This is the northeastern end of the Great Tibetan Plateau. Several roads are leading to this area from the neighboring Chinese lowlands. These roads pass through picturesque mountainous landscapes, entering into the land of Tibet, until reach a pastoral town, called Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo), and a vast grassland, called Zoige- a fairy tale area full of natural beauty and local Tibetan culture. Let’s make a journey to this amazing place and explore its beauty!
Where are Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo) and Zoige Grassland
Let’s look at the map of the Great Tibetan Plateau. It is divided into Western Tibet- the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and Eastern Tibet- the part of the plateau shared between the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan.
Now, look closer at the area when the borders between Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan provinces meet. This is the area where Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo) and Zoige Grassland are located. But in which one of these provinces? Zoige Grassland is in Sichuan, but zoom at Langmusi! There is a river, crossing the town in the middle, and the border between Sichuan and Gansu passes exactly on it. Thus dividing the town into Sichuan and Gansu parts.
About Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo)
Langmusi (郎木寺), called in Tibetan Taktsang Lhamo (སྟག་ཚང་ལྷ་མོ་) is best known for its two monasteries, one in Sichuan, and one in Gansu. The monastery in Gansu is called Sertri, or Langmu, and that’s where the name “Langmusi” comes from in Chinese (“Si” means “monastery”). And the other monastery, in Sichuan is called Kirti, with a cave located behind it. This cave is called “Tiger Cave”- in Tibetan “Taktsang”, and that’s where the Tibetan name of the town comes from.
The town has been established in the 18th century, first around Kirti Monastery, which is the older one. The other monastery- Sertri, has been built a bit later when the monks dwelling in Kirti have become more in number. At the same time, with the later development of the monasteries, competition has started between them.
Soon the area has attracted other Tibetan families, mainly nomadic herdsmen. Thus the place around the two monasteries has turned into a village. Then, some Han Chinese and Hui Muslims also have arrived and enlarged the village, making it more culturally diverse. Finally, all of this became attracting tourists, and for the sake of tourism, the locals gradually developed its “old town” image, opening many hotels, hostels, guesthouses, shops, cafes, and restaurants.
About Zoige Grassland
Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo) is located in a mountain valley. But once you go out of the town, reach the main road from Xining to Chengdu and turn right, just some 15 km further you will arrive in a large open space with endless flat meadows. This is Zoige Grassland (若尔盖草原), known also as Zoige Marsh, or Songpan Grassland- the largest marsh area on the Earth.
It is like a large plain. This plain is surrounded by Min Mountains on the east, and Amnye Machen on the west and the distance between them is so long that you feel like you are not on a mountain area, if you forget that the whole plain is located between 3300 and 3600 m altitude.
Zoige Grassland has been a home for the local Tibetan nomads for thousands of years. The first Han Chinese and other people have come here just recently. This place remembers a historical event- the passing of the Communist Red Army on its “Long March” route, in which many communists died here due to the harsh conditions of the Great Tibetan Plateau, and the wetland terrain. Today, a part of the marches are drained, and the grassland with its pastoral life and stunning landscapes attracts thousands and thousands of visitors every year.
Our journey to Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo) and Zoige Grassland
So, all of the above was more than enough as a reason to include Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo) and Zoige Grassland in one of our Eastern Tibet itineraries. We were a group of 12 people, hiring a small bus with a driver, and we started our journey from Xining. On our way, we stopped in Rebkong- the main center for the Tibetan painters, then we reached the higher elevations where the Tibetan grasslands began.
Later in the day, we stopped in the famous Labrang Monastery- one of the largest monasteries in Tibet, full of culture and a lot of history. Finally, after several more hours of traveling, in the evening we arrived in Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo), which we explored on the next day. We visited the two monasteries and the Tiger Cave behind Kirti, and then we proceeded to the grasslands of Zoige.
