Kongtong Shan From our Diary

Kongtong Shan and Bus Insurance Hassle: 崆峒山甘肃省

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

Update

Pingliang has become a large prosperous town in the last decade and has expanded enormously. Along with that expansion there are more hotel and eating options than what we have listed here. Kongtong Shan has become a huge domestic tourist spot and has undergone a lot of renovations. Many of the old temples have been rebuilt and some of the authenic atmosphere of a taoist hideaway has disppeared forever. That said it is still a beautiful place. Transport to and from Pingliang has also improved. Especially the bus connections to other major cities such as Lanzhou, Tianshui and Xian. You also don’t need to purchase the Gansu Travel Insurance anymore (Click here.)

Part one: Lanzhou – Pingliang 

The first part of the adventure involves no more than going to the Western bus station and convincing the ticket sellers to sell you a ticket to Pingliang. In the summer of 2002 we had a tremendous battle with them, because they simply refused to sell us a ticket, even though we had previously purchased the (in)famous travel insurance that was obligatory in Gansu at the time. Finally we had to resort to the PSB to sort the problem out (click here for a full account of our bus hassle).

Pingliang and Kongtong Shan: 崆峒山

Once you get there, Pingliang is a small town which makes an excellent base for a visit to the Taoist Mountain of  Kongtong Shan, one of the most sacred in China, which is a mere 15 kms away.

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

The best approach is to take a taxi to the reservoir (around 20 Yuan); a steep flight of steps will take you up to a road, skirting the reservoir, and on to the first temple. This is a beautiful ancient Taoist structure, guarded by venerable old priests, some of them with the pointy goatee and bun, characteristic of many followers of Tao.

After this, you come to the ticket window, from where different paths will take you up the mountain in around 3 hours, passing many small temples, nunneries, colourful gardens and Continue reading “Kongtong Shan From our Diary”

Wulingyuan 武陵源/ Zhangjiajie 张家界: “Please speak Mandarin” “I am speaking Mandarin”

Wulingyuan 武陵源  /  Zhangjiajie张家界

“Please speak Mandarin”.  “I am speaking Mandarin”.

Wierd and Wonderful Wulingshan

Zhangjiajie / Wulingyuan / Hunan Province

From Zhangjijie city 张家界市we boarded the bus for the half hour trip to Zhangjiajie Village 张家界村 and the Wulingyuan Scenic Area 武陵源风景区. We are in Hunan Province 湖南省, in central China, also the birthplace of China’s first communist leader, Mao Zedong毛泽东.

Mushroom mountains in Wulingyuan武陵源 & Zhangjiajie 张家界

Joining us on the bus was a young Chinese backpacker from Guilin 桂林 (China’s other famous natural scenic area). We soon got talking in standard Mandarin. The ticket seller, a friendly- chubby- bumpkin type chap with a ruddy face, cottened on that the foreigners could speak Chinese and joined in our conversation. He seemed able to understand us, but we and the young backpacker from Guilin were, completely at a loss as to what the conductor was trying to say. His voice high pitched and squeaky, the tones all over the place, was just incomprehensible.

Wulingyuan / Zhangjiajie

Eventually, out of desperation, I asked the conductor if he would switch to Mandarin (普通话), and not speak Kouyin (口音 local dialect). To which the conductor indignantly answered ” I am speaking mandarin”.  The young Guilin backpacker added that he also didn’t understand Continue reading “Wulingyuan 武陵源/ Zhangjiajie 张家界: “Please speak Mandarin” “I am speaking Mandarin””

Slow train to Chengdu 成都的临客: Photo of the Week

Slow train to Chengdu

成都的临客

 CITS (China’s official travel agency’s description of an L Train 临客)

“L – Temporary Train In Chinese: LinKe (临客)
L trains operate only during the peak travel season, such as the Chinese Spring Festival and the National Holiday. These trains are not listed in the official fixed train schedule. It is not advised to take L-trains if you have other options as they are known to be relatively slow and regularly subject to delays”.

Slow train to Chengdu

“46 hours”. I doubted my Chinese at that moment, but the ticket seller repeated the departure and arrival times, there was no mistake. Bagging next day hard sleeper tickets from Beijing to Chengdu can be a taxing experience at the best of times, but in early August, you’ve got about as much chance as winning the lottery. Unless … unless, of course, you are willing to take the slow train 临客 , or L Train as it is known in China!

We got two middle berths, which are the best, as during the day you can escape the crowded lower berths, where everyone sits, and they have more space than the often claustrophobic upper berths.

