Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Essential shopping 1: Lionel Richie's "Jusr For You." Really. It says "Jusr."
Essential shopping 2: Steren Seagal 22 disc dvd set. Really. It says "Steren."
Essential eating: Eating the traditional chinese dish of nachos is a chopstick challenge even for the locals.
Essential betting 1: Not being able to understand Chinese TV we were reduced to watching the sports channel. To make it more interesting, we decided to bet on the International Swimming Finals live from Melbourne. Entry price: 10 yuan a race.
Essential betting 2: Instantly losing all my money, I take it with good grace.
Essential betting 3: Here's Ruth winning all my money and taking it with good grace also.
Essential pets: Skanky cat.
Chairman Mao says: "Make mine a VB..."
Jon says: "Make it two."
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
On the edge of Zhongdian was a pretty impressive monastary filled with monks and shiny, shiny buildings. It sat on the side of a hill and overlooked these wild looking barren plains with mountains sitting serenely in the distance. It was so peaceful I contemplated joining the monastic order until I realised I'd have to wear maroon and yellow robes. SO doesn't go with my complexion.
Anyhow, the next day we headed to Deqin. Its 187k north but takes about five to six hours on the mountain roads (it ended up taking eight). First stop, Napa Hai Lake, a large inland seasonal body of water that is apparently home to a number of rare birdlife. To test this theory, I did a good old aussie "COOOO-EE" and those birds flew away in terror. To think, I was an environmentalist once haha har!
What you are witnessing here is history. This is Ruth touching snow for the first time. Real snow. Not pissy on the top of mountain snow or small flakes. The real deal. Before we got out of the van, I warned her that her first inclination on touching it would be to throw a snow ball at me and that she shouldn't do that. Of course, as soon as I got out of the van I threw one at her. Why? I'm a juvenile idiot... Ruth then threw some at me and her journey to the dark side was complete.
Despite our guide turning out to be the prince of arseholes and trying to rip us off, nothing could take away from the breathtaking scenery as we slowly climbed our way up the Tibetan plateau. The second photo is of the "first bend in the Yangtze river." Very special, very auspicious.
We then drove for a couple of hours on treacherous, windy mountain roads through a blizzard. Well, Ruth wanted snow and she got it. This is the view from the back seat of the van. Oddly, while I was fearing for my life, Ruth sat contently enjoying the snow show.
Sadly, the blizzard was a precursor to the weather for the next few days. The main reason to go to Deqin was to see the Meili Xueshan mountain range, part of the himalayas but Deqin was rained in and we couldn't see shit. People go to Deqin to see the stuff around Deqin and when you can't see it, well... I'm not saying the town's a bit of a shithole but its a bit of a shithole. Anyhow, I'll never stop being amused by Yaks on the main street of any town, this one hanging out a few doors down from our hotel.
Fortunately, our hotel made us feel at home. If you can't read it (I know its dark) its says "Aliens and Overseas Chinese Permitted to Lodge." If you're wondering, I am not an overseas chinese but an official "alien." When we've travelled 80,000,000 light years from our home planet and need somewhere to put our feet up, we choose the Deqin Tibet Hotel.
Imagine, if you can, a beautiful mountain range that makes your jaw drop. Well, the mountains are the white cloud bits. At this point, Ruth and I decided to bail as it made no sense to stay in a town where you couldn't actually see the thing you went there to see.
Sadly, as the bus climbed out of the town, it turned out the mountains could be seen on the morning we were leaving. The bus stopped at a viewpoint for five minutes while the driver said some prayers to his ancestors. So for five hurried minutes we got to see what we had travelled so far for and even in that instant, it was worth it. The photos just can't do it justice but I'm not sure I've seen anything so beautiful before.
Monday, April 16, 2007
After the gorge, we headed north to the colder climes of Zhongdian. It was a bit like Lijiang only it was largely Tibetan culture rather than Naxi but without the grotesque tourist overload. Hence, Tibetan prayer flags everywhere. You know what? Tibetan prayer flags make sense in Tibet.
We immediately hit the food market wearing our winter clothes and in search of the local speciality, yak on a stick. Ruth did european chic, I did Michelin Man stupidity...
