Take a horse riding holiday into the furthest reaches of far-off Tibet - sleeping by night in painted festival tents, guesthouses and a Tibetan nunnery - riding horseback through majestic mountain peaks and across endless grasslands by day.

From Chengdu in the southwest of China, guests drive to Kangding, situated on the border of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. After visiting the lively market, drive onto Tagong, home to one of the most important Tibetan monasteries and the extraordinary Horse Race Festival. This festival features thousands of local Tibetan herdsmen, among the vast expanse of green meadow surrounded by snow-capped peaks. There are horse races with traditional Tibetan acrobatics, dances and various demonstrations of strength, courage and wealth. 

Riders then begin the adventure with pack horses (longer and more challenging itinerary), or pack Yaks (shorter itinerary). Traverse rivers, forests and visit monasteries en route, taking in the nomadic culture. A rest day is spent learning nomadic skills such as yak herding and butter-making. Both itineraries require some fitness due to altitude and walking required.

An adventurous and unusual trip and an unmissable opportunity to discover the real Tibet before it disappears totally.

Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.

Review received from JR of Co Kildare on 01/08/2019

Ride Summary
What was your overall impression of the holiday
Overall impression
Unicorn Trails sales staff

Riding tour leader

Additional Comments
Horses and Tack

Additional Comments
Meals

Accommodation

Miscellaneous

Was this trip accurately described to you beforehand?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Was there anything you should have known and were not told? YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
I would like to have had a better description of saddle type. Simply stating a leather saddle is not sufficient. A picture would be most helpful.
What could we do to improve this ride?
I cannot think of anything off hand.
How would you rate the difficulty of this ride out of 10 where 1 is very easy and 10 is very advanced?
5
Please explain why you scored it as you did:
Some horsemanship is required but not at a very high standard. Control of the horse is essential as the horses used are quite flighty.
Would you recommend Unicorn Trails to your friends?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Friendliness and efficiency
May we use you as a reference for other people wishing to go on this ride?
YES
Any other comments:
Unicorn comments: Thank you for your feedback. Glad you had a great time! :)

10 days / 9 nights / 6.5 days riding

Day 1

Meet in Chengdu and drive to Kangding. This small mountain city is at an altitude of 2,600m and is mainly ethnic Han Chinese with a notable Tibetan presence and flair, particularly in its shops, restaurants and temples. For centuries it has been the meeting place of Tibetan and Chinese culture, and has served as a tea and yak hide trading center. It serves as last outpost before the wild Tibetan mountains and passes of the Chengdu-Lhasa highway and the Tibetan region of Kham. Spend the night above the city at at hot-springs. (Yala Hotsprings Guesthouse (or similar), 3100 m, 4 hour drive, depending on road conditions).

Day 2
Big race day! Drive to Lhakang, a small Tibetan town built around the Lhakang Monastery, surrounded by high grasslands. Mt Zhakra majestically overlooks the mountains and green plains. Attend the horse festival above the town, with morning horse blessings, and then spectacular races of the town, with long races, short sprints, and stunt races. (Khampa Nomad Ecolodge (or similar), 3,800 meters). (2 hour drive).

Day 3
Acclimatization day. Ride 3 hours near the lodge, meet the horses and prepare to enter the wilds. (3 hour ride, Ecolodge, 3,800 m).

Day 4
Take a 20 minute car ride to the trailhead at Gyergo Nunnery before riding over high Griffon Pass (4900 m) with stunning views of sacred Mt. Zhakra, (5900 m). Walk down into the back valley to camp at the Zhakra Hotsprings. (4 hour ride, 3 hour hike, camp at 4,100 m).

Day 5
Ride back over Griffon Pass (4900 m). Listen to the nuns chanting this afternoon and stay in a basic nunnery home-stay with a local family. (7-8 hour ride, very steep terrain, hiking may be preferred for some riders. Hut at 3,900 meters).

Day 6
Ride up into the high nomad area for another lovely day in the saddle, finishing at the home camp of the guides. Settle in to spend the night and be wined and dined by the nomads while experiencing their traditional life. Opportunity for a nomad tent stay for interested guests. (7 hour ride, camp near nomads, 4,200 m).

