Litang China Sichuan Highway part2

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July 16th 2010
Published: October 30th 2010
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16/7/10: Martin had organised a minivan to pick us up at 6:00 morning, we were all going to Litang, and it was a four hour drive that climbed to 4800m at its highest point. It was still raining and the speeds that the driver was driving at were concerning, after a while we realised that he was a good driver and relaxed. So all up we had seven people in the van not including the driver. As the sun started to rise and the cloud lifted we once again were blessed with amazing views. The terrain became treeless the higher we went. We went through a section that had a raging river with pine trees; it reminded me of being in America. We climbed so high, the only thing growing on the hills were bright green grasses. After the pass, the grasses gave way to a rocky landscape; it soon opened up to rolling grassy hills and flat lush sweeping plains dotted with grazing yaks. It was now more Tibetan than ever, everything looked like Tibet even though we weren't officially inside the border. Ten kilometres from town we stopped at a stupa and took some photos. We arrived in the town of Litang and witnessed men and women twirling prayer wheels around while they walked. There were women dressed in traditional clothing, not because of tourist reason but because this was how they dressed. It wasn't a very pretty town but grassy green hills and the Tibetan Buddhist religion made up for it. We all found a dodgy hotel, we later found out that it the 35yuan/person didn't include the shower and we were pissed off when they said we had to pay 10yuan per person extra to have a shower.
We all agreed to get something to eat and with Martin looking after all of us we had an unbelievable meal at a local Tibetan yak restaurant, we had fried rice, yak momos, yak soup with pasta, yak mince soup, yak curry, noodles and some local beer to wash it all down. It would have been one of the best meals we have had for a long long time. We grabbed a few more beers to take back to the hotel where we talked for a couple of hours until we went to bed.
17/7/10: It was a very late start; we all didn't eat breakfast until 11:00am. It was agreed that we would go and see the monastery at the base of Litang foot hills. Walking through town was great. There were so many Tibetan nomads and cowboys walking through town, it felt like the wild west. The traditional people are tall much taller than the Chinese, some over 6ft. It was a very friendly town, we got a lot of stares from curious people but they mostly carried on walking twirling there prayer wheel as they walk past. We turned towards the hills, weaved in and out of the streets until we passed through villages and found the huge monastery entrance. There were little monk kids walking everywhere, they all laughed at us as they walked passed, I think this was mostly because they had not seen too many westerners before. The monastery was nice on the outside but that was nothing compared to the inside. Even though some parts of the monastery was under renovation it was the most beautiful one I have ever seen. There are paintings all over the walls and ceilings; there was not one part of the internal structure that was not painted in some mural or colours. There were carvings on the door frames, post, balustrades, stairs and doors. All this was nothing compared to the next room we entered. We had to take our shoes and hats of before entering the main prayer room. We entered the room drawing the curtain back to reveal and amazing gold statue of Buddha with semi precious stones lining Buddha’s pedestal. The room was painted with more beautiful coloured paintings than the last. There was a shrine at the base of Buddha with prayer bowls and light candles. There were statues on either side of Buddha that were just as impressive. Our camera’s were going crazy, it was hard to get a decent photo to show scale, Buddha towered up into the ceiling, the light from the windows illuminated the semi precious stones on Buddha’s necklace. We quietly walked around for 15mins in a room the size of a basketball court; we took detailed photos of everything. There poor light around Buddha’s base meant we had to use the flash for most photos. We exited the room and walked up a flight of stairs avoiding all the building material that had been strewn on the floor. The rooms facing the sun had loads of juniper nettles drying on the floor (A pine tree they burn for incense) we walked around admiring the artist detailed colourful work. The monastery grounds were surrounded by a wall lined with gompa turrets, we found a way out through a back gate, and there were people that looked like they were walking back from church. The majority were twirling prayer wheels as they walked; they were dressed nicely in their traditional clothing. Apparently they walk in a clockwise direction around the monastery, it would be roughly a 1km walk; I’m not sure how many times they walk around but my guess would be until sundown. There was so much time devoted to religion; I’m surprised that any chores would ever get done around the house.
After the monastery we all agreed on climbing the hill behind the town so we could get a view of the valley. We found a way through the fence that led up the flower coloured grassy hill. It was tough walking in the higher altitude; we lost almost all our acclimatization from the Everest trek six weeks ago. We finally summated the 400m high hill giving us spectacular views of the treeless plains and hills. The town was much bigger than I imagined. The scenery was more beautiful than I imagined, the treeless rolling hills where covered in wild flower and the occasional yak herds that stood out amongst the greenery. We all took a break sitting down on the grass while we talked about China’s amazing culture. It wasn't long before the camera came out and we took some photos of us jumping for joy; they turned out great. We walked back down the hill and agreed to meet everyone for dinner around 7:00pm.
