A detailed account on my journey to China and Tibet during the period Sep - Nov 2002. Part 3 covers Tibet.Other parts: Yunnan province (China):   Tibet:     East coast China: .
Published: Nov 2002
This travelogue was kindly typed from Stas' original notes in the notebook and slightly edited by Ada Ho.
travel, Chinese, Mandarin, hotel, hostel, hike, drive, bus, Lhasa, jeep, kora, Buddhist, stupa, tibetan, Tibet, Zhongdian, Yanjin, Markham, Zuogong, Rawok, Bomi, Bon monastery, Nyingtri, Patsum-tso Lake.
Left in the morning to Zhongdian on the public bus. The 4 hours ride took almost 6 hours, as we drove along the Yangtse River, where the road was constructed. So the bus had to wait for a long time to get through narrow construction sites. But the scenery was interesting, especially when we've got close to Zhongdian. The Tibetan style houses started to appear, and the landscape changed from forests to meadows.
In Zhongdian I started looking for people who go overland to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. At one cafe I was tipped? off that 2 jeeps leave on the next day and that one girl has cancelled her participation, as she's got very sick. That office was the same one as in Camellia Hotel in Kunming. So with my luck I've got the trip right away. The next one was planned two weeks later.
I've paid the rip-off price of 5000Y (~US$600) and at 18:00 we met at the barbeque cafe. There were 3 Australians, 3 Americans, a German and me. And then 3 drivers, all Tibetan. After the dinner I went for a foot massage in the hairdresser shop, and after having so many different foot massages this one was still new to me. My feet were steamed in the wooden bucket, without touching the water first, then later washed in medicated hot mixture. Then the massage was good, very soft but good. I felt refreshed after it, and my feet won't hurt anymore. At night I've had a "shower" from the thermos, as the showers didn't have hot water and had a very good sleep.
Our trip has started and should take 7-8 days. We drove through a great scenery with very bad roads. Luckily the weather was great and for the first time in two weeks, there were partially blue skies. The sun was very strong.
On the way we have stopped to visit a nunnery, where we saw about 50 chanting nuns. After that I joined a monk playing pool. It was fun. When I wanted to take a photo of him playing pool he ran away from the table, as he didn't want me to get discriminating photos, I guess monks aren't supposed to play pool after all :). The rest of the journey that day was not so slick, as our jeep broke down several times and we had to wait for it to get "fixed", but the scenery was great so it wasn't an annoyance. In the evening we have arrived to Deqin, a Tibetan town, in the valley, next to a beautiful glacier. As many other Chinese cities or those who became Chinese just recently, it was a one-long-street town, nothing exciting. We stayed at the Tibetan hotel in the dorm room. As it was =head1 Sep 21, a full moon celebration was everywhere outside, with lots of lousy fireworks.
This day we left Deqin and headed to Yanjin, 112 km away. We drove through some fine scenery and arrived to Yanjin at around 3 pm. At this village there were hot springs, where we spent the rest of the day. There was the swimming pool filled with spring water on the edge of the Mekong River, but I preferred the naturally formed pools almost in the river between the boulders.
That day we saw quite a few "stupas", which Buddhists walk around performing "kora". We also started to see more Tibetans rather than Chinese, who were mostly from the Naxi minority group. That day we also crossed the official border between China (Xunnan) and Tibet. There weren't any military at the border, it was just marked by a symbolic gate.
As we left Yanjin the rain has started and followed us through most of the day, which made the drive less pleasant, as the clouds covered the mountains and it was hard to see the mountains. The road was surrounded by lush and pine trees, with birch prevailing and it was very beautiful as the leaves were of a golden colour (this is the end of September). The rice and corn fields gave way to barley fields, which were of a gold colour too and many fields were being cropped while we drove by. On the way, we saw many typical Tibetan houses, which are significantly different from the houses in Yunnan province (you have to see the photos to see that ;).
We had a lunch at Markham, 111 km away from Yanjin.
After the lunch we headed to Zuogong which was 173 km away from Markham. The scenery has changed to mountains, covered with moss. First we passed 4000m, then we drove through a snow pass at 5100m, where we met huge herds of yaks, herded by very friendly Tibetans. They all had blue cheeks, caused by constant exposure to strong sun, wind and cold. In the evening we arrived to Zuogong, the usual one street town, with about 50/50 Chinese and Tibetans. It was very cold, I went to buy a warm hat and gloves. Charles (one of the Australian folks) and I had a very nice dinner with our Tibetan drivers, since they know what to order.
This day we were supposed to drive for 300 km but ended up driving more because many sections of the Sichuan-Tibet highway were blocked by the landslides. The highway is probably called a highway because it's set high, otherwise most of the time it was a dirt road, which the 4WD jeep can hardly go through, and if it rains, forget it! Since that day it was raining most of the time the roads were really, really bad. The majority of the attractions on the way were the road construction works which has never stopped. Workers, both men and women manually breaking the boulders and building walls, which will be overthrown by the nearest landslide just a week later. I suppose a single "highway" keeps thousands of people employed for many, many years.