Day 7
Spend the morning at Dashika Nomad Camp trying traditional skills like yak milking, butter processing, yak fiber spinning for string and rope, and yak herding. Then ride to Yibei Lake, a high sinkhole (cenote) lake. This is a short 3 hour ride across the high plateau where riders will see many nomad camps dotted across the area. Yibei may look a great lake for swimming, but very cold! (3 hour ride, camping, 4,450 m).

Day 8
Ride to a vantage point to the west, across wolf and gazelle country, and the Lhagang plateau's highest area. Lunch at the lookout, (4600m) with views of isolated hermitages nestled in mountains, after mountain, after mountain. Descend to see the sacred Ragni Lake, home of lammergyer birds in cliffs and the site of many legends. Camp nearby. (5 hour ride, camping, 4,200 m).

Day 9
: Ride across the Lhagang Plateau's most populated nomadic area. Riders may happen upon a religious festival in this area. Arrive after lunch at high Genup Gompa, a 300-year-old nomad temple. After visiting the temple, say goodbye to the guides and drive to Khampa Nomad Ecolodge with a quick stop for snacks in Bamei. (5 hour ride, camping, 3,800 m).

Day 10
Return to Chengdu by plane, for the departing flight

16 days /15 nights /10.5 days riding/hiking (experienced riders only)
Day 1
Meet in Chengdu and drive to Kangding. This small mountain city is at an altitude of 2,600m and is mainly ethnic Han Chinese with a notable Tibetan presence and flair, particularly in its shops, restaurants and temples. For centuries it has been the meeting place of Tibetan and Chinese culture, and has served as a tea and yak hide trading center. It serves as last outpost before the wild Tibetan mountains and passes of the Chengdu-Lhasa highway and the Tibetan region of Kham. Spend the night above the city at at hot-springs. (Yala Hot-springs Guesthouse (or similar), 3100 m, 4 hour drive, depending on road conditions).

Day 2
Big race day! Drive to Lhakang, a small Tibetan town built around the Lhakang Monastery, surrounded by high grasslands. Mt Zhakra majestically overlooks the mountains and green plains. Attend the horse festival above the town, with morning horse blessings, and then spectacular races of the town, with long races, short sprints, and stunt races. (Khampa Nomad Ecolodge (or similar), 3,800 meters). (2 hour drive).

Day 3
Acclimatization day. Ride 3 hours near the lodge, meet the horses and prepare to enter the wilds. (3 hour ride, Ecolodge, 3,800 m).

Day 4
Take a 20 minute car ride to the trailhead at Gyergo Nunnery before riding over high Griffon Pass (4900 m) with stunning views of sacred Mt. Zhakra, 5900 m). Walk down into the back valley to camp at the Zhakra Hotsprings. (4 hour ride, 3 hour hike, camp at 4,100 m).

Day 5
Hiking day! Hike from the hot-springs and cross over a high pass for a close-up view of the glaciers. This area is wild with lots of animals. Sleep near a high lake. (7-8 hour hike, 4400 meter camp).

Day 6
: Ride back to Gyergo Nunnery over the grasslands. (6 hour ride, basic nunnery hut, 3,900 m).

Day 7
Back in the saddle, ride up into the high nomad areas. Another lovely day in the saddle, ending at the home yak camp of our guides. Watch as the herders bring in the animals, catch and tie the calves, and do the evening milking. Opportunity for a homes-stay, or just dinner in the yak hair tents. (7 hour ride, camp near nomads, 4,300 m).

Day 8
Ride across the grasslands to Badi Gompa, a small nomad temple. Pass many small nomadic camps. Camp with views of deep valleys. (6-7 hour ride, camp above deep valley, 4,00 meters).

Day 9
Ride in remote areas, past high lakes, to a meditation cave. Camp here (or lower according to the group's acclimatization). (6 hour ride, camp 4500 meters or lower as needed).