Pandemonium broke out when the gates were opened at Beijing West Station 北京西站 to allow the passengers on. Those without reservation ran frantically, pushing and shoving the old and weak out of the way, to grab one of those precious seats. It was a simple case of survival of the fittest; get a seat or stand for 46 hours.

Legs

With a reservation in our hands, we took a more leisurely stroll to the train. Unfortunately, Continue reading “Slow train to Chengdu 成都的临客: Photo of the Week”

Luzhi 甪直 An Authentic Canal Town (more or less): Photo of the Week

Luzhi 甪直 An Authentic Canal Town (more or less)

Luzhi Bridges (click on Photo to enlarge)

I have a nostalgic hankering for Jiangnan towns (Jiangnan 江南 means south of the Yangtse River). I suppose this feeling comes from our first visit to Suzhou and Hangzhou in 1990, when we made an amazing trip along the Grand Canal on a local boat, on the now discontinued service between those two towns. There was something dreamlike about the mishmash of canals, white buildings, eave roofs, arched bridges and winding cobbled lanes.

Luzhi Bridges (click on photo to enlarge)

For the Western traveler in China 1990, the Jiangnan towns provided a glimpse into old world China. In the back lanes time seemed to had stood still. From the kitchens of beautiful white-washed houses with their decorated doorways and stunning courtyards, smells of garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil wafted out. People lived and worked on the canals as had their ancestors.

Luzhi Boats (click to enlarge)

Things have changed since then. In recent years, Continue reading “Luzhi 甪直 An Authentic Canal Town (more or less): Photo of the Week”

Xiahe夏河: 1990 From our Diary: Final Report of our 5 Part Review of Xiahe

Xiahe 夏河: November 1990 From our Diary

Gansu province, China

PREVIOUS ARTICLES: 1 Xiahe revisited 2 Xiahe & the Labrang Monastery 3 Excursions from Xiahe 4 Xiahe; a Reflection

Introduction

This is the final part of our travel report on Xiahe and the Labrang Monastery in China’s Gansu Province. The article is an unedited extract from the diary that Margie kept during our two year trip around Asia and the Middle East. The trip began in Lahore, Pakistan in early October 1990. By late November 1990 we had reached Xiahe.  Though we have now visited Xiahe 3 times (see previous articles), it was our first visit that really stood out, probably because  we hadn’t really experienced Tibetan culture before.

Xiahe Monks 1990

Wednesday 21/11/ 1990 (Lanzhou to Xiahe)

We have to get up early to catch the 7.30 bus to Xiahe; the only one of the day. The scenery gradually becomes more and more interesting. The whole morning we have been driving through a winter landscape of soft brown, reddish and yellowish shades. Every available scrap of land is being used: all the mountains have been terraced and divided into tiny vegetable plots, while the fields are used to grow potatoes, cereals and barley. There are haystacks everywhere and corns on the cob on every roof, drying. The villages, of a pinkish-brown hue, form an indistinguishable part of the landscape.

Looking out of the bus window, we can see many non-Chinese people, walking along the road. Most of them closely resemble Uyghur people, and they are wearing greatcoats, animal skins and furs, as well as heavy leather boots. The majority seem to be Muslims, judging by the white skull caps of the men and the black velvet and lace headscarves of the women. Many of the men also wear the large, round, horn-rimmed sunglasses that seem to be typical around here.

We stop for lunch just outside Linxia, a large Muslim market town, situated atop a reddish loess plateau. We can see lots of yaks milling about; as well as a whole pile of severed yak heads lying in a cart. Apart from yaks, there is a busy traffic of donkeys, pony’s and bicycles. Lunch, of course, consists of Continue reading “Xiahe夏河: 1990 From our Diary: Final Report of our 5 Part Review of Xiahe”

Songpan Festival 松潘 2: Photo of the Week

Songpan Festival 松潘2: What the crowds were watching

Photo of the week

Last week’s Photo of the Week showed enthralled spectators enjoying the entertainment at the 2004 summer festival in Songpan, Sichuan Province. What was captivating them?

A watching spectator in Songpan

They were spellbound by a riot of colour as Chinese dragons, Tibetan Qiang minority dancers, and Muslim Hui singers took over the town, paraded through the streets and usurped the public squares. The real fun began after the Communist Party leaders had made their speeches, sped off to lunch in their limousines and left everyone to an afternoon of spontaneous revelry. Here are some photos of what they were enjoying.

Tibetans with their dragons

Click on read more for some larger photos. Continue reading “Songpan Festival 松潘 2: Photo of the Week”

Xiahe 夏河: 3 visits; a reflection

夏河 Our three Xiahe’s; a reflection

Xiahe Monks

Xiahe Part 1

Xiahe Part 2

Xiahe Part 3

Xiahe in 2011

The Xiahe we found on our last visit had changed considerably since 2004. It was no longer the rather innocent, peaceful, Tibetan little backwater we had enjoyed so much before.

