The Tibetan Highlands in Sichuan are a remote corner of China, with a network of backroads that impart a constant sense of discovery. Rivers, plunging toward Sichuan, have created a labyrinth of gorges and snow-clad peaks with stunning landscapes, diverse alpine habitats, and superb opportunities for cultural insight.
This summer we will travel overland from the metropolis of Chengdu, cultural center of Sichuan, through giant panda country to the river gorge and plateau landscapes in Western Sichuan (eastern Tibet). Our journey will culminate in Yading National Park and the sacred peaks of Konkaling.
We will spend an introductory day in Chengdu, a city renowned for its tea houses, temple gardens, and literary traditions. Then our journey begins with a drive to Ya’an and the Bifengxia Panda Sanctuary. The riverside towns along our route, Ya’an and Baoxing, formed through centuries of trade and acted as gateways where Sichuan Chinese and Tibetans could learn each others’ contrasting ways.
Nearby Fengtongzhai Panda Reserve is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site for Giant Panda Conservation, and it was in this area that the French Catholic priest Père David obtained four panda skins. In the late 19th century, he first described this enigmatic species to the West.
Above Baoxing, we begin to encounter the distinctive architecture and religious iconography of Tibet, placing us at the edge of a cultural region that extends across 1,500 miles of high plateau to Ladakh, India. People in this part of eastern Tibet belong to groups like the Qiang and the Jiarong, and are culturally distinct from other Tibetans.
Farmers by tradition, the Jiarong have long interacted with lowlanders of the Sichuan Basin, bartering bricks of tea carried by pony along ancient trading routes through the mountains. Over the years,they have built many great stone watchtowers whose purpose even today remains uncertain.
Leaving the gorge country behind, we will see a shift to the lifestyles of the Tibetan Plateau: less farming, more livestock, and summers spent in portable black felt tents with yaks and goats close at hand. Horses (and increasingly motorbikes) are an important means of transport.
Buddhist symbols dominate the landscape in a very literal sense. Hill slopes are decorated with esoteric arrays of prayer flags and colorful banners. The same message is carved repeatedly, hypnotically, into riverside boulders.
Around the towns of Bamei and Tagong, long-haired Khampa men ride horseback in their traditional robes, adorned with coral and turquoise, images of their favorite lama worn discretely. Gold-roofed monasteries align with sacred, snow-clad peaks. After a night in the plateau town of Litang, a cultural hub of eastern Tibet, we will traverse a region denuded by glaciers and now covered in
diverse alpine wildflowers.
Our journey will culminate amidst the sacred
peaks of Konkaling, first described to the Western
world by botanist-explorer Joseph Rock, who visited
and photographed this area in 1928.
After more than a century of chaos and deprivation,
Konkaling, now a part of Yading National Park, has
emerged with new infrastructure that enables visitors
to reach the sacred circle of peaks much more easily
than Joseph Rock did.
The landscape at Yading is powerfully scenic and
ecologically significant. Mountains of limestone
approach 20,000 feet in elevation; their glaciated
summits, each named for a Tibetan deity, are
symmetrical and enveloped in snow of the purest
white. Tibetan pilgrims come from far and wide to
perform kora, walking around the peaks in a clockwise
direction. Alpine plant diversity is tremendous.
Colorful and species-rich taxa like gentians, primrose,
rhododendron, and ground orchids will all be in full
flower at the time of our visit.
This expedition—in both its natural and cultural
aspects — is extremely conducive to photography,
with fantastic skies, clear mountain air, and huge
contrasts between the sacred and the profane, the
traditional and contemporary aspects of Tibetan/
We invite you to join us on this extraordinary
$3,995 plus air.
Brochure (Requires an Adobe pdf reader to view)