Day 10
Today is a high ridge ride and walk with stunning views in all directions, reaching 4700 meters. There are parts of the ridges that are narrow and require walking the horses. This is a hard day for the riders, and a challenge for the horses, but gives a great chance to work as a team with ones horse. End at Drapa Lake, a beautiful lake in a deep valley with a small village, and Choyu speakers. (6-8 hour ride and hike, 4,300 meters).

Day 11
Retrace the route back out of the valley, walking part of the way, and then down a steep path toward some remote lakes and waterfalls. Again, it is necessary to walk the horses. End at a small village with its gold-roofed temple. Camp here. (6-7 hour ride and hike, 2,900 meters).

Day 12
Back in the easy grasslands, ride back up onto the plateau and to Yibei Lake, a high sinkhole (cenote) lake. Yibei is a great lake for swimming, but cold! (5-6 hours, 4,450 meters).

Day 13
Ride to Genup Gompa, a 300-year old nomad temple perched on the side of hill. Then take a car to Zhonglu Village, near Danba to stay in a lovely renovated courtyard hotel (6 hour ride, 2 hours car, small guesthouse 1,800 meters).

Day 14
Return to Chengdu by car over Balang Shan, and through the Wolong Panda Reserve (6 hour drive).

Day 15
A free day in Chengdu. Possible optional activities include visiting the Giant Panda Breeding Center (which usually has babies in the summertime), the QingYangGong Daoist Temple, and the Tibetan quarter. Last dinner (BuddhaZen Hotel).

Day 16
Sendoff to the airport.

Please note: the Tagong Horse Festival can be canceled at any time due to political reasons or other unforeseen circumstances.

 

 

Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.

Horses & Riding

Tibetan horses are small and the size of ponies in Europe. They tend to be gentle and calm, but are trained to pretty hard commands in comparison to horses in the West. The tack is Tibetan leather saddles, which are like English saddles, but please note that the saddles are not particularly padded! The terrain includes both high, open grassland and mountain trails. The mountain trails can be quite rocky and steep, and in some places are lined with low-hanging branches so can mean quite difficult riding. On the other hand, the grassland riding is gentle, not rocky and ideal for riding.


Rider requirements

This trip is aimed at competent riders, because it includes 7.5 days on horseback, but it is not necessary to be a rider of the highest level. The journey is essentially at walk although there are opportunities for trots and canters in the grasslands.

It is necessary, however, to be in good physical condition in order to adapt to the altitude, and the capricious weather conditions. This will not be a forced march, however, and altitude (up to 4800m) will be reached by degrees. You must respect rigorously the advice of the guides to adapt your behaviour to the altitude. If you are in any doubt (cardiac or respiratory problems, or hypertension) it is advised that you consult your doctor, and that you should prepare yourself with endurance exercises – walking quickly, jogging, swimming and cycling. Please consider carefully taking medicines for altitude, as they can be dangerous is taken incorrectly.

The horses used for this trip are small and the weight limit of 85kg is strictly enforced. Riders will be weighed on arrival in Chengdu and if they are found to be over the weight limit they will not be allowed to ride. Please do not be too optimistic on your booking form! The minimum age for this ride is 12 years, children under 16 must be experienced and have good riding skills.

Weight Limit

The weight limit for this ride is 187 lb/85 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.

The guests' sleeping tents are large-sized backpacking tents big enough for two people. They also use a large white traditional Tibetan canvas tent as a communal area for eating and hanging out. The guides will cook the meals over a fire. When staying at the nomad camps, there will be an option to eat in the yak hair tents with the families, or to eat in the white tent. (Sometimes the smoke in the black tents bothers people, but this depends on the weather.) Riders will also stay in local guesthouses or as guests of the nuns/ monks in the guest quarters of the monastery.



Lunch and dinner are generally Tibetan style, or Chinese -- homemade noodles, rice with vegetables and meat, "Chinese noodles", yak momos, potato momos, cottage cheese (homemade) momos with wild onions, mushrooms, willow cheese fondue. Breakfasts include tsampa, oatmeal, eggs and bacon, and other Western favourites.


Documents - Visa and Consulate Info

Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip.

