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Su Shi

In Shangri-La

From Litang we stop advancing west and point south. In a few days we should be enjoying the subtropical climate of Yunnan, but as you may have gathered by now, we are still struggling to find a snowless track, because we dived into Tibet armed only with two bicycles, and flimsy clothing. Around 10 km from town, the road climbs to 4400m through a gorge wide enough for Litang to look like a worn-out Lego. Wind is ambushing our ears with crescendos that suddenly collapse to chasms of silence and massive tectonic scar rises from both sides. I know it’s just a blink in Earth’s history, but to me, this mountain is forever. I fear it, even as I bask in its beauty.

The needle sharp freezing rain is just an hour away. We put on everything that we have, except the extra pair of undies. Our bodies still bear the brunt of the other days and all twenty fingers and toes lose feeling fast. The road to Xiangcheng County and the virgin forests and big gorges on the way to Zhongwenshui seemed promising, but we find ourselves in total nightmare. At Tu Er Shan pass (4696m) the wind is just picking up. The pass, like all across Tibet, is devoid of trees and covered in huge boulders and colourful prayer flags.

To Xiangcheng we make it, by shared mini-van, crammed on top of two Belgian travellers who are backpacking to Thailand. They keep us good company for a night in town, complete with dinner in a weirdly touristy joint and a brief rest in what could well be a bordello. We’ll meet them again on the bus that sloshes to the top of Hai Zi Shan (4998m), and of Kuluke Shan (4708m) after that. There’s even not as much snow as I’d though up here, only some frost, but the dam thing is frictionless on dirt. Pedalling is impossible, and pushing it is even worse. The rear slides back and forth, mud slurry flies and progress is nil, while the antiquated bus manages to lumber on. The driver keeps asking: “Where are you going? Shangri-La? But why not with motorbike?” Damn good question man.

Long story short, by third day we’re crossing int the province of Yunnan – The Land Beneath the Clouds, much sooner than expected. We stop in Zhongdian, one of a handful of places believed to have inspired James Hilton to pen his classic novel “Lost Horizon”. The novel spoke of a mystical Tibetan Buddhist city, of the Himalayan utopia of Shambhala, an earthly paradise, permanently happy and cocooned from the outside world. The Chinese tourism authority wanted to make sure they own this patent. So they swiftly changed the name of an 1,300-year-old Tibetan village (once a stop on the southern Silk Road) from Dukezong to Shangri-La, and bam! a new tourist attraction was born. After vagabonding in wonderful rural China and Tibet Kham for weeks, we are frankly unimpressed. The shop fronts suspiciously lack patina and the souvenirs are a bunch of generic crap. There are no burly Litang swags and no Tibetan faces carved by wind lashes; just minority costumed dancers and cute little salesgirls with the round features of the Han handing idiosyncratic flyers about Tibetan culture. For food, no yak carcasses, but proper restaurant signs advertising for gelato, imported wines and… wait a minute, yak cheese fondue? But we are here and after a few beers with the Belgians I don’t even care about this stuff anymore.

We are bunking in a rustic hostel, where it’s cold and empty (we’ll move tomorrow to a chipper place). So even if it rains all morning, we are quite motivated to move our limbs. Best place to see is the Songzanlin Monastery, also known as “the little Potala Palace” for resembling the iconic lamasery in Lhasa. We approach via a muddy trail that circles the lake, gobsmacked by the image of twin gilded roofs under the bruised sky.

Shangri-La is already at 3000m altitude and the monastery sits another 300m up, at the foot of Foping Mountain. It costs 17 euros to visit, a normal price for China where local tourism is booming, but an impossible cost for any Tibetan (there are no discounted rates for nationals).

The 1679 structure composed of two lamaseries, Zhacang and Jikang, is currently undergoing restoration. I hope that it is being done with humility and respect towards the original.

A glorious sun peeks through. Now we can see the entire place framed by empty horizons. The mountain, so crushing until minutes ago, has become an exclusion zone erected around a human house of gods.

A steep flight of stairs leads to a wide terrace. As we jolt our way there, we are confronted to close-ups of Tibetan architectural vocabulary. Delicate woodwork. Striking colours. Zoomorphic symbols. Both restraint and flamboyance, building up into a concerto.

I look at the black yak fur curtains that quarantine the gut of the lamasery, I stumble on wood stairs that isolate the spaces reserved for monks and the symphony of unknown origin gets louder in my head.

Songzanlin Monastery

The monastery is not so much an open book, as a place waiting to be inhabited by experience.

The monk, the workers and the visitors could have been photoshopped into the same picture by a joker, as some appear free to run away from “here”, and run they do. The Buddhists are aware that existence is not stuck to the physical. Too bad we aren’t.

Tibetan prayer flags adorn the inside and outside of the building, old and new one left alongside to say that all beings are part of an ongoing cycle and that change is inherent to all life. As Medok, the owner of Potala Inn, said in Litang, “every time the wind blows, the flags send a message for peace and health for all human beings.”

As we climb down through the village on a sinuous sliver of a path, we see huge wooden racks drying the last of the hay and barley.

In his book, James Hilton described the lost paradise as a place where the air has a “deep anaesthetising tranquility”. This could be it.

Ok, a couple more photos of this place and we move on. I promise.

Late in the afternoon we’re back in Shangri-La, reunited with our Belgian pals at the foot of the iconic prayer wheel sitting above the old town. In Buddhist tradition, prayer wheels carry the mantra of Om Mani Padme Hum, and turning the golden cylinder is believed to spread compassion in all directions. It’s strange to think that this is the only bit of Shangri-La that was to survive.

UPDATE

Since we’ve been there, Yunnan’s Shangri-La is no more. I shall regret forever wasting our time there to bicker about architecture this and authenticity that, instead of taking more photos. On the 10th of January 2014 a blaze ripped through the Tibetan Old Town, razing as many as 250 houses within 10 hours and turning many families’ belongings to ashes. All reports point to a tragic accident: the fire prevention system costing more than $1-million had been shut down to prevent pipes from bursting in the below-freezing temperatures and the fire trucks were unable to penetrate the narrow alleys of the old town. As the area has been under pressure by developers for some time, this fire will be a gamechanger in the debate of economical growth versus preservation of tradition. You can see some brutal photos of the aftermath here and here and here.

The first picture of the prayer wheel was taken with the phone. The second was taken by an AP reporter, a few months later.



Sursa
Su Shi

In Shangri-La

From Litang we stop advancing west and point south. In a few days we should be enjoying the subtropical climate of Yunnan, but as you may have gathered by now, we are still struggling to find a snowless track, because we dived into Tibet armed only with two bicycles, and flimsy clothing. Around 10 km from town, the road climbs to 4400m through a gorge wide enough for Litang to look like a worn-out Lego. Wind is ambushing our ears with crescendos that suddenly collapse to chasms of silence and massive tectonic scar rises from both sides. I know it’s just a blink in Earth’s history, but to me, this mountain is forever. I fear it, even as I bask in its beauty.

The needle sharp freezing rain is just an hour away. We put on everything that we have, except the extra pair of undies. Our bodies still bear the brunt of the other days and all twenty fingers and toes lose feeling fast. The road to Xiangcheng County and the virgin forests and big gorges on the way to Zhongwenshui seemed promising, but we find ourselves in total nightmare. At Tu Er Shan pass (4696m) the wind is just picking up. The pass, like all across Tibet, is devoid of trees and covered in huge boulders and colourful prayer flags.

To Xiangcheng we make it, by shared mini-van, crammed on top of two Belgian travellers who are backpacking to Thailand. They keep us good company for a night in town, complete with dinner in a weirdly touristy joint and a brief rest in what could well be a bordello. We’ll meet them again on the bus that sloshes to the top of Hai Zi Shan (4998m), and of Kuluke Shan (4708m) after that. There’s even not as much snow as I’d though up here, only some frost, but the dam thing is frictionless on dirt. Pedalling is impossible, and pushing it is even worse. The rear slides back and forth, mud slurry flies and progress is nil, while the antiquated bus manages to lumber on. The driver keeps asking: “Where are you going? Shangri-La? But why not with motorbike?” Damn good question man.

