YUSHU COUNTY 玉树县 སྐྱེ་དགུ་མདོ་རྫོང་།
Yushu （Jiegu, Jyekundo) 玉树 （结古） སྐྱེ་དགུ་མདོ། – 3700m
Yushu town is an uncomfortable place these days, what with most residents having moved out and bands of migrant laborers from Xining and eastern China roaming the dusty empty streets. The place is still a ruin/construction site and best used only as a stopover. Transportation is rather difficult, with two temporary bus stations located well to the east of town (one for Xining, one for other buses, an uncooperative in-town ticket office, and the rest of the area’s transportation leaving from the central old bus station area. Between the two is a semi-permanent construction-vehicle-induced traffic jam that local taxi drivers are unwilling to traverse for anything less than stratospheric prices (though bus 2 does it for 1 kuai). Good luck navigating this transport morass if you don’t speak Chinese or Tibetan.
Around Yushu 玉树县 ཡུལ་ཤུལ
The Gyanak Mani wall རྒྱ་ནག་མ་ཎི། (Mani Shicheng, 马尼石城), 3km to the east of Yushu, is an unbelievable pile of billions of multicolored mani stones smothering brilliantly painted temples and stupas. The entire agglomeration is encircled by a 1km kora route, which is constantly thick with pilgrims. An unbelievable site which is well worth a morning at least. Circle the kora repeatedly and soak up the atmosphere. Note: under reconstruction as of 7/2012; will likely be somewhat finished by late winter/early spring 2013.
About 16km south of town, the Princess Wencheng temple 文成公主庙 (4000m) sits in a rocky gorge smotheringly festooned with multicolored prayer flags, stretching from impossible cliffs to the valley below. Make sure you walk the steep but stunning kora circuit, which takes you through tunnels of prayer flags thick enough to render weak and impotent even the most ferocious of thunderhail storms. If you have additional time, take a walk upvalley through grasslands to a small warm springs complex nestled in a beautiful valley (take the left fork of the road). This area is very popular among locals for picnicking and camping is also possible; bring a tent and water purifier.
Lastly, the Batang hot springs area, more poetically known in the tourist literature as the Batang Hot Water Ditch 巴塘热水沟 (4400m), is located in a stunningly beautiful mountain area immediately to the south of the airport. Hire a car or hitch up the road (热水沟公路) 19km to the trailhead for the springs, where if you don’t feel like hiking you can hire a horse or motorcycle for the remaining kilometers. The hike, however, is absolutely spectacular. From the main road, look for a trail to the right immediately before the road crosses the main stream. Follow the trail up the steep hillside separating the two diverging valleys; at the ridgetop, it will start traversing along the beautiful grassy hillside above a river gorge with spectacular views of the mountains all around and yaks grazing in the meadows above. Continue past several homesteads (beware of dogs) until you eventually reach a hot springs pool right by the trailside. One hundred meters later, descend to the river and cross on the river stones to the opposite side, where a small hill protruding into the river holds the main hot springs and geothermal areas. Enjoy soaking in this spectacular spot. This is also a good place to basecamp, as hiking surrounding valleys can put you in even more amazing scenery – needle-sharp 5700 meter peaks and glaciers looming above flower-filled grasslands (see top picture). Again, bring a tent and other necessary camping goods (water purifier, stove, warm clothes, etc).