Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Western Sichuan

From Chengdu I headed off into Western Sichuan where China meets Tibet. The 7 journey was delayed by 2 hours due to a vehicle crash. A poor man in a blue van had a head wound due to what looked like the cab crushing him but everyone was just stood around smoking. Very different to a UK accident scene. Eventually an ambulance did arrive and some rather pathetic looking policemen who eventually got traffic flowing again. It was snowing when I arrived in Kangding and I found a tiny room with a squat toilet across the hall and no shower or heating. I resorted to rice wine to get me through the night. The next day it was still snowing and though I asked around, no-one seemed to want to take me to Tagong (the snow or the worry about foreigners reporting about Tibet?). So I spent the day exploring a local temple and monastery and then got on a bus to Danba arriving there at night. I found a much nicer room here with not only a shower but a hot one as well. On the way a policeman got on the bus and asked me a lot of questions and registered my passport. Once in my hotel, after a much needed shower, I was again confronted by a policeman asking if I was a journalist and what I was doing out here by myself (I was the only Westerner in Danba). I don't think my answers were very satisfactory and the fact that I wander around with a notebook at all times, does not help my case! The next day I found a great little street cafe where I had the best Baozi I have had in all of China so far (steamed buns made with rice flour, stuffed with meat and veg and spices) and then a kind of Chinese ravioli, freshly made. Not very Tibeten food wise, but it was delicious anyway. I was also won over by the super friendly owner who insisted I also try her and her friends dinner. I then set out to find the Tibeten villages and Qiang towers I had read about. I trekked out to the village of Suopo and nestled into the hillside, it was beautiful. It was a fantastic day (lower elevation than Kangding so no snow and lots of sun) and the rawness of the hills, the height and the picture perfect Tibeten villages were awesome to see. The next day I headed back to Chengdu a day earlier than I had hoped as I was concerned I may miss my evening train to Xi'an if I left the following day. It turned out I was right to be concerned as after setting out on the bus at 6.30am, the bus broke down 3 hours later. We then had to wait another 3 hours for a replacement bus, during which time, the bus driver and a passenger got into a fight that left the bus driver with a bloody face and nose. When the bus eventually did arrive, we had to drop the first bus driver off at the hospital. The next 7 hours was spent driving through the hills of Western Sichuan which was very picturesque. There were many stone villages sitting among terraces and glacial peaks to pass the time. I finally arrived in Chengdu around 8.30pm, just in time for St Patrick's day celebrations!

The car crash on the way to Kangding

Snowing in Kangding

A 400 year old temple and monastery in Kangding


Tibeten style decoration

Inside one of the halls in the Nanwu Temple and Lamasary

The Nanwu Temple and Lamasary

A monk at the Nanwu Temple

A lot of monks gathered together

Some local women in Danba

A bridge across the river, complete with Tibeten prayer flag colours

Tibeten housing looking across towards Suopo Village and the glacial peaks beyond

A local lady

Suopo village and Qiang towers

The stunning terraced landscape

Tibeten style houses

More Tibeten style houses

A Tibeten style house with colourful decoration

Danba town centre

The scenery on the way back to Chengdu


I had a lot of fun here, mostly due to my very sociable host, Gregor. I arrived here much too early in the morning (6am) and it was pitch black, and once the sun was up any hope of orientation was lost because Chengdu is covered in cloud so thick that identifying where the sun comes from is impossible. I ended up waking up poor Gregor after a long night on the town around 9.30am, very unsociable of me. After breakfast he soon sent me off to a nearby Buddhist temple which was fully of Chinese people drinking tea and chanting. It was a very calming, serene place and I thought this would be a lovely place to come on a regular basis. Too bad I am neither Chinese nor Buddhist. I then visited the statue of Mao saluting the crowd in the main square. Many Chinese tourists were taking their photo in front of it. He is still much revered in China, despite the sufferings he caused. Later Gregor took me out to meet his other expat friends (there are some 2000 expats in Chengdu apparently) for great Sichuan spicy food and a tour of Chengdu's bars. Feeling a bit worse for wear the next day we toured round the Tibeten quarter, trying to find a certain restaurant, half the fun was finding it. I was really impressed that all Gregor's friends (and him of course) speak such good Chinese. It's definitely a difficult language to learn, but it's also possible. I have already had more success than I expected getting Chinese people to understand my Chinese, OK it's not as easy as 'Quiero un cafe por favor' but it's definitely do-able in context. Also Chinese people seem so happy if you make the effort, it makes it all worthwhile. I have become a big fan of Chinese people. St Patrick's day in Chengdu, was quite a night with live music, and more celebrations than I have seen in Blighty at any rate. It was a lot of fun, but the hour and 10 minute run I did the day following took a while to blast away the cobwebs. All in all it was quite difficult to leave Chengdu!