Long story short, by third day we’re crossing int the province of Yunnan – The Land Beneath the Clouds, much sooner than expected. We stop in Zhongdian, one of a handful of places believed to have inspired James Hilton to pen his classic novel “Lost Horizon”. The novel spoke of a mystical Tibetan Buddhist city, of the Himalayan utopia of Shambhala, an earthly paradise, permanently happy and cocooned from the outside world. The Chinese tourism authority wanted to make sure they own this patent. So they swiftly changed the name of an 1,300-year-old Tibetan village (once a stop on the southern Silk Road) from Dukezong to Shangri-La, and bam! a new tourist attraction was born. After vagabonding in wonderful rural China and Tibet Kham for weeks, we are frankly unimpressed. The shop fronts suspiciously lack patina and the souvenirs are a bunch of generic crap. There are no burly Litang swags and no Tibetan faces carved by wind lashes; just minority costumed dancers and cute little salesgirls with the round features of the Han handing idiosyncratic flyers about Tibetan culture. For food, no yak carcasses, but proper restaurant signs advertising for gelato, imported wines and… wait a minute, yak cheese fondue? But we are here and after a few beers with the Belgians I don’t even care about this stuff anymore.

We are bunking in a rustic hostel, where it’s cold and empty (we’ll move tomorrow to a chipper place). So even if it rains all morning, we are quite motivated to move our limbs. Best place to see is the Songzanlin Monastery, also known as “the little Potala Palace” for resembling the iconic lamasery in Lhasa. We approach via a muddy trail that circles the lake, gobsmacked by the image of twin gilded roofs under the bruised sky.

Shangri-La is already at 3000m altitude and the monastery sits another 300m up, at the foot of Foping Mountain. It costs 17 euros to visit, a normal price for China where local tourism is booming, but an impossible cost for any Tibetan (there are no discounted rates for nationals).

The 1679 structure composed of two lamaseries, Zhacang and Jikang, is currently undergoing restoration. I hope that it is being done with humility and respect towards the original.

A glorious sun peeks through. Now we can see the entire place framed by empty horizons. The mountain, so crushing until minutes ago, has become an exclusion zone erected around a human house of gods.

A steep flight of stairs leads to a wide terrace. As we jolt our way there, we are confronted to close-ups of Tibetan architectural vocabulary. Delicate woodwork. Striking colours. Zoomorphic symbols. Both restraint and flamboyance, building up into a concerto.

I look at the black yak fur curtains that quarantine the gut of the lamasery, I stumble on wood stairs that isolate the spaces reserved for monks and the symphony of unknown origin gets louder in my head.

Songzanlin Monastery

The monastery is not so much an open book, as a place waiting to be inhabited by experience.

The monk, the workers and the visitors could have been photoshopped into the same picture by a joker, as some appear free to run away from “here”, and run they do. The Buddhists are aware that existence is not stuck to the physical. Too bad we aren’t.

Tibetan prayer flags adorn the inside and outside of the building, old and new one left alongside to say that all beings are part of an ongoing cycle and that change is inherent to all life. As Medok, the owner of Potala Inn, said in Litang, “every time the wind blows, the flags send a message for peace and health for all human beings.”

As we climb down through the village on a sinuous sliver of a path, we see huge wooden racks drying the last of the hay and barley.

In his book, James Hilton described the lost paradise as a place where the air has a “deep anaesthetising tranquility”. This could be it.

Ok, a couple more photos of this place and we move on. I promise.

Late in the afternoon we’re back in Shangri-La, reunited with our Belgian pals at the foot of the iconic prayer wheel sitting above the old town. In Buddhist tradition, prayer wheels carry the mantra of Om Mani Padme Hum, and turning the golden cylinder is believed to spread compassion in all directions. It’s strange to think that this is the only bit of Shangri-La that was to survive.

UPDATE

Since we’ve been there, Yunnan’s Shangri-La is no more. I shall regret forever wasting our time there to bicker about architecture this and authenticity that, instead of taking more photos. On the 10th of January 2014 a blaze ripped through the Tibetan Old Town, razing as many as 250 houses within 10 hours and turning many families’ belongings to ashes. All reports point to a tragic accident: the fire prevention system costing more than $1-million had been shut down to prevent pipes from bursting in the below-freezing temperatures and the fire trucks were unable to penetrate the narrow alleys of the old town. As the area has been under pressure by developers for some time, this fire will be a gamechanger in the debate of economical growth versus preservation of tradition. You can see some brutal photos of the aftermath here and here and here.

The first picture of the prayer wheel was taken with the phone. The second was taken by an AP reporter, a few months later.



Sursa
Su Shi

Litang! Litang!

Two days before this, it was sunny and a mild -4 degrees in Dartsendo (Kangding). Then clouds rolled in, and air felt thinner and colder. Once we found that the onward bus to Litang had been cancelled due to blizzard and another one may leave the next day, conditions ahead seemed too dangerous to cycle. Especially that it takes two days to reach the top of the mountain pass. So here we are, busing out of Dartsendo and hoping that fairer days await beyond the notorious 285 kilometers of G318.
Up to the first mountain pass (4,410m) other than the relentless incline the road conditions are quite good.

Then we pass Xinduqiao (3440m) and we hit roadworks: mud, puddles, large bumps, stones and lumps of torn-up asphalt make such sections the dread of Chinese cyclists gunning to Lhasa. Every KM we see their messages left on the road markers. Our driver stops to fit the wheels with winter chains. Very encouraging indeed.

This is Tibet, where you can have three seasons in one day. The second pass (4,659m) marks a very clear distinction between the vast grasslands of Ta Gong or the misty, forested gorges of Ba Mei. Everything has been replaced by vast tectonic creations. The view towards the high Tibetan plateau is breathtaking. These mountains look more like they have been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the earth.

As crazy as this road may be, carving through the most dizzying of peaks, we are not alone. And I’m not talking a couple of trucks like the one we saw in Kangding; there are massive PLA army convoys, some returning from Tibet, some slowly climbing up. One line must have nearly 50 trucks! We ask why there is such intense military activity up here, and they say they could be fresh recruits on driving practice, with a number of vehicles carrying supplies to Tibet.

Further up, a section of asphalt has been washed away, bringing the entire traffic to a halt. We only get moving again 3 hours later and the driver starts shouting Litang! Litang! to make sure none of us got lost on the mountain.

We finally arrive in Litang in the dead of the night. We’ve been on the G318 for 15 hours. Not so bad, considering that this drive takes 10 to 12 hours in summer. Pedalling our way here would have been a Sisyphean delusion.

Unsurprisingly, because of the intensity of the bus ride, the night doesn’t progress much further than climbing under the electric blanket to escape the cold and writing this. We are bunking at Medok’s Potala Inn. She is Tibetan and one of the few local business owners who support the thin trickle of visitors to the area. In the morning we see her rosy cheeked, doing laundry in the yard, while the street has been covered with a thin layer of ice. That’s it, we can no longer deny it. Winter is here.

Litang sits at 4,014m, hemmed in on all sides by huge mountains.

This is a Wild West sort of town, clustered around one main street – with open-fronted shops stocked with horse rigs and cowboy gear – and the market – where nomadic Khambas are shopping or selling huge blocks of yak butter. Yak is the staple here: we find yak burgers, yak meat pies and yak soup, and we are happy to wolf down an animal we find adorable either dead or alive.

Yak carcasses hanging in Litang’s market

Litang is populated almost exclusively by ethnic Tibetans. The men are gruff, a mass of long bristling hair underneath cowboy hats, strutting confidently through town on pimped-up motorcycles. Some braid their hair and adorn it in handcrafted silver jewellery. The women are less conspicuous, wearing thick woollen tunics with sashes and their hair wrapped upon their heads in a single braid with interlacing red ribbons.

Whenever a break is due, we find the men in the back of the market, shooting pool.

Tibetan kids are a rag-tag troupe of ruddy faced tykes. We make eye contact across a yak carcass. Sparks fly right away. I have forgotten how liberating is to laugh for no reason, just happy to be alive. We’re gonna miss these cheeky bastards, for sure.

This little dude is the spitting image of John growing up with his nana’s noodle soup and just as fussy I’m sure :)

Everyone is super-friendly, yelling “tashi delek” (hello in Tibetan), even when we reach the fringes of Litang and the home of the very poor. This is a very different world, one that neither of us thought still existed outside the issues of National Geographic.