Before dinner Martin and Iwrom met a blonde Israeli woman. She was travelling through China by herself; after 5min of talking to her it was not hard to see why. She was extremely ditsy, and demanding. She was supposedly ill from the altitude and while talking proceeded to suck on oxygen can like it was a cigarette. At 25yuan per can it was an expensive high, it wouldn't do a thing for her altitude sickness especially at this height. At dinner she made all the men wait on her like she was a queen, when dinner was served she picked out all the mushrooms from one dish and hogged another just because she was so picky; I hate people like this, it was clear that the others didn't think much of her either. Despite all this we had another amazing meal thanks to Martin that still proceeded to look after everyone; he was the nicest guy we had met for a long time. When we arrived back at our hotel it was full, there must have been a bus load of Chinese that had just arrived. Our first thoughts were the share toilets are going to reek now; they were already bad enough.
China Toilets
The toilets in China are the worst, if you get a shared bathroom with a squat toilet, you were lucky, most shared bathrooms have a step with a drain running through the middle. The only privacy comes from a small wall, about the height of your waste. When it’s time to take a dump you step up onto the plinth with one foot on either side of the open drain, then squat over the drain making sure you aim for the centred of the drain. An automatic flush is mounted on the wall, the cistern flushes at the highest end of the drain, it continuously flushes every couple of minutes. This meant that if you happened to be on the lower end of the drain you would witness every bodies poo wash under your squatting legs and carrying on to the drain hole behind. Anyone that wanted to go to the toilet only had to walk past you in full view and choose an opening for themselves. Sometimes the flush wasn't as powerful as it needed to be and a poo would get stuck halfway down the open drain, no matter how many flushes some poo’s were so stubborn they wouldn’t carry on down the hole. More often than not you would enter a stinking fly ridden bathroom with stuck fast poo’s in the open drain that dammed the flow of water. Most of the Chinese didn't care how bad it was they just added to the mess to make it bigger.
18/7/10: We woke up to rain pouring down, we spent most of the day in our room, drinking beer, and sorting out music. We had another great dinner with everyone.
19/7/10: We packed our bags and checked out early. We were travelling to Kangding by minivan but not before going to a sky burial. A group of us agreed on a price of 20yuan to take a minibus, the sky burial was only a 5 minutes drive out of town but the bus driver told us 20minutes, we would later argue of over the price and pay 10yuan for his dishonesty. We drove behind the town through an open field passing piles of rubbish on the way. No one knew what was going to happen. We hopped out of the van and walked with the ushering driver, the first thing I noticed was the shattered human bones strewn over the grass, knifes and scissors were also scattered everywhere. The sky burial is a way for Tibetans to give their body back to the earth. They believe that the human body is only a vessel for carrying the spirit and once the spirit had left the body it is nothing but flesh and bone. As we walked further up the hill we could see a massive flock of vultures on the hill above. Bone was everywhere; I found a section of jaw bone with teeth still in the sockets. It turned out that there would be no burial today; I was so disappointed in not seeing the ancient custom. If someone had died the ritual is as follows. A human corpse is placed on the grass wrapped in cloth, the monk priest says some prayers then the body is unwrapped and cut with a knife as to expose as much flesh as possible. A fire is lit and smoke is produced to attract the hungry vultures on the hills above. The vultures circle and land beside the body, they feed upon the corpse for hours until there is nothing left except for a skeleton. The monk then takes the remaining bones and smashes them to pieces. The brain is given to the vultures as well as any bone marrow. This ritual is preformed right in front of your very eyes. I was upset we didn't get to see such an unbelievable ritual but hoped we would catch it later in our travels.
Martin negotiated a minivan for 80yuan each to Kangding, the driver had three gold teeth and looked like a nomad cowboy. Only half an hour out of town we came across the horse festival that was going to be run over two weeks. The main event was going to start tomorrow but we would miss it. It must have been practice today and when we walked down the water logged paddock they just started an event that curtailed putting up a tent as fast as you could, then taking it down, wrapping it up, loading it on their horse, racing down the 100m crowd lined track only to reverse the task at the other end as fast as they could. There was a lot of sabotage going on much to the amusement of the crowd. The winner is the first one back to the finish line. It was great to see such a demonstration of horsemanship and skill, also having a good laugh at the same time. We had to carry on our journey to Kangding so we only stayed a short time. The rest of the trip was starting out the window of our minivan in amazement of just how beautiful China really is. We made it to Kangding around 8:30pm. We had trouble finding our hostel and were helped by a local to find another but it was full. An American guy who owned the full hostel was nice enough to take us to a hostel 2km away in his own car. We all checked into a dorm dropped our bags and had another unbelievable dinner with Martin, Dan, Nat, Jacinta and myself. Kangding was nice, it was surrounded by massive mountains, and it has a raging river running right through the middle. It was shame it was getting dark when we arrived.

Additional photos below
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Cruelty beyond beliefCruelty beyond belief
Cruelty beyond belief

This dog was in so much pain and discomfort that we could not believe he was still alive.

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