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.
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.
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.
Weishan on a mid-summer’s afternoon is a sleepy place where nothing much happens. This is small town China, where pipe smoking, card playing men squat on small bamboo stools that spill out onto the pavement and street, and while away their days in the teahouses.
The attractive city of Zhangye is only a three to four hour bus ride away from the Inner Mongolian town of Alshan Youqi, the gateway to the Badan Jarain Desert. And, as the friendly ticket lady at Youqi’s bus station had assured Adam two days ago, there are no problems getting tickets. So we swap the tickets for the 15.00 bus which the Badain Jaran travel agency had erroneously bought us, and hop on the 8.30 one instead.
The bus starts out half-empty, but doesn’t stay that way for long. This is still peasant country, where local people prefer to line up by the road side with their sacks and bundles, waiting for the bus to pick them up, rather than make their way to the bus station. The main difference with 20 years ago is that most of the transactions, involving pick- ups and drop- offs, are arranged on mobile phones these days.
The other thing that takes us back into time is the speed of the ride; or rather, the lack of it. In fact, we have seldom come across a driver less in a hurry. Though we normally want our buses to go slowly and carefully, ever fearful of accidents, even we think that this guy could speed up a bit. Continue reading “A Few Days in Zhangye (Gansu Province) 张掖”
Our next stop is the historic pass village of Gunzhongkou, at the foot of the rough and rugged Helan Shan mountains (贺兰山) which dominate the area around Yinchuan, forming a formidable and protective barrier between the city and the barren wastelands of the Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia.
Magnificent scenery, fierce canines, and laid-back locals await you on your visit to Qiunatong 秋那通, one of the last villages in Yunnan云南 before you enter Tibet西藏.
Barring a few hamlets, Yunnan province virtually ends at Qiunatong. At least all paved roads end here. If you walk or cycle west of here for a day or so, you’ll find end up in Tibet proper. That is if you don’t stumble upon a Chinese border security post!
The Tibetan Village of Dong Feng offers one of the easiest day trips from Bingzhongluo 丙中洛. Head north out of town along the main road and you’ll soon find yourself on a wide dirt tract with a river running below it.
Is this China?
Continue for a few meters and the path veers sharply left; all of a sudden, Bingzhongluo has disappeared and Dong Feng comes into view.
Unfortunately, distances around here are deceptive. The steepness of the mountain slopes makes everything look closer than it actually is, and the path to Dong Feng is no exception.
The beautiful road from Gongshan 贡山 (see previous article) ends at the one- street town of Bingzhongluo 丙中洛. It is difficult to find a town in a more remote place in China that is accessible by road on public transport. More than 350 kilometres separate this outpost from Liuku 六库, the town at the mouth of the Nujiang valley 怒江谷, from where there are connections to the rest of Yunnan Province 云南省.
Arrive on a sunny morning, and you will find Bingzhongluo bustling with ethnic minorities shopping for provisions or chatting with friends. Take in the town’s dramatic location, set below the magnificent slopes of the snow-capped mountains gleaming in their various shades of radiant green, and above the raging waters of the Nujiang River, seemingly in a frenetic rush to reach Myanmar and empty itself in the Bay of Bengal, and you can easily imagine you’ve arrived in the Shangri-La of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon.
On the other hand, should you arrive in Bingzhongluo late on a rainy, damp and misty evening, make your way past the flooded pot holes, dodge the mangy dogs fighting over scraps strewn across the street from the overturned bins, and you might ask yourself why you’d made the effort to get there.
As always, the truth about Bingzhongluo lies somewhere in the middle. It’s a kilometre long stretch of old wooden shacks, hastily built concrete shops, and China’s trademark white- tile administrative buildings. And yet, Continue reading “Bingzhongluo (Nujiang Valley 2)”
In the following weeks (months) we will be putting up information about travelling in the Nujiang Valley. This article will quickly look at Liuku六库, the town at the entrance to the valley and Gongshan贡山, the last town before you arrive at Bingzhongluo 丙中洛, the beautiful one- street village at the end of the valley.
Nujiang River Near Gongshan
The Nujiang River, one of China’s last remaining undammed rivers, begins high on the Tibetan plateau before roaring down through the deep valleys and towering mountains of Yunnan province and then swinging into Burma and finally emptying out into the Andaman Sea at Mawlamyine. The Nujiang Valley is a home to a number of ethnic groups.
The villages that dot the slopes of the mountains above the river are populated by Lisu, Nu (a Tibetan sub-group) Drung and Tibetans. There is also a smattering of Hui (Chinese Muslims) and Burmese traders.