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 Kangding, situated on the border of ethnic and historical Tibet. After enjoying the lively markets we then drive onto Tagong home to one of the most important Tibetan monastaries and the extraordinary Horse Race Festival. This festival features hundreds of local Tibetan herdsmen amongst 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. 

We then begin our horse riding adventure with riding horses and pack yaks. We traverse rivers, forests and visit monasteries en route, immersing ourselves in the nomadic culture. A rest day is spent learning nomadic skills such as yak herding and butter-making. 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

Ride Summary

What was your overall impression of the holiday

Unicorn Trails sales staff
Professionalism     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Friendliness     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Speed of response     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Efficiency     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Knowledge     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Other(please specify)     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Riding tour leader
Professionalism     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Horsemanship     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Pacing of Ride     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Concern for Safety     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (X) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Leadership     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Friendliness/availability     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Knowledge of local Culture     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Knowledge of local Flora/Fauna     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (X) Poor     (   ) N/A
Concern with Environment     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (X) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Language skills     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Additional Comments
The culture is so different to ours. Whereas HSE is paramount in UK it is almost zero in Tibet so above comments reflect that.
Horses and Tack
Condition of Horses     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Condition of Tack     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Performance of Horses     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Additional Comments

Meal Quantity     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Meal Quality     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Meal Punctuality     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Camping Equipment     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Hotels/Lodges/Inns     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (X) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Hygiene standards     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (X) Poor
Transfer arrangements     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Other office staff     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (X) N/A
Other ride staff     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (X) N/A
Weather     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Was this trip accurately described to you beforehand?
    (X) NO     (   ) YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Trip sounded very romantic and idyllic. In reality it was a test of physical and mental stamina but that was the culture and a lot of naivety on my part rather than a fault of Unicorn.
Was there anything you should have known and were not told?     (   ) NO     (X) YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Maybe a brief explanation that the culture is harsh, hygiene is poor and the client needs to be physically fit would help and not afraid of heights? Up for a challenge!
What could we do to improve this ride?
Supply a sheet of flora and fauna information as it is frustrating seeing flowers and birds and not knowing what they are.
How would you rate the difficulty of this ride out of 10 where 1 is very easy and 10 is very advanced?
Please explain why you scored it as you did:
The days were long, the terrain was scary. They hygiene was at times non-existent. The guest house had 1 squat toilet, 1 wash basin and 1 shower between all residents (including owners' family) and cafe users. Many had upset tums so that was far from pleasant. The open cesspit was outside the open window of the toilet. The climate was harsh changing from burning sun to hail to dramatic lightning storms without warning.
Would you recommend Unicorn Trails to your friends?
    (   ) NO     (X) YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Despite the challenges I loved every minute of my Tibetan experience.
May we use you as a reference for other people wishing to go on this ride?
    (   ) NO     (X) YES
Any other comments:
Angela, our guide was phenomenal. She was kind, compassionate, vibrant, knowledgeable and exuberant with great organisational skills. Her local knowledge was legendary. Once I'd accepted the cultural differences I relaxed into the adventure and will carry the wealth of my experiences with me for ever. Please pass my comments onto Angela as she really is a very special person and Unicorn are incredibly lucky to have her as a guide.
Unicorn comments: Thank you for your feedback, this is one of our most adventurous rides. We have updated the text to make this even clearer.

Day 1
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 (BuddhaZen Hotel or similar).

Day 2
Drive to the city of Kangding - this is around a 8 hour drive but well worth it! Kangding is a small mountain city which has been a meeting place of Chinese and Tibetan cultures, serving as a tea and yak hide trading post. This is the last outpost before the wild Tibetan mountains and passes of the Chengdu-Lhasa highway. Today is the start of your acclimatisation, ready for the plateau (overnight at the Yangqier Hotel or similar, 2600m).

Day 3
Drive to Puksum, an idyllic Tibetan farming village set next to a big river. Today is all about getting acclimatised ready for the adventure ahead. Spend the afternoon hiking the lovely hills and have a home cooked meal with the Swiss-Tibetan family that owns the guesthouse (1.5 hour drive, Pasu Riverview Guesthouse or similar, 3300m).

Day 4
Drive up to Lhagang for your next step in altitude adjustment. Visit the Lhagang Monastery and nearby hermitage (20 minute drive, accommodation at Tianzhu Hotel or similar, 3700m).

Day 5
Set out riding today. Today we ride four hours to the Shamalong Nomad Clan race site, across high hills and forest (Camp near the race site. 4 hours riding, camp at 4100m).

Day 6
Shamalong Horse Festival. Attend the morning horse blessings and then the spectacular races of the local clan, with long races, short sprints and stunt races (camp at 4100m).

