Robyn and I left Guangzhou (GZ) about two weeks ago, spending our
first weekend with a big group of friends in Yangshou, which is
an overnight train ride from GZ. Yanghshou is famous for it's karst
peaks, and we did some running during the day and socializing at
night. A perfect way to ease into a trip.
We elected to forgo the 48 hour train ride from Yangshou to Chengdu
(capital of the Western province of Sichuan and gateway to Tibet)
and instead had the most terrifying plane ride of my life. Since
we started living in China, I have become afraid of flying, no doubt
it part because China's air safety record is often characterized
as 'dismal'. Ten minutes after takeoff, our twin engine jet de-accelerated
sharply, perhaps due to a loss of power in one engine, we'll never
know - inforamtion sharing is not common in China. We then circled
back to land at the airport we had just left. As we eased toward
the runway lots of noise was coming from the lower lefthand side
of the plane. I almost peed my pants when we aborted the landing
attempt while only 200m off the runway. Perhaps there were problems
with the landing gear -- we'll never know! We then circled the airport
several times while watching the fire engine and other vehicles
come out on the air strip. Everyone on the plane was very serious,
except for the Chinese guy in front of Robyn who had his seat back
and slept through the whole thing. Eventually we were able to land.
After a few hours of 'maintenance' and no explanation, we took off
again without incident.
From Chengdu we took an all day bus up into the mountains where
we did a 3 day 'horse trek'. We went in a group of about ten backpackers
and one 'guide' for each of us. The guides took care of our horses,
set up tents, cooked and got us thick Tibetan coats when we were
cold. We felt a bit spoiled! The weather was perfect and the scenery
was fantastic, we rode around various lakes, waterfalls and springs.
The nights were full of stars, big camp fires, loud singing (mostly
the guides) and lots of beer and 'baiju', the local rice fire liquor.
Back in Chengdu, we felt obliged to visit the world's biggest Buddha
at Leshan, which is 1300 years old. I almost skipped this one, but
felt inspired to visit it, since hearing the semi-recent news of
the destruction of the 2nd tallest one in Afghanistan. Anyways,
it was, of course, big.
In Lhasa, we spent a few days seeing the main tourist venues such
as the Potola and the Jokhang. While the Potola is the traditional
center of Tibetan government, the Jokhang is the biggest religious
temple in Lhasa and features crowds of pilgrims prostrating themselves
at the gates and making religious circuits (koras) around the temple,
while monks do lots of chanting inside. Very trippy scene. The 80th
anniversary of the Chinese Communist party has just past and the
50th anniversary of the 'Liberation of Tibet' is in 5 days, so security
is very tight, manifested by frequent police checkpoints, lots of
soldiers and a huge grandstand smack in front of the Potola to celebrate
We left Lhasa to visit the major monastery of Ganden, a two hours
bus ride from Lhasa and 15,000 feet up. The monastery was mostly
bombed out by the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution and still
has many burnt out buildings around the edges, although the main
buildings in the middle have been rebuilt. We were the only tourists
to stay the night. As we were brushing our teeth and getting ready
to sleep, we heard a continuous loud commotion from across the monastery,
complete with banging and yelling. Hoping no-one was being stoned
to death, we decided to investigate. We discovered a large courtyard
lit by a single bulb with a hundred monks debating in clusters of
3 or 4. One monk in each group stood over his partners and exclaimed
points of theological debate in Tibetan while rocking back and forth
and clapping loudly at the end of each point. The silhouttes of
all the monks against the star-lit background of the Tibetan plateau
was quite surreal. At first we thought we might not be welcome,
but before we knew it a monk was ushering us into the courtyard
and inviting us to sit with their debating group. The two seated
monks were quickly distracted from the wildly clapping monk as they
became engrossed in a game of "see who can turn on the head-light"
(the on-off switch is hard to find). This game was soon followed
by thumb wrestling (I won, Robyn lost!) and variations of patty-cake,
patty-cake... In any case it seems a festive way to debate and Robyn
and I intend to try it.
We left Ganden intent on a 4 day hike. We had a beautiful hike
on our first day but got so rained out our second day (I thought
we were going to get carried away in the storm) that we had our
yak and yak driver bring us back to Ganden, from which we returned
to Lhasa. Yaks rock! They also make for excellent Chilli con Carne.
Robyn and I pass our down time playing cards and reading. The card
games (Gin Rummy) last for a country (Robyn's currently in the lead
at 1760 vs. 1710 pts). If I lose this one, I'm sure I can take Nepal.
On books, so far I've knocked out 'Big Trouble' by Dave Berry, 'For
Whom the Bell Tolls' (..I love you little rabbit..oh yes I love
you, do you love me? oh yes little rabbit I love you? but have you
loved others? Only you my little rabbit, I love you...)and Irving's
'Hotel New Hampshire'. If Everest is cloud locked I may end up reading
the fine print in my passport, since we're out of books.
Lhasa Party Cell
|Some of the Guangzhou HHH by the river in Yangshou.
|On our horse-trek near Songpan.
|Two baby panda's face off in playful confrontation.
|Ganden Monestary at 14,700 feet.
| Debating monks. The Monk on the right is expounding to
the two on the ground. Some more monks can be seen in the dark