Tibet Trekking | Expedition to the Sacred Peaks of Yading

For two years, I had heard whispers of a mountain sanctuary in Eastern Tibet, around which circled a pilgrimage route unmatched for it's scenic beauty. So, in September 2013, I decided to take an expeditionary group on a journey of discovery. Here are some reflections on an amazing trip...

“Say that again?” I asked, completely blindsided.

"The road has been closed” whispered my partner Edward, with his usual smile.

Our trekking group glanced over suspiciously as we sat in Shangri-La’s old town, overlooking the biggest prayer wheel in the world. Three of them had just flown in from California and now some faceless bureaucrat had decided to shut the only road to our intended destination. The highest airport in the world had just been built near Daocheng and naturally, our route to Yading had to be manicured for the provincial bigwigs, who were arriving for their mandatory inspection in two days time.

"Edward, it’s a lorry!"

'Yes” he acknowledged sheepishly.

It was almost midnight. Our plan was to sneak across the checkpoint under cover of darkness, but the finer details had been somewhat lost in translation. I took a deep breath and steeled myself.

'Guys, we are going to have to get in the back of the truck and stay deadly silent while we drive across, the driver’s allowed through because he’s from Yading. They are not stopping local traffic.”

"But this is communist China!" said one of the Americans, horrified.

You could have heard a pin drop. We stopped, heard some muffled mandarin and a chain clink against the cold tarmac and then started up again. Someone sneezed, loudly, but we were through.


It was a word we used liberally over the next six days. The pilgrimage route in Yading, around three 6000m+ Himalayan peaks is truly spectacular, and yet, quite undiscovered. I had researched the trip the previous year and was returning with a commercial group for the first time.

"How many Westerners have you seen trekking the route since last September?" I asked Wan Dui, the head Tibetan horseman.

"None" he said.

The word will get out, eventually, but for now this has to be the most scenic one week trek in the region and apart from local pilgrims and yak herders, we had the entire route to ourselves. One saving grace may prove to be the expeditionary nature of the trek which makes it hard to organize without prior knowledge. All food and camping equipment has to be transported by mule, along with the group, over six high altitude passes, the highest of which is the wild Ji San at 4,700m. We completed the circumambulation in six days but in 2014 (the auspicious Tibetan year of the horse) we will schedule seven.

"How many hours walk to the next campsite?"

"What’s the trail like from here on out?" 

It was a couple of hours into each day’s trekking before the first questions were usually raised by the group, who had learnt early on that my notes from the previous year were a little off (we had moved much quicker in 2012 as a small research party of three).

“My notes say four hours, along an undulating path’ I said

"Six hours, straight up then”, quipped one of the guests to tired laughter all round.

Fortunately, the natural highlights come thick and fast and the sheer scenic splendor of the ‘kora’ provides ample distraction from aching limbs and breathless lungs; the colossal wall at Chanadorjee Glacier camp, the jade waters of Wisdom Lake, Mt Jembayang’s huge scree fields and the dramatically named ‘amphitheatre, to name but a few.

And yet, as is often the case, it is was a fleeting, intimate moment spent connecting with strangers, that will probably stay longest in the memory. An hour spent sheltering from the rain, huddled inside a stone hut with a couple of local herders, a baby yak peeing in the corner, the salty taste of butter tea, watery eyes from the smoke of the warm fire and wide, open smiles.

"Let’s do it again next year" I said.

"Definitely" replied Edward, smiling. "Its the Year of the Horse!".

For  more details on our 2014 Yading ‘Big Kora’ trek check out the link below or email me at adrian@whistlingarrow.com. It is worth noting that 2014 is indeed the auspicious Year of the Horse when any pilgrimage is said to have twelve times the merit of an ordinary year!


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