Buddhist incense burning at the Daci Temple

A cat joining in the rituals

The tea house at the temple, packed on a Saturday

Chanting in the temple, they walk around the temple in formation, chanting as they go

Good ole Chairman Mao

A small park where people bring their caged birds (maybe so the birds can have a chat too?)


I just spent one day here after trekking Tiger Leaping Gorge. It is a very touristy place, but quite fun if you like ambling around the old town and eating yak meat on a stick. I stayed in the Mama Naxi hostel which was very welcoming and with lots of English spoken. Mama Naxi herself was always around giving hugs, tea and bananas. I also bumped into Rachel and Martin here again and made them try some green sweets which they weren't too keen on, I liked them anyway.

All kinds of foods for sale. I tried these green things. They are sweet, I think made of some kind of bean or grain, with a sweet peanut filling.

The main square with dancers

A bridge through the main square

Nice ornately detailed timber screens

Lijiang is lined with small canals which creates lots of pretty streets like this one

The view from above a school playground and the mountains beyond

Tibeten horsemen, not sure quite why they were here, they seemed to spend a lot of time smoking

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tiger Leaping Gorge

I arrived in Lijiang after a rough nights sleep on the train (not feeling well) and thanks to Gang Zhao, was driven by a friend of his to the bus station where she bought me a ticket, thanks Lili! At the bus station I met Anne and Leticia (Germany and Spain) who said they were off trekking too. On the bus we met Mirko and Yannik (Germany) so we had quite a good group of trekkers by the time we arrived in Qioutou to begin the trek. After dumping our things at Jane's Guesthouse and stopping for a pot noodle (breakfast) it was about 12pm by the time we set off. We were obviously not going to make it to Walnut Garden today. The trek was extremely beautiful but also all up hill so quite strenuous and we had a rather scary incident with a lady who after we had taken photos, demanded we pay her 3 yen each. We paid her 3 yen between us and she tried to block our path and attempted to throw stones at us, fortunately she didn't hit us. Then after yet more uphill climbing we came across another lady, this time selling snacks and marijuana (they grow it quite openly here). We thought at first it was some Chinese word 'Ganga' but realised quickly that it was the real thing. On we went and reached the 28 switch backs which absolutely killed any energy I had left in my legs. We all collapsed in a heap at the top and admired the view. Thankfully after that it was a fairly easy walk to the Tea Horse Guest House where starving and tired we decided to stop for the night. It can get dark quickly up here and we did not want to get caught between guesthouses. We shared a delicious Chinese meal (chicken and peanuts, beef curry, soup) and had a surprisingly hot shower before bed at 9.30pm (it's freezing up there!). The next day after a breakfast of muesli with fruit (heaven after a month of Asian food) we set off again on a much easier terrain of mostly flat and down hill. We passed people with donkeys, people fitting water pipes, goats and through a waterfall. We arrived at Tina's guesthouse for lunch where Anne headed off further along the gorge with another group and Leticia and I decided to head back to Lijiang (only one month in China, too much to do, too little time!). While waiting for the bus back to Jane's guesthouse and Lijiang, Leticia, a few stragglers from the other group and I went for a walk down to the gorge. It was beautiful. Then we all headed back to Lijiang on a gorgeous and sometimes hairy bus ride.

The beginning of the trek

A Yak

Trekking up hill with goats for company

Yacha Village, we stayed just beyond

A Guesthouse sign, yes!

The resident dog

The baboon at the Tea horse guest house

The view from the guesthouse

Breakfast with a view

Up in the mountains

A herd of goats

A line of donkeys

The mountain peaks

A very long waterfall

Leticia, Anne and me at the waterfall

Walking through with the waterfall above

The gorge

The gorge a bit lower

Me and the gorge