Mysterious Mugecuo Lake

Mysterious Mugecuo Lake

Mysterious Mugecuo Lake

Mysterious Mugecuo Lake is located around 25 kilometres to the north of Kanding, in China’s Sichuan Province. At a height of 3700 metres above sea level it is actually one of the highest lakes in this part of Sichuan. Mugecuo is a really a series of small lakes, that has become collectively known as Mugecuo.

Mysterious Mugecuo Lake

The road up to the lake is beautiful, especially the final part that follows a gushing river. One spot on the way up marks the scenic place that inspired the writing of the famous Kangding Love Song.

Gnarled Trees Mugecuo Lake

Mysterious Mugecuo Lake: Enshrouded in Mist

Once you enter the lake area you find yourself in a mystic and magical landscape that is more often than not, enshrouded in a deep impenetrable mist. The lakes are encircled by pine forests, huge cedars and ancient gnarled trees, with ´hairy´ threads of vegetation hanging off them. Furthermore, there are forests of rhododendron trees  everywhere.

Hanging vegetation Mugecuo Lake

The day we visited a swirling mist had surged up from the lake causing the water to take on a deep dark green menacing look.  Occasionally the mist would break, and for a few seconds the lake became a placid and friendly blue green.

As you hike around the lake, you’ll bump in to nomads on horse back. Some of these nomads set up temporary settlements near the lakes with some refreshments tents during in the high season.

Nomads Mugecuo Lake
Nomads Mugecuo Lake

Coming and Going:

There is no public transport; you can hire a taxi from Kanding for about 200 Yuan. Make sure you are prepared for abrupt changes in temperature and weather; it can snow here even in summer.

Hairy Trees

Our driver was a rather drunk- jolly fellow and nearly killed us all when returning to Kangding. We forgave him a as nothing happened.

Beautiful Mugecuo Lake

These days Mugecuo lake is more touristy than when we visited. However, most day tippers stick to the entrance area. There are plenty of hiking opportunities and if you take your own equippment and just keep going , you’ll end up on the Taggong Grasslands. Be aware, the mist and the thick forest make getting lost a real possibilitity!

Magic Mugecuo lake

Bakong Tibetan Scripture Printing Lamasery Dege

Bakong Tibetan Scripture Printing Lamasery Dege
Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

Bakong Tibetan Scripture Printing Lamasery Dege is not the only reason to come to this remote area of China’s Sichuan Province. There are plenty of other things to see and do. It is however, the end of the road for non- Chinese travellers. Tibet is so close but yet so far.

Bakong Tibetan Scripture Printing Lamasery Dege
Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

A bit of a Shock on arrival

The town, we must admit, came as a bit of a shock at first. Having travelled so far, to such a remote place, only to find ourselves in yet another dusty white-tile frontier town, full of hooting traffic, smoking exhausts and blaring radios was not quite what we were expecting.

Young Monks at the Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege
Young Monks at the Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

The only hotel in town had even incorporated a karaoke cum disco in its rapidly deteriorating “new wing”: even though this part of the hotel was only one or two years old, there were cigarette burns in the carpets, peanut shells and pips littering the floor, and stains everywhere.

Monks houses Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege
Monks houses Dege

It wasn’t until the next day that we discovered the delights of the small old town, which houses a number of interesting and beautiful temples, converting Dege in a vibrant place, dominated by the wine-red robes of the monks and the exotic attire of the numerous pilgrims, circumambulating the temples and shrines.

Monks Dege
Monks Dege

Bakong Tibetan Scripture Printing Lamasery Dege

The jewel in Dege’s crown is undoubtedly the Bakong Scripture Printing Lamasery. 

Bakong Tibetan Scripture Printing Lamasery Dege
Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

This monastery, whose printing press was built in 1729 and is still operative,  holds an important part of Tibet’s history and heritage. The building itself is quite imposing; its walls are painted brick-red, with a decorative rim of dark-brown twigs pressed into one solid layer, while the flat roofs are topped by golden birds, bells and turrets.

Dege Monks
Monks Dege

Groups of wild-looking pilgrims with unkempt long braids and wrapped in Tibetan greatcoats move clockwise around the outside.

Making printing Paper Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege
Making Printing Paper

Everything Handmade

Nearby, groups of monastery workers, most of them women, their index fingers protected by leather thimbles, are busy making wood pulp from thin strips of shredded wood, while others are wetting finished sheets of paper to soften them and prepare them for use.

Making printing Paper Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege
Making printing Paper Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

Inside the print, nothing much has changed for centuries: there are still over a 100 workers, more than 210,000 stored wood-block printing plates, and no mechanization to speak of; so far the monastery has even avoided electricity for fear of fire.

Print Dying Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege
Print Dying Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

The wood-block texts

The wood-block texts in the library cum storeroom include works on astronomy, Tibetan traditional medicine, geography and music, as well as important treatises on Buddhism. The most valuable item in the collection consists of 555 blocks, detailing the history of Buddhism in India, in Hindu, Urdu and Tibetan.