On the north end of town we find the Litang Chode Monastery, the region’s largest, with several hundred resident monks, but looking peacefully deserted. The huge yard allows a stupendous view towards the mountains.

Inside it’s lavishly decorated and we see Dalai Lama’s photo for the first time on the territory of China. Considering that the Dalai Lama is not “chosen”, but “found”, I find it remarkable that Litang was the birth place of two Dalai Lamas – the 7th and 10th.

This monastery has been in use since 1580, but all art and music relating to Tibetan Buddhism was banned from ’59. It’s only in recent years that monks have been allowed to wear the traditional robes and conduct their rituals again.

There are Tibetans who WALK here from China or from India, on their way to Lhasa. Herzog made a hypnotic documentary about that.

Up on the hills behind the monastery, to the left, Tibetan prayer flags mark a site for sky burial. This ritual is also observed in parts of Mongolia.

The place is soaked in sun. I can see how one could just sit here, let this calm energy sift through and forget about time. Frankly, I see no reason to go.



Sursa
Su Shi

Litang! Litang!

Two days before this, it was sunny and a mild -4 degrees in Dartsendo (Kangding). Then clouds rolled in, and air felt thinner and colder. Once we found that the onward bus to Litang had been cancelled due to blizzard and another one may leave the next day, conditions ahead seemed too dangerous to cycle. Especially that it takes two days to reach the top of the mountain pass. So here we are, busing out of Dartsendo and hoping that fairer days await beyond the notorious 285 kilometers of G318.
Up to the first mountain pass (4,410m) other than the relentless incline the road conditions are quite good.

Then we pass Xinduqiao (3440m) and we hit roadworks: mud, puddles, large bumps, stones and lumps of torn-up asphalt make such sections the dread of Chinese cyclists gunning to Lhasa. Every KM we see their messages left on the road markers. Our driver stops to fit the wheels with winter chains. Very encouraging indeed.

This is Tibet, where you can have three seasons in one day. The second pass (4,659m) marks a very clear distinction between the vast grasslands of Ta Gong or the misty, forested gorges of Ba Mei. Everything has been replaced by vast tectonic creations. The view towards the high Tibetan plateau is breathtaking. These mountains look more like they have been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the earth.

As crazy as this road may be, carving through the most dizzying of peaks, we are not alone. And I’m not talking a couple of trucks like the one we saw in Kangding; there are massive PLA army convoys, some returning from Tibet, some slowly climbing up. One line must have nearly 50 trucks! We ask why there is such intense military activity up here, and they say they could be fresh recruits on driving practice, with a number of vehicles carrying supplies to Tibet.

Further up, a section of asphalt has been washed away, bringing the entire traffic to a halt. We only get moving again 3 hours later and the driver starts shouting Litang! Litang! to make sure none of us got lost on the mountain.

We finally arrive in Litang in the dead of the night. We’ve been on the G318 for 15 hours. Not so bad, considering that this drive takes 10 to 12 hours in summer. Pedalling our way here would have been a Sisyphean delusion.

Unsurprisingly, because of the intensity of the bus ride, the night doesn’t progress much further than climbing under the electric blanket to escape the cold and writing this. We are bunking at Medok’s Potala Inn. She is Tibetan and one of the few local business owners who support the thin trickle of visitors to the area. In the morning we see her rosy cheeked, doing laundry in the yard, while the street has been covered with a thin layer of ice. That’s it, we can no longer deny it. Winter is here.

Litang sits at 4,014m, hemmed in on all sides by huge mountains.

This is a Wild West sort of town, clustered around one main street – with open-fronted shops stocked with horse rigs and cowboy gear – and the market – where nomadic Khambas are shopping or selling huge blocks of yak butter. Yak is the staple here: we find yak burgers, yak meat pies and yak soup, and we are happy to wolf down an animal we find adorable either dead or alive.

Yak carcasses hanging in Litang’s market

Litang is populated almost exclusively by ethnic Tibetans. The men are gruff, a mass of long bristling hair underneath cowboy hats, strutting confidently through town on pimped-up motorcycles. Some braid their hair and adorn it in handcrafted silver jewellery. The women are less conspicuous, wearing thick woollen tunics with sashes and their hair wrapped upon their heads in a single braid with interlacing red ribbons.

Whenever a break is due, we find the men in the back of the market, shooting pool.

Tibetan kids are a rag-tag troupe of ruddy faced tykes. We make eye contact across a yak carcass. Sparks fly right away. I have forgotten how liberating is to laugh for no reason, just happy to be alive. We’re gonna miss these cheeky bastards, for sure.

This little dude is the spitting image of John growing up with his nana’s noodle soup and just as fussy I’m sure :)

Everyone is super-friendly, yelling “tashi delek” (hello in Tibetan), even when we reach the fringes of Litang and the home of the very poor. This is a very different world, one that neither of us thought still existed outside the issues of National Geographic.

On the north end of town we find the Litang Chode Monastery, the region’s largest, with several hundred resident monks, but looking peacefully deserted. The huge yard allows a stupendous view towards the mountains.

Inside it’s lavishly decorated and we see Dalai Lama’s photo for the first time on the territory of China. Considering that the Dalai Lama is not “chosen”, but “found”, I find it remarkable that Litang was the birth place of two Dalai Lamas – the 7th and 10th.

This monastery has been in use since 1580, but all art and music relating to Tibetan Buddhism was banned from ’59. It’s only in recent years that monks have been allowed to wear the traditional robes and conduct their rituals again.

There are Tibetans who WALK here from China or from India, on their way to Lhasa. Herzog made a hypnotic documentary about that.

Up on the hills behind the monastery, to the left, Tibetan prayer flags mark a site for sky burial. This ritual is also observed in parts of Mongolia.

The place is soaked in sun. I can see how one could just sit here, let this calm energy sift through and forget about time. Frankly, I see no reason to go.



Sursa
Su Shi

Din Kangding, cu dragoste

Haladuim prin Prefectura Tibetana Autonoma Garnze de zile intregi. Iata-ne acum si in capitala prefecturii, Dartsendo དར་རྩེ་མདོ་, careia chinezii ii zic Kangding (de unde si

). O sa luam aici o scurta pauza, prilej sa ne ocupam de prelungirea vizelor. Dupa ce ne cazam intr-un hostel aglomerat cu backpackeri chinezi, dam cu ochii de primele camioane de armata, dar si de zapada care a cazut ieri si azi-noapte pe munte.

Dartsendo se afla la 2300m, care in zona asta inseamna o vale adanca, flancata de varfuri de peste 4000m si cu cel mai inalt, Gong Ga de 7556m! Orasul sta la confluenta raurilor Zheduo si Ya La, care sunt alimentate de ghetari si care alimenteaza la randul lor fluviul Yangtze.

La biroul de evidenta populatiei unde se fac prelungirile de viza aflam un mic detaliu, care nu e mentionat pe niciun website de calatori. Este vorba de faptul ca prelungirile de viza necesita ca turistul sa fi fost “inregistrat” in sistem si nu o data, ci de mai multe ori (de preferat in fiecare zi de “sejur”). Inregistrarea se face la hotel/hostel/casa de oaspeti, prin introducerea datelor din pasaport intr-o baza de date a guvernului. Desi in mod normal nu am fi stat in niciun loc acreditat, de data asta ne gandim ca am avut un noroc chior cu vremea friguroasa, pentru ca ne-a obligat sa stam in cateva locuri. Deci ar trebui sa nu avem probleme. Functionara e de alta parere; ne spune ca nu suntem in sistem si ca prin urmare nu ne poate accepta aplicatiile. Urmatoarele 24 de ore sunt un iures de telefoane la hostelurile din Dan Ba si Chengdu. Chinul de a ne inregistra in Dartsendo e bonus. Toata tevatura nu o impresioneaza pe functionara din Kangding, care continua sa sustina ca tot nu suntem in sistem. Cum nu avem de gand sa ne evacuam in Hong Kong sau asa ceva, suntem nevoiti sa ne ratoim si sa amenintam sa o turnam in Beijing. Culmea, functioneaza. Duduia ne primeste actele, dar cand ii spunem xie-xie mormaie ca daca in trei zile nu vom fi validati de sistem, ioc vize. Mai vedem noi…
Intre timp observam ca a iesit soarele si ca s-a limpezit cerul. Ce bine, putem sa dam o tura prin oras.

