Getting there from Lanzhou: 18/9/2011
When we emerge from our hotel at 6.00am to catch the 7.30 bus, it’s still pitch-black and still pouring with rain. Yet, we are lucky because for once there’s a taxi waiting by the gates, and we don’t even hit one of those infernal Lanzhou traffic jams! At the station, we find a handful of shivering passengers huddled in the spartan hall. The toilet is in a little shack to the right of the waiting room, with a gorgeous, but miserable-looking, soaking-wet Husky tied up out front.
The bus leaves on time, half-full and with only a couple of tourists on board, none of them Westerners. Our driver moves slowly and carefully down the brand-new, almost deserted, motorway. Adam starts reminiscing about how this ride once took 10 hours … back in 1990. For this is not our first visit to Xiahe, or even second, but our third!
We whizz through Linxia; now a large, bland, Chinese city, but then an exotic market town with a distinctly Muslim feel to it.
This small town, with a big history, is situated on the banks of the Jialing River, some 225 kilometres from Chengdu (Sichuan Province). It is all at once the burial place of the Three Kingdoms general, Zhang Fei, birthplace of the Han dynasty inventor of the Chinese Calendar, Luo Xiahong, and home to a wealth of traditional Sichuan architecture.
In short, Langzhong has plenty of things to see and do to keep a visitor busy for two days.
It’s a beautiful sunny autumn morning. We wake to the sounds of monks chanting and bells jingling in the faint breeze. We stumble out of our room and onto the roof top terrace of the Samye Monastery Hotel. The sunlight is blinding. We sit for a while, sipping hot tea, taking in the views over the monastery and postponing the packing for as long as possible.
We’d have loved to have spent another day, but eventually we peel ourselves away and go in search of a truck that will take us and the locals to the ferry quay to cross the Yalung Tsampa (the Brahmaputra River). Today we are heading to the Yumbulagang Palace.
Even in 2007, when Tibet was somewhat more open than now to foreigners travelling without organized tours, it was still difficult to travel on public transport outside Lhasa. One exception was the Ganden Monastery bus. It left from the west side of Barkhor Square at 6.00 in the morning and returned in the early afternoon.
The night before our excursion, the taxi driver had rung at 11.00 pm to say that he had been offered a more lucrative trip to the Everest Base Camp and the Nepalese Border and he wouldn’t be taking us to the Ganden Monastery in the morning as previously arranged. “It’s the pilgrim bus then.” Margie and I decided, and set our alarm for 5.00 am.
Going to Ganden
Approaching the bus in the pitch black we could make out the shape of a large group of people standing silently in front of its closed doors. The only other sign of life at this time in the morning were the mysterious, hazy figures of pilgrims on the Barkhor Circuit, mumbling prayers and twirling their prayer wheels, the personification of piety.
Between December 1990 and January 1991, Adam and I travelled the Yangztse River from Shanghai to Chongqing; a journey that took us 9 days then. At that time, tourism along the Yangtse was in its infancy and we, as poor backpackers, couldn’t have afforded a cruise ship anyway. So we travelled on Chinese passenger boats that made very few concessions to either comfort or tourists. There were no sightseeing stops or side excursions; we even managed to miss one Gorge altogether, as the boat went through it at night.
Suzhou Creek 1990
In those days, foreign visitors were charged much higher prices for transport, hotels, sights, etc., than Chinese people and had to pay in Foreign Exchange Certificates (a special currency only for foreigners or foreign transactions), rather than Renminbi (the People’s money), which is why many backpackers resorted to black- marketeers. To get his hands on a couple of discounted, Chinese-price tickets for the first leg of the journey, Adam had to follow a Chinese man into the toilets of the Seaman’s Club at the Pujiang Hotel (known as Astor House Hotel after recent makeovers) in an action reminiscent of an old spy movie.
Tweet China, Yunnan province, 150 Kilometres Northwest of Dali.
Every journey we made by bus in Yunnan 云南 this summer was plagued by problems.
This is the account from our dairy which describes the ride we took on the 12th of August 2010, from Xiaguan (Dali City) to Yunlong.
“… We have no trouble getting a taxi this early in the morning, thank God, so we arrive at the bus station nice and early. There, we make the mistake of asking how long it will take and they tell us 5 hours, instead of the 3½ we were expecting…… more road works apparently….. We’ll just have to resign ourselves.
