Before we set about shooting our first series of Run with the Yak in January 2011, we had to prove that our kit (and our team) were up to the task. Could we really shoot television anywhere that a backpacker can get to?
Our producers needed a mission that would put us to the test, and they cam up with a winner! Can you get from Beijing to Tibet and back in just two weeks, on a budget of just $600 and bring us back the footage to prove it?
We set off from Beijing’s West Railway station. It’s not yet linked to the city’s otherwise excellent subway system, so you need to get off at the Military Museum and either take a taxi, or walk ten minutes down a back street. To walk it, come out of the subway station, face the museum across the road and head left. Take a left down the side of McDonald’s and follow the road for about 3/4 mile to the station.
We took an overnight train to Lanzhou in central China’s Gansu Province, from where we did our big spend (about $65 each).
We booked a car with a local travel company we found that took us to Xia He.
The reason for taking a car and not a bus was that we could stop off on the way, where our driver had arranged for us to jump on a local boat to see the giant stone buddha of Bingling Si.
After visiting xia he, we took some time to hang around with some of the local herders at nearby Sang Ke, before heading up onto the Tibetan Plateau and into Qinghai Province.
Basing ourselves in the provincial capital of Xi Ning, it was easy to get on a trip to Qinghai Lake, China’s giant inland sea and home to some wonderfully friendly Tibetan herders.
The following day, it was a quick trip to the architecturally impressive Kumbum Monastery, sister to the monastery of Labrang we had visited at Xia He.
While Kumbum’s definitely the looker of the two, it’s also in danger of becoming more of a theme park than a place of pilgrimage. We found the commercialism and crowds especially noticeable after having visited the relatively inaccessible Labrang Monastery.
Of course, no trip would be complete without a scary bit and for us it was when we were trying to get back down from the Tibetan Plateau to meet our return train to Beijing.
We ended up bundled on a bus with missing bits (!), racing along the banks of the Yellow River as it began a flood that would wipe out dozens of villages in the days that followed.
What a fortnight! If you want to get as far from the norm as quickly as possible, hitting China and heading West past the usual tourist traps is a must.