Coming from Zhongdian, the road finally descends steeply down to the Jinsha, passing the small Tibetan settlement of Xingfu 幸福, an aptly named place for warm weather and abundance of water. The road then crosses a small stream and for short while technically runs within Sichuan as the other side of the gorge is too steep to even think about building a road there. Just before the main river crossing comes the turn-off towards Derong further inside Sichuan.
Before the arrival of a motor road, caravans crossed the Jinsha River by ferry:
... the third march brought us to the Yangtze at the ferry which is called Pung-dje-ra by the Tibetans, and Pang-tzu-la [Benzilan] by the Chinese. The river here averages 100 yards in width and is evidently very deep. Its height above the sea level I made 7,100 feet. The ferry-boat is one of the best I have seen in western China: it will take 15 mules across at a trip. The village, which is on the right bank, contains 60 or 70 houses, scattered over the hillside in the usual Tibetan fashion. The Chinese military official was away at Ta-li Fu [Dali], but I was very comfortably put up by his clerk in a large house furnished in the Chinese style. [Davies, 1909, p. 253]
A few kilometers further on, Benzilan lies on an embankment high above the river with some pretty Tibetan houses off the main drag, which mainly serves the passing traffic. This was once the last stop before the caravans reached Tibet proper and tea from all over China was know in Tibet as Benzilan Tea.
Benzilan’s population, off the main road, remains overwhelmingly Tibetan and there is some good countryside nearby, such as a narrow bend of the Jinsha River – known as the ‘First Bend of the Yangzi’, which can be seen from the road high above the gorge.
Benzilan has plenty of hotels and restaurants, including a number off the main road.