Make your way into the furthest reaches of far-off Tibet - sleeping by night in painted festival tents, guesthouses and a Tibetan nunnery - riding horseback through majestic peaks and across endless grasslands by day.
From Chengdu in the southwest of China we drive to Danba or Rongmi, a culturally unique region, with Chinese, Tibetan and unique characteristics. Overnight in a family homestay afterwhich we start our trek at 2400m. The trek takes us through a deep gorge to riverside campsite. The following days we will encounter stunning lakes at visit hotsprings and stay in a nunnery. Towards the end of the trip you head to the Shamalong Horse Festival and witness the horse blessings followed by the spectacular races.
An extremely adventurous and unusual trip with basic conditions in remote high altitude areas 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 SF of Horam on 10/07/2013
Arrive in Chengdu, meet at Chengdu Airport. Visit the Wenshu Yuan Buddhist Temple near the hotel if there is time in the afternoon. Amazing vegetarian food for dinner and massages if wanted. Overnight at the BuddhaZen Hotel or similar). Chengdu is the traditional capital of the region of Shu in China, and a city full of history. It also contains the largest Tibetan population outside of the Tibetan regions in all of China.
Drive to Danba or Rongmi. This is a culturally unique region, with Chinese, Tibetan and unique characteristics. We’ll stay in a family homestay in a small village outside of Danba, from which we will start our trekking. 2400m.
Start trekking. Ride 5 hours through a deep gorge with lush forest to a riverside campsite. 3300m.
Ride up and over a high pass into a land of high lakes. Stop at the sacred Zhakra Yimsto, the Turquoise Lake. Situated below stunning glaciers, this sacred lake is fed by a waterfall. We will do a traditional kora of the lake (a walk-around), and see the shrines and hermitages nearby. Then camp in the low valley below the lake. (6 hour ride, 1 hour walk. Camp at 3700m).
Ride to Zhakra Hotsprings. Spend the afternoon enjoying these medicinal springs with prayer flags all around, with hiking up into the hills as you wish. (3 hour ride, camp at 4100m)
Ride today over high Griffon Pass (4900m) with stunning views of sacred Mt. Zhakra, 5900 m) onto the high Tibetan plateau to Gyergo Nunnery. Enjoy the nuns chanting this afternoon and stay in a basic nunnery hut. (7-8 hour ride over very steep terrain, hiking may be preferred for some riders. Overnight hut at 3900m)
Ride up into the high nomad areas. Another lovely day on the horse to end at the home camp of our guides. We will settle in to spend the night at this camp, to be wined and dined by nomads and experience their traditional life. Opportunity for nomad tent stay for interested guests. (7 hour ride, camp near nomads, 4200m)
Spend the morning at Dashika Nomad Camp, enjoying the traditional life. We can try yak milking, butter processing, yak fibre 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 we will see many nomad camps dotted across the area. Yibei is a Great Lake for swimming, but cold! (3 hour ride, camping, 4450m)
Ride to high lookout to the west, across wolf and gazelle country and the Lhagang plateau's highest area. Lunch at the lookout, at 4600m, with views of isolated hermitages nestled in mountains, after mountain, after mountain. Then drop down to see sacred Ragni Lake, home of lammergyer birds in cliffs and the site of many legends. Camp nearby. (5 hour ride, camping, 4200m)
Ride across the Lhagang Plateau's most populated nomadic area. Some years we happen upon a religious festival in this area. Arrive after lunch to high Genup Gompa, an 300-year-old nomad temple. After visiting the temple, we’ll say goodbye to our guides and drive to Khampa Nomad Ecolodge with a quick stop for snacks in Bamei. (5 hour ride, camping, 3800m)
Spend the day at the Ecolodge. Enjoy the sauna, tubing in the river, hot showers and a hike into the hills.
Leave early this morning for Shamalong Horse Festival. Attend the morning horse blessings and then watch the spectacular races of the local clan, with long races, short sprints, and stunt races. Camp near the races for a final night in a tent with your guides. (Drive 1.5 hours, camp at 4100m).
Drive to Chengdu directly from the Festival. (6-8 hour drive).
A free day in Chengdu. Possible optional activities include visiting the Giant Panda Breeding Centre (which usually has babies in the summertime), the QingYangGong Daoist Temple, and the Tibetan quarter. Last dinner and overnight at the BuddhaZen Hotel.
Departure after breakfast.
Please note: the Shamalong Race can be cancelled at any time due to political reasons or other unforseen 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.
The Tibetan horses are small and the size of ponies in Europe. They tend to be gentle and calm, but trained to pretty hard commands in comparison to horses in the West. The tack are Tibetan leather saddles, which are like English saddles. 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.
This trip is aimed at competent riders, because it includes 8 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 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 if 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! Minimum age for this ride is 12 years, and any children under 16 need a good level of skill.
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 you are staying at the nomad camps, there will be an option to eat in the black 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.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. If Visas are required the requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country. Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate on request.
British nationals require visas to enter Mainland China. Visas cannot be obtained on arrival. Carefully check your visa validity as fines can be levied for overstaying.
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.
British Embassy: 11 Guang Hua Lu, Jian Guo Men Wai, Beijing 100600; Telephone: (86) (10) 5192 4000; Facsimile: (86) (10) 6532 1937, (86) (10) 6532 1930 Consular; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Visa, email@example.com Consular; Office Hours: GMT: Mon-Fri: 0030-0400 / 0530-0900; Local Time: Mon-Fri: 0830-1200 / 1330-1700; Website: http://www.uk.cn
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!
You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date. For further information on health, check the Department of Health’s website at www.dh.gov.uk. The risk to humans from Avian Influenza is believed to be low. However, as a precaution, you should avoid visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.The WHO does not currently consider Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) to be a significant threat to public health. For further information on SARS, you should access the World Health Organisation website http://www.who.int/csr/sars/en/.
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 3700m (12.135 ft).
A first aid kit is carried by your guides. We advise you to bring the following:
•Sterile plain and crepe bandages
•Tube of antiseptic cream
•Paracetamol or aspirin
•Personal medicines as prescribed by your physician
Electricity: 220V 50HzHz; Electric Plug Details: Japanese-style plug with two parallel flat blades; Australian-style plug with two flat angled blades and one vertical grounding blade; British-style plug with two flat blades and one flat grounding blade; South African/Indian-style plug with two circular metal pins above a large circular grounding pin
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.
A very warm sleeping bag with Norwegian style closures for temperatures below freezing (4 seasons or -20°)
2 jeans or jodhpurs according to your preference (any old riding gear is a good idea so it can be given to the Tibetan horsemen team)
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, gloves, woollen hat, broad-brimmed hat (protection from sun)
Waterproof garment and 2 piece wind cheater
Walking boots with gaiters, lighter shoes for less taxing activity, but still suited for walking.
Water bottle, pocket knife, electric torch and batteries
High specification sun glasses (glaciers or UV++++)
Toilet bag, sun cream (very high factor for lips and face in sufficient quantity, 30 or 50)
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
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
Leisure wear (lighter trousers) for visits and travelling other than on horseback.
All this to be packed deep in your bags in waterproof plastic (for crossing rivers)
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!
This is a 15 day/14 night programme with 8 days riding on a set date in July or August.
2020: 18 Jul - 1 Aug
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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
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).
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.
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