NB: Be sure to check the COVID status of the country you plan to visit including entry procedures and requirements while travelling.

Passport and Visa requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country.

Please note that although this ride is in an ethnically Tibetan area (Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Eastern Tibet) it is not in the Tibet Autonomous Region (Central Tibet), so therefore you do not need special permission from the Chinese authorities, and it is sensible not to stress the Tibet side of things when applying for a visa.

Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate should you need a visa.

In the UK the British Foreign Office gives advice: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/china

In the US: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/China.html

In Canada: https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/china

Climate Summary

The climate is that of high plateaux, marked by a wide variance of temperature between day and night, and between sunny and overcast days. It is possible for the temperature to drop below zero at night in the high camps, and to rise to 24 degrees by day. If it rains for one or two days the temperature plummets to 5 or 6 degrees.
In July rain is normal most late afternoons and evenings, and sometimes it will rain for days on end. Usually, we are not so unlucky, and get a few days of rain and a few days of sun. In the sun, it can get quite hot very quickly. One needs to layer clothing!

Climate Chart

Health

COVID: Be sure to check the latest COVID regulations for travelling in any country you visit.

Tap water in China is generally not safe to drink. You should drink only bottled water.

Dengue fever is present in some parts of China mainly during the rainy season. There has been a large increase in cases of dengue fever in Guangdong province. You should take appropriate precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

Please refer to your country’s latest health guideline for travel in China and contact your own GP for up to date advice on vaccinations and prophylaxis prior to travel.


Health (ride specific)

Hepatitis A & B is recommended as is the preliminary Rabies vaccination and Typhoid. Tetanus and diptheria boosters should also be up to date.

For people who are not used to the altitude it would be wise to consider buying Diamox and taking it when you arrive in Chengdu. This can make a huge difference in the enjoyment of a trip up at these altitudes, and in some cases is an absolute necessity. Anyone who has had trouble at high altitudes before or is worried about this should seriously consider not taking part in the trip. The ride starts at 3600m (11,700ft).

A first aid kit is carried by your guides. We advise you to bring the following:

•Anti-diarrhoea tablets
•Blister pads
•Sterile plain and crepe bandages
•Tube of antiseptic cream
•Decongestants/antihistamines
•Throat lozenges
•Paracetamol or aspirin
•Personal medicines as prescribed by your doctor

Electricity

In China the supply voltage is 220V. If the appliance is a single voltage rated appliance, it will need to operate at the same voltage as the supply voltage of the country i.e. 220V. If this is not the case it should be used alongside a voltage transformer or converter to allow the appliance to work safely and properly.

Mobile, WiFi and charging

Please bring your own batteries and film. Many types are not available over there and most places will have no offerings of this type whatsoever.


Packing List

- Riding Helmet - we strongly recommend that you wear a properly fitted riding helmet of the current standard which is PAS015 or BSEN1384
- Gloves
- Jodhpurs - jodhpurs, breeches or other comfortable trousers (jeans may rub and can also be quite hot) (any old riding gear is a good idea so it can be given to the Tibetan horsemen team)
- Stirrup leathers, particularly if you are very tall
- Saddle bags
- Walking boots with gaiters
- 1 heavy pullover, or polar fleece, one fine pullover (that you can put other things on top of)
- T-shirts and blouses/shirts with long sleeves (protection from the sun)
- A high altitude jacket, in down, or a parka
- Scarf
- Woollen hat
- Waterproof garment and 2 piece wind cheater
- Light shoes for less taxing activity, but still suited for walking.
- Leisure wear (lighter trousers) for visits and travelling other than on horseback.
- A very warm sleeping bag with Norwegian style closures for temperatures below freezing (4 seasons or -10°)
- Towel
- High specification sun glasses (glaciers or UV++++)
- Toilet bag
- Sun cream (very high factor for lips and face in sufficient quantity, 30 or 50)
- Your usual medication for pain, eye lotion, tricosteril, medication for gastric flu and intestinal trouble, tablets for sore throats, wide spectrum antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, disinfectant/purification tablets for water.
Altitude-specific: Aspegic 1000, Duxil...
- Mild sleeping tablets, Diamox or Aldactazine (prescription only – do not use except on the advice of your doctor)
- Enough film for the whole stay, and batteries for photographic equipment.
- Some snack foods and one or two freeze-dried meals
- Electric torch and batteries
- Pocket knife

