Wednesday, June 21, 2006

up and over to SiChuan

Bought camping equipment on our last day in ZhongDian and set off on "the back road to SiChuan." Judging from it's name, I guess we should have known better what to expect. The 240 km of gravel roads over two huge passes took us four days of cycling. The first pass "Little Snow Mountain Pass" was just under 4000 m, while "Big Snow Mountain Pass" was 4360 m. We arrived in this honky tonk Tibetan town called Xiang Ba La yesterday, way in the backwoods of SiChuan, after a tiring and incredible ride though some beautiful areas.

I haven't got a map of SiChuan province yet, and so I'm having a little difficulty in orienting myself to the roads, nature reserves, and passes in the area. Fortunaly Brett has his trusty GPS, which he frequently consults. Although the maps it contains never note Chinese towns and rarely have the roads we travel on, it can report our altitude with astonishing accuracy.

A view of the peaks while climbing the first pass.

We found great campsites next to running water each night, and kept strong and healthy eating a strict diet of noodles and cookies. The last night we spent on top of "Big Snow Mountain Pass". We had considered camping up high, but in the end we didn't really have much choice. After climbing for most of the afternoon, we summited about an hour before sunset. It was crazy windy and really cold. Luckily we found an old abandoned herder's shelter just below the pass that we stayed in. It's stone walls provided the perfect windbreak, and we managed to start a fire and have tea and more noodles. Nice.

The alpine Himalaya burst into bloom over the past week. Blue and purple and yellow and white and red flowers cover the sides of most mountains. Some of the flowers are similar to those found in the Rockies, while others are unlike any I have ever seen. In this meadow we also saw many different birds and some pikas. I think that's what they were anyway... like a gopher crossed with a rabbit, only smaller.

Upon descending from the pass, we rode through a valley unlike the others. This one is steep and dry. The Barley has recently ripened, and the farmers are harvesting and threshing the crop by hand (you can see the man on the roof there is threshing hard). The Tibetan houses here are much different than those in YunNan, though still very imposing.

We met a group of backpackers upon arriving in town, and they directed us to an amazing guesthouse in one of these traditional Tibetan homes. The interior is all wood and very dark, vaulted ceilings and huge beams, with every wall covered in depictions of stories from Tibetan Buddhism painted in primary colours.

The owners don't speak English, and so Brett and I find ourselves serving as interpreters for both groups. "Can I have some sugar for my tea?" "You need to pay your bill now." "What time do you close the gates?" "How do we get to BaMu lake?" and so on ad infinitum. Maybe I will stay here for awhile and help manage the place!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looks magnificent. And even way whereever you are, still there are internet cafess.
Are the pink flowers rhododendrons (sp?) Although I suppose if you don't have a map you're even less likely to have a field guide to Himalayan wild flowers.
n.b. No management jobs - your papers for teaching are enroute to Beijing.