Popularly known for the all-year-round snow-peaked mountains, steep cliffs, crystal clear lakes, vast pastures, as well as the dense woods, Yading Nature Reserve was definitely worth a trek to revaluate and exceed my self limits. The travel partners that I made along my backpacking trip around China had told me about Yading Nature Reserve and tagged me along in their trek at the park.
We spent two days in the park and were accommodated in an under-constructioned hostel with a favorable price (comparing to crazily expensive accommodation in the surrounding) at Yading village, thanks to the offer from an 11-year-old local girl who was selling goods on the sidewalk near the bus station. We did a pilgrimage trek around Mt. Chenresig on the 2nd day considering it was doable for all. So in total we trekked for approximately 28km in 9 hours.
The most important spots in the scenic area are the three sacred snow-capped mountains, Mt. Chenrezig, Jambeyang and Chanadorje, which are worshipped as embodiments of three Bodhisattvas: the Bodhisattvas of Mercy, Wisdom, and Power, respectively. They are completely separated from each other, forming the shape of a triangle. Local Tibetans believe that the three holy mountains protect them and if one sincerely makes pilgrimages to the three mountains, his wishes will come true.
DAY 1 - Chong Gu Monastery, Zhuoma La Lake and Mt. Chenresig’s north face
-Chong Gu Monastery-
We first reached Chong Gu Monastery which lies along the north face of Mt. Chenresig, off the main path on the right side. We arrived at noon. The monastery was quite small and had a handful of monks who ran a small convenient shop inside to serve instant food to trekkers. We bought noodle cups from them and sat down in the courtyard to chill with some passersby and my friends played ukulele. After fully stuffed, we headed towards Mt.Chenresig to see it closer. Very few tourists would ever think of coming close to the mountain foot, not to mention the middle platform, apparently my travel partners didn't miss a chance to stay aloof from the touristy area and look for exotic views. Following them up to the bottom of the platform, regretfully I didn't continue further, since I wasn't sure that I was ready for a hike and needed time to adapt to the high elevation. What they found up on the platform was fantastic, a glacier lake. They didn't want to show me the photo worrying that would upset me, I insisted tho. On the way back to Chong Gu monastery, we passed by Zhuoma La Lake from which there is a great view of the north side of Mt. Chenresig as you can see in the photos below.
-My two friends were hiking up to see what was there on the platform-
-A glacier lake and I missed it-
-Zhuoma la Lake is just like a puddle from this perspective (at the foot of Mt.Chenresig)-
-Mt. Chenresig view from Zhuoma la Lake-
DAY 2 - The pilgrimage trek around the highest mountain Chenresig rising to 6032m in Yading.
We set off early at 8.30am to Zhaguanbeng from Yading village to start the most popular pilgrimage circuit around Mt. Chenresig.
From Chong Gu Monastery (3900m) to Luorong grasslands (4180m), we skipped the hassle of early morning trek by taking the electric cart to save energy and also adapt to the elevation change. The path from Chong Gu Monastery to Luorong Grasslands was well-paved road going through a beautiful forested area along the eastern face of Mt.Chenresig. The first stage gained a total elevation of around 280m.
-Mt. Jampeyang from Luorong grasslands-
-A stable for horse riding service-
-Tibetan flags along the way-
It was said that Luorong grasslands offered an amazing view of all 3 mountains, however, it was a cloudy day that we couldn’t see much of the mountains, most of the time the peaks were completely covered by thick clouds. Luorong grasslands were quite large and soothingly green dotted with yellow flowers. A wooden walkaway went from the service station till the far end of the grasslands where there were small huts of Tibetan locals and also a stable for tourists to rent horses. The path along the grasslands lied in front of Mt.Jampeyang. Leaving the grasslands led us to the southeast part of Mt.Chenresig. The path went up a steep pass that was covered in Tibetan prayer flags and was well-marked. Before reaching Milk Lake, there was a slight descent, however, we didn’t follow the descending path, and took the ascending path instead which led us directly to the Five Color Lake (4700m) where Milk Lake (4600m) could be seen in far distance. We took a long rest at the Five Color lake to have a bite of lunch, it was when I started to experience severe altitude sickness. Even though I didn’t say anything to my partners, they seemed to see that on my face. At the elevation of 4700m, I suffered obstinate headache, shiver, and short of breath.
-Five-colored Lake changes its color depending on your standing positions-
Skirting the mountain chain to the 1st pass, we didn’t descend to see the Milk Lake at close distance. The top of the pass gained about 220m. By this point of the trek, I was on the verge of surrendering and about to backtrack the morning route, but somehow I didn’t give in. The trail got a little rockier. As we were supposed to circle clockwise Mt. Chenresig, my partners wanted to see what was on the left side of the trek so they let me sit resting at the 1st pass and wait for them to continue later.
-Heading toward the 1st pass-
We met a Tibetan family who was also doing their pilgrimage trek as a ritual. I really admired the family, especially the parents who carried their two less than 5-year-old kids on the trek. We caught up with them after the first pass and quickly left them behind, for they had to do some praying along the way. The sky started to sprinkle at this point and almost till the end of the trek. What could be worse I wondered? Fortunately, the descent from the 1st pass made the trek a bit more relaxing and bearable, also the elevation decreased to a certain amount that made me feel much better. After a short while, we got to see an alpine lake on the left side and the path still continued below Mt. Chenresig.
-The sky remained gloomy and sprinkling for the most part of the trek-
I was in bad condition, however still aware of my capability. To be honest, there were so many times that I was being dramatic in my head that I wanted to jump off the cliffs so I didn’t have to continue the trek, “please just leave me behind” was what I murmured lol. Realizing that I wasn’t okey, one of my partners slowed down and always stayed on my side to make sure I could embrace and finish the trek. He commented that I became passive and didn’t enjoy with them anymore. I hated bothering people and making them worry about me, in an attempt to make him believe that I was still okey, I started to take pictures and keep up with their pace regardless of my whole internal body and mind going on strike. Later, I realized that at some points we ran out of water and my partners had to refill the bottle from the streams on the way. They pushed me to drink lots of water to survive the trek.
-Recognizing the 2nd pass thanks to a bunch of praying flags covering it took my breath away! Literally!!!-
-Eventually, the 2nd pass peak-
Staring at the 2nd pass grasped my breath for a second. We had descended a lot and just slightly ascended at some points, and the 2nd pass, to me, was a real deal at that moment. The trail through this section was very rocky but right before this rough part, there was beautiful brilliant grassland scattering some grazing yaks. 30-minute trek to the top of the pass felt like the end of the world, I had to take several breaks in such short distance. Fortunately, this was the last ascending part of the whole trek, I kept telling myself about that to motivate me to move forward. My partner had to slow down his pace a lot to be always on my side and make sure I wouldn’t give up.
-The sunlight arrived for seconds right before we continued to conquer the last peak-
-Reaching at this final stage gave me back all strength and energy. What a weird psychological reaction in our mind!-
After crossing the 2nd pass, it was all downhill the rest of the route. The trail was more visible and followed along Mt. Chenresig’s north face. I was so delightful to see such familiar view again, knowing that we were close to the finale I almost shed a tear. The last part of the trek went through a forest of huge evergreen trees, leading directly to the west side of Zhuoma La Lake. We arrived in Chong Gu Monastery at 6.10pm and managed to catch the last bus to Riwa aka Shangri La town (not the famous one in Yunnan tho) which is 40km away. The double rainbows lovely revealed themselves at dawn called it a day! What could I ask for more!