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Published: January 4th 2008
I love their red cheeks
A bit sooner in China than planned (yes, our first early arrival!!!). The reason was to escape the cold winter in Nepal and Tibet. If we went for two months in India before Nepal and Tibet, it would be winter time by then. So India was postponed to December. It is a big loop but for sure it is worth.
The Khunjerab pass mark the border between Pakistan and China. With an altitude of 4733 meters is the highest border crossing on the planet. It’s full of ice and freezing cold, and of course, our bus had to break right on top of it. We suddenly stopped near the top, our driver got off waited for the first car coming in the other direction and left. Without knowing what was happening we waited for hours. The sun was setting and the temperature dropping sharply. By the time we considered that our end was freeze to death lost in the Himalayas. Our driver appeared again with another two cars. (Ufff, was a close call) Crossing the border into china was like come back to the real world. The roads were REAL roads, even with the yellow line painted in the middle!!!
all sizes and models
Already late, we arrived in Tashkurgan. There is no reason to spend time here, only sleep and keep going tomorrow. But very soon we discover that this is the favorite place for all the Pakistanis. They come here to drink and have shag with local prostitutes. Looking for a restaurant we could only find bars packed with drunken Muslims!! Such an irony...
Early in the morning we got a ride to Kashgar. After 6 months in Islamic countries we knew it would be strange (or nice!) to see women uncovered on the streets and talk to them, but we never imagined that it was going to make me feel so good!! Their sight itself make the city seem friendlier, happy, colorful, perfumed! I'm loving it!
China impressed us by its cleanness, and how organized it is and well kept. We were expecting to find cities full of people and a chaotic traffic of millions of bicycles. Not at all. The wide streets give place to the few cars driving. There are special lanes for bikes and for the amazing electric scooters. These last ones were Lili's nightmare, they are so silent (they are more silent then regular
wildlife by the everest
bicycles) that you can't hear them coming! She got herself in front of them quite a few times crossing the roads.
The biggest tourist attraction for us in China was the supermarket. They are full of the most wierd products one can imagine. They sell roten eggs, chicken feet snaks, black turtles, testicles, brain, a whole section dedicated to instant noodles (more than 10 meters of shelfes full). In every chance we went to visit them, was our favorite past time discover what was each wierd thing.
Kashgar was the place to meet travelers. In the second day we where there, we met Matheus (the Italian we met in Iran), Lili (a swiss girl living and traveling by motorbike), the english couple that we comemorate his birthday and many other travelers coming for all over Asia. After nice days in Kashgar with small room parties at the evenings (alcohol finally was cheap and widely available), we were ready to say good buy to our room mates and go. Our next destination was Urumqi. There isn't much to see there, besides eat see food. The city was full of them. Contradictory to the fact that Urumqi is considered to
You didn't notice before?
be the farthest city on the planet from a sea or ocean.
After another night train we arrived at Dunhuang. Our first impression was again astonishment. How can every city in China, small and lost in the middle of nowhere, be so developed, organized and clean? Chinese tourism is very organized, what represent very high prices in the end. We almost felt our skin be peeled off us when we paid the entrance to the Mogao Caves. Full 40 dollars for 1 hour tour in the caves. The 34 meters high Buddha carved inside a cave is impressive, so was the price for it.
The goal of our loop in China was to be able to visit Tibet. There are restrictions to travel in Tibet and information about it is not clear. We tried calling some tourist information offices, but they informed us about the need of a permit to get into Tibet. The permit was super expensive, took long to be issued and the time we called they had stopped issuing it. So, not wiling to pay lots of money neither wait for weeks our challenge was to get into Tibet without the permit.
Lili was very
I think this picture resumes well the backpacking feeling
worried about being denied to go to Tibet and ask Fernando about the plan "B". - There is no plan "B" we will get there one way or another! -
So to increase our chances we wanted to enter using the new train line to Lhasa. In Golmud, the start point of the China-Tibet railway, we were scared as hell that we wouldn't be able to buy the train tickets without the permits. Fernando went to the ticket counter to buy our tickets. The seller asked him something in Chinese and he understood as how many people. He pointed 3. Then again she asked him something. He wanting to confirm she understood that he wanted 3 tickets repeated 3!" And only with the tickets in hand we understood that second question: the departure time: 3 in the morning! But we were too happy to complain!!
The arrival in Lhasa was a relive. After so much concern we manage to arrive there without problems. The first glance from the train we notice that the image we had about the capital of Tibet was wrong. What we thought would be a small laid-back city in the middle of the mountains is
Amazing colours on the markets
in the reality a big modern touristy capital. All the mysticism of the place was changed for shops selling souvenirs for the tourists.
The only part still religious is the Jokhund where hundreds of pilgrims still do their prostrations and walk clockwise around it endless times.
After visiting the Potala Palace we started our search for a transport to take us to the Nepali border. After asking in a few places we came to know there is (apparently) no way to leave Lhasa by your own. The agencies tell clearly you need one agency to provide permits and all. It is partially true; there is no public transport to Nepal, even if you provide the permit. But the permit is just required if you are traveling with a motor vehicle! Cyclists for example don't need permits!
Short after we met Rick and Forest (the guys from Alaska). Forest was using his new Tuba, a traditional Tibetan overall and had all the attention from the Tibetan girls, man and even police whom came to him, to pat his coat and say some words of approval.
It took us a few days shopping around for prices until we had
A big budha carved in a single stone is 36 meters high.
a deal with one of the agencies. This way started a dream and a nightmare at the same time. A dream because the landscape and the countryside of Tibet is so beautiful. This includes the villages and its local architecture. The nightmare because almost everything we had agreed with the tour company wasn't fulfilled. The 5 days tour tuned to 4 days, the night at the Everest Base Camp was cancelled; the guide we paid to take us to EBC didn't appear and so on.
After visiting some monasteries, we took the road to the Everest Base Camp. On the way Rick kept tracking the altitude in his watch and giving us hints on how to avoid altitude sickness. Nobody had given much attention to it at the beginning. But as soon we started to climb, Lili felt uncomfortable, Forest was already taking his medicine and Fernando kept pretending we wasn't feeling any difference, until he had to step out of the car and walk a few meters. Immediately he would sit breathless to rest.
It is a great experience to see it and to be there. It is not beautiful; the scenery at the base is all
There are no seats in the bus, only beds!
the same pale gray color of the gravel swept by the strong wind. A few narrow creeks flows down the mountain. It is only higher on the slopes that the white snow contrast to the blue of the sky. Even though we have to say that its magic lays not on its beauty, but mainly on the fact that it is the highest mountain in the world. This is enough to make us find a comfortable place to sit and keep staring at it for hours.
After a small fight with the driver we agreed not to overnight there but keep going to the next city. Besides the disappointment, the ongoing road gave us many other amazing views of plateaus covered on golden colored pastures, spotted with snow caped mountains. The 4th and last day was a big downhill tour. We started at around 5000 meters above sea level and headed down towards Nepal. The road, like everything in China is under construction, so our driver while talked on the cell phone, skillfully drove around heavy trucks and workers in this one-and-a-half-car wide road on the edge of cliffs so deep we couldn't see the bottom. At the end
Caludio and Lili walking in the streets of Lhasa
of the day, happy for still being alive, we were at the Nepali border under 1000 meters altitude. Thankfully Lili wasn't feeling nauseas any more, neither Fernando had to pretend be so “macho"!! Now we all were aching for the first shower in four days!
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