Published: June 28th 2010May 26th 2010
Road to baiyu
As it winds down the river gorge. On one side, Sichuan. The other: Tibet.
The journey begins...
The first leg of our epic highway trip took us through through the frozen wastes surrounding Gongga Shan and into lush valleys of grazing Yaks and Tibetan villages. This was fun for a while, but lost it's edge after the first 5-6 hours. 12 gruelling hours after we set out from Kangding, we caught our first site of Ganzi, our destination. Alas, the authorities had chosen to set up a roadblock. The term 'roadblock' might be a bit of a stretch, as it consisted of 2 office chairs in the middle of the road. Still, it had the desired effect and we were made to wait another hour within sight of town. As we finally entered Ganzi, the reason became apparent - the entire main street had been torn up and was currently 'under construction'.
As we walked out of the bus station,we were beset on all sides by roving packs of minibus touts: "Dege?", "Danba?", "Yushu?" the whirl of voices melded into a continuous dull roar. In the midst of this cacaphony, someone even offered to drive us back to Kangding! Um, no thanks. Escaping the throng, we found a guesthouse, negotiated a price
As seen from a tough couple of hours upwards.
and gratefully dumped our bags. We'd made it.
The highlight of our stay in Ganzi was a stroll through the Tibetan quarter and up to the spectacularly located Monastery. The town of Ganzi is situated in a wide valley, bound by snowcapped peaks on one side and rolling hills on the other. The monastery sits on one of these hills and the view across the valley is epic. We visited the temple before getting lost in the maze of boxy but colourful houses that make up the Monks' living quarters. Directly below, the Tibetan part of town was equally charming and we spent an hour or so wandering the cobbled streets, talking to the locals and buying... hats! Yes, for just £3 each we're now the proud owners of traditional Tibetan winter hats. They're pretty groovy, now if only it were cold enough to wear them...
On our 2nd day we got up early and took a taxi to the nearby Dagei Gompa
, another monastery further down the valley. With the exception of a large monastic gathering (we're not sure if it was a daily teaching or a visiting buddhist luminary but the Tibetan-speaking audience were rapt) there
Feeding the bus in the middle of nowhere.
wasn't much new to see here, so we set off across the countryside on foot. Time passed and the mercury rose and we were soon beaten down by the heat. Stumbling across a randomly located (really, in the middle of nowhere) general store, we splashed out for a couple of beers and settled into some shade by a stream for lunch. Feeling suitably refreshed, it was time to arrange some transport back to Ganzi. Being in the middle of nowhere, there wasn't exactly a taxi rank on hand so we did the obvious and stuck our thumbs out. After a few minutes, a young guy came hooning along the road, Tibetan dance music blaring from his stereo. Good enough. He wanted 20Y to take us the 30km back to town. Better enough. In an alarmingly short time, we were back. Phew.
So, next move? Well, this little sub-trip was all about visiting some of the more far-flung places in the area, and the town of Dege seemed to fit the bill nicely. Even better, the road to Dege crosses the infamous (and sometimes treacherous) Tro La pass at 5050m. This should be fun.
You call that a
Good natured beast
Angry dog in Ganzi.
So, up early again and into a minibus. Things started well and within 2 hours we were in the town of Manigango, much earlier than expected. There isn't much to say about Manigango except that the guidebook says it's full of wild dogs. Sure enough, they seemed to have the run of the place and we even observed one chowing down on a whole (cooked) chicken! This is also where we left the highway and took the road west towards the mountains. On the way we passed a glacial lake of perfect turquoise, and filed that one away for the possible return journey. The road wound up through rugged valleys and deteriorated to little more than a dirt track along the way. Soon we were climbing the face of the 6000m+ Chola mountain in a dizzying series of hairpin turns, breathing heavily and grimly willing the driver to get us safely across.
We rounded a corner and stopped. At maybe 4500m up we found ourselves in a traffic jam. This is the beauty of travelling - you never know what'll happen next... As we were going nowhere fast, we got out and walked ahead to
Local kid gets his western freak on.
see what the hold up was. A few hundred metres along, two trucks had collided. No one seemed to be hurt but there were about 15 people working on fixing the truck. Well 2 fixing the truck and 13 supervising, actually. We wondered how long we'd be stuck here, halfway up a mountainside in the middle of nowhere. Well, there wasn't much we could do about it anyway - we started walking back to the van. It started snowing. With half-despairing groans, we crawled into the van and tried to sleep. At least it was warm inside.
In total, we were stuck there for about an hour before they managed to start the truck, and it took about another 20 minutes for the traffic to sort itself out (let's just say the road is narrow and the trucks are wide). Once under way again, we resumed our climb and topped out at over 5000m - higher than any point in the European alps. We would have breathed a sigh of relief but of course it was an effort to breath at all! The view from here is supposed to be pretty spectacular but as we were swathed in cloud
Siblings hanging out in the monastery, Ganzi.
we could barely see anything at all. Oh well... The road down the other side was ridiculously bumpy, as was the remainder of the trip to Dege.
