Here now and now here or nowhere

The title of this blog comes from a play on words that "now here" is also the same letters as "nowhere" just with a space added in the middle. I am always trying to get better at being in the here and now, and I've always been a bit of a joker so that is why I chose this name.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Road to Sichuan

It's 7am. I'm sitting on a bus that was supposed to leave at 6:30. The bus is full of mostly Tibetan people who haven't showered for god knows how long and all smell like freshly pressed yak butter. Half the people on the bus use the Chinese first come first sat rule, the other strictly going by the sit in the number seat your given. Chaos of stupidity rules supreme here. It's pretty cold, about 3 degrees Celsius, and we have a 10 hour ride ahead of us. Did I mention I lost one of the ear pieces for my headphones? This means no music to block out the incessant chorus of lugies being prepared to be hocked, and then shortly after hocked (usually on the floor) and open mouth coughing. A germaphobes worst nightmare. And thus begins my trip from Litang to Kangding.

Well at least I have the back row all to myself. Got to find the positive, right?

Shortly into the ride I try lying down to take a nap however am jotted awake as my body goes flying into the air. This road is bumpy, to say the least. our bus seems to rattle as it rolls anything, it could be a tiny pebble and the bus would go this way our that.
Pretty soon we make an unscheduled stop to pick up so more people standing by the side of the road. Sitting next to me are two very dirty Tibetan kids and their equally dirt covered mothers. So much for the positive.

Soon the bus is prowling over snowy mountainous roads and fishtailing this way and that. For those unaware of the roads on the Sichuan-Tibet highway picture small thin roads 1.5 car lengths wide that hug the mountain on one side and the other side peaks down the sloping side of the mountain. Needless to say peaking down the side of a mountain (and it's far drop to a bottom you can't even see) is very scary when sliding out of control. At one point an oncoming truck not too far from where we were slid on the ice and fell off the road, coming close to going over the edge. This was, by far, the scariest ride of my life. Thoughts of emailing my family from the bus to say, "I know I'm not going to make it and I love you all." definitely crossed through my head.

We made it through the ice unscathed but of course it isn't going to get better today. Next we hit the worst bumpy road I've ever hit. Flying a foot off my seat (truth, not journalistic coloring here) at points, my tailbone in pains worse than I'd imagine a dropped soap in jail would bring.

I wasn't able to photograph much of the natural beauty of the mountains and other landscapes we passed as I was either hanging on for dear life or holding the little boy next to me down so he wouldn't fly into the ceiling or over the seat.

This post will have more pictures that I'm not describing because it's more about the nature and scenery than anything else. The pictures were taken over a few different days on different stretches of the road. You'll notice that much of the scenery is different as it was constantly morphing into different landscapes.

Pit stop for bathroom and to clean the bus.

stream and a mountain in the background

a ramshackled tibetan building of sorts

meats hanging to dry

we stopped to put on the tire chains.

tires are chained up

This drink looked really COOL!!! it was half orange and half milky type drink. each in separate half containers but when you drank it would mix in your mouth. Great idea, but nasty taste.

these prayer wheels were set atop running water which would cause them to always be spinning as the water was flowing through.

welcome to the land of the lost


From Degin I went up the back roads of the Tibetan parts of Sichuan to lead my way to Chengdu. One major town on this route is Litang. Litang is a small town that doesn't offer too much in the way of excitement. Once a major stopping ground on the Ancient Tea-Horse Road, now it's just a small Tibetan town where many nomadic Tibetans come to buy and sell there products.

The town is also known for The Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling Monastery. The monastery was founded in 1580 by the third Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso on the site of an older Bön-monastery. There are three main temples in the compound, of which two were currently under construction. Many famous and influential personal figures were born here, including the 7th Dalai Lama, 10th Dalai Lama, the most influential Zebutsundaba Lama of Mogonia, the 7th Gyamuyang Lama, the 7th, 8th and 9th Pabalha living Buddha of Chamdo monastery and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Xianggen living buddha.

Tibet style house on the way to Litang from Daocheng

We passed this section of road on the mountaintop that had boulders for miles. It seemed sort of out of place from the usual scenery.

