The mountain range is placed in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Park of the “Three Parallel Rivers”. Those are
the Yangzi Jiang — here at his upper reaches called Jinsha Jiang or in Tibetan Dri Chu, the Mekong or Lancang Jiang, and the Salween or Nu Jiang.
The entire region is very remote and not easily accessible. Departing from Chengdu/Sichuan, it took me four days to reach the starting point — a small village in Deqin County, and another four days to return through the deep north-south valley of the Nu Jiang .
The water is fairly blue and clear in winter. However, on both sides of the river and even higher up hardly any vegetation can be found. This is a very characteristic syndrome seen on almost all slopes of big river valleys along the eastern border of the Tibetan High Plateau (as we will see later on), and it simply is the result of unsustainable animal (goats) keeping and disastrous forestry management.
After a whole day on the road I arrived in Deqin County. Another 15 km on a road which at the moment is altered into a wide highway took me to the Feilai Temple. Only here it is possible to get a panorama view of the mountain range of Mt. Kawa Karpo (no doubt what the highway is designed for). The next morning I finally was rewarded with this stunning view:
Kagebo is a god in Tibetan Buddhism who resides on that mountain. His wife and children are personified in the peaks next to him. The place these photographes were taken is about 3200m above sea level, staight above the Lancang Jiang River.
On the descent I spotted another beautiful mountain far behind the Tibetan border — a view that may induce a vague imagination of how it looks like on the “roof of the world”.
The entire pilgrimage usually takes nine to twelve days, crosses six high alpine passes and almost offers no accommodation. It is an easily walkable path with many places to camp where all the (Tibetan) pilgrims gather and rest overnight. Some of them are said to be able to finish the circuit within seven days - which I easily believe as there was a crew of six men passing my tent at 4am and praying “Ohm Mani Padme Hum”.
This pass is at about 4473m above sea level. It is the highest point of the southern part of the trek from the Lancang Jiang Valley into the Nu jiang Valley. If you walk quickly and if you are acclimatized to the high altitude you can make it in one and a half days from the starting point.
Giant trees with moss and fern growing on the stem are standing everywhere. This one attracted me in particular as its shape looks like a dragon.
Here is a chestnut-vented nuthatch that tries to find edible things on a pile of rotten clothes left at a praying site. By the way, this is kind of a riddle to me. On nearly all places with prayer flags around and with particularly sacred meaning Tibetan pilgrims are used to leaving lots of their clothing behind, hanging them on trees or simply everywhere.
One of Kagebo's children, the next peak to the south beside him (6000m).
While walking up through a quercus (oak) forest the back (=west) side of the marvelous mountain range could be spotted occasionally.
Late in the afternoon I reached a pass above the Tibetan village Arbin and had a spectacular view on a much lower mountain range. However, it is the border between the Tibetan High Plateau and the Indian Sub-continent. It thus functions as a climatic division between the high plateau and the Bay of Bengal: Masses of clouds were visibly kept out of this arid country.
After a short march from the village I finally deserved the long desired view of River Nu Jiang: Blue water, narrow canyons, great biodiversity, and remote, forgotten areas.
I did not complete the pilgrimage, but left the region through the magnificent gorges of the Nu Jiang. Behind the Tibet-Yunnan border there are less Tibetan residents but more Nu People and other ethnic groups.