When we were just about finished in Kangding we asked the hostel if they could recommend a driver to take us to the next town, Lhagang. They called a local Tibetan named Losang, whose excited explanations of what we passed on the road, willingness to stop for whatever reason, and Tibetan pop cds won us over. I was actually pretty disappointed when we were unable to secure his services for the next leg of the trip a few days later.
As you leave Kangding the road follows the narrow river valleys that flow between the mountains, gaining altitude steadily. About a half hour out the road turns into a switchbacked climb that ascends the last mountain pass before the grasslands. Behind is the last of the Konkka Mountains, still snow-covered in August:
Your ears are popping by the time the van finally reaches the top of the pass, with a bright white stupa and a small shrine:
And now ahead the grasslands unfold:
By this time our original party of 6 had grown to 7 with the addition of Sabine, a French traveler whom we met in the hostel in Kangding and wound up coming along for the ride over the next week or so. I was lucky enough to have the best Chinese and the only Tibetan language whatsoever from the group, so I kept getting pushed into the front seat on the inter-town rides. They didn't have to push too hard, naturally, but... what can I say, duty calls. Requests were shouted up to the front for me to translate, things like "such and such has to go to the bathroom" or "can we stop and take some pictures here?" or "we love the Tibetan pop but can you turn it down just a little bit?"
After crossing that pass we proceeded along the grassland for about two hours. I think we were all pretty blown away, and after the initial shock faded there were cameras aimed out of pretty much every window of the van for the rest of the ride. The long sloping hills and fields were full of yak herds and the occasional large black nomad tent. Every few miles there would be an umbrella by the side of the road, from under which Tibetans sell cups of freshly made yogurt.
Yaks by the side of the road:
At one small settlement the driver jumped out to grab a snack, and we walked down the tiny town. Homes in the area are surprisingly well-built and decorated. These two kids put on very serious faces for the picture- I think the one on the right is a monk?
Almost too soon, we arrived in Lhagang. More on that town tomorrow.