Yang Xiao recently accompanied a Tibetan mule team into the Balagezong area on the border of Yunnan with Sichuan. He sent these pix straight after returning to Shangri-la.
The caravan consisted of 11 horses and mules, whose main task was hauling gear for a film crew shooting a promo video for Balagezong.
Yang Xiao got to tag along on the strength of being mates with the director.
The destination was the rock formation pictured above, known to locals as the “Natural Pagoda”.
The team trekked two days in and two days out, making a small circuit but camping at the same point on both the inward and outward journeys.
Unlike the kora trail, which we attempted in autumn 2009, this route is easily accessible by pack animals, and Yang Xiao says it can be extended further into the range and made into a lengthy circuit in at least two different directions.
As well as the film crew, local musicians accompanied the caravan (it was a musical promo).
The muleteers put on a show around the camp fire on the second day.
The people of Balagezong originally hail from the Batang area, which is now part of western Sichuan. There are no records of when exactly they decamped to this remote spot: old villagers put it anywhere between 400 and 1,000 years ago.
The old village is now mostly deserted, as the people have moved to more modern homes at the bottom of the valley, where a sealed road now connects them to Zhongdian.
The tourism area was created by a local boy made good, making this an unusual example of a “scenic attraction” not contracted by outsiders.
The prime attractions of Balagezong should remain relatively quiet, as it takes more time and effort to get there than most tour groups would allow. There are easily accessible walking routes in the valley, plus a large new hotel.
These girls were brought in from Aba and Ganzi to liven up the video.
We’ve been planning a return trip to Balagezong ever since 2009, but the road-building between Zhongdian and Deqin has made access difficult for the last two years. Starting next year, however, things should be more or less back to normal, so we’re hoping to revisit the range and explore more of its lovely alpine lakes. If you’re interested and in VERY good shape, do let us know!