Walking on the Roof of the World: 30+ Jaw Dropping Tibet Travel Photos From Beyond the Border

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Forget everything you thought you knew about traveling in Tibet. Well except for maybe the fact that it is stunningly beautiful, because that my friends, as you’re about to see, is no lie.

Here goes. First of all, the border that you see on the map defining the region of Tibet…completely meaningless. Let me explain.

So, I get dropped off at the town square in Tagong, a small Tibetan town in Sichuan Province, China via a minivan from Kangding. Sitting in the square waiting for my ride to my guesthouse, I get approached by this local Tibetan man. After our typical pleasantries were exchanged and I answered all the basic questions: “where are you from?” “how long are you here?” blah, blah, blah, he says goodbye, and then adds a phrase that completely stopped me in my tracks, “Welcome to Tibet!”.

Uh, say what?! I don’t remember crossing any border, obtaining any permit, or hiring a tour guide (all necessary provisions when traveling to what we think of as Tibet).

I looked at a map, yup, Tagong is definitely in Sichuan Province, not Tibet. So what’s the deal?

In my mind, Tagong was just a Tibetan town in China. Like maybe some Tibetan people moved out of Tibet and settled here…I don’t know, but that was definitely the impression I had before going. If there was a place called Ignoranceville, I would be their queen.

See, here’s something I learned very quickly upon arriving in Tagong, this isn’t just a Tibetan town, THIS IS TIBET!!!

That border you see on the map, totally arbitrary, and made mostly to keep a historically tense region in check, not because it actually defines the border of Tibet. I know, I know, mind blown.

In Tagong, the locals are Tibetan, born and raised for centuries on this very soil that the map fools you into thinking is not Tibet.  In fact, the current Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) was only created in 1965 by the Chinese government after the Tibetans lost the battle of Chamdo and became incorporated in the People’s Republic of China.  In reality, Tibet consists of 3 provinces: Lhasa (which is the area that is now known as the Tibet Autonomous Region), Kham (the region I was in which is now part of Sichuan Province), and Amdo (now a part of Qinghai Province). What this means is that the area we currently associate with the entirety of Tibet is actually just one part of the region, which means: there is so much more of Tibet to explore outside of the TAR!

Since their incorporation into China not much has changed. The locals don’t consider themselves Chinese at all. The land, culture, and traditions of Tibet have been meticulously maintained and treasured by the local people. Of course, with the spread of technology, change has come, but (I think) as an advent, not a destructive feature. Traveling in Tibet is like being on the rooftop of the world. I hope these photos inspire you to see the beauty of this incredible place for yourself one day.

More from Tibet:

Cycling the Tibetan Border

Climbing the Tibetan Plateau

Cycling Through the Grasslands of Tibet

lhagang-monastery
One of the first sights I saw upon arriving in town was the Lhagang Monastery. It’s located right in the town square and is always open for tourists to walk through.
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These vibrant colored prayer wheels lined the outside of the monastery. Locals walked through this corridor spinning the wheels as they walked. The wheels are always spun clockwise, keeping the wheels on your right as you walk.
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At the back of the monastery lies this pyramid of sorts, decorated with brightly colored Tibetan writing. Above it lies the most intricately, and beautifully decorated hill I have ever seen!
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It rained for 2 months straight just before I arrived. The recent rains made for some gorgeous reflections of the mountains.
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This place is perfect for horse lovers like me. Everywhere you turn there are horses roaming free. These guys were grazing just outside of town.
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Upon arriving at my guesthouse, I was greeted with this most gorgeous view of Mt. Zhara Lhatse (Tibetan), or Haizi Shan (Chinese), the summit of which rounds out at 5820 m (19,000 ft) . When I asked if people climbed this mountain, they said no. There have been a couple successful summits in the past, but a lot more deaths due to the crazy amount of storms brewing over the peak. Nowadays, mountaineers set their sites on much higher and safer peaks to climb leaving the summit of Lhatse virtually untouched.

