After Chengdu, we are now flying 325km / 200 miles south-west to Kangding, still in the Sichuan province. This is the 8th stop in our 2016 Chinese adventures after Beijing, Xining in the Qinghai province, the Chinese car dealerships of Xining, Tongren, Xiahe in the Gansu province, the mountain road back from Xiahe to Xining and Chengdu in the Sichuan province. Kangding, although a small town (by Chinese standards) of 110.000 inhabitants, is known all across China because of a song called, well, “Kangding Love Song” whose latest cover by band Phoenix Legend is displayed below for your musical entertainment.
Kangding is the capital of the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and is set in a very steep valley. There is nowhere really flat in town and you must enjoy (at least a little) arduous uphill walks to get anywhere. There is a burnt pine fragrance all across town coming from the various Buddhist temples located on the surrounding hills. Kangding inhabitants are also the world champions at group dancing, everyday at 7pm on People’s Square. More on this further down in the report.
Landing at Kangding Airport is an experience in itself: situated at 4,280 m (14,042 ft) above sea level, Kangding Airport is the third highest commercial airport in the world behind Daocheng Yading Airport nearby in Sichuan province and Qamdo Bamda Airport, also in China in the Tibetan province. It is located on a plateau with sprawling views of the surrounding mountains, and if the flight from Chengdu was a mere 50 minutes, it takes a further 90 minutes to reach the town of Kangding through steep mountain roads taking us on a vertiginous drop of over 1,700m (5,577 ft), as Kangding’s altitude is 2,560 m (8,400 ft).
The Kangding car landscape offers us another fascinating facet of the Chinese market. Like in Xiahe in the Gansu province, the Wuling Hongguang MPV is by far the most frequent vehicle in town, used as a shared taxi, including the most recent S1 variant pictured above. The Liebao King Edition, a rebadged Mitsubishi Pajero that ranked #1 best-seller in the Tibet province in 2014, is also very popular here as well as the original Mitsubishi Pajero, the Toyota Land Cruiser and Prado. This popularity hasn’t led (yet?) to a strong start from the Leopaard CS10 though, even though it is manufactured and distributed through the same channels.
Workhorses (read mini trucks or micro pickups) are more branded Chana than Wuling, and popular passenger cars include the Changan Benben Mini, Jiangnan Alto, Chery QQ, Baojun Yuechi, Geely Emgrand EC7, Dongfeng Joyear SUV and Changan CX20. The BYD brand is popular, taxis are either Mitsubishi Lancer (75%) or new VW Jetta (25%) and I spotted three Landwind X7 in two days (the Range Rover Evoque clone).
Every evening at 7pm on the People’s Square, hundreds of Kangding inhabitants of all ethnicities come together for two hours of non-stop group dancing. One leader shows the dance moves to be followed and the whole group dances along, trying their best with various degrees of skill to learn and master the moves. The most important is not to be a perfect dancer but to participate and have fun along the way, all in the name of physical alertness and group enjoyment. Can you spot the leader on the above video?
The Photo Report continues below with 17 additional pictures.