LITANG COUNTY 理塘 ལི་ཐང་རྫོང་།
Litang ལི་ཐང 理塘 – 4000m
Strangely, some hotels here seem to still be trying to cash in on Litang as the “world’s highest town”. While this is certainly not the case, as Litang (4000 meters) is lower than Sershul as well as a number of other towns both in Qinghai and the TAR, it remains a great place to visit. A large and absorbing monastery, lively marketplaces, just enough travel amenities (comfortable hotels and decent food) and beautiful grassland and mountain surroundings make Litang a nice place to stay and relax for a few days.
The suburbs of Litang are made up of traditional Tibetan homes, which in this region are massive castle-like constructions made of rough stone. Go for a wander through the back alleys and the neighborhoods uphill of downtown and you’ll find some beautifully adorned buildings. Farther uphill is the famous Gelugpa Litang Gonpa ལི་ཐང་དགོན་པ། which is well worth a protracted visit, especially now that some of the central temples have been reconstructed.
The Potala Inn (布 达拉大酒店), up a side street near the bus station, has comfortable Tibetan-esque dorms with ensuite bathrooms (30 kuai). Some cheaper dorms (20 kuai) have no bathrooms. There are also doubles (150 kuai) and a comfortable cafe area in which you can relax. The owner speaks English. Nearby are several other guesthouses. My eating experiences in Litang was not ideal, as one meal included a square-inch chunk of black plastic (conveniently nestled inside a dumpling) and another was greviously overpriced. However, I won’t judge the whole town – there’s surely good food to be had here.
Daily buses to Litang leave Kangding at 6:30am and take about nine spine-jarring hours. Plan to simultaneously be awed by the spectacular views and petrified by road conditions and driving protocol as the road crosses six (or is it eight?) passes over 4000 meters to reach Kangding. Buses also arrive here from Batang. While buses from Xiangcheng, Daocheng and Yading to Kangding pass through Litang, you likely won’t be able to get a ticket to Litang from any of these locations, necessitating a shared-car or minibus ride. To Kangding, buses leave at (surprise!) 6:30 am and travel in a convoy. NB: The road from Kangding to Litang is currently under construction, expect serious delays.
XIANGCHENG COUNTY 乡城县 (Chatreng ཆ་ཕྲེང་རྫོང་།)
Xiangcheng 乡城 (Chatreng ཆ་ཕྲེང་།) – 2900m
The drive from Litang to Xiangcheng is beautiful, passing over a barren lakeland plateau and descending into the lightly-forested Daocheng valley and crossing another pass before dropping into the deep valley of low-lying Xiangcheng/Chatreng (3100 meters). This small county town between Litang and Shangri-La (in Yunnan) is located in a beautiful agricultural valley. There is a monastery on the hillside above town, but otherwise not much to do except wander through the countryside and see nearby villages, which are built of whitewashed stone and mud. There is surprisingly decent food here; try the hotpot in the main square. Several hotels are near the bus station; all are friendly, relatively cheap (20-60 for a bed) and friendly enough. The Xiangbala Seven Lakes Hotel is the most expensive of the bunch.
This otherwise pleasant town is unfortunately home to the rudest bus station on the planet, as voted by a majority of Foreign Experts (e.g. me and a few friends). Try to avoid their unbelievable rudeness by purchasing bus tickets early in the day and NOT trying to buy tickets to Litang (they won’t sell you any). Try going to Derong instead; buses to this tiny county to the southeast always seem to be emptier than those towards Kangding. Buses leave daily to Shangri-La (7-10 hours, 80 kuai) at 6:30, a beautiful (if bumpy) drive over several passes and through some beautiful forests. Otherwise, minibuses and vans and cars of all sorts are available to any destination you feel like paying for.