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Published: September 4th 2015
Langmusi, another little place we added at the last minute. Only a 3 hour bus ride away from Xiahe. Langmusi is a sleepy border town, between the Gansu and Sichuan provinces. Its actually much quieter than Xiahe; less cars, less traffic, less people. How refreshing for China. Believe us when we say we barely saw this in China.
I would actually as far as saying this was the smallest 'town' we encountered altogether in China. Everywhere here is within walking distance. The restaurants, hostels and shop wooden fronts look like they've recently been revamped but still hold that small town vibe. A lot of development is going on here at the moment which may bring a lot of change to the town. We just hope its not for the worse as we loved the slow pace of life here.
There were barely any tourists on the streets, just a few domestic and international (maybe 6 including us whilst we were there). It was surreal seeing the many restaurants and shops on the 'main' street all empty.
Interestingly this town is split across 2 provinces. The Gansu and Sichuan province. The ethnic and religious make up is quite similar
to Xiahe - there's 2 monasteries and a mosque. It was nice to see both Buddhist and Muslim areas together. We felt a real sense of harmony as we watched a young monk in training play with another boy who wore a Taqiyah (traditional muslim head covering). This was lovely to see given this has caused a lot of instability and unrest in the past.
The monasteries in the town are divided by location. Although less than 5 minutes apart, one can be found on the Gansu province the other on the Sichuan province both separated by the quite tame but picturesque White Dragon river.
We enjoyed strolling the atmospheric streets here. Watching monks, pilgrims and children go about their everyday practice. The people here were always very warm and welcoming, many women naturally smiling at us and everyone always responding with the reciprocal "Ni hao". We always had to say it first however to break the ice during that initial staring period some people went through.
One memorable moment was meeting some friendly locals sat outside the entrance of the Sichuan monastery. They were all sat in a row happily conversing. As we greeted them, they
all came over to greet us warmly in return. With our limited mandarin we were able to tell them our name and where we were from. Just the basics and they told us their names who was married to who etc etc.
We really wanted to take their picture and so after politely asking they seemed happy for us to do so. They also seemed very happy with the picture we took too.
Although it was just a brief interaction with them, they were very warm and welcoming. Sharing their happiness with us through their wide smiles and mutterings of mandarin while they shook our hands for prolonged periods, bowing and still smiling at us. This really made our day.
For our evening meal we ate at one restaurant with an English menu and non english speaking staff (to be expected in parts of China). P ordered a tofu in a Sichuan pepper sauce and Chris ordered diced spicy potatoes. P not being a big fan of soft tofu also ordered scrambled egg with chopped tomatoes as back up. The sauce with the tofu was delicious but the tofu itself was much too soft for us. We
couldn't believe however that we had never tasted these diced fried potatoes since being in China. They were so tasty!
We walked around the town and visited both monasteries in the hope of seeing some buddhist rituals but it was fairly quiet all round, plus it was raining. One ritual that happens here called a sky burial sounded quite intriguing. We actually thought it would be similar to maybe the hill tribes in Philippines or maybe the parts of the burial ritual in Tana Toraja in Indonesia; where they place coffins high up on hillsides. We were way off. A sky burial happens when someone dies - their body is then chopped up into smaller pieces and placed on top of a mountain for the eagles to eat. This is thought to bring them closer to the heavens as the eagles carry them away. For us this was very grim, but a normal practice here, although often hidden away from tourism. Thankfully we didn't witness any of this.
As we walked around the monasteries we saw many pilgrims (mainly older women but this was not at all fixed) doing their rounds circling the outer walls of the monastery,
turning the prayer wheels as they went by. This also took place in Xiahe and is known as walking the Kora. This is a meditative practice where pilgrims circle the monastery (or another holy object) clockwise. To complete the Kora you have to finish up where you started otherwise its not deemed a full circuit.
The scenery here was amazing with the rolling green hills, high red cliff faces and coniferous trees growing on the mountains in the distance. We sat on top of a hill completely at ease. Taking in the majestic views of the town, the monks scurrying around and were amazed by one women in a nearby temple who walked round it over and over again, often fingering her beads in the process. She was there before and after we left and we rested on that hill for a good 45 minutes.
The elevation here is around 3,000m above sea level so even climbing the slightest incline we found ourselves breathing heavily.
We entered a small holy cave just outside the town where pilgrims came to worship and light candles. A monk who was in there started 'praying' in a low throaty grumble that
echoed all around us in the darkness. We only usually hear that from a distance so it was quite humbling to be right there with a natural surround sound system vibrating around us.
Just outside the cave we came across a couple of day tour groups (domestic tour groups) who wouldn't take no for an answer when they asked to take a picture with us. Some trying to take a sneaky picture when our backs were turned. Something to show family and friends I guess.
One thing we really wanted to do in Langmusi was go trekking (which was highly recommended), either on foot or by horse. The draw for both of us was the opportunity to stay with a nomadic family in a tent on their farm in the hills. We were only aware of this type of trek when we actually arrived Langmusi. Unfortunately we had already booked our next 3 train tickets and changing or even cancelling them would mean a 6 hour round trip via the bus to the nearest towns train office and also a visa extension. Sometimes being highly organised when travelling can be detrimental even though its necessary in China, just
so we don't have to bear a long hard seated journey. We just can't win. This time round we decided to give the trek a miss. We can always come back. We hope.
Later that evening we ate at the same restaurant, P avoiding the tofu and opting for the diced potatoes and stir fried cabbage. Chris ordered Yunnan style chicken (mixed with potatoes and veg) together with rice. We think it was all you can eat rice as one of the guys there kept topping our bowl up despite our pleas of no more. We both enjoyed our meals and were surprised that we both managed to finish our plates. Definitely putting weight on in China.
One sad thing we noticed whilst eating however was a couple of homeless people here. Really dirty and unkepmt. You don't see that many in China but when you do they really stand out. One guy who we could see from our balacony was just taking a number 2 right on the street, fully exposed and smiling to himself. Not exactly what we expected to see whilst dining. Nevermind.
Next stop; off the silk road and back to the real
China in all of its glory.
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