After a long, winding journey through the mountains that form the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, we arrived at the picturesque ancient town of Songpan. It is here where we were planning to do the only thing we really had decided on doing before our travels - a three day horse trek.
At more than 2,600 metres above sea level, there is a notable drop in the temperature here compared to Chengdu. I picked up a bargain Jack Wolfskin knock-off shortly after arriving, as it seemed I would be needing something more than my h&m hoody (stolen from Ben..) to protect me from the mountainous elements.
We checked into Emma's Guesthouse, a cosy spot near the bus station and next to a place which offers a horse trekking excursion. With relative ease we booked a three day horse trek which would start the following morning, for a reasonable price of just over 70oRMB each - this included meals and a place to sleep each night as well as the horses and a guide.
We really had no idea what to expect from this trek, we were a little nervous as none of us were exactly experienced riders - pretty sure my age was in single figures last time I was on a horse. As it happened, it turned out to be one of the best things we did during our entire trip.
At around 10am, our guide-to-be for the next three days arrived with three horses ("Tibetan mules") in tow. We walked with our guide, an old Tibetan man, until we were out of the main town. Here we mounted our horses, I got the 'leader' horse, being the girl, and we began our trek into the mountains.
We spent most of the following three days trekking up mountains, across streams and along some fairly precarious ridges. Even though we were very much trekking off any kind of obvious trail, we felt very safe the whole time. The mules seem very used to people and have a good relationship with the owner, you really don't need to be a skilled rider to do this trek.
During the first day of the trek we stopped at a stunning little Tibetan village on the other side of mountains. It was a perfectly clear day, the startlingly blue sky really offset the golden temples of the village. Not only did this trek give us the chance to see some of the wonderful natural beauty China has to offer, it was an unexpected insight into Tibetan culture.
Here we walked around a seemingly endless trail of prayer wheels (see below) with the locals, which seemed to be part of their daily routine.. they were all at it. In the meantime, a lady (who transpired to be our guides wife) had made us a lunch in one of the temples, the lunch was tasty and satisfying. Good and stodgy mountain food.
Day two saw us doing even more 'wild' trekking, I received lots of blows to the face from low hanging trees and bushes and we spent quite some time walking through long streams. The scenery was simply awe-inspiring, I have never felt so far away from modern civilisation. The surrealness of the place didn't really go away during the whole time, it is just a totally different world from that which we are familiar.
One of the main sights of this trip was the ice mountain. Once we reached a good viewing point we sat and ate a simple, satisfying lunch with chopsticks which our guide carved right in front of us out of some twigs he had pulled from a tree.
During our last day, we stopped off a few places on our way back to Songpan, where we sat and took in the incredible beauty of the area.
Jamie even made a go-pro video of our excursion, which you can take a look at here.