Print Dying Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege
Print Dying Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

The oldest blocks are carved into precious woods that are no longer available. In the past, carvers were only  allowed to produce one line of text a day, for reasons of clarity.

Print Dying Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege
Print Dying Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

At the end of the day, their work would be remunerated by putting gold dust on the blocks and then wiping it off. All the gold that remained in the openings, lines and spaces was for the carvers. Obviously, the deeper and clearer they carved, the more they would earn.

Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege
Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

The printers

The printers, who are mostly young men, work in groups of three, moving like well-oiled cogs in a machine: one of them places the paper in the wooden contraption used for printing and holds it in place, the other one inks the wood-block and presses it down on the paper.

Making Paper Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege
Making Paper Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

The third one is in charge of fetching the correct blocks, collecting and sorting the finished prints, as well as plying the printers with tea. The printed text appears quickly, at a speed of about one page every four seconds.

Print Dying Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege
Print Dying Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

However, given that many of the sacred texts, such as the Tengzur, a 46,521 page collection of 14th-century scholastic commentaries on Buddhism, are extremely long, it can take one team of workers roughly a month to produce just one copy.

Painted column  Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege
Painted column Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

Bakong Tibetan Scripture Printing Lamasery Dege

In the open-air courtyards, which are surrounded by beautifully painted columns and galleries, older men are busy washing the ink off used printing blocks, mixing paint, or proofreading and checking finished texts and storing them away.

Just by being there and observing the process, you can appreciate how fragile Tibet’s heritage is. That the monastery survived the ravages of the cultural revolution is a miracle in itself!

monk Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

Moreover, the fact that the whole interior of  the building,  the library and its irreplaceable collection of printing blocks are made of wood, make it extremely vulnerable to fire. One careless mistake or loose spark and it could all go up in smoke.

Pilgrims Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege
Pilgrims Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

The vulnerability of the monastery is one of the reasons you can only visit by guided tour. Unfortunately, most of the guides are elderly men with only the most rudimentary knowledge of Mandarin, who will herd you through far too quickly.

Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege
Winnie Bini margie and guide

An Amazing Guide

However, there are exceptions. We were extremely lucky to be guided by a lovely young Tibetan girl who had actually studied Tibetan culture at a Minorities University and who was completely dedicated to her work.

golden statue
Golden Statue

She explained that most of the print workers are locals who spend their whole life there, starting with the physically taxing work of printing itself, and gradually moving on to lighter tasks as they get older.

Young Kid Dege
Young Kid Dege

They all need to be literate, up to an extent, in order to carry out their tasks well. In winter, when work at the print comes to a standstill, due to the bitter cold which freezes the ink, and makes the printers’ hands clumsy, many of them spend time at their family farms.

Young Kids Dege
Young Kids Dege

We spent over two hours with her, eventually going up to the top floor where a few ancient monks were making coloured picture prints on cloth and valuable parchment, of which we purchased several, and finally climbing onto the roof, from where there are splendid views over the town. Printing blocks that have been washed are covered in yak butter and laid out to dry here.

Roof top view Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege
Roof top view

Other Monasteries in Dege

Just beyond the Bakong monastery, there are several other lamaseries that are well worth exploring: there are temples, residential blocks set in flower gardens, communal kitchens and primitive outdoor latrines. Groups of monks in flowing robes and child novices in yellow tunics and trousers move between the buildings.

Beautiful Monastery Dege
Beautiful Monastery dege

At mealtimes you can see them with their bowls and utensils in hand, lining up at the kitchens or dining halls. Overall, they are extremely friendly and welcoming and don’t seem to mind posing for the odd photo, as long as you don’t overdo it.

Stunning Tapesteries Dege
Stunning interior Bakong Tibetan Printing Monastery Dege

Dege Ganchen Baden Lundru Ding Temple

One of the monasteries, the Dege Ganchen Baden Lundru Ding Temple (though this seems to be just one of many names given to it), has a particularly imposing main hall with tall pillars, colourful wall hangings and thankas, big painted drums and large but serene statues of the Buddha.

Farm girl Dege
Farm girl Dege

Where the monastic town ends, an idyllic rustic village takes over, with Tibetan farmsteads, haystacks and vegetable patches. Beyond that, fertile fields, small streams and an endless expanse of countryside.

Dege vernacular houses
Dege vernacular houses

Dege Practicalities:

Watching you watching me Dege
Watching you watching me Dege

Accommodation:

At the time of writing, the best hotel in town was the “Que Er Shan”, opposite the “Dege Binguan” and run by the same management. In the “Dege Binguan”, double rooms are only Yuan 50, with pay-showers outside, while the “Que Er Shan” charges Yuan 180, no haggling admitted. Despite the slightly run-down feel of the hotel, rooms are quite large and bright, beds are comfy and the showers are piping hot at night. Just make sure your room isn’t too close to the Karaoke.

