Monthly Archives: September 2012

Day 93: Bange (班戈县) – September 18th

Without knowing it, we were already on the last leg of our Ali trip and it definitely is a bittersweet kind of feeling. You’re sort of glad going back into the city but missing out on the scenery and camaraderie with our tour-mates.

Leaving the town early, we were on the road in one of the few places where Tibetan Antelopes were known to wander around. Along with us, there were three other SUVs that were on the road with us. Have to say, having good tour-mates is really important, as you’re sort of stuck with them for an extended period of time, having to eat, talk and sleep in the same room with them everyday! We’re really glad we met up with the outgoing couple from Shenzhen and not some annoying sob who can’t stop taking pictures of himself/herself and being the first person to express their opinion (which is the only one that matters) on everything and anything. Yay!

And what’s also important when traveling in Tibet?? A good driver, and we lucked out with a REALLY good driver? This guy does it all, he’s got mad skills when it comes to off-road driving, knows where the non-existent roads are in a maze of mountains, AND he’s got an awesome sense of humour. The most important trait though was in full force today, as his eagle-eye vision spotted us a few Tibetan Antelopes far away in the horizon! He quickly stopped for us to take a peak through his binoculars, and while we were still staring in amazement at how majestic these animals looked, the rest of the three other SUVs whizzed by without ANY knowledge that there were wild animals within sight. SUCKERS! Continue reading

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We’re good.

It’s been a while, and for a period of about 5 days we were cut off from all modern things as we’ve lost our phones, and our laptop charger died on us so we had to order one which took 5 days to get shipped!! As cool as Lhasa is, it definitely isn’t convenient for most other things as it’s pretty freakin’ far away.

So we took a 4 day detour and am now wired back to the world. Oh we miss you, Interweb.

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Day 92: Nima (尼玛县) – September 17th

The clouds never cleared, so we slept in without catching the sunrise. Our recently added tour mates, four seniors in their 60s, did not have such a nice time. Being old and probably wealthy, they have a certain ‘expectation’ when it comes to food and sleep, so sleeping in a 8-person room with a crappy bed while the 27 dogs bark non-stop well into the night made it hard for them. Old people, not enough sleep = Cranky. Us, our the other hand, woke up well rested and was in no rush to head to the next destination, which was only a brief 3hr drive away!

We wandered around the village, which is known as a high-altitude oasis, and it definitely lives up to its name! Despite altitude being 4800m and overlooking a marvelously scenic lake and glaciers, it was fertile enough to have its own farm fields! It just happened to be harvest time!! There’s something incredibly charming about autumn colours of yellow wheat fields with a glacier backdrop, while a random sheep munches on green leaves on the ground. We helped ourselves to some turnips on the dirt ground, which tastes sweeter than an apple, but couldn’t find anything else edible =P

After lunch, we headed up to the NORTH village, which was also built over another lake and surrounded by glaciers. Seriously, if this was anywhere else in the world, you’d be paying $500USD to stay a night at the resort with a view like this….but we’ve been seeing this everyday.. =)

Arriving in the town of Nima, which actually means SUN in Tibetan while it just sounds plain funny in mandarin, we did what Tibetans would do when they had time… and sat in a tea-house drinking milk tea! Having electricity, it’s a very welcome back into the first world for a quick recharge.

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Day 91: Wenbu South (文部南村) – September 16th

Another morning, another beautiful day to admire the scenery. To kick things off, we arrive at Jiarenamucuo (戛热哪母措), which may possibly be the best we’ve seen so far. Climbing up to the top of a nearby hill, you can literally sit here for hours on end to soak it all in. So we did…

There’s something special about these high-altitude lakes, whether it be the overlooking glaciers that add a touch of serene beauty, or the rock particles that creates a ghastly blue no camera can ever show you… so I really won’t go on and on about how nice these things are, you may just have to come here yourself. Oh, but do it soon, before they start fencing up the lakes and charging an arm and a leg for looking at something mother nature gave us.

…so after a day of driving pass lakes (fortunately, again), we finally arrive at Wencun South, which was situated right next to Dongreyongcuo (档热雍措). The village is the SOUTH village, because there’s a NORTH village which is Buddhist, while the south village believes in Bon. We stayed at a local homestay, which was operated by the daughter of a well-respected Bon-priest. Arriving early in the afternoon, our other tour-mates did what any other Chinese person would do next to a beautiful lake….drink beer + play cards!!