All photos of this gorgeous mountain were taken from Khampa Nomad Ecolodge, where they so graciously hosted me as a volunteer for 3 weeks. If you’re interested in making a trip out to this area I would HIGHLY recommend staying at Khampa Nomad Ecolodge. They are a completely off the grid, self-sustainable guesthouse located 8km outside of town. In addition to the lodge, they are also the #1 horse trekking and hiking guide service in the area and really just a wealth of information about the entire Kham Tibetan area.

Check them out on their website at  http://www.definitelynomadic.com/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/KhampaNomadEcoLodge/

tagong-scenery
The first evening I spent there consisted of hiking up the mountain behind the ecolodge. For our breathless struggle up the mountain (Tagong is located at 3700 m/12,000 ft of elevation) we were rewarded with this insane view of the winding river, mountains, and impending storm.
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One of my favorite activities at Khampa Nomad Ecolodge was to just hang out by the river and enjoy the scenery. It was so nice to escape the city life in China.
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The morning of the horse festival I woke up to the most stunning sunrise I think I’ve ever seen!
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This morning we headed out to watch the horse festival in Tagong. Here all the horses were gathered awaiting the blessing that kicks off the festival.
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Waiting for the race to start, we climbed up the hill to the finish line, where we had amazing views over Tagong town.
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Racing up to the hilltop finish was rough for the horses. Most of them slowed to a walk part way up the hill, understandably as having climbed it myself I can vouch for how steep it is!
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Racing up to the finish line! Most of the riders were kids, and all of them rode bareback enabling the horses to run faster since they were carrying less weight.
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The first finishers getting congratulated at the finish line.
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Trying in vain to encourage their mounts to go faster.
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Even bareback the riders manage to pimp out their horses as much as possible, pink scrunchies included!
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Walking back down the mountain after the race the ground was littered with paper confetti from the celebration.
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Next up were the games. Horses and riders sprinted up and down the field attempting to pick up as many objects from the ground as possible.
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Some riders simply galloped down the field ignoring the more gymnastic element of the games.
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Others did complete backbends off the sides of their horses picking up pieces of paper and scarves off the ground.
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This guy was simply having a blast and putting on a show!
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I had so many amazing hikes during my time in Tagong.
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The views never disappointed and I never tired of taking in the stunning scenery.
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And then there were the yaks.
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These guys were getting ready to head out on a horse trek. The yaks were used to carry the supplies. There’s even a name for it: Yak Packing!
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Shortly before I left we spent 2 days trekking to and from the nomad camps at the high pasture lands. Up on the plateau, it was so open. Nothing but grass and sky.
tagong-scenery
This part of the walk had an actual trail, but some of it was just grass, making it a little confusing to try and find the way on your own. Luckily, Angela, who owns the ecolodge, came with us to show us the way.
tagong-scenery
No shortage of yaks at the nomad camps. Milking yaks and selling their milk, cream, cheese, and butter is a major source of income for the nomad families.
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The black tent is traditional nomad housing when the families live up on the high pastures. The nomads here live about half the year in their tents, and the other half down in the valley where they have traditional stone houses.
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We went horse trekking from the nomad camps back down to Khampa Nomad Ecolodge. The views were spectacular!
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My first time on a horse in over a year! My heart was so full and happy riding through the beautiful Tibetan countryside with some new friends who so graciously invited me to join their group.
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We took a pit stop during our horse trek to see this temple.
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The sun sets on my adventure in Tagong. I’m not quite sure how the sunset over this mountain is almost as nice as the sunrise, but hey, I’ll take it! Beautiful views all around!

What an amazing adventure it was to explore this region of Tibet for 3 weeks. Angela and the entire Khampa Nomad Ecolodge team were incredible hosts! Tagong is truly a magical place and one I know I will be returning to, hopefully someday soon.

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