Food:

Monks going to their Canteen
Monks going to their Canteen

There are plenty of small, hole-in-the-wall type eateries in town, some of the best run by Han-Chinese and specialising in Sichuan food. Up on a sloping street, just above the hotel, is the “Rhong Zhong Bros Restaurant”, run by a nice young couple from Chengdu; its specialty are potato pancakes and they have a basic menu in English. Other options include Tibetan and Muslim food.

Farms dege
Farms Dege

Communications:

Dege even boasts an upstairs Internet café, on the main street leading to the Bakong monastery, on the left-hand side as you are heading towards the monastery, which is popular with the younger generation. Keep your eyes open for pickpockets though.

Excursions:

The spectacular and remote Palpung Monastery (click here)

Clapped out Jeep Palpung Monastery
Clapped out Jeep

The manager of the “Que Er Shan” can help you to rent vehicles for excursions further afield. We paid Yuan 450 for an old jeep, plus driver for the day. A  much more comfortable brand-new Mitsubishi would have cost us Yuan 1,000. In retrospect, given the state of the roads, plus the state of our backsides after the ride, the Mitsubishi would have been worth it.

View From Palpung Monastery
View From Palpung Monastery

Transport:

Bus Crossing the Chola Pass
Bus Crossing the Chola Pass

The Dege bus station  is nothing like its Ganzi counterpart. Every time we tried to buy tickets, we had found it closed. Eventually, we asked the hotel manager  of the “Que Er Shan” to book the tickets for us. Daily buses for Ganzi leave around 7 o’clock in the morning, and they are mostly old beasts. Make sure you have a reserved seat as the bus does fill up.

After Dege:

Sichuan Tibet border crossing
Sichuan Tibet border crossing

There is a daily bus to Chamdo in Tibet 7.00  but as the Tibetan border is still closed to individual travellers, your options for continuing your journey are the following:

To Baiyu 白玉

Tibet on the otherside of the Jinsha River
Tibet on the otherside of the Jinsha River

If you want to avoid risking the Chola Pass for a second time,you can hire a vehicle or share a mini bus from Dege to the Monastery town of Baiyu. The road follows the Jinsha Rvier with Tibet proper on the other side. The must see sight here is the Pelyul Gompa 白玉寺 (Baiyu Si) which is also a Tibetan printing monastery.

Palpung Monastery
Palpung Monastery

In Baiyu there is accommodation, food, and onward travel to Ganzi. If you set out early enough with your own transport (jeep), you can take in the spectacular and remote Palpung Monastery (click here).

Jinsha River seperating Sichuan from Tibet
Jinsha River seperating Sichuan from Tibet

Backtrack

Back over the Chola Pass
Back over the Chola Pass
  • You can backtrack to Ganzi and eventually make your way back to Chengdu from there. There is even a direct bus linking Ganzi to Chengdu, though we wouldn’t recommend it.
Scenery Near Ganzi
Scenery Near Ganzi
  • This bus leaves Ganzi at 6.15 in the morning and takes 11 hours to get to Kanding, driving steadily and without any delays. However, once you get past Kanding,  night falls and road conditions worsen. We found ourselves driving down pitch-black windy mountain roads, overtaking vehicles on blind corners and going faster than even modern passenger cars. Terrified, we repeatedly shouted at the driver to slow down, to the amusement of the Chinese passengers, who didn’t seem to share our sense of doom.
Heading back to Manigango
Heading back to Manigango
  • Eventually, after 19 hours on the bus, the last 7 of which were extremely stressful, we pulled in at Chengdu bus station. If we ever had to do it again, we would definitely stop for the night in Kanding.

Update

  • The road between Kangding and Chengdu is now is much improved and the journey a breeze.

To Yushu / Serxu

Tibetan Lady At Serxu Monastery
Tibetan Lady At Serxu Monastery
  • Secondly, you can backtrack from Dege to Manigango and change buses, or go all the way to Ganzi if you want to be sure of a seat, or don’t fancy spending a night in Manigango.
Scenery Manigango to Yushu
Scenery Manigango to Yushu
  • Next you can head for Serxu, and then Yushu in Qinghai province. From there, you can make your way slowly to Xining, the capital of the province. There are some important monasteries close to Xining, such as Tongren and Ta Er Si, and the city is linked by rail to Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province. The journey only takes 4 hours on a fast train.
Khampas near Litang
Khampas near Litang
  • Finally, you might want to continue your journey by moving into Yunnan province. In order to do this, you need to get back to Kanding first. From there, you make your way to Litang, then Xiangcheng – where you most likely will have to spend the night – and eventually Zhongdian in Yunnan.
View over Zhongdian old town before the fire Destroyed it
View over Zhongdian old town before fire destroyed it.

