Driving west into the Tibetan heart of Sichuan – Garze and Kangding

October 4th, 2020



It’s a very interesting experience to drive from Chengdu halfway across the province to reach Sichuan’s Tibetan roots in the west. Starting in an urban metropolis most of the route goes merely along highways and speedways. If you pay attention, you may notice the ever so slight climb in altitude, but truth be told the first few hours simply fly by without much to see. It is in fact the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in an audio book during the steady drive higher up the Tibetan plateau. While we listened to Bob’s adventures in the multiverse, the air got thinner and thinner, the sky appeared to be increasingly farther away, as if going up that mountain somehow magically pushed the skies farther back into the universe.

There are only a few roads that cars can take into this direction with the main national road forming a loop north and south from Chengdu to Kangding. We took the southern line into the backcountry both on the way to and from the Tagong grasslands and never got to see the northern route. Yet even taking the same road both times it didn’t feel like seeing the same landscape again. It’s like walking somewhere you have never been before and turning around every once in a while – it never looks the same as in the direction you are going.

At the intersection where national road G318 splits and shares a few kilometers of road with highway G248 going west we checked into the Tanggute hotel and set up camp for the night. Since we were leaving for our three day hike across the Tagong grasslands the next day, we repacked our backpacks and suitcases to prepare for the upcoming horseback ride, tent stay and day-long hikes. Most of our luggage would be stored in our car trunk while the outdoor essentials and warm hiking gear would come with us. Satisfied that we were good to go the next day we went across the street to have a hotpot dinner.

These towns are really not much to look at and most of the people apparat to either be passing through or working in the hotel/restaurant business or building new houses. Driving into the small town there were also locals waiting by the side of the street offering rooms in their homes for the night which I would have preferred. But since I wanted to make sure that we actually had a place to stay that night and not have to sleep in the car I didn’t want to take the chance and be stranded in the middle of nowhere. We apparently had booked a room in one of the larger establishments sitting right at the corner of the intersection. They had loud music blasting from tall speakers near a small stage on their parking lot, an attempt to attract visitors keen to sing karaoke before going to bed. We only had food and maybe a glass of cold beer on our mind so the checked Dianping and found a restaurant with good recommendations right across the street from our hotel.

Hotpot soup boiled on a gas stove in the center of the table.

For a really long time I wasn’t a big fan of hotpot and found the broth either completely bleak or way too spicy. That night it was a quite pleasant version of the dish, with dried mushrooms, dates and goji berries stewing in the soup. I was still recovering from a bad cold I had caught only days before departing to Sichuan, and eating the soup and veggies felt very soothing to my throat. They also sold home made fruit liquor by the glass and while we definitely didn’t plan on getting drunk, the hot soup in combination with the drink and the thunderstorm that was raging outside did wonders to make us relaxed before heading home and hitting the sack early. The next day we would be leaving for the Tagong grasslands and start our three day hike across the plains.

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