Yunnan-Tibet High Way (Xiaguan-Makam)
(It is also known as Dian-Zang Road as Dian is the abbreviation for Yunnan Province and Zang is for Tibet)
A brief introduction
Dian-Zang Road was built and opened to traffic in 1974. It starts from Xiaguan of Yunnan in the south, traverses Jianchuan, Zhongdian and Dechen to Zhikang of Tibet in the north and covers a distance of 714 km. It joins the south part of Sichuan-Tibet Road in the north. Among the four roads leading into Tibet, it’s the highest above sea level, which is a less beaten track by travelers. This highway was built along the "Tea-Horse Ancient Road" which the businessmen and tourists frequented in the ancient times. The whole road runs through the China-Burma Basin and the Hengduan Mountain Range with the highest point-the pass of Hongla Snow Mountain at 4,300 meters above sea level. The road leads through spectacular landscape, with thick forests and mild and humid climate on the way. As the Hengduan Mountain Range is cut by Lantsang River and Jinsha River with many high mountains and deep valleys, and the road goes up and down in elevations through the mountains and valleys, you can experience different kinds of climates and landscapes on the way.
Kunming (397 km)-Xiaguan (14 km)-Dali (166km)-Lijiang(145km)-Zhongdian (152 km)-Deqen (103 km)-Yanjing (1ll km)-Makam (359 km)-Baxio (450 km)-Nyingchi (420 km)-Lhasa
Scenic spots along the highway
Kunming, known as “ the city of spring”, is reputed for its comfortable climate which is felt in the spring season all year.
Major Attrations: the Western Hills, Forest Park, Huating Temple, Longmen, the Jindian (Golden Temple ) park, Black Dragon Lake and the Stone Forest etc.
Xiaguan, the administrative area of the county, is another name for Dali which is about 14 km south from the old town of Dali.
Major attractions: The Three Pagodas Temple, Reflection of The Three Pagodas, Cang Shan mountains, Erhai lake, Gantong Temple, Butterfly Spring, Zhoucheng, Xizhou, the Old Town of Dali. Festivals: March Street, Torch Festival(Both are the traditional festival of the Bai people)
Major attractions: The old Town of Lijiang, Sifang Street, Black Dragon Pool Park, Dongba Culture Museum, Baoshan Stone City, the First Bend of Yangtze River, Tiger-Leaping Gorge and Dragon-Spruce Meadow. YuLong (Jade Dragon) and Haba Snow Mountains:
Up the road from Xiaguan and Dali, there is a folk at Baiyangchang. Lijiang Naxi Autonomous County lies to the east and the gorge area of Yulong and Haba Snow Mountains to the north. As you wind through the valley, you can enjoy a grand view with immense forests and mountain tops covered with snow perennially. Standing on the Jihong Bridge over Jinsha River, to the east you can see the start of the spectacular 3,000m deep Tiger-leaping Gorge and to the west the water flows quietly from the first bend of Yangtze River into Tiger-leaping Gorge. After crossing the Jinsha River, the road begins to climb and the weather gets colder. Keep going and you’ll come to the Tibetan settlement, and then you can reach Zhongdian.
Jinsha River, Lantsang River and Nu River flow from the north to the south, passing the Hengduan Mountain Range, join together at Diqin Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. In this region, there are deep valleys, rolling snow mountains, vast pastures, scattered primeval forests and high mountain lakes, which forms a beautiful natural landscape. The ethnic customs are unique there too. Zhongdian is one of the town of Diqin Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures. Diqin is called “auspicious land” in Tibetan as the dress of the Tibetan here is different from those of the other parts of Tibet: they tend to wear a red rope around their heads.
Major attractions: Sumsanling Monastery, Baishui Terrace, Bita Hai Lake, Napa Hai Lake, Shangri-La Big Gorge.
Along the road from Zhongdian to Diqin, there is a Jinsha river valley, where the road falls 1,000 meters sharply within a hundred kilometers. The bridge built recently has replaced the steel suspension bridge which made the road much less dangerous.
After leaving Jinsha River, climbing up Bamang Snow Mountain (Bama Snow Mountain) and two small hills, you can have a lunch or rest at Benzilan. Keep on walking forward, you’ll reach the pass of Bama Snow Mountain and the weather gradually become colder. With elevations up and down, temperature will change between cold and hot, you can experience the “stereoscopic climate” of the plateau.
Deqen is a mountain city along Dian-Zang Road and it’s also the last town within the boundary of Yunnan. After constant research in recent years, Deqen is considered as the legendary Shangri-La in the region. There are splendid natural views which has boosted its tourism development actively. Under the Bamang Snow Mountain, Taizi Snow Mountain and Meili Snow Mountain, there are ancient glaciers, hot springs and primeval forests. In recent years, many mountaineering expeditions tried to climb up Meili Snow Mountain which has never been conquered, but failed. In 1997, a Japanese mountaineering expedition came across snow slide while climbing, all the mountaineers and the two guides were lost in the accident.
Major attractions: Snow Mountain Observatory, Flying Temple, Ancient Glacier. It only takes you two hours to visit the Flying Temple and Snow Mountain Observatory.
Yanjing (salt well):
After leaving Diqin, the road along the river valley becomes bumpy. The rocks over the road seem to be falling at anytime. Because the road is very narrow and paved with macadam, and there are bottomless chasms below, driving along the road should be very cautious. Yanjing (salt well) is on a small hill in the middle of the road. About 3 km in front of Yanjing, there is a boundary board, you can stop and take a photo. Yanjing is the first Tibetan town along the highway and at the entrance of the town there is a checkpoint in which foreign tourists will be checked with “permission” to enter Tibet.
The climate here is mild and the plants are dense. Yanjing is well-known for its salt well. It’s so mystic that Lantsang River turns red here and it forms a beautiful picture with the red mountain slope and green terrace.
On the way along the precipice, it is quite dangerous for driving because occasionally landslides would happen. But after Going slowly up into Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and pass the highest point-the pass of Hongla Snow Mountain, the road is becoming flatter. Before reaching Makam, the road merges with Chuan-Tibet Road and leads to Lhasa in the west. (For more details, please refer to the information on Chuan-Tibet Road.)
The best tourist season
August to October is the best season for driving on Dian-Zang Road.
Tips on transportation
There is no bus to Tibet and the shuttle buses only reach Diqin in the Diqin Tibet Autonomous Prefecture, tourists to Lhasa have to ask a lift by passing-by trucks here. Or you can take a coach bus at Kunming Bus Station to Xiaguan, then from Xiaguan to Zhongdian where there is a regular bus to Diqin every two days, and then try to get a lift to Makam. Since there are fewer vehicles from Diqin to Makam, you’d better take a bus to Yanjing and the lifts from Yanjing to Makam are easy to find.
1. Visitors coming to the plateau for the first time are advised to start taking medicine a fortnight before arrival to prevent altitude sickness. Medicine capsules called Gao Yuan An have an instant effect. It’s also a good idea to reduce your exercise and rest as much as possible until you have adapted to the plateau.
2. Warm clothing, including a weatherproof coat, will be needed even in summer.
3. Tibet is one of the last few “Pure Lands” in the world. Please help to protect the natural environment and don’t discard your waste, especially batteries. Don’t harm the wild plants or animals.
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