Back to Sichuan Province

Ganzi to Manigango and onto Dege

Ganzi 甘孜 to Manigango (Manigange 马尼干戈) and onto Dege 德格 Over the Chola Pass 雀儿山

Ganzi to Manigango and onto  Dege

Ganzi to Manigango and onto Dege is a journey you will never forget. As the crow flies, it’s not that far from Ganzi to Dege, the last town before the Tibetan border and home to the famous Bakong Scripture Printing Lamasery. However, separating the two towns is the forbidding 5,400 meter Chola Pass 雀儿山, one of the highest roads in the world. 

Ganzi to Manigango and onto  Dege

Setting off

Our bus set off more or less on time, and for the first couple of hours we crossed over grasslands, passing numerous villages and monastery towns. Some even had signs in English, welcoming visitors.

Ganzi to Manigango and onto  Dege
Khampa Horseman

As we approached Manigango, after about two-and-a-half hours, the scenery became more dramatic and we could see Khampas on horse-back herding yaks, and nomad settlements dotting the pastures.

Chola Pass

Although horses are still the predominant means of transport for the Khampas, motorbikes are gaining in popularity, even out on these remote grasslands, judging by the number of bikes whizzing past the bus with two, three and even four people on them.

Nomads near Manigango

Welcome to Manigango

Passengers to Dege

On entering Manigango for our lunch break, the sky suddenly turned black and the heavens unleashed a tremendous downpour, which left the muddy streets even muddier.

Manigango Bus station

If any town ever looked like a Wild West one-street film set, then Manigango was it. For many Sichuanese, the name Manigango is associated with wild bandits robbing and even killing Chinese and Western tourists alike.

Main street Manigango

It does appear that until recently a problem of security did exist around these parts. However, on arriving there, the town seemed quiet enough.

Yaks and bus Manigango

In August 2004, Manigango had only one mucky street, and one vile public toilet, located in a crumbling wooden shack, just off the building site for a new hotel.

Loading the Bus to dege at Manigango

Its main purpose was to serve as a kind of transport hub for travellers changing buses for Dege and Chamdo in Tibet, or heading towards Serxu and then on to Yushu in Qinghai.

Ganzi to Manigango and onto  Dege

There was quite a decent restaurant at the bus stop, with lots of boiling cauldrons, dishing out some rather tasty food. To get to the restaurant however, was another matter: passengers had to jump over puddles, avoid roaming yaks and run the gauntlet of an army of beggars that attached themselves to every incoming bus.

Ganzi to Manigango and onto  Dege
Chola Pass

Next to the restaurant, another large hotel was under construction, most likely a sign of the times: Manigango seemed to be gearing up to becoming something of a tourist town.

Ganzi to Manigango and onto Dege

What’s more, it’s quite likely that it will succeed; the town may not be much, but the surrounding scenery is fantastic and a mere 20 kilometres away on the road to Dege is the Xinluhai lake, one of the most beautiful and pristine in China.

Xinhailu near Manigango
Sunny Xinluhai

For the time being, we were merely content to find something to eat, a place to pee – of sorts – and leave muddy  Manigango and its beggars behind.  The bus started to climb steadily over the grasslands, huge snow-capped mountains came into view and suddenly the Xinluhai lake appeared before us.

Ganzi to Manigango and onto  Dege
Xinhailu
A wet damp Xinluhai

The lake is set in alpine meadows, dotted with pine trees, that slope steeply towards the turquoise waters. On one side, there is a dramatic backdrop of threatening grey, jagged peaks and a glacier that comes all the way down.

Chola Pass from bus window

After the lake, the bus started the huge ascent up to the Chola Pass. Going up from Manigango is not so bad, as your bus is on the inside and you cannot see the precipice down below you. This is especially important when having to pass an oncoming truck, or overtake one that has broken down. Eventually, our packed bus crawled to the top, and all the Tibetans on board cheered and celebrated by throwing hundreds of paper prayers out of the window. We were ready to join them, having bought some in Ganzi for the occasion.

Other side of the Chola pass

Once the bus has made it over the pass, the rest of the journey is a piece of cake. We just rolled downhill for two hours, through deep pine valleys and following gushing mountain rivers until we pulled up at the crummy bus station in downtown Dege.

Returning back over the Chola Pass in sleet and snow was far worse!

Update

Five years later we came through Manigango again on our way from Yushu (just before the earthquake) to Ganzi. Somethings had improved. We overnighted at the Manigange Pani Hotel, then still the only option. Unfornutately, this was one of the worst nights of my life as I was suffering from servere Altitude Sickness that I had come down with in Yushu. These days there are other accommodation options in Manigango that might be better than Pani Hotel.

BACK TO SICHUAN PROVINCE

Litang China’s Wild West

An updated version of our 2004 trip to Litang Sichuan Province. This post was first published on our original website. The Pictures have been improved and information updated

Litang  China's Wild West
Litang; China’s Wild West

Excursion to Litang: 2004

Litang; China’s Wild West maybe a little tamer these days as transport connections improve and the authorities build more tourists facilities. However, it is still a place for great adventures in Western Sichuan’s wild Tibetan lands.

