Friendly and Not so "Ho-Hum" Tsedang
Trip Start Oct 07, 2007
24Trip End Nov 05, 2007
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Like all of the Tibet that we visited, it was arid desert plateau country. The large glacial u-shaped valleys looked fertile enough where they were farmed, but as it was going into the cooler season a lot of the country was very, very dry with only gorse like scrub and salt bush looking plants able to survive. The valleys were surrounded by completely bare mountains, some looking like carved chocolate others like elephant hide. Most of the mountains looked to be wind blown loess and fine soil over rocky bases. Huge crescent shaped sand dunes licked the mountain feet and in the distance we could see enormous craggy snow capped mountains. It was sensationally stark countryside with an artist's palate of colours and textures.
Our journey took us along the Yaluzhangbu River to the small town of Tsedang. All along the river and as far as we could see were extensive plantings of poplars and willows. Lochoe explained that these plantings were part of the enormous Chinese re-vegetation project. We were to witness environmental and re-afforestation projects on a mind boggling scale all through central and far west China. We lamented often that it was a real pity that these initiatives were not better recognised or even acknowledged by our somewhat arrogant western societies who regularly paint China as an over-exploiting and uncaring polluter with little or no regard for environmental matters.
Coming into the township of Tsedang our hearts sank as the outskirts of the town were extremely poor and like everything, coated with dust and debris. This was the situation for nearly every township that we approached. Tibet, and indeed a lot of China, is very poor.
We found Tsedang to be anything but 'ho-hum". A very pleasant township, the people were amazingly friendly and fortunately for us, most spoke enough English for us to get by.
Our hotel was excellent with a small but lovely rose garden and surrounds. The rooms were clean and the food was great. We found the yak meat dishes very good but we could not come - at this stage - at yak butter or yak butter tea.
At our Tsedang Hotel we met a number of other people who were on organised tours from Italy, England, Canada and the USA. They were warm and friendly and we were to meet up with them several times on our trip around Tibet. The English group in particular was extremely friendly and it was here that we met with the gregarious Sam and Anne Cowan who were co-ordinating a tour around Tibet then onto Nepal. They looked extremely fit and well organised and were great fun to be with. We have had the pleasure of staying in contact with them ever since our trip to Tibet.
At our evening meal that night the English group watched us with great interest as we enjoyed a few beers then a bottle of wine during our meal. "Did you know that it is not advisable to drink alcohol when you are at such high altitudes?" they asked. No, we didn't. And we continued to finish and enjoy our wine - as we did throughout our travels
At Tsedang we had a far too successful shopping spree and bought two very plush mountain jackets which are just what we didn't need in our sub-tropical environment of our home village of Crowdy Head. We began to wonder how on earth we were going to get all this gear home. Luckily we were able to post the carpet we bought in Lhasa.
The next day we visited the magical Yumbulagang monastery just out of Tsedang. It was gorgeous. Perched high on a mountain top, it really looked like some fairy castle out of a Walt Disney cartoon. The winding path up to the monastery was almost vertical. The scenery was superb and our photos all looked great. And we thought at one stage that we were going to get out of this monastery visit with such an impossible climb...
But as we were to learn on many occasions that despite our protestations, we were totally out of control of our destiny. Lochoe announced that we had to actually visit the monastery and we were faced with a monumental climb straight up the mountain. I made a firm decision to go by pony and suggested that Alan go by yak or camel. To my utmost surprise he went by horse. It was well worth seeing just Alan and the horse. His animal was a horse with ATTITUDE. It kept trying to turn around and then after a slap from its keeper (a boy no older than 8 year's old) shot off few paces before the whole cycle was repeated. As he said it was only slightly better than the alternative of walking... Lochoe would have nothing of riding a horse even though we offered to pay. Somehow he arrived at the monastery before us.
The monastery was magnificent and we had to admit it was well worth the effort to get there - well that is the efforts of the ponies. It the site of the legendary first known dwelling in Tibet and its romantic history goes back to the semi-mythical king Nyatri Tsenpo, who was said to have descended from heaven on a rainbow - Yumbulagang. And when you finally get there you can well accept this as fact. The views from this commanding monastery are breathtaking. Sadly, like so many of the monasteries we were to see, it was totally destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. The present replica was built in 1982. It was difficult to understand how this could have ever happened. But we were to encounter these sad facts on all of our journeys through Tibet.
We chose to walk back down the mountain and were amused by the antics of the young boy who led the ponies up for us. He and the ponies descended this almost vertical path at a cracking pace obviously delighted to be travelling back to the stalls below. We watched with interest as the boy took out his pony ride payment and immediately bought a packet of cigarettes. Needless to say he had smoked a few before we even arrived at the base.
The next day we visited the simply fascinating Buddhist monastery at Samye, some 30 km west of Tsedang. To get there we crossed the swift flowing Yaluzhangbu River and followed a very rough road which went over a huge pass. It was amazing arid country dotted with small isolated stone walled villages. How people could eek out a living in this totally desolate and inhospitable area was beyond us.
Samye is famous for its sacred mandala design: the central temple resembling the legendary Mount Meru (Mount Sumeru), the mythical monument at the centre of the universe. The monastery's giant mandala layout is surrounded by a stone wall and the main temple is surrounded by four large chortens in four different colours.
In appearance the entire place looked truly biblical and the solitude and history of this strange but fascinating monastery was all absorbing. The praying halls were haunting with their chanting monks, drums and bells and huge ancient Buddhist chortens and statues. Like Yombulakang, a lot of Samye, but fortunately not all, was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
Stumbling over the rough bare grounds of Samye we found to our dismay that we had walked through an area of cat head weeds. We had never experienced anything as savage as these monsters and try as we might we were unable to remove these cruel seed claws from the rubber soles of our shoes. Fancy bringing these noxious weeds home, we thought...
And there were MORE huge climbs...
Back at our hotel in Tsedang we were treated to BBC TV. It was the only time on our trip and we enjoyed watching the news in English. Bliss...