For dinner, we took over their kitchen and cooked up all the veggies we bought back in town (villages != town, towns actually have places to spend your money) in Renduo. Without ANY sort of spices, we (i.e. Jiajia) cooked up a meal for 10 people with nothing but salt and a single stove-head. Respect.

At night, it started raining, but this proposed no issue except for a rather interesting one. The washroom is ‘al fresco’, which was little more than a mud hut without any roof….hahaha, but when you got to go you got to go. Just make sure you don’t step on any of the 27 dogs that wandered the premise in pitch darkness, as the village had no electricity…

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The iPhone Thief Strikes Back

So we’re at Namucuo, a rather popular destination for a detour from Lhasa, as we are on the last legs of our Ali/Ngari tour.

And….our phone got stolen again. Boourns.

iPhone5? Android? Nah…. we’ll probably just get a crappy Nckia or Samsong phone from the market…

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Day 90: Cuoqin (错勤) – September 15th

This part of the road, we were keeping our eye out for wildlife. The usual chubby groundhogs, field mice, wild donkeys and the deer have become part of the norm, but this time we’re on the lookout for the estranged wild yaks and the infamous Tibetan antelope (藏羚羊) which numbers less than 75,000 in the wild.

For the most part of the day, we were (unsuccessfully) chasing wild animals in the fields, and if not we would be chasing lakes. On the Tibetan plateau, there are many many lakes, some which are saintly, while others are just pristine and utterly beautiful. Nothing beats a landscape of a indigo blue that alters in colour from different viewing angles, with a group of glacier mountains serving as a backdrop!! We’re too spoiled!

There really isn’t much to say about the lakes, except I can guarantee you the pictures do no justice. We visited a freshwater lake ( 仁青扎布措 ), and also a saltwater lake (扎布娜措)! The saltwater lake was actually used to extract edible salt, and I’m sure they can fetch a nice and hefty price as ‘gourmet high-altitude Tibetan salt’ or something.

As we drove around the salt lake, our driver suddenly pulled off the ‘road’ and into a patch of grass, and loudly declared “LUNCH TIME!”. So it was there, next to 扎布娜措, where we feasted on freshly baked naan (from our nice host from last night, who made naan well past 2am as I could still smell the firewood burning in our mud hut) and lamb. Throw in a bit of local Yunnan pastries from our tour-mates, it couldn’t be beat!

On our way twisting and bumping to our destination, something came loose and the hydraulic-suspension broke off in the rear wheel! Ohhhh, the look on our drivers’ face. What used to be an invincible behemoth was now an fragile rodent, careful of the lightest bump. Fortunately, we made it to town, and a rather large town at that, and was able to fix the car up with a back-up hydraulic-suspension the driver had stowed away, and it was all done in about 1hr for the hefty sum of $180RMB! I can’t imagine how much it’d cost and how long it’d take for the mechanic to ship the parts in if this was anywhere in North America…. Sure, it’s not the best thing, but it was quick, efficient and it just works! 

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Day 89: Renduo (仁朵) – September 14th

It was one of those long days on the road, driving through the similar terrain we’ve been used to seeing. It really is strange how people can get ‘tired’ of such nice things. Instead spent most of the day dozing in and out of sleep from 7am all the way til 9pm.

At one point, the whole car turned to talking about ghost stories and folklore about driving through the Ali region, getting lost and running into a tribe of chainsaw-wielding man-eaters, or something like that. The stories went on for about half an hour as we drove by this massive field pasture….until the road suddenly stopped in front of this recently built house….our driver was actually LOST!!! We tried to knock on the door, but nobody was home. The house looking brand spanking new amongst a sea of muddy ruins, had this eerie aura of the beginning of a movie. And, as if on cue, the clouds gathered quickly and darkened from afar, shrouding us with a blanket of darkness and drizzling rain…perfect time for murder? Continue reading

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Day 88: Zanda (札达) – September 13th

A day of rest and eating, we headed back out of town by 6:30am to avoid getting caught by the stupid admissions people. The city doesn’t have electricity, and the roads are beaten, but the skies cleared up and the stars were once again in full bloom. When we went to bed the night before at around midnight, we were talkng with the motel owner and she said she was going to circumbambulate Mount Kailash too…. but she was going to start at 3am and come back before dinner time at 7pm… SO SHE’S GOING TO DO A 16HR HIKE WHILE SLEEPING 3 HOURS!?!?! These people are super crazy…mad respect.