In Dartsendo sunt trei manastiri budiste. Cea mai mare este Lhamo Tse (sau Nanwu Si), care se afla la 2 kilometri de centru, spre vest, intr-un cartier rustic foarte linistit.

In curte e liniste, de abia indraznim sa dam la o parte perdeaua groasa care acopera veranda. Simbolul care seamana cu o timona este foarte important atat in teologia budista cat si in cea hindu si reprezinta continuitatea vietii, ciclitatea destinului si felul in care sunt toate legate in lume prin forte invizibile.

Ne nimerim in miezul unei sesiuni de rugaciune. Corul de trompete e dirijat de un calugar mai batran.

Pentru ochiul nostru ne-enducat, interiorul e de-a dreptul extravagant. Predomina culorile de pe steagurile de rugaciune, care fac referire la pamant, cer, foc, soare si vant.

Manastirea Ngachu (sau An Jue Si in Chineza) dateaza din 1654 si se afla chiar in centru, vizavi de Hotelul Kangding.

Aleile din jurul manastirii au fost restaurate recent si toate spatiile comerciale unde odinioara erau tot felul de pravalii sunt inchiriate de cafenele cool, magazine si coaforuri. Cu ocazia asta imi iau si eu o geaca (un fake Jack Wolfskin). In a doua poza incerc sa ii explic unui nevinovat ca maretul prag o sa le trimita clientii in aterizare libera direct pe scafarlia proaspat coafata hipstereste.

Daca tot vorbim de chestii trendy in Tibet, ce-ar fi sa ne bagam la un ceai de crizanteme cu zahar candel si fructe Goji? Mai ales ca suntem intr-unul dintre cele mai importante orase de pe echivalentul Drumului Matasii, numai ca pe comertul cu ceai si armasari…

Chelnerita e atat de rabdatoare, ca se indura sa ne lumineze cu privire la istoria comertului cu ceai. Povestea e asa: tibetanii doreau sa cumpere ceai din China (pentru a le usura digestia alimentelor bazate pe carne), iar chinezii aveau nevoie de caii tibetanilor pentru a-i mana in lupta. Dar nici caii, nici ceaiul nu se gaseau acolo unde era mai mare nevoie de ele. Asta a dus la crearea asa-numitului Cha Ma Gu Dao (Drumul Ceaiului si Cailor), in timpul Dinastiei Tang  (acum cca. 1300 de ani). Negustorii petreceau pana la 3 luni pe drumul dintre Lhasa si cele trei orase de pornire – Ya ‘an in Sichuan, Qinghai in nord si un al treilea din Yunnan. Numai aceasta retea de rute comerciale justifica existenta localitatilor intr-o zona frumoasa, dar extrem de potrivnica omului. Chiar daca marfurile nu mai sunt aceleasi, schimbul comercial dintre Tibet si China continua ca odinioara. In piata din oras e plin de lana, leacuri tibetane din plante si caramizi de ceai din Ya’an, ambalate in piei de iac. Tot aici vedem pentru prima data legendara Viagra Himalayana, un “vierme” endemic, foarte rar si foarte greu de recoltat, care valoreaza greutatea lui in aur. Yartsa gunbu este de fapt o ciuperca parazita, care isi consuma gazda – de regula o omida – dupa care ii strapunge capul si moare. Localnicii ii atribuie calitati afrodisiace si sustin ca ciuperca vindeca chiar si cancerul.

Pana in 1955 regiunea Garnze a facut parte din Tibet (si nu e tocmai o provincie micuta, ci cam cat jumatate de Italia). Astazi doar 40% din populatie e de etnie Tibetana, cu 40% de etnie Han.

Stil Tibetan

20% dintre localnici sunt din alte etnii minoritare: Qiang, Yi si Hui.

Nomazii vin din zone de pasunat ca Ta Gong (care e la 112km de oras), in special pentru a face negot cu diverse produse. Atmosfera tipica – cu mancare grasa, baute grave si oameni de gasca – ne ia pe sus.

Cel mai animat loc din piata este zona unde se vinde, transeaza si prelucreaza iaci.

Carne de iac, condimentata si deshidratata (seamana cu biltongul din Africa de Sud)

Ca tot veni vorba de mancare, am gasit o strada intreaga dedicata supariilor si taiteilor.

Restaurantul nostru preferat se deschide abia la pranz si e specializat pe legume murate si carne maturata in tot felul de condimente ciudate (printre feluri sunt radacina de lotus, ginseng si ureche de porc)

Totul – de la comertul cu zarzavaturi, la slefuitul tocatoarelor din macelarii – are loc in strada. Intr-una din zile gasim un nene care s-a apucat sa construiasca un morman de rumegus peste biciclete si abia asa ne mai dam si noi seama ca am petrecut cam mult timp in aceeasi crasma.

Vremea a fost placuta toata saptamana, cu exceptia noptii cand temperatura scade sub zero grade. Combatem frigul cu trei masuri de baza: 1. am adoptat obiceiul local de a bea apa fierbinte; 2. cine ultra-iuti in compania backpackerilor chinezi (care sunt fascinati de barba lui Ionut) si 3. paturi electrice pe care le bagam in priza inainte sa iesim in oras, ca sa fim siguri ca gasim patul cald. Lista ocupantilor camerei in care dormim s-a schimbat zilnic, singurul care a ramas pe loc, alaturi de noi, este soarecele care iese la plimbare in miez de noapte si care nu pare sa ne deranjeze decat pe noi doi.
Cand se implineste saptamana, aflam ca vizele sunt gata, ca urmeaza sa dea din nou cu zapada si ca vor fi -8 grade ziua! Grozav! Bucata de autostrada Tibet-Sichuan care continua spre vest este inca in constructie si strabate alte doua pasuri alpine: unul la 4410m si altul la 4659m. De ce oare ne-a trasnit taman ACUM, cand vine iarna, sa biciclim prin Tibet?



Sursa
Su Shi

From Kangding, with Love

We’ve been roaming the Garnze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture for days. Now here we are in its capital, Dartsendo དར་རྩེ་མདོ་, known as Kangding in Chinese (

). We plan to take a couple of days off while dealing with our visa extensions. After having checked into a hostel that quickly filled up with Chinese backpackers, we wake up our first glimpse of PLA army trucks and of the snow that fell overnight on the tops of the mountain.

Kangding is nestled in a steep valley at the confluence of the glacier-fed Zheduo and Ya La Rivers, which flow into the Yangtze and then into the sea. The town is already over 2300m, with most of the surrounding peaks pushing 4000m and with the Gong Ga Mountain (7556m) towering above.

At the Visa office we learn a tiny but very inconvenient detail, never mentioned on travellers’ websites: the extension is conditioned by the number of registrations one has in the system. This is how it works: theoretically a tourist must register for each night in China. The passport is therefore entered into an official data base so the immigration can check where and for how long has the visitor stayed. By sheer luck and due to freezing cold, we have uncharacteristically stayed in a number of hostels, so upon learning the rules we figure we should be ok. But the clerk in Kangding says we are not in the system and that we cannot only apply. For the next 24 hours we call to Dan Ba and Chengdu and register in Kangding, but even after doing so, we are still not in the system. All options exhausted, we resort to shouting and threatening to report at the embassy. It works. Red-faced lady is intimidated enough to accept our papers, even though she keeps asking “where did you stay in Beining, where did you stay the other nights” and so on. When we say xie-xie she insists that she will not sign our extension if 3 days from now our registrations are not validated. We’ll see about that.
Meanwhile we notice that the clouds have vanished, replaced by white wisps of cloud and clear blue sky. Time to cycle around town.

There are three Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in town. To visit the Lhamo Tse Monastery (Nanwu Si) we need to cycle about 2km west from downtown and navigate a quaint neighbourhood.

The place is silent and there is a thick wool tapestry lining the door. The symbol resembling the steering wheel of a boat represents the continuity of life, the circular life of an individual, and the interconnectedness of all life in the universe and is very important in Hindu and in Buddhist theology.

Inside it’s prayer time. A choir of trumpets is being directed by an older monk who uses tiny bells and a gong to sequence the music and to control the ensemble.

The interior is adorned with all sort of Buddhist paraphernalia. Our uneducated eye is seduced by this intricate and extravagant decor, where the five colors of the prayer flags – representing earth, sky, fire, sun, and wind – prevail.

