Chengdu, Kang Ding, Tagong

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October 9th 2006
Published: October 10th 2006
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Qingcheng ShanQingcheng ShanQingcheng Shan

Riding up the mountain on the skilift style cablecar - you can see Nick in the car behind Ryan and I.
Well, Ryan and Nick had actually already just arrived when I finished my last entry, but I didn't hear them come into the hostel. But I found out that Joon had not yet arrived, and we weren't sure when he would. Apparently he was coming from Bangkok and decided not to take that 3am flight that I had taken the day before. Instead, we eventually found out from his girlfriend (since we couldn't get in touch with him) that he would be arriving the next afternoon. Discouraged at first, we considered our options. Should we take off the next morning for Kangding and meet him there, or wait in Chengdu? Over an amazing hotpot dinner we decided to take a day trip to Qingcheng Shan (pronounced "Ching Chung Shahn"), and do some hiking around on that mountain. We hopped the bus in the morning, later than we thought but still with enough time to do the trip, and did some hiking.

Since it was the start of the Chinese national holiday, the mountain was crowded, but less so than other places may have been, and we managed to find ourselves alone, especially when we strayed from the stone paths. We
Qingcheng ShanQingcheng ShanQingcheng Shan

We took a diversion from the main path and ended up in some sort of garden with this shrine of some sort adjacent.
started our trip at the bottom with a great meal - a bunch of mountain vegetables and more - and then made our way up to the cableway, which after 30 minutes of the steep climb made a lot of sense - especially since we didn't have that much time before the last return bus. The views on the mountain, like Huangshan that Chuck, Hisae and I visited back in July, were mostly obscured by fog. In fact, it seems Sichuan is permanently shrouded by gray skies. Perhaps that's why they make everything else good - the food and the pretty women - because otherwise life would really be miserable in that weather.

Still, there were some steep cliffs that provided some frightening but exciting views, and we managed to walk through some sort of garden and by some people's mountain homes. And at the bottom (we hiked down instead of doing the cablecar) a surprise monkey awaited me - see the picture. I think the nicest scenery on the mountain was where we took the ferry across the lake (a small lake, and the ferry had no motor - it was pulled by a cable that mas attached
Qingcheng ShanQingcheng ShanQingcheng Shan

At many of the religious sites around Sichuan, we would see enormous incense such as these.
to either shore) and on the cablecar ride up where you could see the way the foliage changed at increasing elevation in the subtropical climate.

When we got back to Mix Hostel, we met up with Joon and went to get some Mapo Tofu - another great dish - at a restaurant right across the bridge from us (Wangfu Qiao Bridge). From there we planned out our itinerary to Litang, which we pretty much didn't follow as we never made it to Litang.

The next morning we hired a driver to take us to Kangding, which because of various stops for road accidents, food, etc, took us the same 8 hours it would have taken by bus. Still, we made it there and found ourselves staying at the Knapsack Inn ... sort of. We actually stayed in the Tibetan monastery across the street, since we thought it would be a cool experience. This monastery, along with the others we saw over the course of our Sichuan travels, was much different than the Thai monasteries in style. It seemed much more colorful, while the Thai wats were much more glitzy. The bathroom was quite terrible - the photo shows

At the end of our trip at Qingcheng Shan, we quickly became a tourist attraction ourselves as a man put this monkey in my hand. Soon swarms of Chinese tourists crowded around us.
the nicest of the stalls that actually had a seat over the ditch. Walking around the city, we realized that unlike other huge Chinese cities, this once-Tibetan border town (now well within Sichuan) with population 80,000 didn't have too much to see or do. But I did see people selling yak meat from hooks - the kind you see in Chinatown in the USA - and a still furry yak head seeping blood on the floor. Yum.

After an evening and the early parts of the morning in Kangding eating Tibetan food, a prelude to what culinary horrors were to follow, we met our driver who took us the rest of the way to Tagong. Though the distance was only a third, the time was about half, since the road was mostly unpaved. We got in to our hostel, next to Sally Khum's cafe, where we opted for the two adjoining rooms on the third floor. Though there were only three beds among the four of us, I had my sleeping bag and a space blanket to put between me and the floor, so I was pretty much as comfortable (or more) than the other three who took the
Road to KangdingRoad to KangdingRoad to Kangding

On the road to Kangding, we stopped to fuel up and this bridge was off to the side of the road (that's Joon on the bridge). It was pretty fun to walk on - until it started shaking when Nick was jumping and I wasn't sure it would hold up.

After checking in, Joon, Nick and I went over to the Rainbow Tours place that I had seen on our way in to town to find out about horse treks and what else we could do in Tagong - a place that is described by the Lonely Planet and a few residents as the "wild west" of China. The town has a population of only about 1500 - though that fluctuates with the seasons as nomads tend to move in with relatives during the winter - and is at an elevation of 3780m (about 12500 feet). Since we had spent the previous night in Kangding (elevation about 8000 feet) we thought we would be safe from altitude sickness. But I was the only one to escape the headaches and nasuea. And even I got a small headache on our third day - thought that was likely because I was in the sun all day and bouncing around on a horse, which I'll get to later.

