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The last night in Yubeng, my Chinese companions had a lively discussion on where I should go next. My plan was to bus over to Sichuan to check out Yading, but I was a bit worried that it’d be too cold and snowy. Here in Meili xueshan, we could only hike up to about 3500m elevation where the snow was too deep to continue on (about waist high). Yading is even higher at 4000m, its main hiking destination at ~4700m. And during our hike earlier in the day it’d snowed the whole time; I was reminded once again of why I’m at heart a beach bum sun lover.

A few options were brought up, but all involved going south like Xishuanbanna in Yunnan, and most favorably Yangshuo in Guangxi – a place so iconic among the Chinese that its landscape is printed on the 20 yuan note. Frankly they didn’t interest me much. Going south means getting close to Vietnam; I’m sure the scenery is pretty but I feared it’d not be novel enough for my eyes. After more discussion in broken Chinese and English with the help of translation app, I picked the one that sounded the most fun: Mohe, the northernmost town of China – and that properly freaked the girls out. They promptly responded: Forget everything we’ve said, just go to Sichuan like you’d wanted to. Not really sure what I wanted anymore, I decided to go sleep.

Our hike out to Ninong along the Lancang river was beautiful, sunny blue sky, and my heart said: Yes, I’m ready for more snow mountains. Yading it would be!

The back road from Yunnan to Sichuan is served by one daily bus connecting Shangrila and Xiangcheng. I had not seen such a desolate landscape in years. For the middle half of the road, we didn’t cross any villages or see any vehicles in either direction. There was one single family that lives 2.5 hours from the last village and 1 hour till the next. I wonder if it’s much more lively during the summer.

Sichuan, Yunnan, backroad, China, bus, winter, Shangrila, Xiangcheng, Daocheng

Sichuan, Yunnan, backroad, China, bus, winter, Shangrila, Xiangcheng, Daocheng

Sichuan, Yunnan, backroad, China, bus, winter, Shangrila, Xiangcheng, Daocheng

Xiangcheng to Daocheng – the departure town for Yading – was another 2.5 hours by shared van. I actually bumped into a guy who just got back from Yading at the Xiangcheng bus station who told me not to go because it was too much snow and ice. But I went ahead and jumped into the van anyway. It started to snow, and soon was a white out.

Sichuan, Xiangcheng, Daocheng, winter, snow

Luckily the sun came out shining bright again the next day. It was off-season in Yading. Ticket was half price. And not too many people were headed in. All good for a thrifty crowd-hater like myself. A driver told me in the summer there are 8000 visitors per day and buses and electric cars run back and forth all day. Looking at all the big tour buses lying idle in the parking lot behind the ticket office, I totally believed it. But for us (me and 4 other from the same guesthouse in Daocheng), we only had to share the whole park with another 20 visitors or so. The not so convenient thing was that the buses only ran 2 or 3 times a day, depending on demand. If you miss the last bus, then keep walking. (From the park entrance to Yading village where you can spend the night is 6kms, and from the village back to the ticket office is +30kms. No outside vehicles are allowed past the ticket office.)

Sichuan, Daocheng, Yading, Aden, winter

The main attractions in Yading are the 3 snow peaks (Chenresig, Jampayang, and Chenadorje – believed by Tibetans as emanations of the 3 Boddhisatvas) and the 3 lakes (Pearl Lake, Milk Lake, and 5 Color Lake). Pearl Lake is easily accessible year round, but to Milk Lake and 5 Color Lake is a 6 miles walk round trip. I was doubtful I could even reach those 2 and was so sure I would miss the last bus and not be back till after dark. We headed out late and I lost much time because everyone in the park from visitors to staff once they heard of where I wanted to go held me up to explain why I should not. One guy spent a solid 15 minutes saying I didn’t know what; he was so into it he probably forgot I didn’t understand but a few basic Chinese words like “not safe” and “not good”. I have to admit I was a bit annoyed, but still appreciated their concern just the same. The only person that thought I was completely sane was the young Tibetan running the guesthouse in Yading village. But he did tell me to absolutely not go past the lakes as there would be no trails visible this time of the year.

Sichuan, Yading, Aden, Pearl Lake, Zhenzhuhai, Chenresig, Xiannairi, winter

Yet for all those forewarnings, the hike turned out to be a breeze. I kept wondering “is it gonna get tough soon?” the whole way till I suddenly got to the sign post that announces my destination. Quite anti-climatic. It was icy in parts, and I had to take more pauses due to the altitude, but overall really not bad, and surprisingly little snow left on the ground.

Sichuan, Yading, Aden, winter, prayer flags

Sichuan, Yading, Aden, hiking, winter, Milk Lake, Five Color Lake, Wusehai, Niunaihai

I was up above Wusehai at 2pm (started walking at 11:30am). 5 Color lake was now only 1 color, and Niunaihai (Milk Lake) was also entirely under snow. I could only imagine how breathtaking their colors would be later in the summer and fall.

Sichuan, Yading, Aden, winter, Milk Lake, Five Color Lake, Wusehai, Niunaihai, Chanadorje, Xiaruoduoji, Chenresig, Xiannairi, hiking

I was admiring all the panorama with not a soul around when it suddenly dawned on me that if I hurried, I could actually catch the last bus and go back all the way to Daocheng. We’d stayed one night in Yading. And normally I wouldn’t have minded another night in that quiet village, but there was no running water due to frozen pipe and I wasn’t too fond of carrying buckets to flush down the toilet. And a hot shower at the end of the day sounded irresistible. So I started jogging down. I did make it just in time. We said goodbye to Yading as heavy clouds rolled in and felt lucky for having 2 beautiful days in the mountains. But our luck didn’t last all the way. The power was out in Daocheng and by the time it went back, I was already ready for bed.

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