I've spent a very relaxing three days climbing mountains and visiting the Buddhist monasteries in KangDing, Sichuan province. Which is just as well.
Stupa Above KangDing
To save costs on our trip to Tibet we hooked up with another traveller at Sim Cozy's. His name is Gennaro, he is from Italy and he seem like a nice bloke, although his English is sketchy. But no problem, my Italian is just as sketchy which means we get on fine. To further save costs, Gennaro managed to find Spanish Guy. He speaks pretty much no English. Nada. Which is just as well as I am at the point of using my elaborate french vocabulary in front of him ... or directed at him ...
First of all Spanish Guy could not make his mind up about if he wanted to travel with us onto Kathmandu rather than return to Lhasa and China (which costs more). Which was rather time consuming and annoying. He decided to go back to Lhasa and hey, as he's Spanish, he decided that as he wants to join our trip, he is doing us a favor. So he wants us to give him a special discount aka subsidise his trip. We sent him on his bike, or at least Sarah did. But, hey, he is Spanish and he can't take no for an answer. So he has been banging on about a discount. Numerous times. I am just waiting for super sarah to become super pissed off with Spanish Guy. I am now.
Watch this blog. Spanish Guy may well become a major feature. I am not planning to give him the address.
To get relief from Spanish Guy and as we had to wait for five days for our permit to come though, I headed for KangDing, West Sichuan, which is the start of the Tibetan plateau. West Sichuan is known as Sichuan's wild west and is essentially a Tibetan area which has escaped the worst ravages of the Chinese governments oppression in Tibet, as well as the Tibetian culture. Kangding has a frontier town feel and many refer to it as the gateway to the region. It was also a grueling 10 hour bus ride from Chengdu, with rockfalls littering the way, making the journey take three hours longer than normal. It also suffers from abnormally heavy traffic as much of the regions roads are still blocked after the 2008 earthquake.
But its a nice place. The hillwalking is superb and the town has a strong Buddhist community with three monasteries. Its a place that has seen plenty of cultural destruction by the Chinese Government during the cultural revolution and has also suffered from immigration of Han Chinese. But its also a place where I have seen hope and change. Such as the Chinese government allowing religion, culture and language to be expressed once more. It is renovating and rebuilding the monasteries. It is encouraging people to follow religions. It is allowing free trade, regardless of ethnic group. It is a place of some hope.
Young Tibetan Monk
But it is by no means free. The main Monastery has People Liberation Army barracks built right on the front door. I mean 10 meters in front. I'm told its for the 'safety' of the monks. I think not. Plus a plethora of CCTV cameras, the only ones I've seen in town. I didn't take a photo as I've heard the Chinese police cells are not too salubrious.
And then I'd heard about a Tibetian horse festival that is going to happen in a few days time ... in secret and at a secret location. Why ? because the Chinese government has banned horse festivals for fear of trouble or political rallying. Which is a real tragedy as its the place for the nomadic Tibetans to meet and greet, swap stories, trade, get news and find a wife/husband if you need one.
Finally I was met by a Monk and I greeted him in Tibetan; ''Tashi Delek" I said. At which point the 20 odd year old Han Chinese accompanying the monk turned round to me and said that I should learn Mandarin before Tibetan to understand Tibet !
Sarah and I are off to Tibet on Friday. Watch out for Spanish Guy.