Itinerary for Traveling 7000+ Miles to China to Take One Photograph

Okay that title is unfair. I am not going to take ONE photograph.  I am going to take eleventy billion photographs.

I always have my future travel plans mapped out in my head.  Once per year I take a BIG trip.  I knew last year that my BIG trip for 2015 was going to be India.  But then as always, my plans changed.

Last year, I spent a month in China.  This includes me going to Tibet and spending a night at Mount Everest Base Camp.  I really should get my posts about that up on my blog, eh?  Most exciting thing I have ever done and I have yet to post about it a year later.  Worst blogger ever.

But anyway, back to THIS post.   When I left Tibet and flew to Chengdu, I was crippled with depression because I wanted to still be in Tibet.  It was the most beautiful place I have ever been.  Sometimes I look at the photos and I cannot believe that I ever stood here:

Tibet ChinaSo I sat and began Googling for other trips to Tibet.  I can picture me sitting at the desk in the apartment I rented in Chengdu and the exact moment when I found this photo that made my jaw drop:

[Photo credit: www.thelandofsnows.com]
larung gar

Wait, what?  Is that real?  It IS real?  This exists?  On Earth?  And I can go there?  Here is the post that started it all.

As soon as I got home, I began my plans of traveling 7000+ miles just to see this incredible place.  Although getting there requires me to first get to Chengdu, before spending eight days traveling on buses through small towns on the Tibetan Plateau, it doesn’t seem all that complicated.   The route is clearly laid out here, all I have to do is follow it.   How awesome is that?

I spent months working on an itinerary.  I was determined to see all the things in China that I had to pass over in 2014 due to time.  I booked my flights based on this itinerary.  Then of course, I got totally sidetracked and veered way off course.

Here we go:

Kunming: I am flying here to see the Stone Forest in Shilin.  I booked a flight to Kunming specifically to do this.  As time went on, I wish I hadn’t because there were now places I wanted to see more.  Note to self:  Once you book a flight, stop Googling for places to see in China.  It just complicates EVERYTHING for  you.

Dali: The next obvious stop from Kunming.  The iconic image of Dali’s three pagodas that are highlighted in every China guide book.  Cangshan Mountain.  Blue skies, fresh air…yes I did just use “blue skies” and “fresh air” to describe my upcoming trip to China.  It isn’t all Beijing ya know.

Lijiang:  There is a mountain.  There is an impressions show.  There is a “must take” photo of a beautiful bridge being reflected in the water below, with a view of the mountains in the background.  Um, sign me up please?

Shangrila:  I kind of almost did not go this far.  Because once you go this far, you have to go to Tiger Leaping Gorge, right?  I mean it is RIGHT THERE.  But adding on Tiger Leaping Gorge took up too much time.   But I did want to see the Baishu water terraces.  Oh and the second largest prayer wheel in the world.  So I’m going.  And skipping Tiger Leaping Gorge.  Because it is my trip and I can do whatever I want.

Mount Emei:  This was on my itinerary last year but I never left Chengdu because I was too busy having a mental break in my room while furiously reading about traveling to Tibet.  I am correcting this mistake this year.

Kangding:  OH KANGDING.  I AM SO EXCITED TO MEET YOU!  You are the start of me making my way to Larung Gar!  The whole purpose of my trip!  You offer a hostel run by an American couple who now live in Tibet, a mountain with a cable car (I LOVE CABLE CARS), a river…cool, crisp air and an overwhelming sense of LOOK AT ME!  I AM IN TIBET AND I GOT MYSELF HERE BY MYSELF AND I AM GOING TO LIVE FOREVER!

Tagong / Ganzi:  These two small towns are basically stops en route to Larung Gar.  Both look really picturesque, and I am excited to see them.

Sertar / Larung Gar: FINALLY!  This is the peak point of my trip.  The reason I am in China at all.  The holy grail of photographs.  The reason I bought a wide angle lens.  The reason for everything.  I am going to see LARUNG GAR.  I am going to cry I am sure.

Manigango / Jyekundo:  I am continuing on this route, as at some point I had planned to turn around in Xining and follow this route back.

Xining:   I went to Xining last year on my way to Lhasa.  I had plans of things to see and when I got there, decided I would rather just alternate between napping and editing photos in the beautiful common area of my hostel.

courtyard of Quinghai Heng Yu International Youth Hostel in Xining ChinaI would not be going back to Xining, except that you kind of have to once you leave Jyekundo.  It is a turn around point.  Your only other options are to go back the way you came, or fly to Xi’an.  My original plans were to go to Xining, take a slight loop through Xinjiang, return to Xining and head back to Chengdu with a final stop being Jiuzhaigou.  But nope.  I totally bungled those plans and forgot that a loop includes looping back. So now I continue:

Dunhuang:  A lake in the middle of a desert?  That everyone swears is Photoshopped?  Well aren’t you all going to be red faced when I prove you wrong.

Zhangye:  If you have ever read any of those viral “Top Places You Won’t Believe Exist!” stories, you have seen Zhangye.  The rainbow mountains.  That unlike Crescent Lake, actually ARE Photoshopped.  But they are beautiful even when they are not, and I am going to see them!

This was where I started to veer off course. I was going to return to Xining from Zhangye.  There was my loop.  But then I decided to go to Yining.  Why?  Because simply put, it is beautiful.  Then realizing I was going to be so close to Kazakhstan during the last couple of weeks of the trial period for US citizens to enter with no visa, well I have to go there right?

Zhangye to Yining is a 24 hour train ride and I vowed to never again.  But a twelve hour train ride, I can handle that.  So I am going to Turpan in the middle.  I am spending one day with a guide who will take me to see everything I want to see, then I will fly the rest of the way to Yining.

Yining: Dear Yining, You are going to be worth traveling to because you have Sayram Lake AND you have yurts I can sleep in at Sayram Lake.  Need I say anymore?  Yeah I didn’t think so.

Almaty:  Crossing over to Kazakhstan.   I have never seen Borat but I could probably quote many lines of it via people quoting it to me when I say I am going to Kazakhstan.  Almaty looks like a dream.  I am most excited to see Big Almaty Lake.  It will be the biggest splurge of this entire trip as I hired a guide to make it easy.

Astana:  I wasn’t going to go here at all, but it only a one hour flight from Almaty.  Plus that whole “no visa” thing may end in July.   So I may as well go and spend a day.

Then it is back to China.  I had already booked my flight home before going this far away from that flight.  I have a two day layover in Urumqi, which allows me to visit Heavenly Lake.  Then I return to Chengdu and spend a night before flying home.

I can no longer make changes to my itinerary because I am locked in with domestic flights and prepaid train tickets.  But if I could, I would cut out Yining and go to Jiuzhaigou.  Which was the actual reason why I was flying home from Chengdu to begin with.  Now to visit Jiuzhaigou, I have to make a third trip to China and…a third trip to Chengdu.  Fourth if you count that I am going to be in Chengdu passing through from Shangrila to Emei.  It is a good thing that I am going to live forever.

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