Tagong (or Lhagang in Tibetan) is a great place to spend a couple of nights. The small Tibetan settlement is known for its Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and scenic grasslands, as well as opportunities for hiking, horse-riding and Tibetan homestays in the surrounding area.
It's situated at 3,700m, in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau, and is surrounding by beautiful rolling grasslands as far as the eye can see, with snow-capped mountains looming in the distance.
Tagong is a trading town for those dwelling in the area. Although it is becoming more popular with backpackers, in the winter months you're much more likely to encounter nomads on horseback or pilgrims in the central square than a fellow tourist.
It's worth spending a couple of nights there at least exploring the sights in the town and surrounding countryside.
The historic monastery (known as Lhagang Gompa in Tibetan) stands next to the town square in the center of Tagong.
It was allegedly founded when Princess Wencheng, a Tang princess who was to be married to Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo, was passing through there en route to Lhasa in the 7th century. A statue of Jowo Sakya-muni Buddha, borne by her entourage, fell off at the exact site where the monastery stands today.
Inside the monastery you'll find a replica of that statue (the original is in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa) along with an impressive collection of Tibetan stupas at the back. If you do decide to join the many pilgrims spinning prayer wheels outside the monastery, make sure you walk in a clockwise direction to ensure the mantras are turned correctly.
Ani Gompa Nunnery
The nunnery (known as Heping Fahui in Chinese) is two hours' hike over the grasslands from Tagong and is well worth a visit. Set on a remote hillside away from other settlements, it's the largest nunnery in the area. Its nuns and students occupy rustic wooden houses spread on the hills leading up to the temple.
There's a beautiful high-altitude lake a few hours outside of Tagong. During the winter, its frozen waters make for a great place to stop (take care not to walk on the water just in case it cracks), and in summer it's a tranquil place for a picnic. Ask in the Khampa Cafe by the town square in Tagong for directions or a guide.
If you're finding it tough to acclimatize to the altitude or simply enjoy riding, it's worth hiring horses as you'll be able to see more of the surrounding area with considerably less effort.
The Khampa Cafe can help arrange this, and also offers tours incorporating overnight stays with a nomad family in the grasslands outside of Tagong. It's a great way to explore the region and experience the nomadic lifestyle for yourself.
- Location: Tagong is situated on the northern Sichuan-Tibet Highway in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, 112 km from Kangding.
- Climate: Given its high altitude, Tagong is cool even in the summer and temperatures can get bitterly cold in the winter, particularly at night. The summers can be quite wet, making autumn and spring the best times to visit.
- Transportation: You can find a shared mini-van taxi in downtown Kangding to take you to Tagong. The three hour drive should cost around 100 RMB per person. Be sure to bargain though as there are frequent stories of foreigners being charged extortionate prices. A private car will charge you more but might be a better option if you're in a group of three or more.
- Accommodation: Stay at Khampa Cafe or Jya Drolma's Guesthouse. Both are located by the town square.
- Food: There are a couple of restaurants and cafes on the main street of the town serving a selection of Chinese dishes and Tibetan food. You can also find cakes and western food at Khampa Cafe.