Pandas and (more) Pot Noodles
Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
96Trip End Apr 16, 2011
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Where I stayed
Having made it to Chengdu our hostel turned out to be a brilliant place. For the grand total of 90 RMB (£9) we had a double room for the night with TV, DVD player (free rental of any DVD you could possibly want), a fruit bowl each day, free Wi-Fi and a hostel with a roof terrace bar (selling 50p beers, £1 cocktails & fantastic western breakfasts), a really helpful front desk who would book you any tour you wanted for free, sell you stamps and post your postcards for you and a owner who took the time to go find out from the chef where a good restaurant was to get the Chengdu Spicy Fish in Oil dish we were after
The next day, we went on a tour to the nearby panda sanctuary tour (complete with an incredibly over-excited Sarah who had a teensy tiny obsession with pandas as a child) and saw a multitude of pandas in various states of activity: young ones wrestling, large ones sleeping and farting, adolescent ones rubbing their genitalia on scratching poles for the crowd and tiny newborn ones which were......well.... laying prostate in incubators looking variously a bit ugly (in the case of the bald 3 week old one) and incredibly cute (the 5 week old ones that had fur). We declined (despite much stamping of feet and “but I want to”, “we won’t get the chance again”, “but they’re so cute”) the offer to have a photo taken with one for 1000 Yuan, or the even better offer to sponsor one and be able to name it for 1 Million Yuan.
Unfortunately, our time in Chengdu at the Carlsberg hostel was cut short as we had to get a train to Tibet a couple of days earlier than we wanted because the other trains were all full – hoorah for another 49 hour train, but it’s meant to be the best way to acclimatise to the Tibetan altitude
The train itself compared pretty favourably with the Trans-Siberian railway: the beds were actually long enough to lie down on, even for westerners, the cars were kept at a decent temperature, the scenery outside was beautiful for much of the time and they even pumped in extra oxygen when we were going over the highest parts (it goes over 5000m- the highest railway in the world!). We had also bumped into several other fellow travellers at the hostel and on the train so had a nice group to talk to about travel experiences, life, philosophy and what a moody, westerner-hating idiot the guy in the restaurant car was. Regular entertainment was also provided over the speaker system by “Propaganda Boy” who would periodically come on the loudspeaker with fantastically balanced commentary on the railway and it’s construction: favourites include:
“The Qinghai–Tibet railway is the greatest engineering achievement ever in the World”
“The Qinghai–Tibet railway has brought freedom and prosperity to the people of Tibet”
He went on to explain how the Ministry of Transport took great care of the workers on the railway, providing them with oxygen tanks as they toiled and even, no joke, electric heaters in the toilets. He also kept announcing that “It is really really bad to smoke”; a fact lost on the many people puffing away between carriages.
Propaganda Boy aside, it was quite an incredible journey taking a full 2 days and nights as the train had to swing way round to the north (almost back to Mongolia!) to avoid this small collection of hills known as the Himalayas. It dumped us in Lhasa (3600m) on a sunny afternoon feeling slightly light-headed and breathless but keen to stretch our legs and explore.