Litang; China's Wild West
Litang; China’s Wild West

Litang; China’s Wild West: Kangding to Litang

The journey to Litang from Kangding takes about 7 or 8 hours ( a little less these days weather permitting) and takes you through some pretty rural scenery.

Litang China's Wild West Tibetan Homes

For the first two hours or so, the bus goes through farming land and past some gorgeous two-or three-storey Tibetan farmhouses; these are sturdy stone and wood dwellings with a courtyard and flat roofs for drying chillies, grains and vegetables, quite often surrounded by a wall.

Litang China's Wild West Tibetan houses

Incongruously, many of the farmsteads sport satellite dishes these days and some have been converted into guesthouses.

Tibetan House

Later on, the bus moves through higher and hillier scenery, where meadows and small woodlands alternate and you start seeing herds of yaks. Eventually, you hit the high plateau, where Litang is situated.

Litang; China's Wild West
Litang; China’s Wild West

Litang, sitting in a wide valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains at an incredible altitude of 4,200 meters above sea level, is literally China’s Wild West.

Litang Sky burial site
Sky burial Site

Litang China’s Wild West: The Town in two Parts

It is a frontier town, on the fringes of government control and full of wild people. As soon as you step off the bus, you will feel the altitude: what with the weight of our backpacks and the lack of oxygen, it seemed that our lungs and head would explode.

Transport Litang

Like all the towns in the Tibetan areas of Western Sichuan, Litang is divided between a new Chinese town and the old Tibetan quarter. Recently, huge numbers of Chinese have been encouraged to migrate from the low-lying areas of the Sichuan basin to the Tibetan highlands, with the promise of jobs and business opportunities.

Yak Meat Litang
Yak Meat Litang

The Chinese part offers the traveller food and accommodation facilities that only a few years ago didn’t exist.

However, it is the Tibetan town that holds all the interest: it is a fascinating maze of Medieval-looking mud-alleys lined by sturdy, traditional Tibetan homes, and dominated by the sprawling monastery complex on a hill overlooking the town .

Open gutters run through the middle of the streets, and a central well provides water for most of the households. Tibetan ladies gather there to fill their buckets, or wash their hair or clothes.

Litang China’s Wild West: The Chöde Gompa

The Chöde Gompa is a huge rambling place, complete with courtyards, halls, temples, surrounded and overlooked by dark wooden galleries decorated with paintings you can barely make out in the semi-darkness, kitchens and sleeping quarters for the monks.

The Chöde Gompa Litang
The Chöde Gompa Litang

On our visit, we found everything open, but not a soul in sight; not even to sell us a ticket.

 Chöde Gompa Litang
Chöde Gompa Litang

Back in the new town, there are several markets, shops and food stalls to keep you entertained.

Litang China's Wild West
Litang China’s Wild West

Trendy Khampa youngsters on decorated motorbikes race up and down the main street, sporting huge sunglasses and leather jackets and flashing golden teeth; while their more conservative counterparts still prefer to ride into town on horseback.

Litang China's Wild West
Litang China’s Wild West

Litang: Sky Burials

Sky Burial Site Litang
Sky Burial site
What is a Sky Burial

Litang China’s Wild West, has in recent years become an increasingly popular destination to observe Sky Burials, Tibetan funeral rites. Sky burials are the way Tibetans have been disposing of their deceased for centuries.

The burial involves cutting open the deceased’s corpse and removing the body’s organs. This is followed by dismemberment; all limbs are then smashed into pieces and mixed with tsampa (barley flour with tea and yak butter, or milk).

Pilgrims heading to Litang on hands and knees
Pilgrims heading to Litang on hands and knees

monks known as rogyapas (“body-breakers”) carry out the burial rites. Finally, the rogyapas spread the remains out around the burial site so that vultures and other scavenging birds can come and eat the body parts and clean out the flesh from the carcass.

Litang; China's Wild West
Litang; China’s Wild West

Litang; China’s Wild West: The Grasslands

The grasslands and high country around Litang offer great opportunities for trekking and hiking and exploring remote monasteries.

You only have to walk a few kilometers out town to stumble upon the nomadic life of the Khampas. Herders graze their horses and yaks, and Khampa farmers and traders, many with large knives holstered in their belts, ride in and out of Litang on their horses giving the whole area a real Wild West feel.

The Khampa women, often dressed in their most elaborate costumes, provide the colour and allure of the grasslands.  

Qudenggabu

If you leave town via the eastern part, you can visit the Qudenggabu, a fairly new stupa, on your way. In spite of its recentness, this place attracts a large number of pilgrims, circumambulating the structure, spinning prayer wheels and reciting mantras.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Litang-Pilgrim-Kora-939x1024.jpg

Moreover, a couple of kilometres out of town, you will come across a simple hot-springs resort, where you might be tempted to have a soak, depending on the level of luxury you are enjoying in town.

