A glimpse of Gongga Shan is said to be so rare that it is worth twenty years of meditation. I was lucky enough to view Gongga on a blue sunny day, twenty years ago. The peak now features on my home page so I get a virtual glimpse each time I edit my blog. Gongga sits in the Ganzi Autonomous Tibetan Province in Western Sichuan, on the border with Tibet. We visited before the main road to Lhasa had been built, when the foothills we explored were less accessible. Even so, one of the locals, Wang Dun was proud owner of a Shropshire tea towel.
Our itinerary began in Chengdu, where we boarded a small coach for a two day ride to Kanding. Built at 2800m along the banks of a ferocious river, Kanding's the main administrative centre for the province. A short walk from Kanding's centre is the Bhuddist temple on Pao Ma Shan (Horse race hill). Trees bushes and steps of the path up to the temple are adorned with prayer flags made from cloth or paper and bearing mantras. It's believed that they are repeated as they're blown by the wind. A set of stone steps lead up to the hill's summit passing a line of gold prayer wheels. An open air amphitheatre at the top of the hill makes a great picnic spot for families. The main temple was decorated in both Chinese and Tibetan styles. Kangding's nightlife buzzes around karaoke bars whilst playing poole in the street is popular in the afternoons. One evening we received an impromptu invite to a Tibetan wedding party.
From Kangding we ventured westwards, out to the grasslands of Tagong. Here a spectacular monastery is framed by hills flanked with prayer flags and you can hire horses to explore the local mountain valleys. We trekked through the hills to yak herders' summer encampments. We pitched up alongside and were invited to share lamb stew and drink yak butter tea. We trekked with two different groups of Tibetan herdsmen. Our first dilemma was a dispute over the pre-agreed price. We sat in a grass meadow watching tense negotiations between Pan our Chinese guide and Khampa Tibetans with silver daggers.
The trek to see Gongga Shan itself was from a village like holiday park called Hailuoguo. Along the path was a small cafe house brewing wild mushroom soup where the locals told us about an edible fungi that only grows high up on Gongga. We crossed on to the glacier and took pictures of the summit surrounded by blue sky.
Following hotpot and karaoke celebrations back in Chengdu I switched flights to travel with our Chinese companions back to their home town Guilin. There, we swam in the Li river, took a trip down to Yangshou and ate with the locals. Whilst in China I attempted to learn a little more Mandarin - mainly from Lego (Li Guo Zhang), our camp chef who had a particularly good repertoire of marching songs and proverbs. We presented him with an illustrated T-shirt bearing one of his favourite sayings - something along the lines of "three mosquitos make a meal and women smoke fags"!
Our travels took us to hot springs, Tibetan cahou, Yak skin tents and Governors' meetings. Along the way, we swapped stories with charcoal makers, herdsmen, wedding guests and dress makers. Ganzi was full of colour and contrasts. I'd love to revisit and see how much has changed since the late nineties. Recently, I converted some of my old slides to digital. Here's one of Tagong monastery with a backdrop of prayer flag triangles decorating the hillside.