KANGDING (康定, kāngdìng), 250km from Chengdu at the gateway to Sichuan’s far west, is a crowded, artless collection of modern white-tiled blocks packed along the fast-flowing Zheduo River. Visually this is a very Chinese town, but the deep gorge that Kangding is set in is overlooked by chortens and the frosted peaks of Daxue Shan (the Great Snowy Mountains), and, whatever the maps might say, this is where Tibet really begins.

The town is the capital of huge Ganzi prefecture and bus schedules mean that a stopover here is likely, but with a couple of temples to check out and huge, communal evening dancing in the central square it’s not the worst of fates. In addition, Kangding is a stepping stone for day-trips to the Hailuogou Glacier Park, which descends Gongga Shan, western China’s highest peak.