This remote city in Sichuan Tibet is located at an altitude of over 4ooo meters, a few hundred meters higher than Lhasa, putting it in the rarefied company of highest elevation towns on Earth. A little over a year ago we rode our tandem bicycle from the Chengdu basin through Litang, in our quest for the figurative Shangri-La. A layover in exotic Litang almost led us to believe we’d found the (or one of) inspiration for James Hilton’s Shangri-La.
Litang is far from a tourist town. The roads are so bad that the Han Chinese find it quite an adventure to travel there via modern SUV to view the, strange to them, Tibetans. They found it quite strange to find two Westerners, a couple, riding a tandem bicycle, on the roads and elevations they found so daunting. They are daunting, and took a physical toll on us, leading to a well deserved rest in a town we came to love, and found difficult to leave, despite the high elevation and wonky weather.
Seasoned traveler and bicycle tour operator Peter Snow-Cao in Chungdu told us we would be visiting the real Tibet, even though it is outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Sichuan and three other provinces were once part of historic Tibet, before the Chinese divided it up to better control the Tibetan people. It seems to have worked, along with hefty presence of Chinese troops at any given time. At one point we were passed by several convoys of troop filled trucks numbering more than one hundred. One such convoy passed through Litang while we were there, and a scuffle broke out in the town center. It was very quickly put down and the convoy didn’t slow.
The Tibetan people’s spirit does not seem to have been broken, and the government constantly fears insurrection. Such an uprising in unlikely, given the tight control over the region. We were stopped nearly daily at national police roadblocks and required to show our papers, and once even show the pictures on our camera.
Litang is a worthy destination of the ancient Tea and Horse Route, and the people as interesting as any in the world.