Yushu /Jyekundo/玉树

Yushu / 玉树/ Jyekundo

I’d been racking my brains out, trying to find an adjective with which to describe Yushu. Beautiful it isn’t; old and quaint neither. Calling the town modern and vibrant would perhaps be going a bit too far, but then again, modern and boring wouldn’t do it justice. Is it ugly? In some ways yes, the new buildings are pretty bog-standard Chinese white-tiled affairs. But that would be too harsh a verdict: the surrounding mountain scenery, the ramshackle old monastic quarters, but most of all, its people lend Yushu a special air. And that’s when I hit upon the epithet ‘funky’. Yes, Yushu is pretty funky.


One more thing you can say about Yushu is that it is remote. The town is situated in one of the remotest areas of one of China’s remotest provinces, Qinghai; so getting there takes a bit of an effort. It is actually a pretty uncomfortable 16 to 18 hour bus ride away from Xining, the capital of Qinghai (though the recently opened airport will change all this).

This feeing of discomfort, characteristic of any Chinese sleeper bus, is heightened by the extreme altitudes at which the bus has to travel: On route there are several passes over 4500 meters and the Qinghai Plateau never drops below 3000 meters.

Yushu’s remoteness also has its advantages: for instance, Continue reading “Yushu /Jyekundo/玉树”

Xining西宁 to Yushu玉树 on the Sleeper Bus (Qinghai Province)

As I observed the scene from the upper berth on the overnight sleeper from Xining to Yushu, memories of China’s famous scenic mountain Huangshan flooded back. The upper-tier beds seemed to be floating in a sea of clouds, just like the famous rocks and gnarled pines of Huangshan and, as happens on that mountain, occasionally everything was swallowed up by an enveloping mist. Except that the clouds and the mist on our bus were no manifestation of the bracing and refreshing mountain air, but rather a thick curtain of acrid cigarette smoke, rising up from our fellow passengers on the beds below.
Initially, Margie and I were quite relieved when we saw our bus at Xining bus station: at first sight it looked pretty new and clean; even the bedding was quite passable. Our upper berths right at the front of the bus seemed comfortable enough and, even more importantly, there were no-smoking signs everywhere. Encouraged by these favorable impressions, we began to look forward to the trip. Of course, we should have known better.

While in the more developed eastern parts of China non-smoking rules on public transport are usually enforced quite strictly, previous experience had taught us that the situation in the remote areas of western China could be very different. The Chinese have a fabulous saying that sums up how rules are enforced, or not, the further you are from Beijing: “Heaven is high and the Emperor is far away” (tian gao huang di yuan天高皇帝远). And indeed, the emperor seemed a long way away as the two drivers boarded the bus, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, Continue reading “Xining西宁 to Yushu玉树 on the Sleeper Bus (Qinghai Province)”