Kangding, Garzê Tibetan autonomous prefecture
Kangding is a small city mountain (100,000 people) located at the doors of the wild Tibetan mountains. Its inhabitants are mostly Han and Tibetans which gives a very interesting flavor of gastronomy and culture and along with its dramatic geography, it becomes a very attractive place from a tourist’s point of view.
7 Reasons why Kangding is a good base camp for your Tibetan adventures:
1 – Cultural and altitude acclimatization
If you are arriving from western mainland China, you can see a gradual change of ethnicity from Han to Tibetan, and Kangding represents this mixture of people and culture perfectly. Also, the city sits at 2600 m / 8530 ft above the sea level, which makes it perfect for a gradual acclimatization at high altitude, especially if you want to do some hikings later on in your trip. There are several feasible-to-reach peaks around Kangding that can be directly accessed from the main street. They range from 3200 m to 5500 m, that is, from 10500 ft to 18040 ft.
2 – Some notable Buddhist monasteries are here
There are mainly 4 monasteries in the city, but there are even more around Kangding County. All of them can be visited and in some, you can sleep too.
Dentok Monastery is the most popular one and it is probably the most visited. It lies in the middle of Mt. Paoma, and it overlooks all of Kangding. You can reach it through the cable car or by doing a 45-min hike from the bottom of the mountain.
The other monasteries are Ngachu Monastery, Dordrak Monastery and Nanwu monastery, being the last one my favorite.
3 – Gastronomy
As generally in China, food options are endless. But in Kangding, the Tibetan cuisine should be added to this infinite menu. There are some very good restaurants that bring the best of the two cultures, so you can experience fusion cuisine or just choose the best from the Tibetan or the Chinese carte.
4 – Easy access
During one of my visits to China, I knew for sure I wanted to travel to the Himalayas, or at least close enough to have the feeling of being surrounded by these high mountains. At the moment I took the decision to go, I was in Changsha, so I booked a flight to depart directly the next morning. The closest city that would fit within my last-minute schedule would be Chengdu. It turns out to be big enough to offer daily flights from any major city and close enough to the Tibetan plateau. Once in Chengdu, you can find multiple daily buses that go to Kangding. There are about 3 o 4 every day and it takes between 7 to 9 hours to reach Kangding. Although, the most challenging thing to do is actually buy the ticket.
Chengdu to Kangding
These schedules and maps were key to find the bus destinations departing from Chengdu, and they helped me a lot to communicate with the ticket office agents. I hope they will help you reach Kangding and other amazing areas around Chengdu.
5 – Reachable off-season
The first idea when I arrived in Chengdu was to actually go to Danba. I thought it would be situated deeper within the valley and I could then grasp a better sense of wilderness. The problem was that many smaller towns were closed to public transportation due to flooding and adverse weather. If I wanted to dive in the Tibetan mountains, the fastest and most reliable choice was to head up to Kangding.
6 – Base camp for your outdoor adventure
Kangding is the door to many outdoor activities. You can easily base camp here and get everything you need before your adventure. There are a lot of outdoor shops where you can find whatever you need or forgot to bring with you. But the reason why staying in this city was worth was because it was easy to gather information, like maps and schedules. Also, by talking to people that worked in hostels, I could get to know the real good things to do nearby. For example, before coming here I had no idea that it would be so easy to climb the mountains that overlook Kanding. Or that once in Kangding, I could head up to Danba, so I could fulfill my initial plan.
7 – Good both for urban and natural life
Kangding is a good mix between city and nature ecosystems. You can easily hike to big mountains and in the same day you can go to an amazing Tibetan restaurant and meet a lot of people. You can go on a day trip to nearby towns and monasteries, then come back to Kangding and the next day visit another place in the opposite direction. The possibilities are endless.
In China it is extremely easy that your plans change due to transport issues, miscommunication or simply because sometimes things are slower than you expected – and don’t forget when you’re compelled to especially remote places, like the Tibetan plateau. Kangding is ideal because you can settle here and have a proper perspective to achieve what you want.
If you arrive in Kangding late, a good option for you is to accept a room from one of the people that will come to you asking if you need one right after leaving the bus station. I accepted the offer from a guy the first day when I arrived (after 12 am) and it went absolutely fine. He walked with me to a nearby building and showed me the room. It was very simple but clean. Wifi was included, cheaper than average hostels and hotels, and the people there were very kind. However, this kind of accommodations are not the best ones :). I would definitely recommend Zhilam Hostel, a traditional Tibetan house run by an American family. They are very helpful and they can give you tips and lots of information.