...but the local dogs proved cuter than either of us.
Not long after yak on a stick, it started to snow. Some people said it was sleet but as little flakes fell, it was the first time Ruth had seen snow fall from the sky. She looked up at the heavens in amazement and wondered what kind of witchcraft was behind such a phenomenon.
Behind the town was a temple with the biggest prayer wheel in all the land. This thing was frickin' heavy and no doubt everybody who pushed it around proved their commitment to their beliefs. We came back late one night to find the local hoodlums pushing it round at a sprinting pace, no doubt trying to push it off its axis. Well, at least they weren't tagging it I guess...
Yummmmm.... Yak on a stick (note the dog under my arm).
The greatest blog of all is complete, that's about as much as I can muster in a day and I probably missed lots of things. Zhongdian to be continued next, followed by the trek north. Laters.
Day 3 started off sunny but cold so I loaded up the beanie and hoodie look for the walk.
We soon hit a waterfall that actually cut off the track and you had to perilously walk across slippery rocks over a 2000m cliff. As someone who hates heights and is notoriously clumsy on rocks I crossed it with the mantra "Don't look down, don't slip, don't look down, don't slip..." It was kind of pathetic.
While we were trying our best to keep a heathly pace, we discovered just how slow we were going when on a windy part of the track we were passed by a guy and his cow. If you look closely you can see he's carrying the cow's wooden harness on his back. I was carrying a bag containing a coat.
Sadly, the way the track goes you end it before you know it. The descent you make suddenly stops on a road and its all over which is somewhat of an anti-climax.
The only way to get over the end is to go down to the river itself which is actually a one hour hike in itself and then about two to get back up. Hard bloody work but you actually got to feel like part of the gorge. When you get to the bottom you actually see the rock the tiger was supposed to have leapt across the gorge from but its just a rock really. The river was impressive though.
SO here's a picture of us after we've climbed back to the top looking buggered but satisfied that we kicked the tiger's leaping ass back over the gorge and enjoyed the highlight of our trip so far. It ain't pretty but life seldom is. Hooray!
Michael Palin? Sure why not. Pretty much everything we did for the next week was what he did in his Himalayas show. So you can vicariously re-live our adventures by watching his show but without that dry, British humour of course.
Taking a break from Lijiang, Ruth and I rode to the small village of Baisha. Billed by the Lying Planet (sorry Lonely Planet) as an "easy bike ride" from town, it proved more difficult than that. But it did lend itself to some beautiful scenery and some bike riding fun along the way.
When we arrived we were immediately propositioned by the world famous Dr Ho, Baisha's, and apparently the universe's, most famous chinese herbalist. He ushered us into his darkened rooms for herbal tea and told us all about how famous he was. Over and over again. From letters from my best buddy Michael Palin (Dr Ho was featured in the Himalaya series) to testimonials from various people from around the world, Dr Ho is the man. Modesty is not a word in his vocabulary but it was fun to see him in action.
Here he is telling me what lovely wrists I have. Actually, he diagnosed me with bad digestion although I think that might have been a result of the herbal tea.
After our diagnosis, Ruth asked for the obligatory tourist snap. The reason DR Ho couldn't look at the camera was he was sizing up the next bunch of tourists to proclaim his fame to. Dr Ho is the original G, a gangsta hustler ya gotta respect.
But Baisha proved to be a turning point in my China journey. It was for the large part an unsanitised version of the country that I had been craving. Apart from a street selling bogus antiques, this felt like everyday China. (And bogus antiques they were too. One guy was going to sell me a "Qing Dynasty" chess set for 2000 yuan. Down the street, I could have bought an identical "antique" set for 180 yuan which the woman assured me wasn't anymore than a couple of years old and all the antiques on the street were, in fact, fakes.... surprise!).
On the edge of town was a bunch of small farms of barley, spring onion and rapeseed. And yes, that looked as every bit as painful and heavy in real life as it does in the picture. After the tourist inspired prettiness of Lijiang, Baisha was the perfect antidote and was beautiful in an entirely different way.