At about 20:00 the darkness came down and we still didn't reach the destination. After about half an hour of driving in a slippery mud and total darkness we sort of got lost. At about 21:30 we reached some small village where one of the locals has agreed to guide us to Rawok city which was our intended destination. His guidance cost us "only" 250Y ($30).
At about midnight we finally reached the city where we have found out that all hotels/guest houses were full, since the blocked roads prevented from many truck drivers to leave the place. One of the GH was kind enough to let us sleep on the floor in one of their guest living rooms, kindly covering the floor with some mats and giving us pillows. Most of us had sleeping bags so we were well set off, the other two guys have slept on the sofas.
This was a very tiring day of 15 hours drive especially as I had a high fever, but we hit the floor at almost 1:30am and had a good sleep.
This day we were supposed to drive for 127 km to Bomi, have a lunch there and then to proceed to Tongmai for the overnight sleep. Though after driving for about an hour and a half on the usually bumpy roads, we were stopped because of the blasting works. They blast dynamite to make wider roads in the mountains. We waited for 6 hours and then slowly moved on as most of the roads can let only one vehicle to pass and when several vehicles go in opposite directions it becomes very troublesome, especially when the edge of the road is a steep creek. At around 19:00 we have only arrived to Bomi, where of course we have stayed to sleep. We had a good dinner with our drivers and after that I had a pretty bad massage, adding to the fact that I was sick.
This was the best day on this drive. We had time before 12am to visit the local Bon monasteries in Nyingtri, but we couldn't find them. So I went trekking in the mountains, doing a partial kora around the Bon mountain. (Kora: surrounding the holy place.) It was a great trek at 3.5 km altitude. Now I was ready to trek around Lhasa, whose altitude is also 3.7 km. Most people need about 3 days in Lhasa to just acclimatize if they fly in from under 2 km altitude.
The valley was all covered with many rivers which was a stunning view from the mountains. This place definitely requires several days to explore.
When we started to drive, our driver took us to the Bon monastery we were looking for. The monks were very friendly to show us around their monastery which was well hidden in the mountains.
After visiting the monastery we drove to the Patsum-tso Lake, again through stunning scenery, along the river with turquoise, water, through several Chinese towns and Tibetan villages. Chinese practise the embrace and extend methodology by taking over Tibetan cities and turning them into look-alike block Chinese towns. Pasum-tso is a beautiful lake 40 km away from the highway. The waters are turquoise and it's surrounded by the mountains with snowy crowns.
We took a boat to the Tsodzong Island where there was a Buddhist temple with several inhabitant. At the entrance to the temple there was a huge wooden penis and lower part of the female body with standing out vagina. Sex attributes are an important part of the Buddhism religion.
After coming back we had an overpriced dinner and departed to sleep in an overpriced semi-broken guest-house.
Also that morning I had a frightening experience. I was walking on the street and a dog run past me. Absolutely normally looking dog. About 20 meters away, it suddenly started to convulse. It fell on the back and had the foam going out of the mouth, and then, I think, it died. Rabies. I ran away from there as I was afraid that it might stand up and bite me.
This was another great day. We left the Pasum-tso Lake and headed to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. Which was our final destination and it was the 8th day of the journey since we left Dzongdian. We had a breakfast and lunch in Tibetan places and drove through the new scenery: the mountains covered with little vegetation and almost no trees. The valley between was covered with water of turquoise colour. We crossed a 5000m pass again. It was hard to breathe normally there.
At the second half of the day we arrived to the Ganden monastery, the second in size after the Potala Palace in Lhasa. It was restored after it has been destroyed during the cultural revolution. The monastery is situated on the top of a high mountain and the views from the very peak are stunning as you can see far far away. It was a very clear day and the sun was very strong.
In about two hours later we reached the Lhasa.
To shortly summarise the trip: My expectations didn't come to be realised. I thought that if I drive through non-touristic places I will get to see the real Tibet, but alas Chinese has put their foot everywhere. We didn't see a single Tibetan town without at least several Chinese block buildings and many Chinese people. The only way to find real Tibetan places is to go to the mountains but then you see only villages.
Tibetan people were very friendly and _very_ curious since the places we passed through see very few tourists if at all. The second trouble with the tour was that the roads we drove through were constantly under construction, every 50 meters there was a team of Chinese/Tibetans manually breaking boulders and carrying them around. Otherwise the scenery was great, and it was changing all the time as we drove from east to west. It'd be great if the weather was a bit nicer but we can't complain about that. Our Tibetan drivers were very great, even though it was hard to communicate with them. Overall it was a nice trip, in a company of nice people, but it was very expensive for what we've got.