The first 40kms or so we proceed smoothly, straight down the Dali大理– Baoshan保山 express way (an engineering marvel, hewn out of the rock face of towering mountains)，and we start wondering whether the people in the bus station have made a mistake, or whether we’ve simply misheard the times…. But no, as soon as we turn off the motorway the road basically vanishes. From now on we’ll be driving through thick red mud, along a rough track that is at times completely flooded by water running down the mountainsides. The whole area is just one great building site where we constantly have to dodge bulldozers, caterpillars and other heavy machinery, swerve around piles of construction materials, avoid the little shacks put up for the workers, and so on.
Visiting Yellow Mountain ( Huangshan 黄山)
August 30 2001
The Slow train to Hefei was indeed slow. We left had Chengdu on the 28th of August some 47 hours earlier.
Hefei station was modern but had a sleazy feel to it at night. We immediately got hassled by a guy about taxis and hotels. Adam decided to enquire about tickets first – the hassle guy followed – I was watching him / and Adam’s money belt like a hawk. Next thing you know, Adam has bought 2 hard – sleeper tickets on a night train to Tunxi – now renamed Huangshan City: our third consecutive night on a train without a proper wash or a change of clothes! A record.
A friendly young man who studies in Chengdu helps us find our waiting room: there are several beggars and peasants who really stare at us and make comments. This is the first time it has happened on this trip.
First with an expression of horror, then a polite nod of the head, and finally a beaming smile was how the young lady in the travel agency attended us when we asked about taking the Chinese tour to the Detian Waterfall.
The Horror: Enter two foreigners in a Chinese travel agency, asking about joining a Chinese tour. “I don’t speak English, do they speak Chinese? What am I going to do?”, was written all over the poor girl’s face, as we sat down in front of her.
The Polite Nod: “I think the foreigner is speaking something that resembles Chinese and I think I can just about make out what he is saying”.
The Beaming Smile: “The foreigners want to join a tour to the Detian waterfall tomorrow and wish to pay now!”
“We don’t usually take foreigners on our tours, due to the language barriers”, the young lady said apologetically. I replied that we didn’t normally take tours either, but we were short of time and needed to be able to visit the falls in one day and return to Nanning the same day. Language, I said, wouldn’t be a problem. “Miss Chen will meet you in the lobby at 7.00 am tomorrow”, she answered.
The Detian Waterfalls, situated in China’s Southern Guangxi Province (Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), are among of the most spectacular in China, if not Asia. Their location alone, a remote area populated by diverse ethnic minorities, interspersed by winding rivers, karst peaks and Continue reading “Detian Waterfall 德天瀑布 (From our Diary 10/9/2006)”
The Zhuang are China’s largest ethnic minority with about 15 million of them living in Guangxi province alone. In fact, the Zhuang are so numerous in Guangxi that the province is officially known as the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The provincial capital Nanning, or ‘the Green City’, as it tries to promote itself, is a good place to base yourself for forays into the Zhuang heartlands. Already on ‘holachina.com’ we have articles on three prominent Zhuang areas in Guangxi: Yangmei village, Detian waterfall, and the ‘Dragon’s Backbone’ Rice Terraces or ‘Longji Titian’ at Ping’an.
In appearance, the Zhuang are almost indistinguishable from the Han Chinese, though some Zhuang sub-groups, such as the black Zhuang, continue to wear their distinctive ethnic clothing. The Zhuang do, however, have their own language, which has been transcribed in a curious Romanised script. Zuo Jiang (Zuo River)
The rock paintings at Hua Shan are not only situated in the Zhuang heartlands, but they also mark the cradle of their civilization, as they are reputed to be at least 2000 years old. Thus, these paintings and other nearby archaeological sites provide evidence that the origins of the Zhuang can be traced back to Continue reading “From Our Diary 2006: Hua Shan Rock Paintings / 花山岩画 & 左江风景区”
After 4 nights of me coughing, wheezing, gasping for air and not having slept a wink, we took the decision not to stay the night in Nangchen, but to just take a day trip in that direction instead. The fact that I was hooked up to a rusty oxygen tank at the time, in a friendly, but far from salubrious, local Tibetan clinic in Yushu, had something to do with it as well. My altitude sickness was a weird phenomenon: while I was all right during the day, I spent most of my night’s sleepless, and at times hallucinating and babbling gibberish.
On the road to Nangchen.
The road from Yushu to Nangchen is truly spectacular, crossing several high passes (4,500 metres) and running next to gushing rivers, including at one point crossing the Mekong River. Vast grasslands extend on either side of the road, with grazing herds of yaks, Continue reading “Longxi Si 龙西寺 & Nangchen曩謙”