Saturday, March 06, 2010

Picture Update: Too poor to go to Lhasa?

then why not journey through the Tibetan Plateau of Western Sichuan and experience numerous distinctive varied landscapes, architecture and people.

Top: Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangrila Middle: Bai Shuai Tai, Shangrila Bottom: Xiang Cheng, Litang

During the winter this trip is not for the faint of heart, the cleanliness of hands, or for those who thrive in luxury. If you can answer yes to the following questions, then maybe Li Jiang to Shangri-La, to Xiang Cheng, to Li Tang, to Kangding ending in Chengdu might be for you.

  • Are you an outdoor adventurous type who likes camping and hiking?
  • Can you sit in the sun doing nothing but watch as time passes and the clouds move instead of going to tourist sites?
  • Do you enjoy watching landscapes go by through windows?
  • Can you endure 8-12 hour bus rides on rocky dirt roads while going through passes anywhere from 8-14,000 ft high?
  • Can you breathe in smoke with music blaring full blast while your toes feel the beginning onset of frostbite while wedged into whatever is fixed to the bus so you don't bump your head or go flying all over the place as you travel on dirt rocky roads?
  • Can you deal with altitude and too much sun headaches?
  • Can you face extreme poverty traveling through mining towns and undeveloped towns?
  • Can you enjoy simple expensive meals that aren't anything special?
  • Can you return a friendly smile to 100 shouted OKAYS and HELLOS and not start fights with girls who while walking down the street pinch you?
  • Do you mind sleeping in psychedelic colorfully painted rooms of yaks, rabbits, landscapes, horses, and birds or in decrepit falling apart smelly rooms?
  • Can you sleep through yappy dogs who never lose their barks?
  • Can you sleep through an unknown rabid animal scratching through the wooden panel walls of your bedroom digging and digging to scurry across your bed and jump on your face?
  • Can you use squatters that are the grossest things imaginable and only get worse as you travel to more and more remote areas, balancing on two feeble looking rotten wooden planks over a pit of waste touching shoulders with the neighbor beside you praying that you aren't overweight for the wood holding you inches above doom?
  • Can you go a week without bathing and sleeping on probably dirty sheets? A lack of running water, a lack of heated water, and below freezing temperatures were not ideal conditions for showers or doing laundry.
  • Can you deal with the possibility of head lice?
  • Do you have the patience and ingenuity to communicate and find solutions for unpredictable bus schedules where transport in and out stop running because of Chinese New Year?
If these questions don't stop you from wanting to wander through Western Sichuan, then continue on....

Li Jiang (altitude 8,000 ft)

Transport from Chengdu: 2 hr plane ride (420 RMB)
Stayed at Mamma Naxi who picked us up from the airport for 50 RMB per car

Best memories:
  • Walking around the old town, getting lost to find our way again. Travel tip: To find one's way, one must get lost first.
  • Watching Naxi women dance in the square.
  • Sitting in a cafe terrace up on a hill drinking puar tea overlooking the rooftops of the old town
  • Buying blue dyed fabric for 25 RMB per sheet reminiscent of the hand dyed blue fabrics in Guinea (In Xian, I heard that if you buy a lot could have gotten it for 20 RMB.)

Shangri-La (altitude 10,000 ft)
Transport from Li Jiang: 4 hr bus (59 RMB)

Stayed first at Old Town Youth Hostel but it was freezing cold and had no public sitting area or free Internet. Then went to Barley Hostel whose rooms were a lot warmer and had a warm sitting area, very hip hostel.

Best memories:
  • Very few foreigners, empty city
  • Lots of walking up hills to see temples and Tibetan shrines
  • With about 10 people helped turn a HUGE 4-story tall prayer wheel
  • Knitting outside at a monastery in the daytime sun (nights were really COLD!)

Tiger Leaping Gorge
(tallest hiked peak altitude 8, 759 ft)

Transport from Shangri-La to Jane's Hostel: 2 hr bus (23 RMB)
Transport from Sean's back to Jane's Hostel: 40 min taxi (140 RMB for 7 passenger van)
Transport from Jane's Hostel back to Shangri-la: Bus 30 RMB (stood at the crossroads waiting to wave down the bus)

Entry fee: Free because of the construction and the government not wanting to be responsible for injury. Enter the gorge at your own risk.