It was rainy, and it made the whole landscape strangely beautiful. We caught a pause in the rain and enjoyed what was the best experience in such a place- horse riding. Yes, it was commercial, like everywhere, but the horse adventure on the endless rainy green “sea” was more than worth it.
But let’s get into detail- what we did in these places, and what more we would do if we had more time.
What to do in Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo) and Zoige Grassland
As I mentioned above, these two places are relatively close to each other, so if you visit Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo), you can easily visit Zoige Grassland too, so both can be like one destination.
Let’s start with Langmusi. Of course, the first thing you should do here is to visit its two monasteries.
Kirti Monastery (格尔底寺)
Kirti Monastery in the Sichuan part of Langmusi called also Kirti Gompa is the older of the two monasteries, dating back from around 1400 AD. It is established at the entrance of the Namo Gorge, and its buildings are relatively low. The unique thing about this monastery is the relics of a Kirti Rinpoche (1681-1775), whose body still stays there and can be seen by the tourists.
Today, there is an entrance at the end of the town, with an entrance fee of 30 CNY, and from here you can visit not only the monastery, but you can start a hike on the Namo Gorge behind the monastery.
Sertri Monastery (赛赤寺)
Sertri (called also Sertri Gompa) is the monastery in the Gansu part of Langmusi. It is established on the high hill west of the town. At first, around 1600 AD, there has been a celestial burial site on the hill. Later, around 1748, the monastery has been built. And compared to Kirti, it has become more splendid, with higher buildings.
To visit Serti, you have to ascend on one of the main streets of the town to the entrance. Again, you have to pay another 30 CNY entrance fee. You will pass by the prayer wheels on the right, to a large stupa. Then, on the right side of the stupa, you can explore the main buildings of the monastery, and usually, in the morning you can see Tibetan pilgrims doing “kora” (circumnavigation with prostration on the ground).
The celestial burial site
This is one of the few burial sites of this kind that are open for tourists. But have in mind that it is not for everybody- some people could find it disgusting! When someone dies, they put the dead body on the grass and allow the local vultures to eat their flesh and bring it to the sky. Thus they believe it will bring a kind of “blessing”. Usually, they do the ceremony in the morning, between 7:00 and 9:00 am. If there is no burial, at least you can see the site, the burial tools, and other remains.
Let’s back to Kirti.
Tiger Cave and Namo Gorge
This is an 8 km trail on the valley of the Bailong River. It starts behind Kirti Monastery, and soon the trail enters a gorgeous coniferous forest. There you can see a low cave with some Buddhist relics inside, just beside the trail. This is the Tiger Cave.
But you can proceed further in the valley until the source of the river and the top of the mountain. From there, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the town, the monasteries and the whole area around. You just have to arrange 4-5 hours for this adventure, and it is worth the experience. Then you can back to the town.
Langmusi (Taktsand Lhamo) town
Currently, the town of Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo) is a touristy place with the typical attractions of the “old town”, including those backpacker’s style cafes with live music and “adventurous” decorations, made mainly to satisfy the Western tourists. Of course, the Chinese enjoy it too, or just learn how to enjoy it like the Westerners.
Anyway, the town is a nice place for walking, taking photos, souvenir shopping, and a lot of eating. There are some other sites with a more cultural value like the Hui Muslim Mosque near the entrance of Kirti. For those who are looking for nightlife, there are a lot of opportunities- attractive restaurants, some night bars, and discos, or just one of the cafes that I mention above.
But the best experience you can try is to visit a local Tibetan traditional performance, where you can see Tibetan dance, eat Tibetan cuisine and just enjoy a Tibetan party. For more information, just ask in your hotel how, where and when can you find it, it’s worth it!
Hiking around Langmusi
Besides the most popular hiking route on the Namo Gorge, there are a lot of other hiking opportunities around the town. You can find many other trails, following the other large valley to the west and climbing the mountains nearby. Most of the area around Langmusi is covered by grass, without forests, so you can enjoy stunning views everywhere. There are also a lot of cliffs and other rock formations, adding to the fantastic landscape.
