gallery Garze and the Tibetan Plateau | Journey to the West

Few places on Earth hold the same allure and mystique as Tibet. From the majestic landscapes of rolling grasslands against a backdrop of jagged, snow-capped mountains to the tranquil stoicism of the indigenous people and culture, Tibet is truly an enthralling place. Compared to more popular travel destinations like Thailand or Malaysia, relatively few travelers make the journey to “the rooftop of the world.” While it can sometimes be less-than-luxurious and a test of one’s patience, the trip to the Tibet can be precisely the kind of life-altering experience that one imagines it would be.
Beyond the TAR
The Tibetan Plateau, with an average elevation of about 4,500 meters (15,000 feet), is an expanse of harsh terrain that covers some 2.5 million square kilometers–roughly one-fifth of the land mass of China–and extends well beyond the borders of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Tibet is traditionally comprised of three major regions: Ü-Tsang, Kham, and Amdo. For foreigners, travel to the TAR requires a special permit and independent travel is strictly forbidden. This means either joining a tour group or hiring a private tour guide. That being said, it is possible to have a genuinely Tibetan backpacking trip without ever stepping foot into the TAR.
Heart and Soul–The Garze Prefecture
Perhaps the most prominent of all the autonomous prefectures outside of the TAR is the Garze Prefecture of the Sichuan Province. This prefecture is in Kham, and it is said to be the heart and soul of the region.
The nearest major city to Garze is Chengdu, making it the most common starting point for a trip to Kham. Buses run daily from Chengdu to Kanding, the capital of Garze, which makes for a good first leg of the journey. Kanding is a quaint town of about 100,000 people, lying in a valley at 2,500 m with several rivers roaring through the middle of town. The turquoise hue of these glacier-fed waterways accent the streets as the incessant sound of rushing water fills every pocket of town. In many ways, Kanding acts as the unofficial gateway to Tibet. Lying on the border of the Tibetan Plateau with a unique blend of Tibetan and Sichuanese cultures, it is the perfect place to spend a few nights acclimating to the higher altitude before continuing on to more remote locations. Western-style coffehouses dot the town’s main square, providing a place for those returning from a trek to offer travel advice to those preparing to embark on one. Kanding also has several monasteries that are well worth the visit.
Litang–Beauty in the Void
From Kanding, many travelers end up heading directly west to the town of Litang. Only a portion of the roads are paved between the two, there is often construction, and, at many points, the road is too narrow for traffic to move both directions at the same time. The hairpin turns around 5000 meter mountains on gravel roads would be much more unsettling if the scenery of the rocky peaks of the Himalayan hills and colorful prayer flags wasn’t so utterly stunning.
Sitting at more than 4000 m (13,000 ft), Litang is a dusty town of dirt roads surrounded by vast plains. The town is well-known for its annual horse racing festival that takes place every summer. Tibetans travel from all over to compete in the event, or just to showcase their prized stallions. The men wear their hair in long, traditional braids with brightly-colored ties; large, loosely-fitting cloaks of yak wool; hats and boots made of leather—true cowboys, if there ever were such a thing. The women don gorgeous gowns of every conceivable color, with beautiful Tibetan jewelry gracing their wrists, necks, and ears. The horse racing doesn’t seem to be a competition as much as a preservation of culture and an opportunity for Tibetans to gather with old friends and family.
Outside of Litang, grasslands consume the landscape. There are herds of yaks grazing and a few yurts belonging to the nomadic shepherds that look after them, but mostly there is nothing—and the volume of nothingness is the most staggering thing of all. Much of the beauty of the Tibetan Plateau lies in the absence of things, rather than in their presence. These grasslands also provide a great place to hike and camp for a few nights. Horseback riding and homestays in the traditional yak-skin yurts can be arranged without too much trouble.
After Litang, one may head south to the Tibetan prefectures of Yunnan province, or north toward Qinghai. If heading north, a long day’s journey will put in you in Garze (a town by the same name as the prefecture). Despite being a town of about 10,000 people, Garze can keep you busy for several days, as it has an enormous, 600-year-old monastery with an estimated 1,000 monks studying there. At this point in the journey, the road splits yet again—west to Dege, home to roughly 70% of religious manuscripts printed in Tibetan script, or north to Larung Gar, the largest Buddhist institution in the world.
Sertar–The Essence of Buddhism
About 30km north of a tiny town called Sertar, in a valley surrounded by absolutely nothing, lies a massive sprawl of tiny box-like houses built into the sides of the hills. This is Larung Gar, and it is one of the most influential Buddhist centers of education in the world. With population estimates of up to 40,000 people, it is also the largest. Besides the few temples for worship and study, there only are thousands of small homes for monks to reside. Meals are cooked in massive quantities and dispersed three times a day— free for the monks and three or four RMB for visitors. There are only a handful of small hostels for backpackers from which to choose. The simplicity of the lifestyle at Larung Gar reminds you of the principles by which the monks all around you are vowing to live their lives. Visiting the temples, sitting in on prayer circles, or even attending ceremonies is much easier than you might think—the monks are remarkably friendly and welcoming. While a few days visit to Larung Gar may not reveal exactly what it’s like to be a Buddhist monk, it’s probably about the closest thing a backpacker could hope for. It is quite a surreal experience.
No matter the region you visit or the route you choose, a journey to Tibet will be an epic one. It may not be the same sort of relaxing vacation as a visit to a tropical island, and it is certainly not a weekend getaway, but the journey to Tibet is rejuvenating in a different sense. It is one that leaves you feeling centered, with a clear mind and sense of enlightenment.