Stayed at Tea-horse Guesthouse

Best memories:

  • Hiking in long underwear followed by a donkey over two days for about a total of 8 hours and staying at a hostel with an amazing view of the mountains
  • Naxi sandwiches
  • Because of the construction the road for cars is pretty bad. An exciting moment was stopping to look up at the mountain, watching the rocks slide and hitting the acceleration to out-drive the slide.
  • Jane's Guesthouse food was great after the hike

Xiang Cheng (altitude 6,500 ft)

Transport from Shangri-La to Xiang Cheng: 8 hr bus (75 RMB)

Stayed at Bamu Tibetan Guesthouse which is shown in the picture. (It would be hard to find on your own. No signs indicate which Tibetan house is a guesthouse. We stood in front of the bus station and a local called the guesthouse who came and took us to the 4-story wooden house. )

Best memories:
  • This city was warm during the day because of the sun and cold when the sun was hidden behind clouds. It was nice to just sit in the sun and knit.
  • It was a tiny tiny town. We just enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere of doing nothing.
  • Ate some great deep fried chicken legs at a shou kou place and some expensive delicious Muslim noodles.
Litang (altitude 14,000 ft)
I am out of breath. We are at a very high altitude.

Transport from Xiang Cheng to Li Tang: 4 hr mini van

Almost stranded in Xiang Cheng:
The bus station was extremely unhelpful. They continuously said that there were no buses to Li Tang. It cost 600 RMB to rent a 7 passenger van but because of the holidays it was hard to find passengers to split the cost. We should have just paid for the bus to Kangding and just gotten off at Li Tang. Instead we waited around several days then the buses to Kangding stopped running the day we wanted to go. We had to pay for a 1,400 RMB 7 passenger van to Kangding. Luckily I sat at the bus station waiting for others to realize that the buses to Kangding had stopped. I found 4 other people who were looking to go to Kangding. We hopped off at Li Tang. It was an expensive way to get there.

Stayed at Peace and Happy Hostel (not a very nice place)

Best memories:
  • I feel that Litang was the most Tibetan place we had visited during the trip.
  • Getting the thumbs up and smiles from the locals as we walked around a temple with about 50 other local elderly people who carried prayer beads and spun hand held prayer wheels.
  • Little children invited us into their homes.
  • We saw the local flavor of the place come alive as people washed their clothes in the dirty canals, as girls totted plastic water backpacks fetching water from spouts, men playing cards, and drinking yak butter tea.
  • We walked to a monastery and watched an elder monk down below order younger monks who had rope tied around their chests scramble on top the eaves of a roof of a 4 story building hang banners. We watched as elementary aged monks play with a pet rat in a metal cage and as teenage monks practiced a dance. We saw monks practicing 10 feet long horns and one lone monk painting a yellow line on the performance stage.
  • We hiked up the yellow barren hills surrounding the city.
  • Litang was probably my favorite place.
Kangding (altitude 8,500 ft)

Transport from Litang to Kangding: 8 hour bus(85 RMB)

Stayed one night at Black Tent near Anjue Temple but the hostel closed the next day, so we moved to Dengba Hostel.

Best Memories:
  • Riding up a small mountain in a cable car, reaching the top, and then realizing we still had to pay for a ticket to wander the park on top of the mountain. We sat at the ticket office not wanting to pay a ton of money to see another Chinese park. The ticket sellers had pity and gave us a reduced rate ticket.
  • Drinking tea in the numerous second story tea houses.
  • Finishing my sweater.
Chengdu (altitude 1,640 feet)

Transport from Kangding to Chengdu: 6 hr bus (117 RMB)

Stayed one night at the super posh Traffic Hostel but because the cheaper dorm beds had been booked moved to the Mix Hostel which had dorm beds plus free breakfast.

Best Memories:

Eating doughnuts at a new place where the line was going out the door

Xian (altitude 1,300 ft)

Transport from Chengdu to Xian: 16 hr train (201 RMB)

Stayed one night at 7 Sages and one night at Bell Tower Youth Hostel which is now my favorite hostel. Wonder why? Ask, and I'll tell.

Home (altitude 4,500 ft)

Transport from Xian to home: 4.5 hr bus (65 RMB)

Notes about Altitude

All altitudes are estimations from looking them up online.

The hardest altitude to deal with was at Shangri-La. Just walking up the inclines in that city were super difficult. By the end of the trip after about 9 days as we climbed up and down in altitude, I did not have a very difficult time in Li Tang, our highest point.

Pictures taken by Caitlin

No comments: