In traffic, it took 2.5 hrs to drive the 93km to Lhagong from Dartsendo/Kangding. Their are two routes, and we took the one that heads right (north) at the main turnoff to the airport. The alternate continues along 318 for a while, before heading north on S215 and is a bit longer. Hmmm, choices...traffic or potholes... either way is rough going. Luckily, NuWi had set us up with a very capable driver, who turned out to be her nephew. Shared cars are available at the shared-car-hawking center, where you can bargain and haggle your ride in a crowded van or car. The bus option from Kangding to Ganzi and beyond is much cheaper, but no thank you! It cost 250Y and I gave our driver 300Y because it was so late and he would be driving back to KD at 8:30pm after dropping me off (even though it was sort his fault that we left so dang late. When not hanging on and sliding into each other around curves, or being distracted by the jolting, the scenery was quite amazing. Of course, I’ve ridden along the airport road 5 times now, so I’m familiar with much of the beauty, but it certainly doesn’t grow old, and the beauty changes each time. As we closed in on Lhagong, we entered the grassland elevations, and the sharp ridges morphed into rolling meadows of stone houses, yak herds, horses, nomads, prayer flags, and flowers!
Lhagong was simply amazing! In my uninformed and nascent view of this culture; it is quite the traditional Kham town. Square, two-storied buildings, a narrow main road through town, and traditional architecture is the backdrop to the traditionally-dressed populace. The people of Kham are beautiful: sun-darkened skin, prominent and graceful bone-structure, and decorated with mala beads and brightly colored accessories to contrast the earth-toned clothing. The women are beautiful and the men are handsome. Part of the drive I filled with daydreams of living within this Khampa culture. I must return to this town and spend a few days on my trip back down from Yushu!
After Jonas and his family got off at one of the hostels in Lhagong, it was another curvy 1.5 hours/108km drive to Daofu. I would add 30 mins. to both of those trips if the trip is in a van or with a slower driver. In a bus, probably an extra hour. The traffic to Lhagong was bad because of the number of cars and because of 3 breakdowns we passed along the way. This is a two-lane mountain road with no shoulders and rare vista pull-offs; if a car breaks down, one lane is entirely blocked which means traffic in both directions must give way. This will back up traffic for a mile or more!
Once we left Lhagong, the surroundings reminded me very much of the Texas Hill Country in that the hills and mountains were sparsely populated with lone houses. Tibetan stone homes, some with grass roofs, replaced Texas ranch houses; but both rested on acres and acres of land. Herds of free-roaming yaks replaced fenced-in cattle. But both places have cowboys riding and caring for their horses and herds! In fact, some westerners have written of the Khampa Cowboy culture. The Khampas are traditionally cowboys and warriors! And they are still handsome! There are small townships every 20 minutes or so, and I notice much new building going on. If you think Tibet is a “poor, third world” area, well, you are wrong. These houses are richly built and obviously owned by wealthy Khampas or Tibetans. One sign of this is many cement private roads; a rare sight in the countryside of Kham, or what is now called Western Sichuan by the PRC.
We finally begin descending about 7:45pm. The ranch lands turn into mountains which are surprisingly similar to the mountains of North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee! The entry into Daofu is both impressive and the opposite. To be fair, it was raining and dreary, and approaching dark at just after 8pm. The main highway through town has been built up and modernized and spreads into a four-lane road with fancy lights (not turned on) and sleek-modern municipal buildings. These buildings seem very out of place when compared to the surrounding side streets and town center. When left uncompared to other towns, it is probably nice, with a mix of modern and traditional. If one seeks a traditional Tibetan township, like that of Lhagong, Daofu could bring disappointment. Then again, my assessment is incomplete and probably unfair, considering I have seen only 10% of the town! Nephew found me a collection of expensive (relatively speaking) hotels on the Main Street, and I spent the evening in a 280Y per night boutique hotel, which turned out to be a 4-star place. Fine by me! There is nothing to be found online about where to stay in Daofu and I could get no recommendations in Kangding. All I can say is that my hotel is lovely, but it’s surrounded by machine shops and since it sits on the main road, it is loud as *&%$%^!
Here in Daofu, I slept (if you call it that) at 2940m, an increase of about 400m, which should make my acclimatization in Ganzi easier, which averages 3500m in elevation.
Daofu town center is sooooo freaking loud. Heavy trucks shift and growl through town all morning and into the night, accompanied by the alarming and unnecessary constant horns honking. In fact, I was awakened sometime during —what began as— a nice, restful sleep, by a car horn honking repeatedly for 5 or more minutes directly below my thrid floor window. Apparently the dude was trying to get someone to open a gate for him. I yelled down at him to quit honking his damn horn, as though he would understand. But it made me feel better. I will ask for an inner facing room next time! As I lay awake on and off hearing the *&$!*^ horns all night, I wished it was against the law in China to use your horn, or that they were disabled. Granted, many times they are used for safety; as a warning to scooters, pedestrians, parked cars, etc., that the car is passing. But OMG it’s like fricking NYC or Chengdu in this little town. Hammers and machinery and...*^%@#%* horns! I want to leave because of the noise. Another lesson learned, ask for room far from the main street!
As I depart in the daytime, perhaps I will see a more attractive side of Daofu. Then again, maybe there is a reason there are no recommendations for lodgings in this stopover on the way to Ganze. Hmmm...