Text & Images // Daniel Pigeon

甘孜和青藏高原| 西游记
作者:Daniel Pigeon
地球上很少有像西藏这样充满魅力和神秘的地方。从参差不齐白雪皑皑的雪山背景下草原绵延起伏的壮丽景色,到土著居民和文化的宁静淡泊,西藏真的是一个迷人的地方。与泰国或马来西亚的更为流行的旅行目的地相比,相对较少的游客来到这个“世界屋脊”旅行。虽然有时候这个旅行不会显得那么奢华,也会考验一个人的耐心,但是准确地说,到西藏旅行就如大家想象的那样,是一种改变生活的体验。
西藏自治区之外
青藏高原平均海拔约4500米(15000英尺),是一片广阔的严峻地貌,面积约为250万平方公里——约为中国土地的五分之一——刚好延伸至西藏自治区边境。传统上,西藏由三大主要区域构成:卫藏、康巴和安多。对于外国人,到西藏旅行需要一份特殊许可证,而且严禁独自旅行。这意味着你要么加入旅游团要么雇一名私人导游。这也就是说,即使从没踏足西藏,你也可能拥有一次真正的西藏背包旅行。
心脏与灵魂——甘孜藏族自治州
也许西藏之外的所有自治区中最为显著的莫过于四川省的甘孜藏族自治州。该自治州位于康巴境内,可以说是该地区的心脏和灵魂。
距甘孜最近的大城市是成都,使得成都成为至康巴旅行最为常见的出发地。每天都有从成都开往康定的大巴,康定是甘孜的都会,也使康定成为旅程的第一站。康定是一座古香古色的小镇,镇上人口约有10万人,小镇位于2500米长的峡谷内,有数条流汹涌澎湃的河流经过镇中心。这些冰川融化而形成的水路带着青绿色,当持续不断的汹涌河流声涌向小镇的每个角落时,街道显得更加突出。在许多方面,康定都起着通往西藏的非官方路线的作用。康定坐落在青藏高原边界,将藏族和四川文化独特地融为一体,旅行者们在继续前往更为偏远的位置前,花几个晚上适应较高海拔的话,这里是一个完美的地方。西式咖啡屋散布在小镇的主要广场上,为那些从长途跋涉中回来的人们提供了一个地方休息,在那里为准备出发的人们提供旅行建议。康定也有几座寺庙是值得一游的。
理塘——虚空之美
从康定出发,许多旅行者最终会直接往西进入理塘小镇。仅有一部分的道路两边是铺平的,通常都在建设中,在许多地方,道路过于狭窄,使得出入车辆无法同时移动。如果喜马拉雅山脉的岩石山峰景色以及五彩缤纷的经幡不那么令人惊奇万分的话,那么五千多米高山上砾石路的发夹弯道会更为令人不安。
理塘坐落在海拔四千多米(13000英尺)之上,是一座布满灰尘的小镇,泥泞的道路周围是无垠的平原。理塘因其每年夏季举行的赛马会而出名。来自各地的藏族人民都会参加这个盛会,或仅仅展示他们引以为豪的种马。男人们用传统颜色艳丽的长发辫绑起头发;身穿牦牛绒的宽松斗篷;头戴皮帽,脚穿皮靴——真正的牛仔,如果真有牛仔的话。女人们穿上各种颜色的华丽长袍,腰上、脖子上和耳朵都佩戴者美丽的藏族珠宝饰品。赛马不像是一场竞赛,更像是文化的保留和藏族人民与老友家人共聚一堂的机会。
理塘之外,草原是一片美丽的风景。草原上成群的牦牛在吃草,还有一些游牧民用于看管牦牛的毡房,但是大部分情况下,草原上一无所有——而正是这种虚无在各色风景中最为令人惊愕。青藏高原的大部分美丽都存在于远离事物的地方,而非他们眼前的地方。这些草原也有徒步旅行与露营的地方,供我们玩了几晚。安排骑马和在传统的牦牛皮毡房内寄宿也并非是件特别费劲的事情。
理塘之后,你可以往南进入云南省藏族自治州,或往北去到青海。如果往北走,一天的旅程就可以把你带到甘孜(一座与自治州同名的小镇)。尽管甘孜镇仅有1万多人,它可以让你好几天都忙着游赏,因为这里有一座庞大的存在600多年的寺庙,寺内估计有一千多名僧侣在此修道。旅行到了这里,前方道路又有一个岔路口——往西进入德格,这里是约70%藏文印制宗教手稿之乡,或者往北进入喇荣噶尔,这里是世界上最大的佛教学院。
色达县——佛教精华
一座名为色达县的小县再往北约30公里,位于峡谷之内,四周几乎空无一物,山脉边缘建立的微型盒形房屋在肆意扩展。这里就是喇荣噶尔,是世界上最具影响力的佛学院中心之一。人口预计超过4万人,也是这里人口最多的地方。除了有一些寺庙可以敬奉和修道之外,这里仅有成千上万的小房屋供僧侣居住。每顿饭菜都是大量制作,每天三次分发——僧侣免费,游客则要三到四元人民币。这里仅有一些小旅舍供背包客选择。喇荣噶尔生活方式的简单会提醒你周围僧侣们立誓过他们自己生活的原则。参观寺庙,坐在蒲团之上,或者甚至参与仪式,都比你想象的简单得多——僧侣们都非常友好和热情。虽然几天的喇荣噶尔旅行并不会准确揭示佛教僧侣的生活模样,但是这大概也是一个最接近背包客期望的事情。这是一种十分超现实的体验。
无论你游历哪个区域或选择哪条路线,西藏之旅都会是壮丽而伟大的。它可能不像到热带小岛上旅游那样放松,当然也不是一次周末短假,但是西藏之旅是不同意义上的复活之旅。它让你觉得集中、思维清晰并充满觉悟之感。

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *