Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
195Trip End Feb 28, 2013
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Where I stayed
What I did
SEPTEMBER 30, 2011 - OCTOBER 1, 2011
Potala Hotel did not have hot water for the second day in a row. They promised hot water from 8:30-12:00. Electricity in town had been going off during the day and we assumed that was the problem. We again went to OTH for American breakfast. Police officials were visiting and inspecting the books and rooms. The owner had a nervous look on his face. Today the no-foreigner rule goes into effect but OTH is one of the hotels that can accept foreigners. OTH is also popular with tour groups. We couldn't figure out what was up or why the owner looked jumpy. We hoped we'd be okay at Potala because it is on a side street off the grid. And we checked in without providing a passport for our first time ever in a Chinese hotel.
We posted our note looking for fellow tourists who wanted to share a car for the Ganjia Grasslands route we found out about from the LP. OTH offered a car and driver for the day at the greedy price of 350 RMB or a van at 400 RMB. Before we finished breakfast, Björn and Mats, 20ish Swedes signed up to go with us. Then Will, a fiftyish guy from Holland said he wanted to join us. We needed the van to hold all of us. Dave got the assignment to find a van for a better price and we would commit to the best offer at 5PM. We finished breakfast and started to go to the Nomad Restaurant to see if we could find the Tibetan we met the day before. He told us to ask him if we needed anything while we were in town. Tara guest house is between OTH and Nomad so we stopped in there next to inquire. The English speaking manager had a driver available who would take us in a car for 140 RMB or a van for 180 RMB. Driver does not speak English. Entrance fees to the various sights would be pay as you go. The 5 hour Ganjai Grasslands (34 km from Xiahe) drive, with stops along the way, include; Bajiao; A 2000 year old Han Dynasty village inside eight sided mud block walls, Tseway Gompa Monastery (Bon) with a high ridge behind to view the valley and Bajiao village below. Trakkar Gompa Monastery set against a backdrop of high verticlal rock formations. Behind the rock formations is Nekhang Cave complex where pilgrims lower themselves on ropes and ladders.to sacred chambers. The going rate for a taxi for the day is 280 RMB and he knew very well that OTH charges 350 for the same thing. We ordered the van through Tara.
Back at the hotel, we heard voices. Maybe they were speaking English. Maybe it was the police looking for illegal hotel guests. Dave peaked out to the balcony. It was two French cyclists, Charles and Siugi, a twenty-something French couple who are biking 25000km from France to Australia (blog: http://cambrai-cambrai.net). They had joined up with two British young lads Jon and Micheil who were on their way to Hong Kong for charity (wateraid). The four had ridden together to Xiahe from Kashgar.in the far west of China. And here they were at 9600 feet. Charles and Siugi's blog host is wordpress which is blocked in China. China blocks a number of web sites like blogspot, youtube, twitter, facebook, etc. We told them about the shower issue. Shortly thereafter, we checked the water and it was hot. Doh, Homer, 8:30 at night is the time for hot water, not 8:30 in the morning.
GANJIA GRASSLANDS TOUR DAY
We had breakfast at OTH’s Everest Restaurant and the seven of us met at the Tara at 9:00. We were pleased that the driver of the van was anxiously waiting our arrival. The weather wasn’t cooperating. It was cold, overcast, and misty. We loaded up and drove east through town and over the bridge to the south before continuing east. It the first 5 km, we had two near misses with other vehicles. It seemed our driver couldn’t drive and talk to the passengers at the same time. If we asked a question, he pulled over so he could turn and answer. Actually, Sindy asked questions for us in Mandarin and seemed to have a hard time understanding the Mandarin of our Tibetan driver.
After 30km, just past Gan Jia City, we pulled over to watch farmers working in the fields. We asked what different crops the farmers were harvesting in the field. The driver told us he did not know because he wasn’t a farmer. We saw three different types of stacks and wondered if they were wheat, barley, rye, or rice. One woman in the field was bunching long plums of one of the grasses. We wanted to know if they had running water in their house or how daily life was. But we couldn’t get any translations. Too bad.
We learned a few details about the Bon flavor of Buddhism. A few Bön, distinguishing characteristics are:
1. Bön lineage is traced to Buddha Tönpa Shenrab rather than to Buddha Shakyamuni.
2. Bön circumambulate venerated structures counter-clockwise rather than clockwise (as other Buddhists do).
3. Bön perform rites to pacify spirits, influence the weather, heal people through spiritual means and other shamanic practices
We went back to our hotel, played cards, had hot showers, and went to bed with hot water bottles. It was pretty cold at night. The next day, Dave bought the tickets for the bus back to Lanzhou and spent most the day updating our blog. We stopped into Snowy Mountain Restaurant (that also caters to westerners) for pizza. Food there is not great but staff are great and they have wifi. We have been the only customers during our other two visits, but this time there were a few more. But still, even in the holiday season, it was not busy. Where are all the tourists? Except for the 2 or 3 tour buses that roll into OTH every other day, we haven’t seen very many.
We got the lowdown on the Lanzhou bus station.. South station has no city buses into the city center and taxies refuse to use their meters. They demand double or more (30 to 40 RMB) than the normal rate of 15RMB. You can walk a mile or more toward town and find taxi drivers who will use the meter.... or we could negotiate the best deal at about 30 RMB.