From Dege with love
Actually, we didn't find much to love about Dege. Situated at the bottom of a steep river gorge, there isn't any of the spectacular views we'd grown accustomed to, and the town itself is pretty ugly. There is a revered lamasery (monastery) which hand-prints a lot of buddhist literature, but there was an entrance fee and we read that there was one in Baiyu that does much the same thing, albeit on a smaller scale. What to do? We slept in late and spent the day relaxing and writing this blog.
Looping the loop - Dege to Baiyu
We'd arranged to meet a minibus driver at 8am and hustled down to the carpark after breakfast. The same couldn't be said for the driver, who didn't turn up at all. After waiting a while, we started looking around for another ride. It could have been easy - any one of the assembled drivers would have taken us, for a not-inconsiderable
Over Ganzi, from the hillside monastery.
400Y. Pffft. We're not made of money you know! We managed to get one guy down to 200Y, but he said he had to change a tire first - he'd come back to get us though. We waited. He didn't arrive. Then suddenly, a little van screeched up the road and skidded to a halt in front of us. Different driver. "Baiyu" he said.
Uh, yeah. He indicated 200Y and we offered 150Y, just trying our luck. Sure, no problem. Score! We chucked our luggage in the back and jumped in. Showing off his Schumacher-like driving style, the guy whisked us through town in no time and pulled into a little yard, where the guy we were waiting for stood. This was weird. He motioned that we should load our stuff into HIS van, in which we'd be going to Baiyu. Ok. He held up two fingers for 200Y. Nuh uh, we pointed to the other guy "He said 150Y".
"Ok", and the deal was struck.
From Dege, the road continues south along a river valley. On one side of this river is Sichuan, the other- Tibet. Along the way are numerous small (and sometimes shaky) bridges with
K and her posse.
no security, which leads us to believe it'd be easy enought to sneak into the TAR if you were that way inclined (finding transport to the nearest sizable town might be more difficult though, Tibet is a big place!).
For the first time we had a minibus all to ourselves, which was nice. For the next few hours we bumped and rattled our way along the rugged dirt road, stopping along the way to pick up 4 young traditionally dressed tibetan boys who were nice but reeked of dead flesh (reminding us of the sky burial in fact). Thankfully, they got out at the next village and we were on our own for most of the remainder. The other noteworthy incident occured just a few km short of our destination, when we saw a crashed motorbike on the side of the road. Next to the bike lay a man, face covered in blood. We stopped. The driver called out to the inanimate victim, who (unsurprisingly) didn't respond. Feeling that this was enough, our driver started off again.
"Uh, Hello... shouldn't we stop and take him with us?" It was K, miming the actions of picking him up. The
driver said something which we think went along the lines of "No, he's dead."
And that was that.
We'd arrived on thursday afternoon, and according to the guidebook, many monks take the day off on fridays. We're not sure what this means exactly - is the monastery closed? Do the monks hit the town and party? To be safe, we decided to make the trek up there right away. Our timing was good- it appeared that some event was taking place (or more likely, had just taken place) and there were several hundred monks and many more locals hanging around in the impressive courtyards. We sat for a bit and before long had a crowd of curious young monks around us, jostling and chatting, but mainly just looking at us... Not wanting to waste an opportunity, we snapped some pics and tried out our chinese on them (though mostly just Wo ting budong
- 'I don't understand').
Moving away from our admirers, we found a helpful looking monk and asked where the kora
(pilgrim circuit) starts. Rather than simply point us in the right direction, he was kind enough to walk around with us, possibly deciding his
It's nice in Ganzi.
time was better spent accruing karma than sitting idly on the temple steps.
Having completed the circuit we wandered up a road away from the Monastery, wondering why one side was lined with people, all of who were staring at us and saying hello as we passed. We've gotten used to such attention but this was truly over the top! A few minutes of this walking and greeting and we saw why they were here. Ahead of us was a parade of monks coming the other way. We quickly sat to the side with some old Tibetan women and a few children, and held out out hands along with everyone else. A monk poured cold tea into our hands, which we drank. Many more followed, touching our bowed heads with a variety of objects including swatches of decorated cloth, brass bells and even plates of sweet-smelling food. Of course, we like to be respectful at such events and restrained ourselves from giggling when occasionally we'd get hit a bit harder by an excited monk, but the same couldn't be said for the monks themselves. A couple of times, one would plonk something on B's blond head and start laughing,
Looking towards the Monastery, Ganzi.
usually setting off his friends in the procession. We couldn't help but laugh at this as well and the whole event was just awash with good vibes. As the last of the monks passed, the people around us unceremoniously jumped up and headed off - show's over then.
We were supposed to have 2 nights here, but for some reason (or no reason, it's hard to tell in these parts) the bus wasn't running that day and we had to wait another night. This wasn't really a problem - Baiyu was nice enough. We got our tickets from a woman living in the top room of a nearby hotel (for some reason) and rose early the next morning for the bus to Danba
, a popular tourist stop and on our way back to the capital of Chengdu.
than you can shake a stick at.
There are more photos below