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Published: August 10th 2007
On the way to Sanke
"Big" Sanke, that is! Here we stop for a photo shoot with "Little Sanke" in the background.
Surrounding Xiahe are vast areas of grassland used by local nomads as pastures for herds of yak, dzo (bull crossed with female yak), Tibetan cattle, sheep, goats and even pigs. The more famous areas are Sanke (about 13km away), Ganjia (about 34km away) and further away still, Takkar ( famous for its enormous rock formations).
Ganjia Grasslands (not a joke, by the way!) were my first choice as they are supposedly less developed/commercialized and they can be combined with a visit to an ancient town, a cave, and a monastery of the less well-known Black Hat Sect of Buddhism to make a great day out.
Unfortunately, being Golden Week (May), many of the visitors to Xiahe were already in groups, so I was unable to organize anyone to share the cost of a vehicle. Consequently, I decided to head to the more conveniently located Sanke Grassland, easily reached by 3-wheel taxi in a matter of 20 minutes or so.
In the end I travelled to Sanke with my new friends Ash and Haruko. Our driver's name was
Mr Ma (Horse). Such a character! Rather than just a driver, he turned into a regular "tour guide". Ash & Haruko
Mr Ma- Mr Horse
Our smiling driver Mr Ma. What a character!
acted as translators.
The town of "Big Sanke" is an ugly hodge podge of buildings, many selling various forms of tacky souvenirs. On the edge of town there are various sites that, in summer or at festival times, are full of tents and are hives of activity. However this day they were empty and rather forlorn-looking. A number of Tibetan folk and their horses were standing around looking bored, apparently offering horse rides at 30RMB an hour. Mr Ma assured us they were all bad people and tricksters and he would prefer to take us out of town to visit a "nomad" family with whom he was friendly. We all smiled knowingly, but agreed we may as well go and give it a try.
What a great decision! The "nomad" family was delightful.We shared their traditional food of tsampa/zanba, fresh-baked bread and yak-butter tea. (Yes, at a fee of 10RMB- well worth it!) We spent some considerable time there and the family were more than happy for us to take lots of photos. Especially when I handed out "clippy koalas" to everyone!
Finally Ash decided she wanted to try a horse ride, her very first! Haruko and
A little on the dry side in May.
I were content to just wander among the yaks (and enormous piles of dung!)
So, despite the commercial aspect, the increasingly obvious fact that the "nomads" are being encouraged to "settle down" (build houses, fence the grasslands- something I was personally disappointed to see) and serve the tourist industry, it was a great morning out and one that I would highly recommend. Yes, there are places that seem more "authentic", particularly in the west of Sichuan province, but if you have not been lucky enough to visit such places or to receive a personal invitation to share a similar experience simply by meeting locals in your travels, then this is certainly worth your time. Just ignore the fences!
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