Ngachu Monastery, known as An Jue Si in Chinese, dates back to 1654 and sits downtown, right across from the Kangding Hotel.

The nearby alleys have been restored and upgraded, with many hip cafes, shops and hair saloons popping up on a weekly basis. We’ve noticed that the hipsterdom has already spread to Tibet. The competition is fierce, with every young guy in town trying to look like their hair is on sky high peroxide fire. I take this opportunity to buy a horrendous fake Jack Wolfskin jacket and to scold an innocent “stylist” about the stupid detail that will make their customers fall right on their hipster-coiffed heads.

While we’re on topic, how about the hipster version of traditional tea in a town that was an important station on the tea version of the Silk Road ? My choice: chrysanthemum infusion, with rock sugar and goji berries.

The waitress kindly educates us on the history of the trade: the Tibetans wanted to buy tea from the Chinese to help with the digestion of meat, while the Chinese wanted to buy horses to use in battle. Both things (tea and horses) couldn’t be sourced in the desired locations, so the Cha Ma Gu Dao (The Ancient Way of Tea and Horse) was established, during the Tang Dynasty (about 1300 years ago) . The traders used to travel well over three months from the town of Ya ‘an (widely seen as the start of the Sichuan section of the ancient route with two others starting from Yunnan in the south and Qinghai in the north) to Lhasa. This ancient route is the main reason why there are towns (and therefore places to stay) in this desolate but beautiful part of China. The trade is still going strong. In the local market we find wool, Tibetan herbs and bricks of tea from Ya’an wrapped in yak hide. And the so-called Himalayan Viagra, an endemic, uber-rare and hard-to-harvest worm that is worth its weight in gold. This parasitic fungus grows through the body of its host – the ghost moth caterpillar – killing it and bursting out of the top of its head. Yartsa gunbu looks like a small brown twig on the end of a crinkled yellow worm and it is believed to cure cancer and to be a potent aphrodisiac.

Up until 1955 the Garnze region was part of Tibet proper (and this is not a small place, it’s about half the size of Italy). Today 40% of the population are Tibetans and 40% are Han Chinese.

Tibetan swag

20% of the locals belong to other minority groups such as the Qiang, Yi and Hui.

The crimson-robed nomads come into town from grasslands like Ta Gong (112km away) to buy and sell goods. We soon find ourselves pulled into the Tibetan culture – fatty foods, heavy drinking and friendly curiosity.

Near the local farmer’s market and the bus station, right across out hotel, is the Yak Bridge, a marketplace for all things yak.

This yak jerky reminds of a South-African delicacy, the biltong

Speaking of food, we manage to hunt down an entire street dedicated to soup and fresh noodles .

And we become regulars at another joint specialised in pickled veg (lotus root, even ginseng) and cured meats (pig’s ear & skin).


Everything happens in the street: selling of vegetables, sanding of all-important chopping boards. One day we realise we’ve been too long inside the restaurant, only when we notice that a man has already managed to build a small mountain of sawdust near our bikes.

Throughout the week the weather has been good to us, except for nighttime  when temperatures drop well below zero. To cope, I’ve acquired the habit of drinking hot water. The second best thing is going out for a brutally spicy hotpot with our fellow hostel dwellers, one of whom insists that my boyfriend looks like a movie star! (It’s not the first time John receives such extravagant compliments from Chinese men, and we’ve attributed this to his prominent facial hair; they’d be disappointed to see his chest.) Finally, we are prevented from shivering with cold by electric blankets, which the genius in me has the foresight to plug in and crank up to max power before we go out. As the week progressed our dorm buddies kept changing, except for the mouse that keeps coming out every night.

By the end of the week our visas are ready but we hear that tomorrow it’s going to start snowing again and daytime temperature will drop to -8! Exciting stuff, and presumably lots of snow ahead, considering that the road further west is a section of Tibet Highway still under construction, that goes through two mountain passes at 4,410m and 4,659m. Remind me why we’ve chosen to cycle towards Tibet NOW with the onset of winter?



Sursa
Su Shi

Paradise Lost

Despite the chopfest in the room across from ours and the intense snoring of our host’s youngest kid, I manage to sleep until 09:30! That’s when I realise how we were able to survive the insane cold. Sometime during the night these sweet Tibetans have piled three wool blankets on top of us. We ask permission to boil some water for tea and porridge and invite the woman and her boy to join in. They are reluctant to taste our colourless, odourless, and especially meatless breakfast. Things change when they bring a plastic jar with yak cream which gives that extra oomph to our meal. I almost forgot to mention that to brush our teeth we had to go outside, break some ice and endure the whipping wind. I could feel my face cracking like a mirror being smashed with a hammer, that’s how lovely that was. Nevertheless, refreshed, fed and humbled by the hospitality, we hop on for another day in the highlands. The road is heavenly smooth, and it climbs mildly, but steadily.

By now our visa days are numbered and we need to reach Kangding town to apply for extension. On the way we shall encounter two high mountain passes. First we need to climb over the Zhe Duo Shan Pass (4300m). Then over Tsedo Pass (4298m), separating Kangding from Xinduqiao and the Kham people from the Han Chinese. We are now on Altitude Illness territory, but the bikes prevented us from going too high too fast so I’m assuming we’ve been properly acclimatised. Altitude is considered “High” from 2,438 to 3,658 meters, “Very High” in the 3,658 – 5,487m braket, and “Extremely High” beyond 5,500m. Theoretically anybody can go to “High” altitude with minimal effect, but as I found out climbing and failing to summit Mt. Cameroon in Africa, if you cross that barrier things start to change. The thing is that the concentration of oxygen remains the same even as altitude increases, but the number of oxygen molecules per breath is reduced. For example, where we are now, in Tagong grasslands, there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath than at sea level. To cope with this, our bodies must adjust to having less oxygen or our breathing rate has to increase (even while at rest). This is a handy tool to check how oxygen levels vary with altitude and to prepare for a climb.

For now we do not need to worry, as by the looks of this place, we’ve arrived in a lost Paradise. The wind crashes on blue mountains lightly dusted with snow. The vast valley carved by the Liqi river is dotted with flamboyantly scarlet bushes. All we need to do is stop, and be instantly immersed in the sights, sounds and aromas of the plateau.

It’s early winter, and the fat grasses of summer have dwindled. Few nomad herdsmen are still up the grasslands with their black tents knitted from yak fur and with their groups of yak grazing the last bits.

We cycle past lonely Kham Tibetan men, sitting on the grass, staring vacantly into the nothingness and I dare not engage them with more than a wave. They wear crazy cowboy hats and their long raven hair is flowing on their shoulders. Feels like we’re somewhere wild, untamed, insulated against significant change (except for solar panels and baby’s walking aid thingie). Nomadic life is undoubtedly very hard, as it is misunderstood. The scale of such lifestyle escapes me, but I feel moved by the quietness and the simplicity of what I see. These Tibetans are partly living as our ancestors had a millennia earlier, while only a comparatively short distance away, the urban paradigm is already being superseded by an even more delirious model. I seriously wonder who is the crazy one here? Is this the question that brought us to this remote region in the first place?

Around noon we see a small cabin with a makeshift display in front, advertising for yak yoghurt. The stuff of dreams. We push the curtain and we find ourselves inside a room that brings sweet memories. In the back there are blankets piles up just like at Adil’s in Tajikistan. In the middle is a sitting area with benches with a small kitchen on the opposite wall.

Meanwhile a group men have arrived and like all Tibetans they are not shy at all.

The strangers start ordering butter tea and talking loudly, waking up a little girl who we haven’t noticed napping on a side bed.

The big burly guy fixing our tea is Laozang, the yak yoghurt maker. He has long hair and a golden tooth, and a magnetic don’t give a damn swagger.

We pay for the yoghurt, thinking we should keep it for dinner, but John must have a taste. It is thick and creamy, with a two-millimetre layer of foamy buttery thing on top. My mind goes into a rush.

We collapse on the pillows, sipping tea and spreading yoghurt on crackers, thankful to be there. I don’t think we realised how tired we were.

