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 the Tibetan Autonomous Region. 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 thousands 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 pack horses or in some cases 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 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 NH of Wanniassa on 01/08/2019

Ride Summary
A great adventure holiday with amazing scenery and wonderful hospitality
What was your overall impression of the holiday
Overall impression
Unicorn Trails sales staff

Riding tour leader

Additional Comments
Our guide Andy spoke excellent English and some French. He provided great insight into the local culture and area. The whole team of horseman worked very well together and could not be more pleasant and attentive to our needs. They were a happy bunch and seemed to be having a good time too.



Was this trip accurately described to you beforehand?
Please give more details to explain your response:
The trip was described well but our itinerary and route did change due to the cancellation of the Tagong Horse Festival and landslides/rockslides. However, we were informed of the changes as early as possible and the group was given the opportunity to discuss and agree on changes.
Was there anything you should have known and were not told? YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
It would have been good to know that the Tagong Horse Festival was also cancelled in 2018 as that would have prepared us for that possibility and lessened the disappointment.
The night described as staying at the 'nunnery' was actually a homestay where the group was split up to stay with different Tibetan families. In my homestay this meant sleeping on a mat in the altar room with two of the group plus the family's children (who were exceptionally quiet and well-behaved) and walking down the dirt road to a shared toilet block (squat toilets with no doors).
Guests should be told to bring a swimsuit if they want to enjoy the hot springs.
What could we do to improve this ride?
I really enjoyed the mountain landscapes so would have preferred more time there instead of the plains. Perhaps consider running the trip outside of the rainy season!
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:
Long hours in the saddle plus walking at altitude in difficult terrain (steep with loose rocks) means you need to be fit (especially as our itinerary changed requiring even longer walking and riding on the first 2 days).
Would you recommend Unicorn Trails to your friends?
Please give more details to explain your response:
May we use you as a reference for other people wishing to go on this ride?
Any other comments:
The packing list was good but unfortunately not everyone took it seriously and there were a number in the group who were unprepared (inadequate rain gear, unsuitable boots for walking, no saddle bags, no water bottles, no waterproof bags). Luckily Angela was able to loan them most items but it would have been an issue if everyone came unprepared.
Unicorn comments: Thank you for your feedback. Glad you had a great time! We were not aware that the Festival was cancelled in 2018, as the ride did not run. I will discuss this with Angela. Thanks again! :)

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. Overnight at the BuddhaZen Hotel. 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.

Day 2
Drive to Kangding. This small mountain city is at an altitude of 2600m 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 centre. It serves as last outpost before the wild Tibetan mountains and passes of the Chengdu Lhasa highway and the Tibetan region of Kham. Overnight at the Yangqier Hotel. 2600m, 4-6 hour drive, depending on road conditions.

Day 3
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 through the town, with long races, short sprints, and stunt races. Overnight at a Tibetan family hotel. 3700m, 2 hour drive).

Day 4
Acclimatisation day. Ride 3 hours to Khampa Nomad Ecolodge, meet your horse, and prepare to enter the wilds. Overnight at the Ecolodge, 3800m.

Day 5
Take a 20 minute car ride to the trailhead at Gyergo Nunnery. Then ride over high Griffon Pass (4900m) with stunning views of sacred Mt. Zhakra, 5900m. Then walk down into the back valley to camp at the Zhakra Hotsprings. 4 hour ride, 3 hour hike, camp at 4100m. 

Day 6
Ride and hike to Zhakra 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. We will camp in the low valley below the lake. 5 hour ride, 1 hour walk, camp at 3800m.

Day 7
Ride back to Gyergo Nunnery via "Empty Valley", where we should pass some nomad camps. Arrive tired to Gyergo in time for afternoon chanting with nuns. Overnight at the basic nunnery homestay with a local family. 6 hour ride, 3900m. 

Day 8
Back in the saddle, ride up into the high nomad areas. Another lovely day on the horse to end at the home yak camp of our guides. We’ll watch as the herders bring in the animals, catch and tie the calves and do the evening milking. Opportunity for a homestay if you like, or just dinner in the black yak hair tents. Camp near the nomads if not staying at their camp. 7 hour ride, 4300m.

Day 9
After the morning in the camps, trying yak milking, butter making and rope spinning, 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! Camp overnight. 3 hour ride, 4450m.

Day 10
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 4600m, with views of isolated hermitages nestled in mountain, after mountain, after mountain. Then drop down to see sacred Ragni Lake, home of lammergeier birds in cliffs and the site of many legends. Camp nearby. (5 hour ride, 4200m.

Day 11
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 old nomad temple, and then catch a car to Zhonglu Village, near Danba. Stay in a lovely renovated courtyard hotel here. 4 hour ride, 3 hour drive, 3800m.

Day 12
Drive to Chengdu over Jia Jin Shan Pass, where the first Giant Panda was discovered. This is a lovely road that passes through pine forest, high mountains and then down into "Edge Tibetan" villages. This drive gives one a sense of the cultural continuum from Tibet into China proper, as well as rural China. 10-12 hour drive, overnight at the BuddhaZen Hotel.

Day 13
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.

Day 14
Departure and transfer to the airport.

Please note: the Tagong Horse Festival 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.

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 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 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 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
•Throat lozenges
•Paracetamol or aspirin
•Personal medicines as prescribed by your doctor


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 -10°)
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.
Stirrup leathers, particularly if you are very tall
Saddle bags
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)

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)

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!


This is a 14 day/13 night programme with 7.5 days riding on a fixed date in June or July.

Departure Dates

2022: TBC

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 Also a fantastic place to acquire your equestrian travel books is


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)
2021: transfers included
Flight Guide:
London - Chengdu return £720-£1,500
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