Located in Western Sichuan, the Yading Nature Reserve contains three holy mountains, all of which are around 6000 meters tall. I visited Yading with the goal of trekking around Mt. Chenrezig, the tallest of the three. If you plan on visiting Yading, I highly recommend this trek. If you’ve got more time, you can spend 5-7 days trekking around all three holy mountains. In this post, I’m going to go over what you’ll need to know to do this yourself.
Getting to Yading has become fairly simple as of 2013 with the opening of the Daocheng Yading airport, the world’s highest altitude civilian airport. The airport has direct flights from Chengdu, Chongqing, and Xi’an.
If you decide to be a little bit more adventurous, you can take the overland route from Chengdu to Shangri-La (or vice-versa), and stop at Yading along the way. Check out my post on the overland route for more info.
No matter how you get to Daocheng, you’ll then need to make your way to Riwa, where the entrance of the nature reserve is located. From Daocheng, you can find buses and minivans leaving from near the bus station. Try to get there early – I had arrived in Daocheng quite late and had to wait five hours for my shared minivan to fill up. The journey from Daocheng to Riwa takes about 3 hours.
The Mt. Chenrezig Kora
My main reason for visiting Yading was to do the kora around Mt. Chenrezig. The kora takes you past the crowded touristy section of the nature reserve, awarding spectacular views. Depending on your level of fitness and acclimatization level, this is trek can be done in one or two days. If you choose to do the trek over two days, you will need camping gear.
Entering The Nature Reserve
After spending the night in Riwa, you should wake up nice and early and go to the tourist center in town to purchase your ticket. With ticket in hand, you must take the “sightseeing” bus into the core zone of the park. Admission to the park is 270 RMB, which includes the bus fare.
The trek begins with an easy walk through the Luorong Grasslands. At around 4180 meters, you’ll definitely be feeling the altitude if you aren’t already acclimatized (if you flew directly into Daocheng). The pathway through the grasslands is a metal-grid walkway that is quite crappy to walk on (my shoes kept getting caught by the grid). After walking through the grasslands for a couple of hours, you’ll reach the end of the walkway and begin the steeper climb towards Milk Lake.
Milk Lake And The First Col
Upon reaching the end of the grasslands, the trail gets fairly steep and can be a bit dangerous if there are too many people. After gaining a few hundred meters of elevation, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful alpine views. Milk Lake is the beautiful blue coloured lake located at 4480 meters – you can’t miss it.
After taking in the sights at Milk Lake, you’ll want to head towards the First Col (4700 meters). After passing over the First Col you won’t be seeing many tourists, but the path is well defined. IMPORTANT: A couple hundred meters after the First Col you will come to a fork in the path with a prayer wheel on a wooden pole. Go right at this fork.
Past the First Col, you’ll begin a descent into a meadow filled with lavender. In the meadow, you’ll see stone huts used by Tibetan shepards. If you’re camping, this would be a nice place to set up.
The Second Col
Back at a slightly lower elevation now, the views turn greener and the air gets warmer – but don’t worry, there’s still another pass to get over! After a bit of a walk from the lavender meadow, you’ll get your first views of the Second Col (4665 meters). A short but steep climb will take you to the top of it.
After passing the Second Col, the rest of the day will be almost all downhill. Continue to follow the path and you’ll pass through a pine forest and eventually end up at Pearl Lake. Upon reaching Pearl Lake, you are now back in the “tourist zone” of the nature reserve.
Continuing on from Pearl Lake, you’ll arrive at the Chonggu Monastery. You would have likely seen part of this monastery at the beginning of the trek as well. From here, you can catch the sightseeing bus back to Riwa and call it a night.
If you’ve got any questions, feel free to ask! If you’re on edge about visiting Yading, I highly recommend it. Try to plan around decent weather – I was only in the park for a single day and it was unfortunately cloudy/drizzly the whole day.