All this to be packed deep in your bags in waterproof plastic (for crossing rivers)

Provided by hosts
Sleeping mats will be provided but you may wish to take your own extra soft mat.
Water will be at all camps, but moist wipes are often practical, toilet paper, small plastic bags will allow you to throw used articles in public dustbins

Don't forget to make a copy of your passport and Chinese visa, get your insurance number and credit card emergency numbers written somewhere and keep them separately from your original documents.

A pair of binoculars along with a pack of cards/frisbee/travel games/ball to share with the group is a nice idea!

Programmes

10d /9n programme with 6.5 riding days OR 16d /15n programme with 10.5 riding days/hiking on a fixed date in June or July.

Departure Dates

2024: 21 - 30 June (10 Day); 21 June - 6 Aug (16 Day)

Pricing
No single supplement payable if willing to share with someone of same sex. Should you wish to book a single room, please see supplement price below.


Recommended Reading

Thubten Jigme and Colin Turnbull - 'Tibet, Its History, Religion and People', David Bonavia - 'The Chinese: A Portrait', George Schaller - 'Wildlife of the Tibetan Steppe'. For the equestrian traveller who would like to see what is possible on horseback visit www.thelongridersguild.com. Also a fantastic place to acquire your equestrian travel books is www.horsetravelbooks.com


Wildlife

There are a lot of animals in the mountains and grasslands, but we see only a few of them! The ones we see include Himalayan Griffons, Tibetan Blue Goats, deer and a lot of small birds as well. Wolves are common and might possibly be seen, as are small wildcats (about as big as North American bobcats). These mountains are also home to large leopards, brown bears, wild dogs, and even perhaps tigers (but you will not see tigers).

Other Information

Tibet emerged in the 7th century as a unified empire, but it soon divided into a variety of territories. The bulk of western and central Tibet were often at least nominally unified under a series of Tibetan governments in Lhasa, Shigatse, or nearby locations; these governments were at various times under Mongol and Chinese overlordship. The eastern regions of Kham and Amdo often maintained a more decentralized indigenous political structure, being divided among a number of small principalities and tribal groups, while also often falling more directly under Chinese rule; most of this area was eventually incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Qinghai. In 1951, following a military conflict, Tibet was incorporated into the People's Republic of China and the previous Tibetan government was abolished in 1959. Today, the PRC governs western and central Tibet as the Tibet Autonomous Region while eastern areas are mostly within Sichuan and Qinghai provinces. There are tensions regarding Tibet's political status and dissident groups are active in exile.

Other Country Information

China is twice the size of Western Europe and is the third largest country in the world, after Russia and Canada. Its terrain varies from plains, deltas and hills in the east to mountains, high plateaux and deserts in the west. To the south its climate is tropical, whilst to the north it is sub-arctic. The most fertile areas lie in the eastern third of the country, which is economically the most developed region.

Jiang Zemin was appointed to the additional post of State President in March 1993. Jiang continued the policies of his predecessors, prioritising economic growth, particularly in China's coastal provinces. This narrow focus however, caused imbalances in society. Jiang retired as President in March 2003 and Hu Jintao was named as the new President. Under the slogan of a "harmonious society", he is promoting a range of policies in the health, education, environment and other fields which will address social inequality. But these policies will not be allowed to compromise economic growth and reform. The capital of china is Beijing (or Peking) and the country population was estimated at 1,322,273,000 in 2005. Han Chinese make up around 92 percent of the population. The remaining 8 percent is comprised of 55 minority ethnic groups. The official language is Mandarin (Putonghua) with many local dialects. Time difference GMT +8

Travel Summary

Meeting-point (getting there):
Chengdu Airport, China (CTU)
Transfer:
transfers included
Flight Guide:
London - Chengdu return pp from £1250
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