Labrang Kora

The Chinese new town is much larger now, with charmless, concrete buildings, traffic lights and plenty of motorized vehicles. There was building work going on everywhere: in the new town, where more and more buildings were being put up at the usual breakneck speed; opposite the monastery, where a large coach park was beginning to take shape; and even in the monastery town itself, where Continue reading “Xiahe 夏河: 3 visits; a reflection”

Songpan 松潘 Festival: Photo of the Week

Location: Songpan / Sichuan Province / China

Photo of the Week

People watching in Songpan松潘

Hui and Tibetans watching the Songpan Festival

The walled town of Songpan, the gateway to the scenic heaven of Jiuzhaigou 九寨沟 and wild horse treks to Ice Mountain雪玉顶, is also a destination in itself.  It`s a pleasant town with plenty of old architecture, local life and some fantastic tea houses.

What are they Watching? See next weeks photos

When we passed through in 2004 we were lucky enough to stumble upon a huge festival where the local Muslim Hui and Tibetan Qiang minorities were celebrating their local culture and dressed in their finest clothes. Joining them were a host of Chinese Communist Party Bigwigs, including the then vice-president, Zeng Qinghong.

Muslim Hui enjoying the Songpan Festival

The residents of the entire town and surrounding villages turned out to see the festival. This small group of photos captures them enjoying the moment. Next week’s Photo of the Week will show what they were watching.

Having a rest in the Songpan Festival

For large people photos and Songpan Practicalities see below. Continue reading “Songpan 松潘 Festival: Photo of the Week”

Bajiao Walled Village 八角 / Ganjia Grasslands 甘加草原 / Trakhar Gompa / Tsyway Bon Temple/ Excursions from Xiahe

 Xiahe Part 1
Xiahe Part 2

Part 3: Excursions From Xiahe

Once you have seen all there is to see in Xiahe, you should go and explore the grasslands. Though some of the areas nearest to town have become quite commercial, there is still plenty of scope for exploring.

Stupa over the Ganjia Grasslands

We went on a great day trip, for which we hire a car through our hotel. At first, the price of 400 Yuan for half a day’s sightseeing seems a bit steep. However, when our vehicle appears, a shiny, brand-new black Sedan, driven by a sleek young Tibetan guy with shoulder- length hair, a golden tooth and lots of big rings, we are quick to appreciate the difference between this car, and any old taxi.

Monasteries and stunning scenery await the traveller on the Ganjia Grasslands

We drive out of Xiahe, which takes so much longer now that there are traffic lights and lots more traffic, and head towards Tongren. Immediately, and almost imperceptible, we start climbing and before we know it, we Continue reading “Bajiao Walled Village 八角 / Ganjia Grasslands 甘加草原 / Trakhar Gompa / Tsyway Bon Temple/ Excursions from Xiahe”

Anping Bridge 安平桥 Photo of the Week

Anping Bridge 安平桥

Near Quanzhou Fujian Province

Anping Bridge 安平桥

The road south of Quanzhou, towards the town of Anhai, passes through what must be some of the most depressing and ugly scenery in China. For about 30 kilometres, the road runs through a series of towns the outskirts of which all merge into one dirty and chaotic urban sprawl, leaving the despondent traveler to wonder what on earth has brought him there. Most of the buildings look as if they were put up in half a day, many are unfinished, bits of cables and wires sticking out, but in full use. This is not a poor area of China; it’s just an example of the complete absence of urban planning.

安平桥 Anping Bridge near Quanzhou

It is difficult to know when or where to get off the bus in Anhai, as there seems to be no apparent centre. In spite of the huge billboards advertising the bridge as a Number One Heritage Site, the driver of our clapped-out motor-cycle rickshaw was not quite sure where we wanted to go and initially tried to take us to a hotel. However, we soon put him right and after a five-minute ride arrived at our destination.

Crossing Anping Bridge

Built more than 800 years ago (1138-1151), Anping bridge stands out from the urban mess that surrounds it, a haven of peace, far from the thunder of lorries and the honking of horns. The bridge crosses a two-kilometre stretch of sea and is made entirely of stone. A few pavilions and a small temple built along the bridge add to its feeling of timelessness and tranquility. Walking the full length of the bridge and admiring its immaculate ancient stones, is a strangely moving experience that takes about an hour. On the way you will meet many local people who use the bridge and its temples to have a rest and a chat.

See below for more text, large photos and Practicalities. Continue reading “Anping Bridge 安平桥 Photo of the Week”