When we’re back in the saddle, I feel I’ve lost the momentum. On the contrary, John is pedalling maybe two or three km ahead, so we are not together when the clouds break. It’s just tiny tiny droplets. The GPS is with him so I can’t check the altitude, but as we are approaching the Zhe Duo Shan Pass I start to fear snow. Suddenly, the sound of a car. It passes me over, then I see it stop 100 meters or so in front of me. When I pedal next to the open window, the driver, a man in his early 40s, says in reasonable English: hello, where are you going miss? I tell him that I’m going to Kangding and he seems baffled. Oh, no, he says. It’s snowing up the mountain and in Xinduqiao. The road is dangerous, you must not go alone. He offers me a ride, 50 kwai he says. I thank him graciously and tell him that I must refuse. Then he leaves. About a kilometre later I see the same car parked on the side-road, across some tents.

It’s my guy who wants to persuade me that I don’t want to cycle to Kangding. Arguing that from Xinduqiao there’s sleet, frost and roadworks on the G318. By now I’m already feeling the crunch, and from where I stand things don’t seem to be getting any better. I am pissed, frustrated, and cold. There are not enough options. I cannot go back to Tagong or that village, I must find John and I’m not equipped to summit the pass under snow.
To cut the story short, I hope on the car and about half an hour later we see a ghostly silhouette pedalling against the fog. It’s John. We collect him and the bike.

By early evening the car spits us out in Kangding. I wish I could say I’m sorry for taking the easy way out, but I’m not. The road was horrendous. We passed by Kangding airport which at 4280 meters above sea level is I believe the world’s 2nd highest commercial airport. We stopped at the Zhe Duo Shan pass only for a moment. On a clear day that spot would have offered a great view of Minyak Konka (7556m), the highest mountain in eastern Tibet. But then again, under less inclement weather this route would not have given me this feeling of isolation and spookiness.

Today sucks. It started awesome, and ended in failure, and there’s nothing I can do to fix it. For such days it’s good to have company.  Preferably someone who brews a nice cup of tea and who has chocolate. And before I know it, the hard times are over :)



Sursa
Su Shi

Paradisul pierdut

Bocanelile gazdelor si sforaielile celor mici nu ne impiedica sa dormim ca lemnele pana la 09:30! Abia acum realizez cum de n-am degerat asta-noapte: cineva milos ne-a invelit cu trei plapumi puse una peste alta. Ca sa ne spalam pe dinti, trebuie sa spargem pojghita de gheata care astupa robinetul din curte si sa ne felicitam ca nu am campat. Gazdele se codesc sa imparta cu noi terciul de ovaz de la micul dejun (banuiesc ca din pricina ca nu e cu carne) si pana la urma il pimpuiesc cu niste iaurt de iac. Suntem gata. Hai cu vremea buna, ca drumul e minunat!

Cum spuneam mai devreme, e frumos sa poti calatori incet. Cand esti pe rotile tale, nu conteaza in ce zi a saptamanii esti, nici cat e ceasul. Singurele constrangeri (in afara de bani) sunt actele care expira – e cazul vizei noastre de China. Trebuie deci sa marim ritmul putin, sa ajungem in Kangding si sa aplicam acolo pentru o extensie. Ruta la care ne-am gandit contine doua pasuri: Zhe Duo Shan (4300m) si Tsedo (4298m), al doilea fiind limita dintre Kangding si Xinduqiao si dintre etniile Kham si Han.
Teoretic, oricine poate sa urce fara probleme la altitudini situate in intervalul 2438 – 3658m; de la 3658m incepe zona asa-zisa de risc care duce pana la vreo 5487m. Peste 5500m e deja o cu totul alta poveste. Problema cu raul de altitudine este ca desi concentratia de oxigen din aer ramane aceeasi, scade numarul de molecule de oxigen pe care le inspiram. De pilda aici unde suntem, in Tagong, acelasi volum de aer inspirat este cu 40% mai sarac decat la nivelul marii. Pe Kilimanjaro ar fi cam la jumate, iar pe un optmiar stai de trei ori mai prost decat in mod normal. Cu alte cuvinte organismul trebuie lasat sa se obisnuiasca sa-si faca treaba cu mai putin “gaz”(aclimatizare) sau trebuie sa creasca rata de absorbitie (adica sa tragem aer in piept mai mult si mai des… hmmm).

Noi nu avem de ce sa ne facem griji. Suntem de doua saptamani pe munte si biciclitul este ideal pentru a ne aclimatiza corect. Iar dupa cum arata locul asta, cred ca am nimerit in paradis. Din Ta Gong mergem cumva paralel cu valea raului Liqi, care intinde un covor de tufe stacojii pana la poalele muntilor pudrati cu zapada

E iarna timpurie si vegetatia suculenta de asta vara s-a cam dus. La ora asta mai sunt foarte putini nomazi pe munte si se pregatesc si ei de iernat, cu turmele de iaci si corturile din lana de iac instalate cat mai aproape de drum.

Din cand in cand trecem pe langa cate un barbat Kham care sade singur pe iarba, privind la nimic. Unii par atat de cufundati in ale lor, ca nici macar nu indraznim sa le facem cu mana. Hainele lor si felul in care le poarta atrag imediat atentia: sunt palarii de cowboy de sub care parul negru carbune flutura neimblanzit, sau impletit in coada pana la brau. Paltoanele sunt rosii sau visinii, legate cu sfoara sau cordon de piele si cu o maneca lasata sa atarne pana la pamant. Langa unele corturi vedem panouri solare si jucarii din plastic. Stim ca viata nomadica pare simpla, curata si frumoasa, dar trebuie sa fie si foarte grea. Rostul acestor lucruri sau cum se aseaza ele in rostul intregii lumi ne scapa.

Pe la pranz se intampla sa trecem prin dreptul unei magazii sau asa ceva si Ionut observa la intrare clasicele galetuse in care se vinde iaurt de iac. Dam la o parte perdeaua si ce gasim inauntru ne trezeste o gramada de amintiri. In fund e teancul de paturi, ca la Adil acasa, in Tadjikistan. In mijlocul odaii e o masa cu lavite stanga dreapta, iar pe peretele opus e o mica bucatarie.

Intre timp au mai intrat niste indivizi, care, ca toti tibetanii dealtfel, nu sunt sfiosi defel.

Vizitatorii incep sa comande ceai tibetan si sa palavrageasca. Larma o trezeste din somn pe frumusetea asta mica, care nici macar nu aveam habar ca e pe aici.

Spatosul care ne aduce ceaiul e Laozang, si tot el a pastorit si muls iacii si a fermentat laptele in iaurt demential.

Luasem iaurtul cu gandul sa-l mancam la cina, dar Ionut nu se poate abtine sa nu guste, asa ca ma bag si eu.

E atat de placut la Laozang in cabina, ca ne urnim cu greu. Afara, simt ca m-am cam molesit si raman cu doi sau trei kilometri in urma lui Ionut. Cand imi dau seama ca cerul s-a inchis a furtuna si simt primele picaturi, nu suntem impreuna si incerc sa maresc ritmul cat pot de mult. Ma intreb desigur la ce altitudine am ajuns si daca o sa avem zapada in Zhe Duo Shan. Dintr-o data aud sunet de motor. Masina ma depaseste, dupa care o vad oprind la vreo suta de metri in fata. Soferul astepta sa trec prin dreptul lui si imi face semn, dupa care ma intreaba intr-o engleza acceptabila unde ma duc. Ii spun ca in Kangding. Pare perplex. Nu se poate, spune, sus ninge si s-a anuntat polei in Xinduqiao. E periculos sa mergi singura. Imi propune sa ma duca el cu masina, pentru 50 de kwai (cam 30 de lei). Ii multumesc frumos si ii spun ca prefer sa pedalez.
Pleaca, dar un kilometru mai incolo dau din nou peste el, tras pe dreapta in dreptul unui grup de corturi.

Omul e hotarat sa ma convinga sa vin cu el in Kangding. Burnita s-a oprit si e soare afara, dar s-a lasat gerul si stiu ca soarele asta cu dinti nu anunta nimic bun. Ma roade indoiala. Nu pot sa ma intorc in Tagong sau in sat, trebuie sa dau de John si ma obsedeaza faptul ca daca soferul nu bate campii, suntem echipati mizerabil pentru ce va urma.
Pe scurt, ma sui in masina si jumatate de ceas mai tarziu vad silueta familiara pedaland impotriva vantului. Ionut se lasa rugat, dar pana la urma vine si el cu noi.

