One of the best days ever....
Trip Start Apr 23, 2011
61Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
He’d obviously done this trip once or twice before, negotiating the curving mountain roads at speed but with apparent control. We crossed two passes at over 4600m and I began to wonder at what altitude your average petrol stopped working due to lack of Oxygen.
Once again the views were amazing. We were well above the tree level in many places and the vast rolling plateau was dotted with the occasional spread of colourful wildflowers
Litang itself was a small place. Not quite a one horse town but almost. Wild and woolly Tibetan hairstyles; ruddy, almost black complexions bought on by the harsh environment and Buddhist monks in maroon robes were everywhere.
By 11am we were booked in at the Potala Palace...not much of a choice as that is where our driver dropped us off. He promptly picked up some guests going the other way and headed off back to Xiangsheng at about 11.30....well in time to meet the next bus coming from Shangri-la. Now we understood his insistence on leaving so early. He obviously had a bit of a monopoly on backpacker traffic plying this route.
We bargained down the rooms from 180 to 150 RMB without much trouble. It was a strange place....lots of faux fur and a brash landlady prancing around in stilettos clutching a very large handbag that I suspected contained all the cash in the establishment. The menu was in Chinglish but we had no trouble in ordering brunch and a big pot of snow-flower tea that was meant to help with altitude sickness
Bellies full we headed into town and located Mr Zhan’s...a very amiable Han Chinese guy with lots of information and by all accounts best mate with every Cowboy in town judging by how many were crammed into his tiny restaurant. They were quite an intimidating lot. Very wild looking with big, big knives strapped to their belts. But except for a scuffle in the main street involving two local, no-one seemed interested in giving us a hard time. Corinna with her blonde locks created a bit of curiosity but nothing in the least bit hostile.
Mr Zhan loved to chat, especially with foreigners. He told us all about the local spa baths which got Corinna and Molly interested and informed us he could get us invited to a sky burial if we wanted. We were all curious at local ritual of carving up a body and leaving the offerings to the vultures. It was not nearly as simple, nor barbaric as it sounds. The ceremony is complex and carried out by a local religious expert and a place where the ground is frozen solid most of the year round, it is a simple solution to ensure a person’s soul reaches the gods
The altitude at just over 4000m was taking its toll on us all and we were all feeling a little woozy. Tim and I went back for a rest, while the two girls went off to the "baths". Having experienced some shockers in the past, I was sceptical at what they would find. Upon their return my suspicions were confirmed regarding big dirty bathtubs that were filled with cruddy water. Of well, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!!! I was glad I had opted for a 2 hr rest and a pot of ginger tea.
That night the guesthouse restaurant was too full of smoke, and local police for us to spend much time. The proprietor was a total “space cadet” but obviously had very close ties to the local authorities. We wouldn’t be making any trouble here!
The next day was to be one of the best ever, not that it started that special. Breakfast was marred by the usual crappy service and a heap of other tourists smoking their lungs out. Just want you want when it’s hard enough to breathe at the best of times!
We all went down to the local bus station to work out how to get to the Tagong Grasslands the next day. We had to get a bus to Xiandushao first and there was only one leaving at about 6am. I managed to get us all tickets from the grumpy service lady and hoped I’d interpreted times etc correctly.
We then decided to have a lazy walk up through the old town via the 7th Dalai Lama’s house. Everyone was soooooo friendly. Corinna’s blonde hair and blue eyes were a huge source of curiosity and no-one seemed to mind this strange goddess taking photos of them. She was on fire. Kids who seemed to instinctively know how to pose, old grannies in groups, regal old men and mischievous monks...everyone wanted to be included. Many of the photos on this blog are hers and I hope I have credited her adequately.
The Dalai Lama’s house was a simple affair. It consisted of a rectangular mud brick, single storey structure with four huge prayer wheels inside and photos of past and present holy men. We stood awkwardly outside for a while watching the stream of elderly locals pay their respects. It wasn’t long however before we were beckoned inside to spin the wheels as part of the worship.
After paying our respects we continued our way up the hill towards the monastery. What should have only taken us a maximum of 30 minutes end up over an hour and a half as the photo with pportunities continued. Their beautiful, dignified faces; some smiling, some feeling the need to look deadly serious as soon as the camera appeared made for some very special shots
When we arrived at the monastery we had it to ourselves. The artwork, once again, was spectacular with detail and colour. Unencumbered by a camera I absorbed the serenity of the place and ended up separated from the others. Ambling through the different chambers I suddenly arrived at a dead end. Like a scene from a B grade thriller, a young monk appeared, beckoning me through a side door and up some stairs. Curious, I followed him up another level of beautiful murals and found myself eye-to-eye with the huge golden Buddha.
I went back and fetched the others to ensure they found their way up. The atmosphere and total lack of other tourists had us almost tip toeing about. We talked only when necessary and even then in hushed tones and whispers.
About an hour later we had finally made our way in and around all the nooks and crannies and emerged from a side door to where we had started. We were all a bit stuffed and we spent the next 30 minutes trying to find an alternative route down to the town so we didn’t have to go back track. Inevitably we gave up trying to go down and went up instead to another part of the complex.
This one was alive and kicking with lots of young monks and within minutes we had a growing throng posing for pictures, giggling like school girls and teasing each other
My suggestion of a large pot of tea to accompany sharing of our photos was unanimously accepted. The altitude, in conjunction with the “mucky” hot baths appeared to have dampened any further desire the girls might have had to explore the exotic offerings of downtown Litang.
All in all our experience that morning was well enough of a high for the rest of the day....