But have in mind that Langmusi and the surrounding mountains are situated between 3300 and 3800 m altitude, so consider proper acclimatization. And beware of dogs near the villages, they can be aggressive sometimes.
Horse riding around Langmusi
This is the favorite experience for many visitors here. Most of the hiking routes can be traveled by horse, and the experience is unforgettable! Just arrange the deal well, and enjoy. The most famous horse trekking company is Langmusi Horse Trekking Company. Their service is well-proven, however, it is a bit expensive.
But they are not the only company offering horse riding. You can find more options. However, be careful, some of them are just scams. To avoid scams and disappointment, ask your hotel or hostel for a better recommendation.
In general, that’s what you can do in Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo). By trek or by horse, you can even reach the Zoige Grasslands, although you would need at least one day or more. But if you do like we did- just proceed to Zoige as your next destination, read below about how you can explore it.
Zoige Grassland is a vast plain on the Great Tibetan Plateau. Today, a large part of it is flat, covered by grass. But there are also some bodies of water across the grassland. These are the two main rivers- the famous Yellow River (Huanghe) and its tributary the Black River (Heihe), as well as many other minor rivers curving and bending on the plain. Besides the rivers, there are several marches and lakes. The most beautiful of them is Huahu (Flower Lake), now turned into a tourist attraction.
The rest of the plain is dry (but often wet due to the precipitation), home to several towns and villages, and a lot of nomadic tents caring not only about their yaks but also offering horse riding, local food, and even folklore performances to the tourists (at least during the summer). You can try horse riding here (as we did) for 20-30 CNY on the flat plain, or you can just walk for hours across the endless “sea of green” (or yellow, if it is not summer).
But again, if it is combined with water, it brings more stunning beauty. And the best places to experience it are Flower Lake and the First Bend of Yellow River.
Flower Lake (Huahu)
Flower Lake (Huahu- 花湖) is like a mirror amidst the grassland. In summer, when the whole grassland is not only green, but also mixed with blossomed flowers, the landscape around the lake is fantastic, and the deep blue sky with white clouds reflect on the lake waters. In fact, the lake is a part of a larger maze-shaped swamp, and you can’t identify where the lake shores are.
Today, there are wooden trails installed on the swamp and the lake, leading to the best spots of the area. During your walk, you can also see some wild birds, a part of the same ecosystem. And since it is a well-arranged tourist attraction, there is an entrance fee to the lake- 75 CNY.
First Bend of Yellow River
This is the point of the confluence of the Yellow and the Black rivers. And of course, this bend of the Yellow River is not “the first”, but it is definitely more special. The two rivers bend and curve across the vast plain until they merge. And there is a hill over the point, from which you can see this beauty from above- an endless sea of green with river bends reaching the horizon.
This point is located some 3 km north of another town, called Tangkor, and today it is also turned into a tourist attraction. And the best time to visit it is during sunset- this fantastic scenery offers breathtaking sunsets (if you catch good weather). There is a panoramic platform on the peak of the hill, a well-arranged trail to the peak, and even an escalator. Entrance fee: 65 CNY. For the escalator- 60 CNY. Combo ticket- 105 CNY.
The whole area of Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo) and Zoige Grassland is incredibly beautiful, but it is large, far from the big cities in the lowlands of China, so let’s see how to reach it and how to travel around it.
This area is located in the middle between the big cities of Xining, Lanzhou, and Chengdu, so the main roads connecting these cities pass through Zoige and Langmusi. There are some other points of interest nearby, like the famous Jiuzhaigou, the rock formations of Zhagana, the large Labrang Monastery, Huanglong Reserve, and more, connected by a good road network.