Wild Litang

ACCOMMODATION: A very Dodgy Hotel

Speaking of which, we stayed in a Tibetan-style hostel, just to the right of the bus station. The place was nice enough, we had traditionally furnished rooms with carved and brightly painted wooden furniture, colourful rugs and blankets. There was a common sitting area and a toilet in the corridor.

However, as we discovered on our first night, the place also doubled as an annex to the seedy bar, cum brothel, across the road. All night long, there were shouts, drunken brawls, slamming doors and thudding footsteps on the landing. We reached our limit on the second night, when a fearsome Khampa warrior with a knife in his belt just strode into our room, stood there grinning and pointing at us, and just refused to move.

On awaking the next morning, our last one, we found a wild-haired nomad squatting on our, the hostel’s, toilet with the door wide open and a vacuous expression on his face… time to go.

Litang Practicalities:

As we discovered later, there is no need to stay at the hostel/brothel we stayed at; if you swing a left from the bus station and walk about 10 minutes into the centre of town, there is a proper hotel on a corner, on the right hand side of the street, with a glass-fronted reception. They have en-suite rooms with hot water.

Festivals:

The best time to visit Litang is in the first half of August, when the horse festival takes place. Nomads come from all over to participate in wild, breath-taking races.

Onward travel:

If you want to travel on to Yunnan, Litang is where you should go. From here, you can catch a bus to Xiangcheng, where you will have to spend the night, and then Zhongdian in Yunnan.

BACK TO SICHUAN PROVINCE

Tea Drinking Wenshu Temple

Strawberries and cream, a pint of beer and a packet of crisps, pescaito frito and a glass of cold dry sherry. And then there is Chengdu and it’s teahouses. There are just somethings that are marriages made in heaven.

pouring tea at the Wenshu temple 文殊院, Chengdu 成都
Wenshu temple 文殊院, Chengdu 成都

Life is good: Drinking Tea

Tea drinking in the Wenshu Temple 文殊院 is a ‘Must‘ for any visitor to Chengdu 成都.

Not so long ago; depends what you mean by long; 1989, when we first visited Chengdu, the city’s downtown streets were lined with rickety teahouses jam-packed with locals lounging on wicker chairs, chatting, playing mahjong and drinking tea. Above them hung their caged birds, brought along for extra company in the same way a dog is taken for a walk.

People drinking tea and relaxing at the Wenshu temple 文殊院, Chengdu 成都
Wenshu temple 文殊院, Chengdu 成都

Unfortunatetly, as Chengdu rapidily modernised, most of roadside teahouses fell victims to the wrecking ball and disappeared, especially from downtown Chengdu. But scratch beneath the suface and many remnants of Chengdu’s teahouse culture can still be found alive and flourishing.

Old teapots Wenshu temple 文殊院, Chengdu 成都
Wenshu temple 文殊院, Chengdu 成都

Chengdu’s Wenshu temple 文殊院

Welcome to Chengdu’s Wenshu temple 文殊院 one of the best getaways from an ever more frenetic, burgeoning mega-city. It’s a place to forget the city noise and choking fumes, and instead catch up on local gossip or just chill for a few hours.

People drinking tea and relaxing at the Wenshu temple 文殊院, Chengdu 成都
Wenshu temple 文殊院, Chengdu 成都

Having your ears cleaned or nails treated comes part and parcel with the whole experience; Covid 19 permitting!

A cup of tea at Wenshu temple 文殊院, Chengdu 成都
Wenshu temple 文殊院, Chengdu 成都

Other recommended places in Chengdu to share a similar experience are the He Ming Teahouse 鹤鸣茶馆 in Renmin Park人民公园 and the peaceful Qingyang Taoist Temple 青羊宫

People drinking tea and relaxing at the Wenshu temple 文殊院, Chengdu 成都
Wenshu temple 文殊院, Chengdu 成都

These photos were taken on barmy August afternoon in the Wenshu Temple, Chengdu.

Are you looking for small traditional villages not far from Chengdu where Sichuan teahouse culture still survives: I would recommend the village below Luocheng. However, it is easier to reach Luocheng from Leshan rather than Chengdu.

Click below:

For a more an authentic teahouse town try Luocheng in Sichuan

Luocheng Map

Shunan Bamboo Sea: Taking a Chinese organised tour

At the Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海 we took our first organized Chinese tour since 1989. At first skeptical, we ended up having a marvelous day being led on long walks, carried over the forest on a cable car, rafting on a lake and being wined and dined on 16 different courses of bamboo food products. All led by a wonderful and enthusiastic guide.

Yibin Sichuan

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

To go on a tour or not

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海: taking a Chinese organised tour or should I go it alone ? There is really only one reason to stop at Yibin and that is to use it as a base to visit the fabulous Bamboo Sea some 70 kms away.

