Tashi Dele!

Trip Start Jul 17, 2007
Trip End Aug 27, 2007

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

This entry is about my first interaction with the fascinating Tibetan culture. We knew we are about to arrive at an isolated Tibetan village, but we weren't aware to the face that Zoige - the city we should change buses in - is Tibetan as well. When we arrived at Zoige, the mood has changed. The city is low-built, and I had a feeling that there is something going on there, and I don't have any idea what it is. In fact, the city is not that popular among travellers, putting it mildly, and people from the western world are rarely seen in Zoige. The result is hundreds of direct glaces at the unexpected visitors. Aliens. Maybe aliens is a more appropriate word, since if I've ever been to any situation that made me feel like an alien from outer space - it was my first visit to Zoige.

Our bus to Langmusi was about to leave at 14:00. Before leaving Zoige, we went to a Tibetan restaurant nearby to fill our bellies with some food. Expectedly we got the attitude of kings in the restaurant, and immidiately got the best table in it. All the waiters wanted to serve us, and even some customers came to see the wonder. One of them came and sat next to me. We handshaked, and he started to ask question by silent: he was especially interesting in the Lonely Planet guide I brought with me. The only way I could communicate with this man - who looked like it is his lucky day - is showing him the pictures of Tibet in the book, and say "Lhasa" - the capital city of Tibet in its spiritual centre. I didn't know what caused him excitement, but it can be either our presence or the pictures from Lhasa. I couldn't even ask him, because he couldn't communicate in English. And not in Chinese as well - only Tibetan and body language.

After we got our lunch, people moved in the street. Our table, who had a window next to it, was exposed to the street. Occasionally people passed by, and some of them had the courage to attach their heads to the windows and STARE at us! At the beginning it was funny, definately an unforgettable incident. When it became a ritual occasion, we wanted to take a photo of one of them! When I took the camera, the man who stared at us moved away in a second. Without seeing these scenarios - I remember it like I have a full album of them!

The bus drive to Langmusi took us almost 3 hours, though the way was less than 100km. However, it took so long mainly because the bus stopped at some villages on the way. The villages were mostly Tibetan, and even Chinese was hardly noticable - only the unique Tibetan writing decorates the public signs and shops. We stopped in a small meeting between two paved road. After looking around, we saw the acency that organizes the horse trek (www.langmusi.net), and it seems to be the major junction of Langmusi. There is only one street in Langmusi, and only several paved roads connect to it. You can walk from one side of the village to another within 10 minutes, or even less if you walk fast.

We managed a short conversation with the hostess of the acency. We chose a Tibetan two-days horse trek around the village, including 5 hours of riding at least every day. We found a place to spend the night that I can hardly call it hostel or guesthouse or anything similar - but the conditions were fine for one night until the trek begins - tomorrow morning.

Lesha's restaurant. In the evening we decided to check what is all about - the famous McYak Attack - a huge hamburger made of fresh grounded yak-meat, bun and vegetables. I read about this restaurant in so many places in the Internet and in the travelling guides - so I felt that I have to visit there if I reach Langmusi somehow. The restaurant was adorned with many writings in plenty of languages - all made by the satisfied customers from across the globe. I recognizes Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Hebrew and of course - English. And I'm sure there were many more - by the way. Unfortunately, there were no buns for big hamburger, so we all ordered the mini-burger, which its picture shown in the left side of the paragraph. The smallness of the hamburger was big enough for my productive digestive system, and I finished it  The taste of yak is pretty similar to our known beef, and I'm not sure I would be able to differentiate between the two. Since there were not much to do in Langmusi at night, spending some time in Internet Cafe and sleeping was the best pastime we could wish for.

I was almost impossible to stay a sleep after the beeping festivel that Langmusi's drivers arraged for us. We wasted the time with breakfast and wandering around until 9:30, and then took our bags to the acency and put them there before we went to the stable. The manager of the acency, who was also a professional horse rider, showed us the elementary steps we need to know before the trek. She was really nice, and dedicated a lot of time and patience to show us everything. She introduced us in front of the local guides - three Tibetan experienced horse riders. 

When we finished, everyone got a horse and we went on our way to the endless green lawns of Gansu province! I got a stressed white horse named Karchou, who spent a lot of time during our ride to eat. Afterall, there were so much fresh grass around - so he had to eat! It was a little wierd at the beginning when we heard that the trek will take place in Gansu province, since Langmusi is located in the provincial area of Sichuan province. How can it be possible? Well, in the northern side of town there's a streaming river. It looks like a small sewage canal, as a matter of fact, but everyone called it "the river". Its south bank was Sichuani, and Langmusi was inside it. The north bank, however was the south border of Gansu province. At the beggining of the journey we passed through "the river", although we didn't really need a bridge or something. The horses could cross it on their own, since the depth of the river was no more than 5-10cm. 

