Into thin air...towards the Tibetan plateau....
Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
59Trip End Apr 23, 2005
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Where I stayed
Factoid of the day: Shop rage is not limited to the west, we witnessed fisty-cuffs in Kunming's Carre-four between an irate shopper and assistant... the reaction of the hoards was much the same, stand around enjoying the spectacle.
Nitty Gritty: It was strange being back in China proper after almost a year. The Camelia hotel was as welcoming as ever, but as everywhere in China the pace of building rendered the city almost unrecognisable, at least our Naxi banquet place and the dim sum cafe were unchanged
Mr Chen, the very polite chap who had first told us of the posibility of overland travel to tibet was pleased to see us after our initial enquiry 11 months before. We were releaved to hear he had two other clients to share the (high) cost leaving at the end of the month.
We arrived at the train station to find the brand new style double decker sleeper and although comfort levels had improved the addition of partitions to the sleeper car meant that there where no longer any luggage racks... ermmm.. not so comfortable sleeping with a pack distended by camping gear, at the bottom of your bunk.
We were the last off the train as I was snoozing not realising it had stopped (contrast to British railways noted.) we ran from the platform as the gates were being locked and accepted a lift to Lijiang, against our better judgment, as we wanted to go to Zhongdian, however it was 6am and rainy, of course the bus went straight to the bus station for 40 minutes and parked next to the zhongdian bus. You pays your money, you takes your chance...
Arriving in Lijiang we blessed the circumstance that got us on the wrong bus, as we remembered what a beautiful city it was
The morning ritual (from before) of chili laced Naxi bread was re-enacted and we started on new ground after the bus north to Zhongdian passed by Tiger Leaping Gorge, the ground steeppened as we began our trip onto the Tibeten plateau, the villages were beautiful, lots of labourers in the fields bringing in the harvest, mainly Barly and root vegatables, which were left to dry on enormous sun traps, wood was being chopped and stacked beneth the eves of houses which we were to find out were typical in tibet, flat topped two stories with a courtyard for animals in winter. The eves and window frames all vividly coloured with the rainbow colours so common here
Of course the Tibetens have been elbowed out in the towns by Han migration and whilst the chinese may have brought infrastucture to tibet they are gradually making the people a minority in their own country, we won't reherse all the arguments about china's occupation here but realistically I don't think even the most optimistic tibeten expects a chinese withdrawal... We have tried to patronise tibeten businesses but they are hard to find... the Dalai Lama's web site makes heart breaking reading (www.tibet.com) - and includes his Nobel Peace Prize speech... needless to say it's blocked in tibet. We think the chinese have caught on there is money to be made from tourism and it is probably through this that the Tibetens have the best chance of being left to follow there traditional buddism and culture, albiet in a chinesified, shiny polished way...
Arriving in Zhongdian, we were met by the relentless constuction prescent in every town here, the lonely planet's map had a comfortable 1km walk to the old town and cheap hotels, of course the new bus station is 5km out of town and after 90 minutes of yomping and asking directions (the chinese have a habit of pointing in random directions rether than loosing face by not knowing where a place is) we found a comfortable room at the ne youth hostel... it had electric blankets! mmmmm... We wandered around the atmospheric old town, trying to get acclimatised, sporting headaches and panting... We crawled up to a monestry on a hill overlooking the town and it took two of us to turn the biggest prayer wheel we have yet seen, two stories high! After returning to the hostel we asked where the office for our transport was to be told to board a bus no3, one hundred meters later we were pointed to a building and had to pay up for a one minute journey.. the woman in the youth hostel must have thought we looked a bit pale and exhausted (she was probably right). We went into the office and 'checked in' and organised to met our companions and driver the next day.
We returned to our lunching spot for dinner noticing that much rowdyness and drinking was going on around town. Thinking we had stumbled on Tibets answer to Vegas, a japanese man explained it was the autumn full moon festival which coincides this year with National day... gulp... dinner was served by the lady who had her whole family round for mountains of grub and a clear hooch... we settled for beer and had a good laugh with them enjoying the festivities, we returned top our room not too hopeful of sleep and by 4am the karioke, shouting and general hubub we passed out...
The following day we headed out to a large monestry which dominated a hil above the town. The chinese have dubbed the region Shangri-la after James Hiltons 'Lost horizon' classic, certainly it's snow topped peaks are pretty... The monestry (we took the bus as we are still acclimatising) was great and we were feeling OK so we pushed on to the prayer flag festooned foothills in search of peace and views (enlightenment?) the valley was beautiful and only a little puffed we wandered through ruined buildings (a common theme in Tibets monestries thanks to the zealous red guards) being greeted by freindly monks young and old, cooed over farm animals (nice piglets) and generally enjoying the ambiance... We couldn't resist the oppurtunity for Rach to have a photo with a young girl and fluffy lamb with a pom-pom in its fur.. it cost us 2 yuan but we figured lambs and cute young girls probably only have a short career (1 year for a lamb and maybe 5 for a young girl) so justify their high saleries, much like footballers I guess.
We walked back into town (90 minutes) and passed a bizarre artificial lake with a chinesey (read cheesy) tea house where suited chinese tourgroups were being punted around on a couple of logs tied together, by chinese girls in polyester tibeten outfits. We were beconed over for a go... but just waved back and made a quick exit... fluffy lambs maybe, but one has to draw the line somewhere...
We met Lucy from Harlow, about our age with an Indian nose ring (which fascinated the locals) and a wicked sence of humour, we hit it off immeadiately and went out for dinner after banging out a written itinery (in english and chinese) with the office. We were being twice shy after our Vietnam experience and subsequently were pleased we had (anyone considering such a trip take note!~ :-)_) see next entry.... Nobody had any idea where the other two english girls where...
After a pleasant evening with Lucy and Jessica, an american student travelling around after her Beijing placement from her Mandarin elective at Uni, we arrived at the office as planned and met Alice and Sarah who had arrived (as planned) on a late bus, after scurrying around for last minute supplies, we were off !
The road was beautiful, windey and loads of ravines and prayer flag covered passes, mountains popped up everywhere some reaching up to 7000m (23,000ft), wow! Arriving in Deqin (the drivers home town) we got some supplies and moved on upwards to a viewpoint for the Meili Xueshan range, quite some vista.. unfortunately the guesthouse was full, but the driver found a half completed hotel where the locals relied round connecting power (via dubious means and lots of gaffer tape) sorting out beds and bringing thermoses of hot water, we were its first guests and were treated to lots of grins... lovely, a group of Hong Kong tourists arrived late and were not quite as understanding as us, but there complaints were silenced when rach wandered past in her JimJams to their amazement...
Our trip was to continue the next day crossing over into tibet proper....