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

To take a tour or not to take a tour

The first thing you have to decide is: do I visit the Bamboo Sea independently or do I join a tour. We doubted, wrung our hands, fretted and then the heavens opened and a twenty four hour torrential downpour insued; the matter was decided for us. We took a Chinese organsed tour for the first time and It was the best decision we could have taken.

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

Yibin 宜宾

Yibin is a modern city on the confluence of the Jinsha River 金沙江 and Min Rivers 岷江 where they combine to officially start the beginning of the Yangzi River 长江. There really isn’t anything to see, apart from the intense river traffic perhaps. Tourists tend to use Yibin as a base for a visit to the spectacular Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海 (or Forest as it is also known), about 70 kilometres away and the nearby historic riverside town of Lizhuang Ancient Town 李庄古镇.

Lizhuang Ancient town 李庄古镇
Lizhuang Ancient Town 李庄古镇 (not my photo)

Yibin also has the unenviable reputation of being the largest city in China with the least sunny days every year (we didn’t see the sun). Remember, this is where the Chinese idiom, 蜀犬吠日 (Shu quan fei ri) the Sichuan dog barks at the sun, originates; becuase it is something so unusual.

Yibin Gaoliang Baijiu wulianye
Wuliangye Baijiu Click here for webpage:https://www.wuliangye.be/history-of-wuliangye/

On the plus side it produces one of China’s best Baijiu 白酒 ( rice wine) Wuliangye 五粮液.

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

Shunan zhuhai 蜀南竹海, or the Bamboo Sea covers over 40 square kilometres of mountains and valleys. The landscape is absolutely incredible: narrow paths will take you deep into a dense sea of vegetation, dominated by many different species of bamboo, some of which reaching heights of over 10 metres.

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

The dense fog that often descends upon the forest contributes to the magic and enchanted atmosphere. Besides the bamboo, there are many waterfalls, temples, sculptures and reliefs in the rock walls to entertain the visitors.

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

The cable Car

A ride in the cable car is a must; it’s a 30 minute ride during which you follow the side of the mountain up and down, at times almost touching the tree tops, at times sailing high above the undulating sea of bamboo. When the cabin reaches a peak, a valley completely covered in bamboo stretches out in front of you, for as far as the eye can see.

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

It’s the typical landscape immortalised in famous martial arts films such as ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ or ‘The House of the Flying Daggers’, many scenes of which were shot around here. The famous fighting scene in the ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ where the protagonists fight on the tops of bamboo trees was filmed here.

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

Organising a Chinese tour

Normally, we are not really into guided tours, but in the case of the Bamboo Sea we had a great time. You can try and hire a taxi to get there, but the distances are quite large, both getting there and back and inside the park, plus it isn’t that easy to find your way around and visit the best places.

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

Our tour was organised by the travel agency inside our hotel, the Xufu Binguan. At first they were a bit reluctant to take us, but when they realised we could speak Chinese, our money was happily accepted. We were in good company, a group of young enthusiastic engineering students from Panzhihua 攀枝花 on the Sichuan – Yunnan border, led by a lively and dynamic female guide. She took us to different areas of the park, by bus, on foot, by cable car and finally rafting.

Sichuan dialect rap
Sichuan Dialect Rap and Hip Hop

The bus driver, a young and jolly chap, played Sichuan dialect Hip Hop and Rap that had our fellow companions falling on the floor with laughter. The driver later helped us buy the DVD in on arrival back in Yibin.

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

The Food

We also had the opportunity to taste 16 different dishes made of/with bamboo, including the famous and expensive bamboo eggs (which are really rounded wild mushrooms that grow underneath the bamboo trees). It was really delicious. The meal wasn’t included in the tour. We got together with members of the group, negociated a price for 16 dishes, and then split the bill.

Bamboo dishes Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

Yibin 宜宾 practicalities:

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

Where to Stay and Eat:

The Xufu Binguan 叙府宾馆 in the centre of town is a good option. Spotless modern doubles with a good breakfast are 200 Yuan. There is a wide variety of decent restaurants and supermarkets near the hotel.

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

Coming and Going:

Update:

New high speed trains from Chengdu take just one and a half hours to arrive in Yibin and pass through Leshan. The line opend on 2019 and also connects Yibin to Guiyang in Guizhou province.

Chinese high speed trains
China’s high speed trains

Bus:

From the chaotic main bus station, Beimen北门, there are regular departures to almost all import destinations in the region, though most buses will go through Zigong first.

Update

Nowadays, a network of highways links all the major cities making travel much easier than when we were there in 2005.

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

Boat services to Leshan appeared to have been discontinued. Some services to Chongqing still seemed to run, though we were unable to confirm this.

Visiting the Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海 if not taking a tour:

Rock carvings Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

Nan’an station, 15 minutes from the centre on the other side of the river, offers irregular services to Shunnan 蜀南竹海 / the Bamboo Sea, most of them with a changeover in Changning 长宁.

Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海

The two main villages inside the park are called Wanling 万岭 and Wanli 万里. Both villages, as well as some other strategic locations inside the park, offer accommodation – with a typical double room costing around 100 Yuan – as well as food for those visitors who wish to stay the night.

Traditional Sichuan houses Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Shunan Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海 Traditional Sicuan buildings near Yibin 宜宾

Guiyang贵阳 – Chishui 赤水-Zigong自贡 – Yibin 宜宾 –Leshan 乐山– Chengdu 成都: 2005 Route.

In 2005 our visit to the Bamboo Sea was part of a facinating trip from Guiyang to Chengdu via Chishui.

Giant ferns Chishui
Giant Ferns Chishui 赤水

To get to Leshan 乐山 we first had to backtrack to Zigong; all in all quite a tiring ride of over 6 hours, due to the fact that the motorway has not reached this part of Sichuan yet. This has all changed now see above.

Zigong guild hall
Guildhall Zigong 子宫

BACK TO SICHUAN PROVINCE

Photo of the week: The Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海: Yibin 宜宾 Sichuan Province

Coming next: The Bamboo Sea 蜀南竹海
Welcome to the Bamboo Sea near Yibin in Sichuan Province. Our next article looks back on a magical day in this mysterious sea of bamboo

Click here for full article: https://holachina.com/?p=10838

Bambbo Sea as seen from the spectacular cable car ride
The mysterious Bamboo Sea in thick fog

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Floods reach Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛

Even the great protector can’t be protected

Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛

Click here for a detailed Chinese Video:

Even the great protector can’t be protected. The Great Buddha statue (Leshan Dafo 乐山大佛), just outside Leshan in China’s south western province of Sichuan, was carved out of the cliffs in the 8th century at the confluence of three rivers.

Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛

His purpose was look over and protect the fishermen from drowning in the turbulent waters and defend the population against flooding.

Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛

Now, it is the local population flooding to the aid of the Giant Buddha by using sand bags to protect him from rising flood waters.

Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛 Foot

Not since 1949 have the flood waters reached the magnificent statue’s enormous feet.

Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛

This is another a recent video from Leshan showing the dramatic scenes of the flood waters reaching the base of his feet.

Click below to see the video.

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/other/flash-floods-submerge-feet-of-famed-giant-buddha-statue-after-heavy-rain/vi-BB188KDQ

Update

It appears that for now that the situation has stabilized with flood waters receding and passing their highest levels, but with more rain to come, we can only keep our fingers crossed.

Giant Buddha at Leshan 乐山大佛 Hand

The photos are from our 2001 trip to Leshan. We visited the Giant Buddha after climbing nearby Éméi shān 峨眉山.

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Sabor Sichuan (Taste of Szechuan) 川百味

Sabor Sichuan 川百味 (Taste of Szechuan)

Calle Gabino Jimeno 6: Usera, Madrid

 

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州考鱼 Sabor Sichuan 川百味

Do you like Spicy Food?

Madrid is a fabulous city for eating out. For the adventurous, boundless opportunities for exciting dining exist all over the city. However, those who crave spicy food, and I mean really spicy food, are often disappointed by the dearth of options.

川北凉粉 spicy mung bean noodles Sabor Sichuan 川百味

Some Peruvian restaurants make brave attempts to keep up their spicy tradition, but most succumb to the whims of their autochthonous diners by watering down the kick. Kitchen 154, a mecca for spicy food in the market of Vallehermoso, does a pretty good job. Cruel, there own chili brand, is pretty fiery .

四川凉面,cold Sichuan noodles Sabor Sichuan 川百味

This after all is the country were the giant Tabasco Sauce company has almost given up the ghost. Sales in Spain are about its worst in Europe. Spanish tolerance of hot spice or chili is pretty low.

Sabor Sichuan 川百味

Thank heavens for Sabor Sichuan (Taste of Szechuan). This small little restaurant in the barrio of Usera , south of the River Manzanares, and  in the heart of Madrid’s China town is a godsend.

青椒皮蛋 green peppers and 1000 year old eggs Sabor Sichuan 川百味

If you have ever been to Sichuan or Chongqing and continue to crave that lip burning and tongue numbing Mala 麻辣 spice then Sabor Sichuan is Continue reading “Sabor Sichuan (Taste of Szechuan) 川百味”

Old and New in Litang 理塘

Photo of the Week:

Old and New in Litang. This photo was taken in 2004 on the road from Litang 理塘 in Sichuan Province to Batang on the border with Tibet.

The old and the new: Litang理塘 2004

The photo is a harbringer of the changes that were about to come to this area of Sichuan. In the photo there are traditonal Tibetan nomads herding their Yaks. Behind them a brand new car that was about to drive them off the road.

Tibetan Nomads Litang 2004
Tibetan Nomads Litang 2004