After an hour and a half of riding in endless green fields, mountainous environment and an ideal feeling of nature - we arrived at a Tibetan tent. A local woman, dressed with traditional Tibetan clothing, lighted on the fire in the middle of it and prepared rice with sliced potatoes and vegetables. We decided to help a little bit with the food preparation, at least to experience their traditional way of living. At the beginning, I though that their way of living is a little more commercialized and faked. Unlike the real citizens of Zoige, those who are not familiar with the western people's habits, were very interested in our digital cameras, our colourfuls books and travel guides, and even our wierd bodies, htat includes some hair on it. Chinese people, and that includes Tibetan people, have very few hair on their body, excluding their head. The rurals, however, were so used to it and even could speak some words in English. Authentic? Hmmm... maybe not in 100%. 

We ate our lunch, which was genrally simple and plain, though filling. We even got a desert: sweet yoghurt made of yak's milk. The milk is unpasteurized, but boiled, which makes it clean and fat. The high percentage of fat in this milk made it so delicious. Later, we got some bowls with milk (yak's of course), and added instant nescafe powder. The taste was awesome, basically thanks to the fat percentage. I felt like the meal was authentic, because the ingredients were natural and available in these areas. 

After lunch we had some time to rest a little bit before we continue. I joined the lady who cooked for us, and she taught me how to milk a yak. Similarly to cows, the yaks must be milked once in a while, otherwise they might suffer of pressure in their udders, like a human who must pee. Ironically, the yaks usually suffer from the milking process, so they tend to resist when they know they are about to be tied (which is a necessary action, since milking must be done when they stand still. It was funny to see the milk drizzle which exited the yak's udder when I milked it. The lady, which was much more experienced than me, made a flowing stream of milk every touch, that could finally fill half a bucket. Mine, however, was so poor so I could barely slake my thirst if I had drink it, especially in the dryness of the mountains. 

We left the tent after a while, but not before I washed my hands in the water of the river. The river looked like a puddle, but I was enough to make me clean. We continued with our path, gathering another guide with a couple who joined us. We kept moving towards the end of the tent we were about to spend the night in. It took us almost two hours, but we finally arrived. I think I took maybe 25 photoes during this time, which is plenty since I was busy in riding the whole time.

We arrived before sunset, and we enjoyed the light hours left to travel around the camp. This time it was not only one tent - but some, and the guides joined some friends of them who were in the tents in advance. They tied our horses, leaving Karchu to eat a little grass. It ate in an hour of riding more than I did in the entire day, and don't forget it was eating every time I looked at it during our breaks. We climed the mountain that the camp was at the foot of it. We knew we were in a high altitude, but couldn't feel it during the trek. When I climbed 6 steps, I felt like I was after a 2km running in the municipal park. It was amazing how exhausting was the climbing, even if it was less than 100m. It was still exhausting, but the landscape was undoubtfully worth it! We spent almost an hour at the top of the mountain, watching the sunset and the endless grazing lands of Gansu.

If you were asking, we were climbed to the altitude of about 3300m above sea level. It sounds not that high, (the Everest is 8848m high and Lhasa is 4000m high), but if you live in a city that its elevation is 10m above sea level, you can easily fill the sparseness of the air even if you have very good fitness capabilities.

When the sun were out of sight, we went back to the tent to eat dinner. I must say it was a lot more easier than to climb up to the top of the mountain. The dinner was expected - a bowl of rice with vegetables and potatoes. As a desert we got - you guessed right - soft yak yughort with sugar. It was so good, so I wasn't embarraced to ask for more. The hostess this time seemed to be very happy that we liked her food. This time we also tasted butter made of yak's milk, of course, and the taste reminded me home, even though the taste was a little more dominant that the familiar butter we have at home.

When it got dark, we couldn;t see anything; there was soft light from far away, and the dogs, who barely could see anything either, didn't stop barking. We went to sleep in our sleeping bags, when there were "smoke traps" burning all around the camp, combined with the impressive non-stop barking skills of the dogs - so we couldn't really go to sleep. At the beginning I though it was the hazardous air pollution created by these traps (the thing they burned was yak's excrement, which burned fantastically for a long time) is horrible. After a while my lungs has adapted the air, and my brain activated the "selective hearing" mode, so the barking sounds like a distant matter. I finally could sleep.

