Yading Nature Reserve is Shangri-La – whether in reality, or in strong resemblance to the Shangri-La described in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. It is heaven on earth; the mountains majestic, the colours a painter’s pallet. That is, if you zone out the Chinese tourists and the ready-made boardwalks. It is not the rugged outdoor experience that might do this park justice, at least not when you stay within a day’s walk of the entrance. However, it is still quite the climb, and the beauty is mesmerising regardless of people passing by.
In my previous articles I wrote about Shangri-La and the road from the pittoresk Chinese town that leads into the mountains to the heartland of the Chinese Tibetan Region in the province of Sichuan, which lies outside the actual border of Tibet. This Shangri-La is actually the town originally known as Zhongdian. It has been named after the utopian paradise described by James Hilton in his book Lost Horizon (1933). Even though Hilton’s Shangri-La is set in the Tibetan mountains, it is not Zhongdian he meant. Since Hilton had never been to the Himalayas, there is no pinpointing as to where this ‘Shangri-La’ would really be, but it has been said that he got inspiration from the famous botanist and explorer: Joseph Rock. Since Rock had been to Yading Nature Reserve before, it is likely to assume that at least in some part, Yading resembles Shangri-La.
And he is correct in calling it so: Yading Nature Reserve is quite heavenly. In summer, most of the snow has disappeared, and one is left with grey walls of granite. But not to be feared, 5 minutes into your walk and you begin to discern all the nuances is the grey, which sometimes lean towards purple, white, brown, or blue. All of the sudden, grey walls are not so grey and the presence of wild flowers and prayer flags makes it all the more colourful, not to mention the intense blue of the lakes. Mountains loom above you and waterfalls tumble down besides you. Beauty simply is everywhere.
What to see in Yading Nature Reserve
1. The three sacred mountains
Yading is home to three sacred mountains: “Wisdom” (Jampelyang), “Power” (Chana Dorje) and “Compassion” (Chenresig). If you want to hike a kora – a pilgrims walk circumambulating a holy mountain – this is your chance. It takes two days to hike around Chenresig and the hike is not too strenuous (but not to be underestimated either). You will, however, have to find your own camping gear before entering the park since camping equipment is hardly found in the town of Yading.
I will have to go back for this some day, since my messed up knee did not permit me to hike as much as I wished I could have:(
Yading has many beautiful waterfalls, depending on the time you are there. I was here in July, so there was enough snow melt for some great waterfalls.
3. Clear blue lakes
Walk the trail and visit the two bright blue glacial lakes, Milk Lake and Five Colours Lake. Mind that it feels like the temperature drops about 10 degrees celsius here, both due to altitude and to strong winds.
4. Prayer flags and cairns
Prayer flags are often hung in significant environmental spots, such as waterfalls, ravines and passes. In Yading, prayer flags are a colourful addition to the great mountain views and cairns (piles of prayer stones that are often laid there with a request for a safe journey) can be found as well.
Come in the right season (June-July) and you’ll find Yading’s meadows dotted with wildflowers.
6. Tibetan monastery
This might be a good opportunity to witness some courtyard debating between Tibetan monks, where they smash their hands together in order to make a point. The small-scale monastery itself is a colourful sight and is buit in traditional Tibetan style. The inside is – as all Tibetan monasteries – overwhelming in its colours and pictures, but pretty nonetheless.
All my travel information came from: