Trekking with yaks, donkeys, monks and tall, snowy peaks.
The crazy bus ride to Deqin wasn't really an auspicious start to my next adventure. The road, if you can call it that, was 183 km long and I think maybe 20 of those km were paved. Virtually every part was under construction in one form or another so we were dodging bulldowsers, boulders, yaks, huge trucks, mud puddles and random people all while trying not to dive into the huge ravines that were inches away at all times. At one point an SUV tried to pass us and when they hit a huge mud puddle the entire left side of the bus (my side) was drenched since we had the windows open. There was even mud on the ceiling! The driver was not happy and almost ran the guy off the cliff with the bus before getting out and yelling at him for 10 minutes while we tried to clean ourselves off. Ah, the life of a traveler in China. ;) Luckily I was blocked by my friend Neal who got the brunt of the mud's wrath. Anyway, we eventually climbed to over 5000m before descending back down to the town. The drive was actually quite beautiful as we passed through tiny towns with massive Tibetan-style homes. It amazes me how intricately decorated the homes are when the people are so poor. I have no idea how many people live in each home but it must be a majority of the villages since there are only a handful in each town. The weather was still a bit cloudy and drizzly and it was just getting better and better.
The next morning, after a long taxi ride to the town on Xidang we started trekking to the Tibetan village of Yubeng. Up and up over a pass and then back down. It was beautiful and the mountains started to poke out of the clouds but we were only getting a taste of what was to come in the next 4 days. The skies cleared more and more each day and we enjoyed 4 days of hiking in this really beautiful area. We shared the trail with some random groups of people: Chinese tourists on donkeys, old Tibetan women praying to the holy mountain all along the way, farmers herding their sheep, yaks, etc. The only complaint I would have about the trip was the strange lack of etiquette by the Chinese tourists. Starting at 6am they were literally screaming at one another even though they were only a few inches from each other. We were lucky enough to have our little shack of a hostel to ourselves for the first night but then a huge tour group came for the second and third nights and we were outnumbered big time. I was even pushed over at one point by a woman that really wanted me to be in a photo with her. They were everywhere. Luckily, most of them were riding donkeys so we could easily outhike them on the trail and rejoin the beautiful quiet. Take note of the photo of the ironic sign that was posted on the trail to the sacred lake. ;)
The village of Yubeng was adorable and still felt quite unspoiled by the tourists that come to take photos of their amazing scenery. No one speaks English and barely anyone speaks Mandarin either... almost everyone just speaks Tibetan. Anyway, after 3 nights there, we had to hike out... but instead of backtracking the way we came in we decided to take the "dangerous" route that "required" a guide. We never really saw why but apparently someone died on the trail a few years ago so now everyone was paranoid. The way was very obvious and although there were certainly some cliffs that we were hiking along, any sure-footed hiker would have been fine and a local guide couldn't have really helped if someone slipped anyway! :) With six of us together, we felt perfectly safe. The last day was probably our favorite... an intense river steeply flowing out of the mountain on our left - so loud that we couldn't hear each other talking - and tiny little villages (2-3 houses at most) along the way. Tired, but very satisfied we arrived back at the hostel we started at ... sort of civilization. Our last morning, before we had to board the bus back to Shangri-La (which no one really wanted to do), was completely clear. I woke up to the view you see in the last photo. It was the perfect way to end the trip. This little adventure was definitely the highlight of my trip to China so far.