Visiting Tibet was, for us, a bit complicated: we had to obtain a special authorization through an agency, follow a precise itinerary, hire a guide and a driver services… All these constraints were not compatible with our way of traveling. So we found another solution, much simpler, to get ourselves into the Tibetan culture: visiting Tibetan villages of Sichuan and Yunnan!
A total immersion in Litang and Tibetan villages of Sichuan
Our visit of Tibetan villages of Sichuan began in Kangding, a city with Tibetan influences and partly inhabited by Tibetan people. Even if the city is very charming with its white houses with thick walls, prayer wheels on the riverside and the impressive mountains around covered with colorful flags, the Tibetan culture was roughly staged and used here to impress Chinese tourists…
In this context, we have preferred not to stay and travel up to Litang, one of the highest cities in the world (the city is located at 4000m above sea level). Built on highlands, surrounded by fields where herds of yaks graze, Litang shelters several Buddhist temples as well as the birth house of the 7th Dalai Lama (free entrance). It is also a city famous for its sky burials, during which the corpse of the dead is given to… hungry vultures!
From Litang, we then continued our way to Yunnan passing by other small Tibetan villages, including Zhuosang where we stopped to admire its big Buddhist temple, and another small hamlet a few kilometers away, where our Tibetan local driver invited us to his home for lunch. Finally, it is in Qingmai, at about 3000m above sea level, that we pitched our tent near a temple, sheltered from the winds behind the surrounding wall. Despite a cold night, we did not regret this experience at all: we were able to attend the morning prayers of some pious villagers, and were even invited by one of them to come and taste, at his home, milk teas and cheese fondue made from… yak milk of his own cow!
Discovering Shangri-La and Yunnan Tibetan villages
We went on with our immersion into the Tibetan culture thanks to a break of a few days, hosted in a mixed family, in Shangri-La. This Tibetan city is a must-see in Yunnan: in the north of the city, right on the hillside, lays the impressive monastery of Songzanlin (nicknamed the small Potala palace, in reference to the Potala Palace located in Lhasa, capital of Tibet), the largest Buddhist monastery of Yunnan! Visiting this monastery was a real opportunity to discover the daily life of Tibetan monks, punctuated by incantations and prayers performed with fervor. At the end of the visit, we decided to extend this cultural immersion by walking in the small streets of the village – a quiet, silent village, separated from the city only by a small hill.
Due to a lack of time (our visa was about to expire) and a bad timing regarding the weather (we were there in the middle of winter!), we did not explore other remote Tibetan villages in Yunnan, on the border of Sichuan and Tibet. However, we would have liked to explore the borders of this province, and visit the village of Yubeng… A village known as the starting point of several hiking trails, to reach the first summits of the Himalayas!
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* Post written according to our personal experience *