Trip Start Jul 20, 2007
43Trip End Ongoing
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Afterwards we headed to the 4th Chinese food festival to try some national delicacies including battered crab, black sweetcorn, stuffed Yorkshire puddings in the style of a calzone pizza, and rabbit head
The journey west from Chengdu took us through a spectacular green valley wide enough for a 1 lane road and a river. Throughout the journey we were flanked by mountains that grew increasingly taller before arriving in Kangding at 2700m. The town is situated in the only flat space for hundreds of miles, forming a thin Y shape between 3 imposing mountains; at points it is less than 50m wide. This is where Tibet begins and is an intriguing mix of Chinese and Tibetan culture. We made the mistake of sleeping in a hostel next to a monastery and were woken at some random hour by some monk praying on a load speaker system. Whereas the Lonely Planet woppers we met there regurgitated paragraphs from the book about how their was little to do, we found it fascinating to observe life in this remote place; Chinese people speeding around in flash cars past Tibetan monks and old women carrying tin buckets full of vegetables.
We were warned about the dangers of the 280km road to Litang which can be closed for 6months a year due to the weather: Watching snow fall heavily the night before we left was an ominous sign. We were crammed into a 16seater minivan with a chain smoking driver and set off on an icy road that clung to the side of a mountain
When we arrived in Litang we cursed ourselves for coming. The town is at 4018m above sea level and within a couple of hours Kerry was bed-ridden through altitude sickness despite the best efforts of the herbal medicine we had taken. It was also snowing which made visibility horrendous and sent temperatures outside down to -20. Then there was a fire in our hotel which switched off the electricity (including heaters and blankets) for the night, sending temperatures inside to near -20.
When we woke, fully clothed, the sun was out and the view was absolutely spectacular. Litang is situated on a small plateau surrounded by 6000m + mountains that look like they were drawn onto the horizon by a small child; rising sharply from the ground and forming rigid triangle shapes. The pictures do more justice than words. Despite not being in Tibet, Litang is a Tibetan town where everyone speaks Tibetan, and despises the Chinese. Very few foreigners come here and everyone we wandered past stopped to say hello or have their photo taken, so they could see themselves on the digital camera
As we walked through the streets at dusk a local on a motorbike stopped to say hello and i jokingly asked for a lift. He took me on a tour of the town and then to his mums for a chat and some milk tea, which she forced down me despite my protestations. When we drove back to meet Kerry and Richard (the guy we traveled this route with) he invited us to his own house where we sat with his whole family eating potato dumpling. They gave us Tibetan names which I cant remember, however Richard's translated to Dalai Sun, and he removed his hat to reveal a full crop of bright ginger hair to their delight. Despite having thick jet black hair, everyone in this house wanted to know how they could get their buffon to look like Richards.
After a challenging day horse riding we decided we had to leave because altitude sickness was giving us a thumping headache all day. Before leaving we went to a sky burial, a funeral bestowed upon respected members of the Buddhist community, but banned by Chinese authorities until the late 1980s. If your at all squeamish you should skip this paragraph
We headed on to Daocheng in the hope of reaching Yitang national park. Unfortunately the park and road was closed due to fighting between the Tibetans and Chinese and we could only go if we bribed the police. Daocheng itself is a town set up for the eventual influx of tourists to the area; there are dozens of tourist souvenir shops and hotels but hardly a single tourist. We only stayed for the night but the shop signs provided the greatest exhibition of Chinglish I had ever seen, pick your favorite from:
1) Happy to come to eat the shop
2) Mitigation Hairdressing
3) Obey and reach the general merchandise
4) Revitalise one henry of department stores in weather
5jThe Sixth comprehensive door frame supplies store
Abandoning hopes of reaching Yitang we spent 12hours on an eighteen seater minibus with 28 other passengers heading south to the town of Zhongdian in Yunnan province
I never know how to finish these blog entries so I'll leave with some useless information about Buddhists in Litang - those who don't get the honour of a sky burial just get chucked in the river and fed to the fishes.