Day 7
Ride to Gyergo Nunnery, across hilly, forested land. Visit the Gyergo Monk's College, and the nunnery itself, including the famous mani wall here, made of thousands and thousands of carved stones (5 hour ride, Gyergo Guesthouse, 3900m).

Day 8
Ride today over high Griffon Pass (4900m) with stunning views of sacred Mt. Zhakra (5900m). Then drop down on foot leading your horse into the back valley to camp at the Zhakra Hot Springs (4 hour ride, 3 hour hike, bivouac at 4100m).

Day 9
Ride and hike to Zhakra Turquoise Lake. Situated below stunning glaciers, this sacred lake is fed by a waterfall. You will do a traditional kora of the lake (a walk-around), and see the shrines and hermitages nearby. You will camp in the low valley below the lake (5 hour ride, 1 hour walk. Bivouac at 3800m).

Day 10
Ride back to Gyergo Nunnery via "Empty Valley", where you should pass some nomad camps, and then on to Khampa Nomad Arts Centre and Ecolodge. This is a lovely half-day ride with glacier views and a nice picnic lunch. Rest up at the isolated lodge (4 hour ride, Khampa Nomad Arts Centre and Ecolodge. 3900m).

Day 11
Ride across the main Lhagang Valley, crossing the highway and big river, into the high nomad areas. Another lovely day on the horse to end at the home camp of our guides. You settle in to spend two nights at this camp, to be wined and dined by nomads, and experience their traditional life (4 hour ride, camp near nomads, 4200m).

Day 12
Spend the day at Dashika Nomad Camp, enjoying the traditional life. You can try yak milking, cheese and butter processing, yak fibre spinning for string and rope, and yak herding. A great place to see birds and a nice rest from the road (camp near nomads, 4200m).

Day 13
Ride to Yibei Lake, a high sinkhole lake. This is a short 3 hour ride across the high plateau where you will see many nomad camps dotted across the area. Yibei is a Great Lake for swimming, but cold! (3 hour ride, camping, 4450m).

Day 14
Ride to a high lookout to the west, across wolf and gazelle country and the Lhagang plateau's highest area. Lunch at the lookout, at 4600 m, with views of isolated hermitages nestled in mountains, after mountain, after mountain. Then drop down to see sacred Ragni Lake, home of lammergeyer birds in cliffs and the site of many legends. Camp nearby (6 hour ride, camping, 4200m).

Day 15
Ride across the Lhagang Plateau's most populated nomadic area. If you're lucky you might happen upon a religious festival in this area. Arrive at afternoon to high Genup Gompa, an old nomad temple, and camp nearby (5 hour ride, camping, 3800m).

Day 16
Meet vehicles at the temple and say goodbye to your guides, horses and yaks. After lunch in Bamei town at a Chinese restaurant popular with locals, you can do some shopping, and then head to Gatar Gompa, where you will stay in a small monastery hotel.

Day 17
Drive to the airport and fly to Chengdu. Settle in and rest up.

Day 18
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 with Sichuan Opera dinner theatre. Overnight at the BuddhaZen Hotel.

Day 19
Send-off to airport and home!

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

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.

Rider requirements

This trip is aimed at competent riders, because it includes 9 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.

Weight Limit

The weight limit for this ride is 13 st/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.

Documents - Visa and Consulate Info

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.

General information:

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: Visa, Consular; Office Hours: GMT: Mon-Fri: 0030-0400 / 0530-0900; Local Time: Mon-Fri: 0830-1200 / 1330-1700; Website:

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


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 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

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 3700m (12.135 ft).

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

•Anti-diarrhea tablets
•Blister pads
•Sterile plain and crepe bandages
•Tube of antiseptic cream
•Throat lozenges
•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

Film and Camera Equipment

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

A very warm sleeping bag with Norwegian style closures for temperatures below freezing (4 seasons or -20°)
2 jeans or jodhpurs according to your convenience (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 19 day/18 night programme with 11 days riding on a set date in July or August.

Departure Dates

2018: 17 July

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.

No of   
Riding days Product item description £
201819d/18n11double pp3,185
201819d/18n11single supplement409
No of   
Riding days Product item description
201819d/18n11double pp3,559
201819d/18n11single supplement459
No of   
Riding days Product item description $
201819d/18n11double pp4,079
201819d/18n11single supplement529
No of   
Riding days Product item description SEK
201819d/18n11double pp36,919
201819d/18n11single supplement4,765

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)
2017: all road transfers are included
2018: all road transfers are included
Flight Guide:
London - Chengdu return £720-£1,500
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