of yaks and sheep accompanied by Tibetan cowboys on horses blocked your way on the road. I loved it. The weather was very cloudy and when we arrived at Tangke it started to rain and it was very foggy. So no great view on the first bend of the Yellow River. Luckily I already saw that two times before with good weather. In Tangke we visited the monk friend of my guide and had a nice dinner with him.

The next day it went further south from the town of Tangke over the snowy, white grasslands with yaks. About 40km south of Tangke we came upon the stupas at the village of Waqie. At this place the 10th Panchen Lama once chanted sutras and prayed for blessing. So it’s a place to memorize the 10th Panchen Lama. The stupas are surrounded by many, many prayer flags, presenting a spectacular view. I had been here before in 2016 and found the place magical. So I really liked to revisit it. In 2016 it was a beautiful, sunny day. Now I was there early in a cold morning. It was a wet and snow covered place and the prayer flags were frozen. Again I found it a magical place.

We drove further south over the plains and over a high pass into the mountains and the valleys with their autumn colors and nice temperatures because it was very sunny in the valleys to the town of Barkham. We stayed two nights at Barkham. We had a bit of a problem to find a hotel who would take a foreign guest. Finally we found a very nice hotel and checked in. But it turned out to be the most expensive and most luxurious hotel of the whole trip. Well, we enjoyed it.

From Barkham we made a day trip to Tuje Chenpo Monastery (Thugchen Lakhang), a Nyingma monastery. This monastery is important because it has a famous statue of Avalokitesvara. It is said the people of Amdo go first to this monastery before they go on a pilgrimage to Lhasa. The monastery is situated on a mountain top and overlooks the small town of Thugchen (or Guanyinqiaozhen in Chinese) and the river.

A week in Songpan with a visit to Jiuzhaigou N.P.

As in the previous years I concluded my travel with staying a week at the ancient, walled city of Songpan. Of course I stayed again at Emma’s Guesthouse (very near the ancient town), where I was very warmly welcomed. In that week I visited a family home in a Tibetan village near Songpan and made a walk in the mountain above the village. I made together with Emma an evening walk with camera in Songpan Ancient Town.

I was very lucky to be able to visit Jiuzhaigou N.P. I had been at Jiuzhaigou in October 2016 and found the park of an unimaginable beauty. So magical. But in August 2017 Jiuzhaigou was hit by a strong earthquake. And the park was closed for a very long time. In fact till the end of September 2019. So it would be reopened when I would be in Songpan. But it opened with restrictions. Not all of the park is opened yet. But the park is so big, that there is more than enough to see. And at the moment you can’t buy a ticket yourself but you have to go with a group tour of a Chinese tour operator. And only 8,000 visitors a day are allowed to visit the park. For the earthquake Jiuzhaigou was visited by some 40,000 people a day. Luckily Emma could arrange a ticket to Jiuzhaigou for me. So the day of the visit I set off on 6 o ’clock with a car with driver Emma had arranged. The driver took me to meet the guide and group at 8 o ‘clock at the entrance of the park. And I went in with them. Once in the park you can do your own thing. Walking and/or taking the hop on, hop off buses to the different scenic areas. And I was again mesmerized with the park. It was still so very beautiful. I felt very lucky!

Of course I also revisited the beautiful Huanglong N.P. with it’s colourful, terraced limestone basin pools. I love this park.

The last day of my stay at Songpan, I took a trip down on memory lane, 1997 – 2019. Revisiting Shangniba Monastery. In 1997 I made my first group tour to China/Tibet. And during this trip I visited Songpan for the first time. And we did a horse drive to a valley where we visited Shangniba Monastery and had a pick nick there in the fields near the monastery. I hadn’t been back there since then. In 1997 on horseback. At that time there was only an old Stupa and small monastery. Now I went by car with Emma. And I directly recognized the valley. It was still very peaceful and quiet. But it had changed in twenty two years. There were now houses in the valley. In 1997 the houses were higher up in the mountains. And now there is a bigger, new monastery with stupas. But the gallery with the prayer wheels was still the same. And it was fun to show the monks the old pictures I made in 1997. Emma had them on her smartphone.

Back to Chengdu

After a week in Songpan I took the bus to Chengdu. This drive takes about 6/7 hours. After getting a taxi to my hostel I had a quiet evening and last day in China with visits to the Wenshu Temple, where I had a long tea break at a tea terrace, and the ancient (but new) Jinli Street. The next day the Blue Bird took me home again.

This was the itinerary of my trip:

Day
Itinerary

1

Start my flight to Chengdu

2

Arrive at Chengdu

3

Drive to Moxi, stay overnight

4

Visit Hailuogou glacier Valley – Drive to Kangding

5

Drive from Kangding to Tagong, visit the monastery at Tagong

6

Drive to Litang, visit the birthplace of the 7th Dalai Lama and the monastery

7

Drive via Garze to Derge

8

Derge, visit to printing press monastery, drive to Bayu, visit the monastery, drive back to Derge

9

Drive to Dzochen Monastery, visit the monastery and drive on to Yushu

10

Drive from Yushu to Nangchen

11

Nangchen – day trip with visits to Gar Ani Monastery en Gar Monastery

12

Nangchen – day trip to Dana Monastery

13

Drive to Yushu, visit the Gyanak Mani Stone Wall near Yushu in the afternoon

14

Drive to Xining and visit the Dongtre Monastery, that is situated in a side valley next to the highway from Yushu to Xining, on the way

15

Drive to Rebkong and visit the Gomar Monastery

16

In the morning visit to Longwu Monastery and Wuton Monastery at Rebkong, after that drive to Xiahe. Walk the kora around Labrang Monastery in the afternoon

17

Stay at Xiahe and visit to the Labrang Monastery

18

Drive to Tangke and visit the monk friend of my guide

19

Drive to Barkham and visit the stupas at Waqie on the way

20

Day trip from Barkham to Tyukche Lhakang or the Temple of Avalokiteshvara, with the very holy statue of Avalokiteshvara

21

Drive from Barkham to Songpan

22

Relaxed day at Songpan

23

Visiting a Tibetan village near Songpan

24

Visiting Jiuzhaigou N.P.

25

Visiting Huanglong N.P.

26

Relaxed day at Songpan with an evening photo walk

27

Revisiting the valley next to Songpan with Shangniba Monastery (previous visit was in 1997)

28

By bus to Chengdu

29

Easy day at Chengdu with visits to the Wuhou Temple and Jinli Street

30

Fly back home from Chengdu

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