Seara tarziu suntem debarcati in Kangding. As vrea sa spun ca regret ca am ales calea mai usoara, si ca atunci cand am ajuns in pas am vazut varful Minyak Konka (7556m), cel mai inalt din Tibetul de est. Dar de fapt nu am vazut decat niste steaguri si un mare nor si m-am bucurat ca nu sunt afara, pedaland in tricou. Dupa aeroportul Kangding (4280m) drumul a fost oribil – vizibilitate zero, polei pe serpentine, camioane, tot tacamul.

Azi a inceput bine si s-a terminat nasol. In zile din astea e bine sa nu fii singur, iar persoana de langa tine ar fi bine sa-ti faca un ceai cald si sa aiba la indemana macar o bucatica de ciocolata si gata, supararea a trecut.



Sursa
Su Shi

Din Ba Mei in Tagong

Downhillul nebunesc se termina la aproximativ 3500 de metri altitudine, la marginea estica a platoului tibetan Qinghai. Viscolul de pe culme s-a muiat intr-o ceata lejera, dar soarele s-a retras dincolo de orizont. Pedalam agale pe langa primele case din oras si vantul isi face curaj si ne impinge in drumul principal, deasupra caruia sunt atarnate o multime de lampioane rosii. Dupa cat de singuri am fost in ultimele doua zile pe munte, scena strazii pare dintr-o pelicula de Jarmush, Coffee and Cigarettes mai precis. Efectele de fum sunt prezente in cel putin doua forme: fuioare verticale deasupra gurilor de canal si smocuri inecacioase in jurul gratarelor scoase in fata micilor restaurante din urbe. Bastinasii completeaza tabloul in costume de hipster tibetan, cu niste caftane imblanite care lasa un umar si bratul aferent complet descoperite. Noi doi, in toale puse la repezeala ca sa tina de frig, aratam in comparatie cu ei ca niste maimutoi. Acesta, doamnelor si domnilor, este orasul Ba Mei, faimos ca fiind locul de nastere al celui de-al 11-lea Dalai Lama si pentru inca alte cateva lucruri pe care nu mi le amintesc acum pe motiv de hipotermie. Stiu ca Ba Mei a fost si un centru destul de important pe asa-zisa ruta a ceaiului si a cailor. In orice caz, orasul e unul dintre putinele puncte de acces spre Tibet, pentru ca autostrada Sichuan-Tibet trece fix prin el.

Pentru la noapte ne tocmim cu doua fete in bundite pe un apartament din care noi vom ocupa o camera. Cealalta e folosita pe post de depozit, asa ca depozitam si noi in ea bicicletele, dupa ce Ionut le cara in spate vreo patru etaje. Nu stiu prin ce minune gazdele inteleg ca ne-ar face bine un dus cu apa calda si paturi electrice. La fel de misterios, dimineata vom afla ca pretul cazarii e cu 50% mai putin decat am inteles in ajun. De pe terasa cuibusorului nostru cu iz sovietic avem o panorama splendida a pasunilor din imprejurimi. Cealalta fatada nu ofera o perspectiva la fel de zen, caci la macelaria de vizavi tocmai se livreaza o carcasa proaspata si mesterii se apuca de transat.

Brusc ni se face o foame de lup, dar suntem siguri ca muntenii astia au leacul potrivit. Ne instalam fara prea multe mofturi intr-o carciuma de familie, mai ales pentru ca ce-o-fi-in-stiva-de-site-de-bambus miroase irezistibil. Oamenii sunt ca niste bunici carora le-au venit in vizita nepotii. Mancarea trece sub ochii nostri de la stadiul de zarzavat adus cu bicicleta de un baietandru, la tocatorul unde e maruntit si amestecat cu grasime si carne de iac, apoi in mainile lui nenea bucatarul care umple bilele de aluat si in fine in sitele babei, care in scurt timp ni le aduce la masa sub forma de baozi (un soi de chifla de orez care se face la aburi), zhou (terci de orez), plus traditionalul bol cu tofu, spanac si supa de care nu ne mai putem lipsi.

Dupa zapada de ieri eu m-am paranoizat putin. Nu stiu cum am putut sa venim in zona asta de Tibet in luna octombrie cu echipament de vara si cort de 3 sezoane. E musai sa imi iau macar o geaca si manusi de polar pentru amandoi, pe care o sa le purtam peste cele cu care am mers pana aici (de fapt si astea sunt manusi de moto pentru vara, adica foarte bine ventilate). Din pacate in afara de manusi nu gasesc nimic pe masura mea. Va trebui sa strang din dinti si sa sper ca voi avea mai mult noroc in localitatea urmatoare. Pana acolo avem de urcat si coborat un carusel de pasuri alpine si pasuni ancestrale, unde sunt sanse sa revedem simapticii iaci manati nu de mongoli pe cal, ci de ciobani tibetani. Dupa asta o vom coti spre sud-vest, pentru a ajunge in Kangding.
Succesiunea de rampe e atat de frumoasa, ca e simplu sa uitam de toate si sa ne concentram numai pe drum. La vale taiem curbele si ne doboram recordurile de viteza. Asta e partea egoista, unde nu conteaza decat adrenalina. Cand ajungem la deal, focusul se muta pe ce se intampla in exteriorul nostru. Spre pasul de la 3900 si ceva de metri virajele sunt lungi si stranse, ceea ce ne ingaduie sa inregistram lacom fiecare detaliu, fiecare bit de informatie eliberat de piatra, cer si vegetal, care e absorbit si digerat de ceea ce imi pare sa devina o minte tot mai clara. Oricat de scurta ar fi, pentru noi asta e prima tura mai lunga cu bicicletele si trebuie sa spun deja ca desi cu cei 200 de dolari cu care le-am platit ne-am fi putut duce la psiholog, asta e o terapie mult mai eficienta.

Pasul alpin e plin de bucatele de hartie colorata imprimate cu rugaciuni si simboluri aducatoare de noroc. Lipesc cateva in caietul meu, de amintire. Continuam pe un drum solid, in cea mai mare parte de asfalt cu zone scurte de pietris tasat si pistruiat din cand in cand de cate o groapa in care stagneaza noroiul de la lucrarile de sistematizare.

Suntem pe ruta de sud a autostrazii Sichuan-Tibet, cea mai lunga sosea de altitudine din China, construita de prin anii ’50 cu eforturi uriase, cauzate mai ales de terenul dificil. Sectiunea pe care suntem are in total 2149km si se uneste cu ruta de nord (2412km) in Xindu Bridge (Xinduqiao). Magistrala leaga Chengdu (capitala provinciei Si Chuan) de Lhasa (capitala Regiunii Autonome Tibet) si face parte din G318 (de la Shanghai la Zhangmu).

Oraselul Tagong incepe cu o stupa si un han de calatori, dar este in realitate ceva mai mult de un loc de intalnire pentru ciobani si pelerinii inspre si dinspre Tibet. Dupa cum a decurs dimineata, meritam o masa imbelsugata..

Ma catar pe un deal din spatele hanului ca sa admir privelistea. Dulaii tibetani sunt legendari, dar izbutesc sa ii alung cu tusea violenta pe care am capatat-o in noaptea geroasa la cort. Odata singura, ma pun pe cronometrat norii si numarat steagurile de rugaciune.

Calm

Asa se vad zapezile vesnice din Tagong (sau Lhagang cum ii zic tibetanii). Suntem la 3700m altitudine :)

Odata cu noi au sosit trei grupuri de vizitatori foarte diferite. Primul este alcatuit din chinezi de etnie Han imbracati in geci colorate de ski, fiecare cu cate un DSRL la gat.

Al doilea grup pare sa fi venit calare si e format din cateva familii de tibetani care s-au aciuat pe pajistea din fata templului.

Mie imi atrage atentia al treilea personaj, care e ajutat sa coboare din limuzina de sofer. Tipul se descheie la sacoul scrobit, isi scoate manusile din piele alba si isi aprinde o tigara cu spatele la chortenurile aurite ale templului.

