Ganzi to Manigango and onto Dege

Ganzi 甘孜 to Manigango (Manigange 马尼干戈) and onto Dege 德格 Over the Chola Pass 雀儿山

Ganzi to Manigango and onto  Dege

Ganzi to Manigango and onto Dege is a journey you will never forget. As the crow flies, it’s not that far from Ganzi to Dege, the last town before the Tibetan border and home to the famous Bakong Scripture Printing Lamasery. However, separating the two towns is the forbidding 5,400 meter Chola Pass 雀儿山, one of the highest roads in the world. 

Ganzi to Manigango and onto  Dege

Setting off

Our bus set off more or less on time, and for the first couple of hours we crossed over grasslands, passing numerous villages and monastery towns. Some even had signs in English, welcoming visitors.

Ganzi to Manigango and onto  Dege
Khampa Horseman

As we approached Manigango, after about two-and-a-half hours, the scenery became more dramatic and we could see Khampas on horse-back herding yaks, and nomad settlements dotting the pastures.

Chola Pass

Although horses are still the predominant means of transport for the Khampas, motorbikes are gaining in popularity, even out on these remote grasslands, judging by the number of bikes whizzing past the bus with two, three and even four people on them.

Nomads near Manigango

Welcome to Manigango

Passengers to Dege

On entering Manigango for our lunch break, the sky suddenly turned black and the heavens unleashed a tremendous downpour, which left the muddy streets even muddier.

Manigango Bus station

If any town ever looked like a Wild West one-street film set, then Manigango was it. For many Sichuanese, the name Manigango is associated with wild bandits robbing and even killing Chinese and Western tourists alike.

Main street Manigango

It does appear that until recently a problem of security did exist around these parts. However, on arriving there, the town seemed quiet enough.

Yaks and bus Manigango

In August 2004, Manigango had only one mucky street, and one vile public toilet, located in a crumbling wooden shack, just off the building site for a new hotel.

Loading the Bus to dege at Manigango

Its main purpose was to serve as a kind of transport hub for travellers changing buses for Dege and Chamdo in Tibet, or heading towards Serxu and then on to Yushu in Qinghai.

Ganzi to Manigango and onto  Dege

There was quite a decent restaurant at the bus stop, with lots of boiling cauldrons, dishing out some rather tasty food. To get to the restaurant however, was another matter: passengers had to jump over puddles, avoid roaming yaks and run the gauntlet of an army of beggars that attached themselves to every incoming bus.

Ganzi to Manigango and onto  Dege
Chola Pass

Next to the restaurant, another large hotel was under construction, most likely a sign of the times: Manigango seemed to be gearing up to becoming something of a tourist town.

Ganzi to Manigango and onto Dege

What’s more, it’s quite likely that it will succeed; the town may not be much, but the surrounding scenery is fantastic and a mere 20 kilometres away on the road to Dege is the Xinluhai lake, one of the most beautiful and pristine in China.

Xinhailu near Manigango
Sunny Xinluhai

For the time being, we were merely content to find something to eat, a place to pee – of sorts – and leave muddy  Manigango and its beggars behind.  The bus started to climb steadily over the grasslands, huge snow-capped mountains came into view and suddenly the Xinluhai lake appeared before us.

Ganzi to Manigango and onto  Dege
A wet damp Xinluhai

The lake is set in alpine meadows, dotted with pine trees, that slope steeply towards the turquoise waters. On one side, there is a dramatic backdrop of threatening grey, jagged peaks and a glacier that comes all the way down.

Chola Pass from bus window

After the lake, the bus started the huge ascent up to the Chola Pass. Going up from Manigango is not so bad, as your bus is on the inside and you cannot see the precipice down below you. This is especially important when having to pass an oncoming truck, or overtake one that has broken down. Eventually, our packed bus crawled to the top, and all the Tibetans on board cheered and celebrated by throwing hundreds of paper prayers out of the window. We were ready to join them, having bought some in Ganzi for the occasion.

Other side of the Chola pass

Once the bus has made it over the pass, the rest of the journey is a piece of cake. We just rolled downhill for two hours, through deep pine valleys and following gushing mountain rivers until we pulled up at the crummy bus station in downtown Dege.

Returning back over the Chola Pass in sleet and snow was far worse!


Five years later we came through Manigango again on our way from Yushu (just before the earthquake) to Ganzi. Somethings had improved. We overnighted at the Manigange Pani Hotel, then still the only option. Unfornutately, this was one of the worst nights of my life as I was suffering from servere Altitude Sickness that I had come down with in Yushu. These days there are other accommodation options in Manigango that might be better than Pani Hotel.


Our route 2009

Our Route: August / September 2009

Here is a quick breakdown of our route this summer made over a period of nearly six weeks using a combination of train, bus, taxi and boat travel. Some serious problems with altitude sickness made us cut short our visit to the area around Nangchen in Qinghai province.

As soon as we get back to Madrid (in 2 weeks) and go through our photos we’ll put up small texts for the blog and longer ones for the Web. We are also working on a new Photo gallery.

  • Tianshui and around: Maiji Shan – Gangu and the Moustached Sakyamuni – The Longmen Water Curtain Caves
  • Lanzhou – The Gansu Provincial Museum – The Yellow River
  • Xining – Youning Si and the Tu minority
  • Yushu and around – Longxi Si – Nangchen – Leba Gorge – Princess Wencheng Temple – Seng-ze Gyanak Mani Wall – Zhira Gompa – Trangu Gompa – Domkar Gompa – Sebda Gompa
  • Yushu to Ganzi – Serxu Dzong – Dzogchen Gompa – Manigango
  • Ganzi and around – Beri Gompa – Dagei Gompa
  • Chengdu and around – The New Jinsha Site Museum – Pingle – Luodai – Kuan Xiangzi
  • Chongqing and around – Ciqikou – Songji
  • Chongqing to Yichang – The Three Gorges – The Three Little Gorges – The Three Gorges Dam.
  • Wudang Shan – Climbing up – Climbing down
  • Wuhan – The Hubei Provincial Museum – Colonial Buildings- Great Food.
  • Beijing – New restaurants – The New Capital Museum – Black jails

Books read during the trip:

  • Author – Mo Yan / Big Breasts and Wide Hips
  • Author – Yu Hua / Brothers
  • Author – Zhu Wen / I Love Dollars And Other Stories of China

Excursion to the Palpung Gompa (Babang Monastery or “Little Potala”).

Palpung Gompa

I asked the friendly monk what they ate in winter when the snows came. He smiled and pointed to the scraggy dogs scrounging around for scraps and the forlorn looking mules that wandered aimlessly in front of the monestary. I looked at him to see if there might be a slight trace of a grin that would confirm he was joking. There wasn’t any grin, he just affirmed that they were quite tasty. I looked out over the mountains and valleys, more remote you could hardly get, I began to believe him.

View across the river to Tibet

On our third day in Dege we hired a jeep with a driver to take us to Palpung Gompa, Babang in Chinese, otherwise known as “Little Potala”, due to its resemblance to the palace of the Dalai Lama.

Palpung Gompa is only 70 or 80 kilometres away from Dege, but the situation of the roads is such that it takes us about 4 hours of infernal bumping to cover the distance. The first half an hour, from Dege town down to the Tibetan border, is sealed and easy. After that, Continue reading “Excursion to the Palpung Gompa (Babang Monastery or “Little Potala”).”