TRIKA COUNTY ཁྲི་ག་རྫོང་། (GUIDE XIAN 贵德县)
Guide 贵德 / Trika ཁྲི་ག། – 2250m
This large, historic town on the Yellow River is well-known for its walled Chinese old town (partially “renovated”, though its crumbling ramparts remain largely unrestored), its hot springs (full of nude Tibetans with some frightening diseases), and its fantastic redrock and river scenery. It is said that this stretch of the Yellow River is the cleanest anywhere along the length of the mighty waterway, and long stretches of riverbank and nearby marsh have largely been set aside as a conservation area. Despite some intrusions (e.g. the world’s largest prayer wheel), the area is pleasantly natural and visitor movements are relatively unrestricted; consider renting a bike to explore. Transportation to this area is easy (many buses and cars from Xining and onwards to other areas of Hainan/Golog), food is delicious and hotels are convenient.
Keep in mind that Guide attracts large numbers of local tourists (i.e. Xining locals) for weekend trips, especially in the warmer months. As such, there is a somewhat developed tourism industry for them, with tons of courtyard-house restaurants and hotels. These are, thankfully, mostly tastefully done, though you’ll likely hear the warbling blare of drunk Chinese men singing KTV in an open courtyard at some point during your stay.
The town is quite spread out along the banks of the river, with three main sections (from east to west): Hedong 河东, Heyin 河阴, and Hexi 河西. Heyin is downtown, and the central business district (lots of shops and restaurants) is just south of the walled city. Also immediately south of the walled city is a large open-air market which has tons of food and other items for sale. Inside the walls (occasional/easily avoidable admission fee required), you’ll find some old courtyard houses and the restored Yuhuang Ge 玉皇阁 (Jade Emperor Pavilion), an old temple-like structure which can be climbed for (yet another) admission fee.
Continue north of the town walls (taxi or walking) and you’ll come to some streets heading northwards towards the river. Any of these will take you past old courtyard houses and new 农家院 (Nongjiayuan, farmer’s home restaurant/hotels) toward the shimmeringly coppergold river, which can be crossed on a suspension bridge. The views are especially excellent in autumn, when the surrounding deciduous trees are aflame with color.
You can continue west (upriver) on either side of the bridge to get to more nice scenery. On the ‘town’ side of the bridge, you’ll also arrive at what is now the world’s largest prayer wheel, an incongruously massive structure sitting amongst the trees, as well as a riverside park with reconstructed water wheels and (for the tourist within you) camel rides. It’s an interesting place to come to see local tourists enjoying themselves.
Outside of Guide town [under construction]
MANGRA COUNTY མང་ར་རྫོང་། (GUINAN XIAN 贵南县)
Closed; however, if heading to Golog or adjacent areas you will pass through this county. Guinan has some especially diverse landscapes; on the main highway, one glance can encompass towering sand dunes, birch miniforests, classic Amdo grasslands and snowcovered 5000-meter mountains. Enjoy as you pass through without stopping.
BA ‘RDZONG COUNTY འབའ་རྫོང་། (TONGDE XIAN 同德县)
Also generally closed; however, the major intersection at Batang འབའ་ཐང་། 巴塘 (3300m) gives access to Zeku, Henan, Xinghai/Zigortang (via the county town) and Golog. As you drive south towards Golog, the flat grassland rises up into increasingly jumbled peaks; crossing two passes, you will descend to the truckstop of Hebei 河北 (3400m) perched above the Yellow River gorges. From here, it’s a rollercoaster 35km ride down to Ragya on the banks of the river (described in the section on Golog).