Litang was an old Tibetan holy city in the Kingdom of Kham. Several Dalai Llamas were born in the city or nearby. A 16th century monastery crowns the city at the side of a hill, while the city itself lies over 4000 meters above the ground. Due to this, it is one of the highest cities in the world (although they claim to be the highest). The city is quite small and on a leveled and very dusty plain surrounded by hills.
There have been protests in the city and there is quite a bit of anti-Chinese sentiment. Many of the locals refer to the region as their home country, as an entity separate from China. Also the Dalai Llama is fervently revered here, illegal in China. His posters are seen everywhere across town. Military bases and soldiers outnumber locals, so do keep in mind that the situation is quite uneasy. For many of these people, their culture is under attack from some Han Chinese (patriotically coming with cars with giant Chinese flags) who have no idea of the history of the land.
Don’t let looks fool you, the city is a very long journey up the mountains. The road is completely out as construction goes on, affording us a bumpy and dangerous 16 hour minivan ride. The city is perched incredibly high onto the Tibetan Plateau, even higher than Lhasa which means winters go below 38 Celsius. Its height also means the sun is quite strong and can give a huge variation in temperature.
Litang lies on a major road intersection that leads into the main Tibetan province as well as south to Shangrila. This means a lot of people do cross into the city, but mainly just to stay the night and continue their journey. The few tourists we saw during the busy national holiday were foreigners who were quite interested in the city. The rest were passing Chinese on their way to other regions.
This makes Litang a pretty special city. Other than being at such an incredible height, the city is relatively quiet and the people pretty friendly. Unfortunately, fickle Chinese diets mean there are several Chengdu restaurants in town, but to accomodate the foreigners, there are some reasonably priced Tibetan places too. Left from coming out of the bus station is LP’s Mr. Zheng’s Tian Tian restaurant which has Western, Chinese, and Tibetan food. Around the area are also several “souvenir” shops. I use the term loosely, as they are shops that mainly cater to locals, but monk outfits and religious artifacts can interest anyone.
7km out of town are hot springs. Unfortunately these are all indoor. There are two main ones, the dirty one is more expensive than the relatively clean one. I heard there were public baths, but they could not be found. You must book a room, the water is quite nice and refreshing…lacking the strong sulfur smell. Once again, these also seem pretty local. At 6 am in the morning on Mondays and Wednesdays you can participate in a Tibetan Sky Burial.
Getting out of town is pretty difficult. There is some sort of scheme where someone buys all the bus tickets out of town, forcing you to settle for minivan down. We paid 150 during National Week to take the road down in an overcrowded minivan in the middle of the night. It rained so there were several landslides. At one point we had to run in the mud as a giant truck began to chase us.
Litang is quite a wonderful city. It is worth just taking a book and lying on the side of a hill. The landscape is very different and breathtaking. The people are very friendly. Plus the culture is rich and phenomenal.
More Info: Tibetan Sky Burial