Back on the road, we’ve seen some pretty fantastic scenery with dramatic changes in landscapes. From the standard mountainous grasslands to the tropical-like region, we were now heading straight into a desert-like region which was home to one of the more interesting parts of Tibetan history, the ancient kingdom of Guge (古格).

Driving in pitch darkness, our experienced driver guided us through hail and rain before the sun came up to warm us up. And not only that, but we were greeted by a set of DOUBLE RAINBOWS!!! The rainbows were set right around the road we were driving on, as if it was a welcome gate to an ancient palace. =) Cool

The landscapes here definitely interesting, and reminded us a bit of what we saw back in Zhangye. Driving down into the valleys, you get to see some pretty crazy looking rock formations before we got into the town. Like any other small town in Tibet, there was only one street with a few grocery shops, restaurants, a lot of military police and a monastery. We dined in for a bowl of noodles el fresco with the rock formations overlooking us. Pretty cool place, considering the surroundings!

The reason this village exists is most likely due to the ancient kingdom of Guge which was 15kms away. A river cuts far below in the valley, and historically this place was a paradise, lush and full of life from the river which has since receded to a sliver of what it used to be. The kingdom was built upon a mountain side, and it was hard to imagine any sort of civilization can sprout from such arid lands!

The castle, with several white and red buildings at the very top where the King was supposed to have lived, while at the middle of the hillside another white and red building stood out from the rocks, and these were temples dedicated to Buddhist teachings. At its peak, the castle region housed 5000 nobles and monks while there were over tens of thousands of peasants living in little caves dotting the landscape! It felt taking a step back into time and looking at the ruins of a once great civilization which was now extinct for well over 600 years.

As we climbed up towards the mountain top, we poked into caves and the ruins of homes. The temples were still intact, and had not been restored at all. For whatever reasons, they’ve been looted and ravaged but you can still feel the work of the amazing artisans that built these temples. Frescoes were beautifully drawn in the more Indian-Buddhist style of work, and statues exuded a sense of grandeur even in its destroyed state. The tour guide then left us to wander the whole mountain-side at our leisure, and we had the whole thing to ourselves! NOBODY WAS THERE. And for a Chinese tourist destination, this is definitely a CTE99.9 event.

Its amazing that the buildings still stood there at all! Being built out of sand and dirt, you can easily crumble a piece of wall by pressing on it, sorta like a really well made pie crust? Unfortunately, we broke off a few pieces before realizing we were destroying a piece of history and began to get extra careful.

At the top, you can overlook the whole surrounding, with nothing but sand mountains as far as the eye can see. Who would’ve thought to put the centre of ANYTHING here!?!? Mad respect to the architect who designed and built this thing as well, because due to the severe cold of the region (and its height), there was a ‘winter-home’ for the King, which was dug INTO the mountain. The entrance itself was rather well hidden, and after hunting around for a long time we found the entrance into this amazing cavern.

The steps down were at a 60degree angle of eroded dirt steps, so we had to be extra careful as we got further down. And once inside, we were completely astonished…. WHAT A SHITTY PLACE!!! The winter-home was a set of 6 interconnected caves which was about 4feet high, with holes dug out into the side which served as ‘windows’, except nothing was stopping you from a 400m drop down into the abyss…. I mean, if anyone didn’t like the King they could just gently nudge him out the window and all would be done!

We climbed back down, and had an interesting chat with a few ‘frescoe restoration workers’ that were sitting there. Outside of the compound, was another little piece of history. In this tiny little cave entrance the size of a car tire, apparently housed a burial ground for over 10000 villagers of the Guge empire when they were ransacked by its enemies. Under constant warfare, the empire was never fully in a peaceful state until it finally met its demise. And its enemies, as a way of degradation, had all the heads of the corpses removed….. When we climbed up close to the hole, you can still smell a distinct note of sour fermentation even though its been over 600 years since its happened……

All being said though, this historical ruin was extremely worth the visit. It was like Macchu Picchu in dirt form… and another looking glass for us to witness the remnants of what once was a bustling centre of life.

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