However, public transport is not so perfect. There are no direct buses from the big cities to Langmusi. If you come from Xining or Lanzhou, first you have to travel to Xiahe (Labrang), then take the only direct bus to Langmusi at 7:40 am, for 72 CNY, or to go to Hezuo, then change another bus to Langmusi. Or, if you come from Chengdu, you can take a bus to Zoige Town. From there you can explore some parts of the Zoige Grassland, or take another bus to Langmusi.
There are also shared vans in the larger towns in the area, but again, first, you have to come to Xiahe or Zoige to find such a van. Taxis are available, but needless to say, they are expensive. From Zoige you can expect at least 200 CNY, and from Xiahe- 350-400 CNY.
Traveling by car or hired minibus
A much better option would be to travel by car from Chengdu, Lanzhou or Xining. But since you can’t rent a car by yourself, unless you have a Chinese driving license, the only thing you can do is to hire a car with a driver. It is not so easy, but usually, the personnel of your hotel or hostel in the big city could help- they usually have good connections with people doing such service. Drivers would usually require 1000 to 1500 CNY per day, so it would be worth arranging if you are a larger group of people, and the car is a minibus or at least a van.
Once you arrive in Langmusi, you can visit the places of interest around the town easily on foot. But Zoige Grassland is much larger, so if you want to visit Huahu and Tangkor, your cheapest option is to travel by bus to Zoige Town and to find a taxi from there. But of course, if you travel by car (minibus) with a driver, you don’t need to worry about it- he can easily take you to these places.
Both Langmusi and Zoige Grassland are touristy places, with plenty of accommodation options. However, you can’t find anything on Booking or Agoda. The only way to find a place to sleep is to go directly to the hotel, hostel, or another property. In Langmusi, there are several good hostels that you can choose from, and I would strongly recommend choosing hostels like Tibetan Barley Youth Hostel (158 CNY per room), Boke Youth Hostel (tel: 18983188339, 50 CNY per bed), Nomad Youth Hostel, Hua Jian Hostel, and Rtsampa Hostel.
There are some normal hotels too, but not all of them can accept foreigners, so you have to be ready to walk more until you find a proper one.
Concerning Zoige, the town of Zoige can be a good starting point to explore the grassland, and there are some hotels and guesthouses that can accept foreigners. But again, you can’t find them in Booking or Agoda.
However, a much better and more exciting option is to spend the night in one of the roadside yurts in the grassland. The conditions are a bit basic, but they are cozy, and there are usually restaurants or other local roadside food stalls. And almost certainly you can find a horse for a trek on the grassland.
Best time to travel in Langmusi (Taktsang Lhamo) and Zoige Grassland
This area is incredibly beautiful, with fresh air, deep blue sky, and white clouds. But don’t forget that it is situated between 3300 and more than 4000 m altitude. Its climate is alpine, with sub-arctic features.
The best season
The best season to visit Langmusi and Zoige is summer- July or August. Everything is fresh green, and the temperatures are mild- between 10 and 18°C. But at the same time, this is the rainiest season. Yes, there are a lot of sunny days, but they are often disrupted by short or sometimes longer rains, bringing cold.
The other seasons
Autumn and spring are drier, but colder, with temperatures often falling below 0°C, and the grassland is yellow. Avoid the first week of October, because this is the National Holiday vacation, and there are lots of crowds- in this week you would quite hardly find a free room to stay.
Finally, winter is very cold. It is dry, so there is not much snow, but the temperatures often drop to -30°C and even below. Besides, the Tibetan New Year (Losar) takes place between the second half of February and the first half of March. It is a sensitive time and some areas can be closed for foreigners.
We left Zoige Grassland on a rainy day, stopping for a while at the monument of the Long March, at the exit of Zoige Town, and proceeded to the fantastic Jiuzhaigou. Then we back again, this time visiting Tangkor and the First Bend of Yellow River. After that, we left this area and proceeded further westward to one of the most beautiful mountains in Eastern Tibet- Nyenbo Yurtse. Thus, Langmusi and Zoige Grasslands remained like one of the precious stones on our Eastern Tibetan journeys.
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