Tagong, or Lhagang ལྷ་སྒང་ in Tibetan, is a small town of almost Tibetan entirety, surrounded by mountains and grasslands. Beautiful.
Much to our surprise, the way to travel as a foreigner in western Sichuān is by car. The same price as the bus, at least half the time, blasting Tibetan music, and a throaty serenade by the driver thrown in.
We left Kangding at 8:30am and began the descent out of the town and up through the mountains. Turning corners and climbing a few hundred feet higher, the air is thin, the sun is blinding. The peaks rise high above the eye line, the crevices between the mountains widen to the brilliant blue sky not visible from Kangding or the snaking roads of the valley.
A stop off half way:
We passed traditional settlements, shells of new houses, endless prayer flags, and when the grasslands began to stretch across our views…yaks. So many yaks. The big black beasts look like pin pricks in the scenery, the scale of the landscape – whether mountains or plains – was immense.
Tagong itself is a town based upon a monastery in the shadows of Mt. Yala (Zhara Laste), now it’s dual purpose seems to be a road side town for the lorries that storm through the area towards Tibet. And of course the tourist.. like us.
At the Khampa Cafe , we drank butter tea (a sour tea from Yak butter and barley), ate delicious Tibetan dumplings, and then got sunburnt on a mountain.
After a day of cultural enrichment (mostly sat in silence , in awe of what surrounded us) and curious stares from Tibetan monks and cowboys, the journey back to Kangding. A change of driver to his brother, with gold jewellery in abundance and a clapped-out, old school white Honda. In our wagon we head back through the grasslands to Kangding.
A bottle of Tsingtao in hand, a day of climbing hills at altitude, and that sleepy post-sun burnt feeling: probably on of the most beautiful car journeys ever.
Journeys through Sichuān: done.