An area with chortas(stupas) and prayer flags all over the place.

In Litang, tibetan housing settlements.

these walls looked almost fake but are made out of mud. notice the roofing of it, essentially mud and grass.

Murals of sorts all around this oen area. not sure what it means but it looked real nice.

Leading up to the Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling Monastery.

The Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling Monastery.

Front of the main building in the Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling Monastery.

The Buddha inside, undergoing construction

View out from the monastery

View of the Tibetan village part of town and the mountains in the distance.

Yak meat hanging in the market.

I should probably wash my finger now. :)

Litang had a park of sorts that was this giant Stupa surrounded by smaller ones and prayers wheels. At all times of the day numerous buddhists would be walking around it chanting their prayers (this is called a kora, or pilgrimage)

prayer wheels in motion.

local kids at the stupa, playing around with us.

Dinner, Tibet style. Tibetan noodles, yak butter tea and tsamba. Tsamba is butter tea (here just hot water and butter) mixed with fine mashed barley.

The server showing me how to make the tsamba.

and me making the tsamba. honestly, not the best thing I've ever eaten (by a long shot) but now I know what it's like.

Deqin days

After Shangri-La we the plan was to head north to Deqin, the closest you can get to Tibet in Yunan without actually going to Tibet. Highlights of the town are the views of Meili Snow Mountain and the nearby Feilai Temple. Besides that, the town is relatively bland and more Han feeling than Tibetan.

Though not too far away the ride was incredibly long as not only are you making your way over and around mountain passes but you also have to add in the copious amounts on construction that is being undergone on the road.

After arriving at Feilai Si, I ran into a girl who I had met a few times along the way. My original plan was to go back to Shangri-La from here and then from there head up the back roads of Sichuan to get to Chengdu. The back roads are mostly tibetan villages and I was looking forward to experiencing this. However Ruby said there was another way through Mamgkeng we could take. I asked her if it entered Tibet and she assured me it didn't. I wrote the following on my ride to Mamgkeng.

"Sitting in the back of a minivan heading from Deqin to Mamgkeng squished next to the bags and sacks of whatever the other passengers may be carrying (rice, stones, clothes, etc). In front of me sits my travel friend ruby and three already drunk tibetan men. Did I mention it's barely 9:30am? For music one of the Tibetan men has their phone on full blast so we all have to listen, a common occurrence with Chinese people. A different tibetan man sings the songs from the other mans phone. Outside, the sun is still hidden behind the clouds and the temperature reads "still damn cold, laddie!". We're driving through the valleys of big mountainous regions. Occasionally passing small Tibetan villages This is the back door road from Yunnan into Sichuan. We're so close to the Tibet province but not inside which saves us all the hassle from the Chinese government yet still gives you a feel for what Tibetan culture is."

Sadly I had to go back to Deqin (and then Shangri-La in an epic day of being in a car for a shit load of time) as Mamgkeng is indeed in Tibet and I wasn't allowed through the first checkpoint.

We get an early rise on the day and see the sun start to shine it's lovely face.

Sunrise over the mountains.

and thus begins our lovely day full for numerous road work projects that bring us to dead halts.

mountains and valleys

a terraced field in the belly of the valley

another roadwork stop. this one held us for 2 hours. During this pause I also had the "pleasure" of having a chinese man try to grab my crotch. sadly this would happen later again next week.

oh wait, another road stop for road work.

two rivers converging. notice the yin and yang in colors of the two of them

beautiful blue skies

It's hard to see but there is a village near the top of that mountain. not sure how they get there or why they'd want to be there but i just hope the kids never hit the ball over the fence as it's a long way down

small tibetan village set amidst mountains

snow capped mountains in the distance


the car gang with beautiful mountains in the background. At this point we're somewhere between 4.5 and 5k meters above sea level

a beautiful sunrise (not) at Feilai Si

Buddhists doing their morning prayers at Feilai Si

donkey walking around the town. he was a bit scared of me

tibetan villages off in the distance

Tibet village

We stopped here and made an offering of cash and then walked around it and got back in the car. I think the gods were pleased

It was beautiful but by this time I was ready to get back to Shangri-La and move on to Sichuan.