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A trek around Tibet's sacred Amne Machin mountain

In September 2016, my girlfriend and I met up in Xining, in Qinghai province of western China, to start off on a 12 day or so trek around the sacred Tibetan mountain of Amne Machin, which lies in Qinghai province of China, a culturally Tibetan area known as Amdo. This will give you an idea what beauty was in store for us:

Why we went: Speaking for my girlfriend (can't ask her because she's somewhere off the grid in China at the moment) - she had traveled this region in northwestern China before we met and she had fallen in love with the Tibetan people, their culture, and the landscapes. After almost a year in southern China exploring Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen she was longing to get back to Tibetan territory and lucky for me she wanted to drag me along with her.

[ You can check out her amazing photos of hitchhiking and camping inTibet, Nepal and other remote Asian locales here: Thumb It Up , Stray Ant on Instagram]

Knowing that she was good at finding exotic places and people and having amazing experiences on the road and that she had experience in the region, I let her make all the choices on where to go and how to get there. She being her, she started her journey about six weeks before I could take time off of work in Hong Kong... off she went overland from Hong Kong toward the little town of Xining in Qinghai province of China where I would fly in and meet her later. (That's only about 3,000 kilometers that she managed to make solely by hitchhiking alone and sleeping in her little solo tent along the way).

The place and the route: To give a rough idea of place - see the map below: Xining (yellow circle) is a smallish city town of very mixed ethnicity - Han Chinese, Tibetans, and Muslim Chinese being the most visible in terms of dress and food... From Xining (yellow circle) we hitchhiked down the highway (yellow line) to a little town called Dawu (aka Machin), which was much more Muslim and Tibetan and less Chinese than Xining. After another day's hitching rides we began to walk and hitchhike and camp our way clockwise (mostly) around the snow covered and sacred Amne Machin peaks along the route known as a Kora - a pilgrimage around the foot of the mountain that faithful Tibetan Buddhists make, often in the form of three steps followed by kneeling prostrate in prayer the entire circumference of the mountain (come rain, sleet, snow, mud or dust). (We opted against a similar path around the large Qinghai Lake - the largest saltwater lake in China (Asia?) after learning it was becoming crowded with tourists and spoiled with litter and construction.) Update: Worth noting is that we walked most of the southern part of that yellow loop, from the eastern end of that mountain range to the western end. We hitchhiked most of the northern side because it was mostly ruined by construction of a large highway. Some people who may have started this trek on the northern side would be very disappointed. With that in mind - almost all of the photos in my blog posts about Amne Machin are from the more scenic south side of the mountains.

I took the boring route and flew in from Hong Kong where I have been living for the past three and half years. She, being the insanely adventurous spirit that she is (she had already hitchhiked from her home in Ukraine, across Central and East Asia into Southeast Asia and back, living out of her tent mostly) took the more interesting path of hitchhiking from Hong Kong to Xining, where she met me at the airport with a welcome fit for a rock star.

It took a couple days to stock up on provisions for our trek but that was okay because Xining was a cool little town. It's basically a melting pot and launch pad for people wanting to visit the Tibetan Plateau starting fro its eastern reaches.

Xining was a town full of surprises. I expected a dusty little frontier town but on the first day there found a sprawling city with a pretty world class airport and an upscale development that to our surprise had two Starbucks and a street full of bars (Bar Street) with craft beer from around the world. The surprises kept coming even on the return trip when we saw an even more modern side of the city - more about that later.

After checking in to our cool Tibetan themed hostel the City Nomad, we got busy looking for cold beer (almost impossible to find), local food (BBQ squid, lamb, beef, and "Chinese hamburgers" cooked by the local Muslims are worth the trip for) and supplies for our trek. We decided to stay here for two nights to help me acclimatize to the altitude since I had flown in from sea-level.

The City Nomad hostel

The local food in Xining is awesome. The Muslims of northern and northwestern China make a mean street lamb skewer that can't be beat with a cold beer, which we usually slurped down out of sight of our skilled chefs to avoid offending them. My girlfriend's favorite was the "Chinese hamburger" - minced meat on a bun made by giggly young Muslim men. I was a huge fan after the first bite and we walked long distances at times to find one. The other favorites were spicy squid on a stick and spicy tofu.

Xining had a lot more to offer as well. While exploring the streets one day we followed some music we heard into a tea house that was hidden under a bridge - when we went in some locals motioned for us to sit down and we were treated to an amazing traditional Chinese singing/story telling performance of some sort. At one point, an old man who we thought was just watching in the audience started some seriously cathartic sounding singing response to the female vocalist.. while he was "singing" the woman feigned wiping tears from her eyes to show that the old man, whose face we couldn't see, was crying. A truly unique cultural experience off the beaten path. Check it out...

And so our 12-day journey among Nomads, monks, construction workers, Muslim cooks and all sorts of (mostly) good people began...

Check out the posts below for day-by-day stories and photographs from that day onward...

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