I woke up not very early in the morning, when the camp started to arise and the sun appeared in the sky. I heard some girls playing, and even smelled the smell of cooking from the tent besides our sleeping tent. My nose told me that we are about to vary our diet, and the menu should be different this breakfast. It didn't mislead! The breakfast was a royal breakfast, Tibetan style. We got fresh pastry with vegetables, tomatoes, omlette and a soup made of carrot, tomatoes and eggs. We even got boiled Yak milk for our instant coffee. When the time has finished, we got up onto our horses and kept moving. Karchu, my hungry horse, helped me a little with getting up his back, because it was in the middle of a rich breakfast of green grass - and its position was easy for me to go up on it.

The landscapes didn't change that much. Endless lawns - like the municipal park of your city, but multiply it buy a million or so. Pure flowers were seen everywhere, and also yaks and sheep. After resting a little bit, we kept moving towards Langmusi. For the first time in a little more than 24 hours - we saw a hint for a civilization nearby. We saw a road, which was a very nice sight after this trek we were so far away from any familiar civilization (except digital cameras, of course). The road was accompanies with electric poles along it.

After a brief stop for lunch, we continued to cross the lawns, and finally could see Langmusi from a distance. Karchu was so full, so after a humongous dinner that lasts 24 hours he started to ride so fast, and I hopped on it until we got the the northern frontier of town. We arrived at the stables, walked to the agency - and went to eat dinner (although it was almost 17:00). And where can we eat? Of course - at Lesha's restaurant! I ate my (probably) last Yak burger in my life, and enjoyed every bite of it. It was terrific, and I certainly felt full afterwards...

We knew we couldn't arrive back to Chengdu today, but only tomorrow evening. We decided to make at least some of the way - and the most efficient way to arrive at Chengdu will be via Zoige. The guide in the horse trekking agency called a taxi for us. The nice Tibetan driver took us to Zoige in two hours, and also bought tickets for us to Chengdu, tomorrow morning.

We were happy that we knew Zoige even if it was only a little. However, we didn't know that finding a reasonable hostel in this town becomes a true challenge. We walked through the streets of Zoige, ignoring the staring faces of the people there, and searching for a normal hostel. The only normal hostels were overpriced - maybe more expensive than 4 stars hotels in Europe...

After an hour and a half of searching, we have arrived to a normal hostel called "Snow Mountain", 5 minutes walk from the bus station. Or at least we thought it was normal. A lovely Tibetan girl showed us the room. We couldn't communicate with her, because she didn't speak English at all and not even Chinese. (Wierd - isn't it?) Well, it seems that no-one else among the crew of the hostel could speak English. One man spoke a little Chinese, so we could show him things we wanted to say in the phrasebook, but it didn't help that much most of the time, even though their attitude were really hospitable. I wander who made the sign for them - which is written in perfect English...

After checking-in, we figured out (after an exhausting attempt to explain ourselves) that there is no shower in the hostel. Apparently, there are only a few home-showers in the whole town, since there are two public showers in it. Most of the inhabitants prefer to take a shower in a public place, rather than to maintain one at home. Sounds odd, but that's the way it is in Zoige. We went to sleep early, you can guess easily that you may not walk around Zoige after dark...

We woke up the day after at 5:30, made our final orginizings before going to the bus station. Zoige at this time of the day looks like a legendary imaginary ghost city. We arrived there on time, and the bus departured a minute or two after. The ride was a bit similar to the previous ones, but one only riddle is still unsolved for me: How come we went through Guanghan, 40km north of Chengdu, around 13:00, and arrived at Chengdu at 16:30? I heard some versions for this mystery, but I think I can ride 40km in bicycles faster than the last three and a half hours of this bus ride. Am I wrong?

Anyway, in Chengdu, after arriving to the alternative Sim's hostel (Sim's garden - which is a lot better than the Cozy in my opinion), all we wanted to do is to take a shower and rest a little bit. We did it happily, and after dark we thought it would be nice to feel at home a little bit, and go to Pizza Hut in the centre of the city. (Last time I ate Pizza Hut in my homeland I was too young to study for my final examinations in highschool, but Pizza Hut reminds me home more than any other oriental restaurant in Chengdu - fact of life).

The meal, which was a good culinary experience but a lot more than than considering the situation we were in - after an exhausting horse trek that includes three days without taking a shower - it was really something special. Even though it was "just" Pizza Hut...
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