Kangding and Tagong, The wild west of China

Kangding and Tagong were our attempt to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern day China, and see a bit of Tibetan life. Kangding itself is an amazing place, a city nestled inbetween mountains and flowing along an ice blue river. The air is cleaner and cooler thanks to the 2700m altitude. We stayed in Kangding for a few days and then headed out to Tagong. A final frontier feel tibetan town sitting at 3700m. The road up to Tagong takes about 3 hours by minivan (costs 50-75 yuan per person), and you start to feel the altitude working its effects.

The land of cowboys

This shot captures Tagong for me. Apparently they only recently stopped carrying swords out here. Most dress like this fella, full cowboy attire, and the street in the background is indicative of the towns extent, the road leads off in three other directions about 500meters each way.

Suddenly you pull around a corner, over a ridge and BAM! There they are, the grasslands, stretching out to forever, flat green mountains which look like you could walk across them only stopping when your legs can carry you no more.

We pull into Tagong, a wild west looking town where the people are unmistakebly Tibetan. From the TIbetan robes and headdress, to the wind burnt cheeks and religious paraphernalia adorning everyone and everything. It is a beautiful, barren place, to live here would not be easy. Beautiful, yes, but for a soft westerner like me, as harsh as a desert wasteland.

Our few days here were amazing. I slept very little, spent a lot of time disorientated, breathless, and a bit dizzy, but also explored some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. It is hard to describe this place. When I have looked at amazing jungle vistas, high mountain ranges, forests that stretch into the distance. I have always had this urge to just wander through them and over them, to explore every nook and cranny. The reality though, is that the density of vegetation (as well as all the other things which make unexplored landscapes so hard to traverse), generally make this want left as only that, a want.

Here however, you can explore, the landscape is as traversable as it seems, and it is this ease which makes the landscape so incredible. This time I could actually do it, and I did! We wandered for hours across this vast place until reaching the top of one of many beautiful green hills. There we sat, looking in every direction at an incredible landscape, dotted with prayer flags, monastery’s, and very little else.

The place is amazing, and the Tibetan food wholesome if not the tastiest. The people are different up there, friendly, but reserved, obviously deeply religious and molded by those beliefs. It is a different world out there. On the day we left, we both got food poisoning from the yak steaks we had hungrily gobbled the night before (for future reference, they don’t slaughter the yaks, so any yak meat comes from death by natural causes, an early warning sign I failed to consider). and spent the 2 hour downhill journey to Kangding struggling a bit. The lessening altitude, and a difficult appointment with the toilet helped to ease things a bit, but our day in Kangding was pretty much spent trying to stay positive about the experience we had just had. Needless to say, we survived.

If your coming to China, and especially out towards Chengdu, make sure to detour out to Tagong. The wild, wild west in the outer reaches of China, just stay away from the yak steaks.

There were so many beautiful photo’s to choose from, every time you turned around here there was something else begging to be snapped, so it was difficult to narrow it down to those on this page, ultimately, I chose the ones I liked, for no other reason than they looked good to me. I hope you enjoy them.

I think he went that a-way

A religious family outside a monastery in Kangding

A monk rounding up the troops for prayer time

The monks wander around doing their thing, stopping to smile and say hello when you pass. We got to sit in on a prayer session and listen to the chanting and crazy instruments being played. Curtains flapped high up in the roof while a thousand tiny golden statues stared down at us…beautiful.

Dyed chicken sellers, why not? It's China

Every now and then in the streets I would hear chirping, eventually I noticed children carrying little cages with toy color chickens. Then I noticed that they weren’t toys, they are dyed little chickens!

The monastery across the road

The town square is a dusty social meeting place, old and young sit on benches and watch the world go bye, all right next to a 1200 year old monastery

Prayer wheels around the town

The monastery is surrounded by huge prayer wheels, day and night people walk around chanting softly, “Om mani padme hung”.

Tibetan spinning the wheels

A Tibetan spinning and praying

The streets of Tagong

A woman stands on the side of the road, occassionaly shouting to the passing locals, everyone seems to know each other here.

Watching the rain come in

Me watching the rains come in across the mountains, we only ever had a bit of drizzle, but could see heavy downpours all around us.

View from the mountain top

The mountain in the distance is covered with thousands of prayer flags, each about 3 meters high. Below them is a nunnery and a little stone house town. We sat on the top of this mountain watching the green mountains disappear into the distance in every direction.

Monastery in the Valley

A monastery about 3km away in the valley, through those clouds is Yala Snowy mountain. It broke through a few times to show its vertical snow covered peaks.

What a view

The huge monastery, one of many around the hills.

One of a thousand hills

Prayer flags on a hill 20 minutes walk from the town.

Drama is all around

I really like these prayer flags!


Tibetan robes abound

A woman in Tibetan dress wanders along the dirt streets and old town walls. Tagong is like stepping back in time.


Headdress chic

Old and modern, all wandering around the wall, not sure why, but I like this shot.


Out for a stroll

If you can’t walk around the wall spinning the wheels, you can take a wheel with you. An old fella walks down the street mumbling prayers to himself.

It is a small places with a lot of charm. If you want to see Tibet, but like us, aren’t allowed in, this is the place to go. 


0 thoughts on “Kangding and Tagong, The wild west of China”

  1. Thank you very much Mike. Muchas Gracias, very appropriate for our next destination 🙂 Look forward to seeing your webpage when your up and running.

  2. Oh yeh, your pic skills are improving in leaps and bounds man, love them!
    That looks like some idyllic countryside.

  3. We visited in summer of 2012, it was a great place, we had to leave after a couple of days as my wife was really ill with altitude sickness. The monks were very friendly and hot us to carry rather large stones around the Stupa on the hill. We thought that we only needed to do one circuit but three were required. A marvellous place.

    1. Hi Brian, those tricky bloody monks hey ;). Funny my missus also got sick after a few days, although we think it may have been the yak steaks we ate. I am glad you got to see this incredible place even if only for a couple days.

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