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.