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The Last Shangri-La: Yading Natural Reserve, Ganzi, Sichuan

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Yading was first discovered by Joseph Rock, an American missionary. In 1928, Rock started from Lijiang in Yunnan, reached Yading by way of Muli County in Sichuan, visited around the three holy Snow-covered Mountains and published the photos he had taken in the July, 1931, issue of the magazine “National Geographic” which caused a huge sensation in America.
 
Yading Natural Reserve is located in Daocheng, a county subordinated to the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on the southwest border of Sichuan Province. This national natural reserve is noted for its mysterious lamaseries, forests, pastures, snow-clad peaks, clear lakes and primitive Tibetan villages.
 
The small city in southwest of Sichuan is a holy land for domestic and foreign backpackers and is regarded as “the last Shangri-la”. Many regions of the Himalayan Mountains are referred to as “Shangri-La”, the fictional paradise written about by James Hilton in his famous novel “Lost Horizon”, which was published in 1933. Most likely James Hilton based his fictional place of Shangri-La after the pictures published by Joseph Rock. More recently, the small town of Riwa, located 35kms north of the entrance to Yading Nature Reserve, also officially changed its name to “Shangri-La”. Of all the places that call themselves “Shangri La”, Yading Nature Reserve probably best represents what James Hilton was thinking about when he wrote “Lost Horizon”.
 
Inside the Yading Nature Reserve are the 3 holy mountains of Chenresig, rising to 6032 metres, Chana Dorje and Jampelyang, which both rise to 5958 metres. These 3 snow-capped peaks sit in a triangle formation with forested valleys, clear rivers, glacier-fed lakes and abundant wildlife between them. The Tibetan name for Yading is “Nyingden”, however signs in the region regularly use the term “Aden”. The local Tibetan name for the area around the 3 holy mountains is “Rigsum Gonpo”. In Tibetan, names of the mountains mean “Wisdom” (Jampelyang), “Power” (Chana Dorje) and “Compassion” (Chenresig). This region was designated as a natural reserve in the late 1990’s.
 
Due to its remoteness, the Yading Nature Reserve is still relatively unknown to foreign travelers but that is starting to change. It is just now getting listed in popular guidebooks for Tibet and China, such as Lonely Planet China guidebook. Yading is becoming extremely popular among Chinese tourists, as is evident by large tourist buses that are seen every day during summer. 
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Other interesting spots to visit are the Three Holy Lakes:
 
W020161229389196273389.jpgFive-color Lake (4800M): It lies beneath the sheer precipice walls of Chenresig's stunning south face. The lake changes its color amazingly from green and bright blue to deep ocean blue upon light conditions.

Milk Lake (4600M): It is a glacier-fed lake. Glacier running off from Jampelyang gives the water its striking bright green color. The best view can be gained if you follow the main trail along the north shore of the lake and climb up to the column in the west.
 
Pearl Lake (4000M): It is a very small lake hidden in the beautiful upper valley of Chenresig's north face that can be reached by an easy 45-minute walk from Chonggu Lodge. The water of the lake is limpid and you can enjoy the inverted reflection of trees, flowers and the snow-clad peaks in winter.
 
It takes three hours to hike from Luorong Pasture to Milk Lake. Five-color Lake is hidden behind a steep slope, 150m higher than Milk Lake beneath Chenresig's south face. Count 30 minutes to reach it from Milk Lake. There are no clear trails. Follow the direction of Tibetan praying flags hanging above the slope.
 
Other Attractions are: 
 
Chonggu Si
 
It is a small lamasery that was built more than 800 years ago. Located at an elevation of 3,900, it offers a spectacular view of Chenresig's north face. It is the only possible option to see the three holy peaks: Xiannairi, Yangmaiyong, Xianuoduoji.

Luorong Pasture (4180M)
 
A paved trail leads to Luorong Pasture, 12 km from the entrance, after an easy three-hour trek. The difference in height is less than 300 metres. Luorong Pasture is situated in an enchanting valley between the east face of Chenresig and the west face of Chanadorje. Jampelyang, 'a truncated pyramid' claimed by Joseph Rock, rises almost 2000 metres at the upper end of the valley. It is the first place in the reserve from where the three sacred peaks can be seen.

Red Grassland
 
It is located in Sangdui town, 28km north of Daocheng. It's a piece of inconspicuous wetland most of the time, but with overgrown red bushes in autumn with yellow-foliaged poplars behind and clear blue sky above, local people believe it's the "Color of Heaven'.
 
Yading Village (3,900m)
 
The Yading Natural Reserve is named after this picturesque Tibetan village. The village is about 34 km away from the country seat of Shangri-La. It has around 180 people who observe very traditional Tibetan culture and customs. In Yading Village, there are some simple guesthouses operated by the locals. Some guesthouses have twin rooms with a private bathroom. The village also offers horse-renting service. Visitors can start their hiking to visit the three holy peaks from here. For those travelers whose physical condition is not strong enough, they can also rent a horse here. Camping is not allowed at other places of Yading village. Guesthouse is the only choice for the travelers who would like to stay overnight in Yading Nature Reserve.

Yading Valley (2,800 - 4,200m)
 
The valley measures about 25 km from Kangku (in the north) to Luorong Pasture (in the south). Hiking along the valley, you can enjoy many beautiful scenic spots including the Yading Village.
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Best Travel Time and Climate
 
The Yading Natural Reserve is influenced by Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. It has features of Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and experiences Continental climate, with long winters and short summers and an average annual temperature of 12.3'C. It has distinct wet seasons and dry seasons. The best travel seasons are spring and autumn.
 
Getting To
 
Yading Nature Reserve is now quite easy to reach since the airport was completed in 2013. Here are the 3 main ways to reach Yading:
 
By Bus
 
From the bus station in Chengdu, there is 1 daily bus that goes directly to Daocheng, the county capital where Yading is located. This grueling bus ride takes 21 to 24 hours. 
 
Yading Nature Reserve is located 110 kilometers south of Daocheng. From Daocheng, you can take a shared mini-van taxi to the small town of Riwa, which is now officially known as Shangri La, for 50 RMB per person and the journey takes about 2 hours to cover the 75 kilometres.
 
In Riwa, you have to buy your entrance ticket for the Yading Nature Reserve as it is not possible to drive beyond this point, except for local traffic. The ticket price is 150 RMB per person, but you also have to buy a 120 RMB roundtrip bus ticket for a total price of 270 RMB per person. The bus ticket is for the 35-kilometre journey from Riwa to Yading Village and on to Long Ba (the real main entrance to Yading).

By Flight
 
The Daocheng Airport opened in September, 2013, and is the highest commercial airport in the world at 4411 metres. The Daocheng Airport is located about 50 kilometres north of the Daocheng County town. The Airport Shuttle Bus costs 30 RMB per person and takes about 45 minutes and will drop you off in the center of Daocheng town.

By Private Vehicle
 
Some people prefer to visit Daocheng and Yading by using a private vehicle from Chengdu.
 
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