Linda, the Australian woman who runs the rainbow tours place, which is actually called the Khampa Cultural Centre, told us about a few short hikes we could do, and I left the rest of
Road to KangdingRoad to KangdingRoad to Kangding

This butterfly randomly flew in the window of our car and sat there for a while.
the group to do the shortest one of them on that first day. I made it to the monastery not too far away, realizing that unless you walk really slowly at that altitude it's easy to lose your breath, and tried to chat with the monks. Apparently it was a holiday for them, which is why the monastery gate was unlocked and they were outside, but since only one of them spoke any English (and only a little) we couldn't have too much of a conversation. Perhaps it would have been better to bring Joon or Ryan along to talk in Chinese, but I think they wouldn't have been able to do much better, since the monks spoke mostly Tibetan.

The next morning all of us walked on what was supposed to be a 4 hour hike to Ani Gompa (translation = woman temple/monastery), a nunnery. We actually never made it to the nunnery, but we did see a bit of the surrounding village. On our walk we passed numerous yaks and some horses. We stopped to eat among the grazing yaks on the hill we were climbing to see a sky burial site and, since we had brought
Road to KangdingRoad to KangdingRoad to Kangding

Despite our best efforts to shave some time off of the 8 hour car ride, we were hampered by various stops, such as this one when we came upon a motorcycle that had been hit by a bus. Their were no serious injuries - the biker was walking around without looking hurt.
some sandwiches we bought from Linda that morning. When we finally made it down the mountain, we thought we probably wouldn't be able to walk back in to town before dark, so we asked a man in the village if he would drive us back. We agreed on an outrageously high price considering the distance, but went into his kitchen tent to wait until he could find us a driver. While we sipped yak butter tea - better than what we'd tried in Kangding but still bad - and ate hard Tibetan bread, a hailstorm suddenly started pounding down all around us. Though Ryan, feeling bad still from the altitude, decided to sleep it off in the tent, the rest of us went indoors in the stone house and waited out the storm while we watched some men doing some woodwork. I'm not exatcly sure what they were making, but it looked like a door or something similar. Finally, after the storm passed, we got in the back of what was purportedly some sort of motorized cart and rode a bumpy, muddy ride back to town. This was one of the coolest and most bizzare days ever.

Our third
Road to KangdingRoad to KangdingRoad to Kangding

This tunnel, completed a few years ago, makes the trip from Chengdu to Kangding only 8 hours. It's about 3-5 miles long. It would have sucked to make this trip before the tunnel opened!
and last day in Tagong Joon, Nick and I went for a day of horseback riding through the Tagong grasslands. Ryan didn't come, instead staying in bed all day trying (unsuccessfully) to fight off his pounding headache. It was really cool, and the views were great. We got to control the horses however we wanted - at a gallop over rocks or jumping streams and ditches - something we wouldn't be able to do anywhere in the States, and that was the best part. Being able to ride however you wanted. But as I mentioned earlier, the bumping around on the saddle combined with the thin air and thin ozone under a strong sun eventually gave me enough of a headache that I had trouble making my horse walk slow enough at the end. Our lunch of yak butter tea, yak yogurt, tsampas, and hard bread was not particularly good, but the tsampas were better than any I'd had up to that point. A tsampa, by the way, is a dough-y ball made of roasted barley flour, yak butter tea, yak butter, and (at least these had) sugar. The yogurt, though, was the best part.

But for Nick, the

This is a view of the monastery we stayed in at Kangding on our way to Tagong.
food didn't stay down. I think between the altitude, possible food poisoning, and probably dehydration, Nick couldn't keep food or water in his body. Between that and Ryan's hellish headache, we opted to ride back to Kangding that evening, then to Chengdu the next morning.

And that's about it. We went out to a couple of bars and clubs once we got back to Chengdu (though without Nick, who didn't want to leave the vicinity of the bathroom), and basically have just hung around the city for the last couple of days, doing some shopping (or browsing in my case), drinking tea, and getting massages. And now, at the airport, I've said goodbye to Nick and Ryan who are flying back to Shanghai. Yesterday Joon went back to Bangkok. And soon I'll be boarding a plane to Guangzhou, to do some souvenir shopping and meet up with Adeh (the guy I met on my flight from Manila to Macau just under two months ago) and Naomi (the girl I met in Bangkok while shopping with Rachel and her friends at the Chatuchak weekend market).

Oh - and those pictures I promised from before will be posted at some

The nicest toilet in the Kangding monastery where we stayed.
point, I promise. For now, you can look at some of the newer ones.

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


Road to TagongRoad to Tagong
Road to Tagong

On the road between Kangding and Tagong we stopped at the highest point along the road, where a Tibetan pagoda was a few steps up from the road. This is part of the view.

I went to explore a monastery on my own the first day we arrived in Tagong. The others were too tired to join me, but they missed out on the view.

On our second day in Tagong, we took a long hike and stopped here for a short break.

Up close and personal, these guys littered Tagong.
Sky BurialSky Burial
Sky Burial

This is where the priest/monk chops up the bodies of the dead Tibetans for a sky burial. Using the tools you see in the photo, people are hacked up and fed to the vultures - the large bones are burned first and their ashes mixed in with the rest.
Tibetan WorkersTibetan Workers
Tibetan Workers

While we waited out the hailstorm, we hung out with some Tibetans who were doing some woodwork.
Riding through the grasslandsRiding through the grasslands
Riding through the grasslands

We had the chance to ride our horses at a gallop at times, and I was nearly tossed over the front of mine more than once.
Community DanceCommunity Dance
Community Dance

While eating lunch, we watched the group of nomads perform some traditional Tibetan dances.

11th October 2006


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