In all my weeks of travelling around the Tibetan areas of western Sichuan, the incredibly basic but oh-so-charming Dala Gong monastery guesthouse has to be my favourite place to stay. And I found it completely by accident.
On the road. Image by Daniel McCrohan / Lonely Planet.
I was actually looking for Gyalten Rinpoche Guesthouse, another cool-sounding place that was tracked down by one of my Lonely Planet predecessors. Details were sketchy; all I knew was that it was 'several kilometres west' of Dagei Gompa, a highly revered monastery about 30km from Ganzi. I found the monastery (well worth a visit, by the way) then began wandering in a general westward direction. No roads, just dirt tracks, spaghettiing off in all manner of directions. I took one, then another; finally a third. No luck.
For a moment I thought I was going to be saved by a man on a horse, but despite his beaming smile he couldn't understand a word of my ropey Chinese. Then I spotted an old woman walking across the grassland with three young children. She only spoke Tibetan. I don't. But fortunately one of the girls spoke good Chinese and was able to translate for me. Didn't make any difference; the woman hadn't heard of the guesthouse, but she was at least able to point me in the direction of other people. I followed her lead and eventually reached a group of men who were building something in the courtyard of what looked like a small temple.
'Guesthouse?' they asked. 'Yes, this is a guesthouse. You can sleep here.'
It turned out I'd walked in circles and was now just 10 minutes away from the main monastery. And what I'd stumbled across was Dala Gong, a mud-brick wood-beamed hall belonging to the monastery with monks' living quarters attached to it and a view to die for in every direction.
Carpets of green. Image by Daniel McCrohan / Lonely Planet.
I never did find Gyalten Rinpoche Guesthouse, but as I surveyed the surrounding grasslands from the rooftop of my new digs, and plotted my route down to the hot springs by the river, I thought: this edition of Lonely Planet China can probably do without it.
Daniel McCrohan is researching the 12th edition of the China guidebook.