Spre amiaza ne punem din nou in miscare. Pentru un loc atat de rupt de lume gasim ca asfaltul e impecabil. Exceptie face doar drumeagul care duce la lamaseria din afara localitatii, unde servesc circa 60 de calugari si langa care s-a coagulat in timp un mic catun. Dupa ce a fost distrusa in timpul Revolutiei Culturale, lamaseria isi revine incet incet la gloria de odinioara. Si e normal sa fie asa, caci in Tagong a existat o manastire budista inca din anul 652.

La munte aerul e atat de limpede ca apusul face chiar si o simpla stupa sa para mai putin produsul naivitatii omului, cat cel al unei interventii divine.

Zona seamana cu stepa mongola, numai ca la 4000 de metri seara aduce o vijelie de abia ne tinem pe picioare. Nu are nici un rost sa incercam sa punem cortul aici. E mai logic sa ne suim pe roti si sa mai avansam, macar asa ne putem incalzi. Drumul ne scoate intr-un satuc, unde o luam unul in stanga si altul in dreapta si ne apucam sa batem la porti. In fine, dupa o dezbatere din care nu am priceput nimic, suntem poftiti in casa unei femei care pare singura acasa cu cei doi copii. Cladirea are trei camere: o magazie de alimente si o camera care serveste drept bucatarie si living, unde ne adunam cu totii in jurul unui resou electric si incercam sa ne dezmortim. Ceva mai tarziu isi face aparitia un nene care are de vanzare un ditamai piciorul de iac. Ne loveste imaginea orgasmica a unei fripturi in sange, dar gazda se apuca sa cioparteasca bunatate de carne direct pe podea. Mare pacat. Nemancati, ne retragem la culcare in odaia a treia, care e enorma. Prici de saltele? Este. Masuta cu fructiera plina de ananasi de plastic in mijloc? Este. Boxe-gigant si poster semi-libidinos in care un cuplu caucazian se saruta imbracati in haine de anii ’80 langa o decupatura din ziar cu chipul lui Dalai Lama? Este, este, este! Ah! Casa, dulce casa.



Sursa
Su Shi

Ba Mei to Tagong

Our exhilarating descent ends at an average altitude of 3,500 meters at the eastern edge of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The mild blizzard from earlier has melted away and the sun died behind the horizon. We cycle past a first few Tibetan houses and we are pushed by the gnarly wind into the red lanterned main street. After the loneliness of the past two days, this is a quirky scene. There is steam rising out of manholes and smoke wisps straggling from open cooktops laid out in front of local eateries. Strange city types scuffle around, gawking at our bundled up, earmuffed, gaitered sorry asses. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Ba Mei Town, famous as the birthplace of the 11th Dalai Lama and for some other things I can’t remember right now, mainly due to hypothermia. I know it was once an important post on the Sichuan-Tibet tea and horse road and still one of the very few gateways to Tibet, as the Sichuan-Tibet Highway is passing through it.

Finding shelter is urgent, so we quickly settle for an enormous apartment in what may be some sort of workers’ hotel. The communication with the girls tending for the hotel works brilliant: we tell them in English we need hot water and electric blankets, they explain to us in Tibetan that we could totally buy the entire building if we wanted (maybe). In the morning we learn that the price has mysteriously been halved. From our communist-looking crib we have a splendid view over the grasslands. On the other side of the building, the streetscape is a little less serene: fresh meat is being delivered and men start butchering it.

Suddenly very hungry, we venture in search for a hearty breakfast as only mountain people can deliver. Again, a husband and wife affair, this restaurant entices us with the bamboo steamers piled on smouldering coals. They seem thrilled to feed us heaps of hot baozi (a steamed bun filled with minced meat), zhou (rice porridge) and the ginourmous bawl of soft tofu and greens soup we’ve learned to love. As always in China, the meal is cooked fresh: the husband kneading dough, trays of homemade tofu resting and a man delivering more greens by bike. There’s also plenty of green tea to wash it all down with.

After the face-to-face encounter with snow from yesterday, we absolutely cannot leave town without buying at least two pairs of fleece gloves, to wear on top of our cycling gloves (which are in fact our super-ventilated motorcycling summer gloves). I am also in dire need of a winter jacket or anything that could protect me from future snow. Coming unprepared to this part of Tibet in October was quite stupid. Unfortunately I cannot find anything my size. I guess I’ll keep my fingers crossed for nice weather till the next town.

To arrive there we have to cycle a roller coaster of passes and ancient Tibetan meadows, going south and then a bit west towards Kangding. Now riding down is usually painful, because you know that it means you have more ups to make up for, eventually. This winding road through vast empty grassland is so beautiful and so much fun though, that it’s easy to just be in the moment. We go full on downhill, cutting corners and probably reaching our fastest speed since starting off. This is the egotistic part, where we focus on the adrenaline rush that makes the body stiffen. Then we hit the long switchbacks leading to the 3900-something pass, and we take the time to take in the surroundings. This part is all about what’s outside, the rich bits of information emanating from rock, sky and plant, absorbed and hopefully processed with a less foggy mind. Before purchasing these bikes we’ve never bike toured, and well, these things emerge not only the best $200 we’ve ever spent on any vehicles, but the best deal for therapy.

At the summit there were small sheets of paper printed with prayers and auspicious symbols, and I taped three in my notebook for good luck.The road is solid, ranging from very rough gravel to super-smooth asphalt. There are only a few stretches of old asphalt with patches of mud and dust from the roadworks.

We are on the Southern route of the Sichuan-Tibet highway, the longest high altitude road in China at present. Back in the 50s when it was built it was a tremendous task for China, because of the complex terrain. This part is 2149km long and it reunites with the Northern route (2412km long) at Xindu Bridge (Xinduqiao). The whole road system links Chengdu of Si Chuan to Lhasa of Tibet Autonomous Region and is part of G318 (Shanghai to Zhangmu).

More of a station for Buddhist pilgrims coming and going than a proper town, Tagong welcomes us with a stupa and a travellers’ joint under brilliant sun. Right now nothing tastes better than some well-earned food and drink.

I climb up a hill behind the restaurant to admire the view. The Tibetan dogs are said to be formidable, but I manage to scare they away with the violent cough that I picked up from the other night camping in freezing cold. So I’m left alone to count prayer flags and take photos.

Serenity now!

Snow mountains at Tagong (or Lhagang as Tibetans call it).. We are here at 3700m altitude :)

Three very different groups have arrived at the temple across the restaurant. There’s a tour group of Han Chinese dressed in colourful ski jackets and armed with DSRLs.

Quite contrasting, sitting crossed legged on the soft tufts of grass and wild-flowers in front of the temple, the Tibetans appear to have arrived here by horses, with their many young kids and heavy luggage on tow.

My eye is caught by the third character, whose driver helps him exit a shiny limousine. He unbuttones his crisp jacket, takes off his white leather gloves and hands them to the driver, then lights up a cigarette with the gilded temple towering behind.

Late in the afternoon we get moving. Fantastic tarmac for such a remote place, except for the track leading to the lamasery which is a couple of kilometres outside Tagong. Near it there is a small village. The entire place has a closed-off feel; life in Tagong is slow-paced, revolving around the monastery and its 60 or so resident monks. The present lamasery has been slowly returning to some of its former glory and size, after being destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. And so it should, as there has been a monastery in Tagong since A.D. 652.

The air is so pure and glowing with afternoon sun. Against the dark sky of the highlands, this stupa resembles a divine intervention, rather than a humble product of human naivety.

There is nothing to shelter us at this altitude and the strong gusts become aggravated by the minute. It would be stupid to pitch in this. We have no choice but keep on cycling, at least this keeps us warm. Luckily the road crashes into a village and we each go to knock on several doors. A long and incomprehensible debate later, a young Tibetan lady sets us up in her tatty house. One room is the family living room and kitchen, with an electric stove where we all congregate and try to unfreeze our hands. The lady of the house appears to be alone with the children, while the husband could be away to town. Some time later a man arrives with a big yak leg to sell, and the women starts joyfully chopping the meat right on the floor. We look at her disastrous butchering skills and imagine that leg in the form of a yak steak, but of course we’ll go to bed unfed. Later we find ourselves led to the other room, which is huge. Dozens of mattresses lining the perimeter? Check! Long low table with plastic pineapple in the middle? Check! Giant subwoofers and oddly titillating 1980s laminated poster of a young western couple kissing next to a newspaper cut of Dalai Lama? Triple check! Ah! Home, sweet home.



Sursa