Ganjai Grasslands

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Where I stayed
Potala Hotel
What I did
Grasslands Tour

Flag of China  , Gansu,
Friday, September 30, 2011

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 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.

We talked a long time with the manager at Tara; Tsering Dhondup. He held is daughter Tenzin Shamma. He told us the Dalai Lama gave his daughter her name. The more we talked, the more we learned about the current Tibetan situation in China. And it is not good. He told of recent self-immolations by monks from his village. They were protesting the lack of Tibetan Autonomy. Tsering said he lives by a simple rule, be honest and do good for people. He tries to live his life that way. His baby had a small star sticker on her forehead to protect her from illness, a superstition, he admitted. Tibetans buy the blessed stars at a Monastery shop. He shrugged his shoulders and said it would not do any harm. He told us Tibetan dialect in Lhasa is different than Tibetan dialect here so they find it difficult to understand each other. We asked him when was the last time there was a Sky Burial at the nearby site. We expected he would give us a year way in the past assuming Sky Burials were now banned. He surprised us and said. 'Three days ago...And how you can tell is when you see women sweeping the pilgrim’s path at the Monastery early in the morning. It is a purification ritual and a sky burial will take place that day'. We asked him about China’s one child policy. He told us Tibetans are permitted two children. They are not allowed to show images of the Dalai Lama.

Michelle and I were sipping 8 treasure tea with berries and with flowers floating in a glass. A large thermos of hot water was provided to warm the tea indefinitely.The monks at Tara where having it so we asked for 'the same’.

In the end, we filled all seats in the seven passenger van with our crew for the day that included Dave and Michelle, Sindy (from Xiamen, working in Shanghai) and Peter (a Scot working in Xiamen and Shanghai), Mats, Björn and Will. We agreed to meet in the morning at 9:00. By the time we took our post down, we had to turn away three others because our van was full.

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: 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 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.


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 turned and began the road up toward the Bön, Tseway Gompa  Monastery. A road crew had the road completely blocked the way as they were putting down a new cement road. Only motorcycles could get by. We started walking the remaining 3km to the Monastery. It was a pretty, slightly uphill, walk. Michelle flagged down a young Tibetan on a motorcycle and asked for a lift. We met up at the monastery entrance and paid our entrance fee. The van driver accepted a lunch invitation from one of the locals while the rest of us were shown the monastery by a monk. The monastery was founded in the 12 century and expanded in the 17th century but was mostly destroyed in the 1970’s. What we saw was a new rebuild. They have old sacred texts locked in a library and a relic tooth from the founding monk that is brought out only on special occasions.
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 looked in the various temples with Buddha’s and scrolls. All very nicely done. And this is a practicing monastery, less grand than it once was, and still impressive. It was also nice to be the only tourists visiting at the time. We climbed the hill to see the old walled town below. But the mist was too heavy and we could barely discern its outline.

We walked back to the van and drove on to Gan Jia Bajiao City, the eight corner city. The city was built in the Han era and broke with the square style of ancient city designs. The city is surrounded by two walls. The length of the remaining outer wall is 1080 meters and was built in the middle of the mountain view with the wall 5 to 7 meters high. Moats were built around the city for safety from enemy to attack. We paid our nominal entry fee and climbed on top the wall for a birds-eye view of the farming village. The mountains in the distance were shrouded in the clouds obscuring any good views of them. Had it been a clear day, it would have been great.

Continuing up the valley we stopped in front of another monastery. The mist and rain prevented taking any good photos and no one in our party wanted to go inside. We drove the last few km to the entrance to the Trakkar Gompa cliff/cave monastery. The gorge was shrouded also and the rain came. Mats and Bjorn, Sindy and Peter paid the hefty entrance fee and hiked in. Will and we didn't think it was worth going during the bad weather and joined the monks watching Lord of the Rings in a tiny room while staying warm with a stove heated by goat pellets that looked like large rabbit turds. The four returned from the Gompa visit happy to have had the chance to explore. Mats and Bjorn climbed on the ropes to the cave...... Maybe next time for us........  

We got back to Xiahe a few hours later than we expected and said goodbye to our tour partners and driver. Dinner was a hotpot of sorts at the Tara. Too many chilies for us and the ‘lamb’ was stringy and tough. It turned out we were given yak which is known to be tough.

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.
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