I am at home now after the last seven weeks wandering about China, Tibet and Mongolia. I was less than impressed with the northern region of China, but as a gateway to the amazing places in Tibet and Mongolia it was a necessary evil.
Here are some of my favorites from the last 7 weeks. Look forward to the next adventure on the John Muir Trail here in California! 225 miles of backpacking through the Sierra Nevadas! Good times and sore feet expected…
I won’t go into vivid details, but leaving her was harder than I ever expected. One of the most astounding people I have ever met. As much as I was ready to be home, I am here now and alone…
850 Kilometers; thats how my day was spent. I also started planning out how to make it to Mongolia for a reasonable price. It looks like I’ll spend tomorrow in Xining booking a flight to Beijing (around $100) then a night in Beijing, followed by the first 30 hour leg of the Trans-Siberian railroad (another $100) to the Mongolian Capital city of Ulaan Bataar. I should be there by Sunday afternoon.
Felicia, my tri-lingual Singaporean friend, had wanted to try and get to Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, after our tour; but with all the new problems getting up there she has moved some stuff around (including her new job as a foreign diplomat for Singapore) and decided to tag along with me to Mongolia for a couple weeks. Looks like I may have someone around to take pictures of me for a while.
Waking up early and hungover in Dege (my birthday was a success!), we wanted to get started back in the direction of Xining. Our tour was going to be cut short by a couple of days, but since everyone had somewhere else to get going (think Mongolia) it wasnt too big of a deal. Nimrod decided to depart by bus this morning to try to make it out of the south of China before his visa expired.
The day was spent driving though the Himalayas and drinking lots of water. Exciting, I know…
Alright, today is my 28th birthday and I am celebrating in a the little town of Dege with excessive amounts of vodka mixed with high altitude! Should be a great combo…
On another note, I have been averaging 1500 hits a day on this site lately, so I know you are all out there. Heres your chance to let me know you care by leaving me a little “Happy Birthday” comment. It only takes a second and it might help me clear up my hangover tomorrow.
Have a great Memorial Day to all you in the states, and be sure to drink a few for me.
Getting a late start in Manigango, we headed off to see a sacred lake at the bottom of a glacier. The skies agreed with me and the complete lack of anyone else around had me grinning for a solid hour. After a while a group of Chinese tourists did show up, but it wasn’t long before Felicia, Nimrod and I were invited over for beers, lunch and Chinese sing-a-longs. Quite spectacular.
The combo of a liter of beer, sun, and fatty smoked meats had me ready for a nap through the next couple of passes. When I awoke to a giant pothole I found we were in a completely different side of Tibet. We had dropped 1500 meters and were surrounded by people logging and wooden houses. It was the beautiful town of Dege.
After a day of driving across endless passes and plains we ended up in the tiny town of Manigango, which reminded me of something out of the wild west. A single street, not many people, and when my big white ass walked down it, it was a mixture of stares and “hello”s from the children.
The day ended properly with a couple of beers and some more watching of “The Simpsons”.
Sometimes a rare day occurs where it all just seems to come together photographically for me; i.e. great skies, spectacular subjects, vultures, and (of course) me not being hungover or feeling like shit. Today happened to be one of those remarkable days.
We visited a number of Tibetan monasteries, temples, a locals families house for afternoon beers and tea, and saw the worlds largest pile of carved prayer stones (around 2 billion!), but my favorite sight of the day is the sky burial site, which is now not excessively favored by the Chinese government for its “barbarism”. As a Tibetan Buddhist you have four choices of how to remove you body from the mortal plain after you die. Earth (burying), Fire (incineration), Water (being dropped in a lake for the fishes) and my new choice, Sky.
When you die your family calls up a local monk and you all head out to the sky burial sight, body in tow. The monk then proceeds to cut off your deceased head, and chops the rest of your body into small pieces. The pieces are then thrown to the awaiting vultures who quickly (around 20 minutes) devour your flesh. Once the flesh is picked from your bones, they are gathered up, smashed into little bits, mixed with your skull, brain, intestines, and organs into vulture friendly bites. They proceed to finish the job. If you are old and don’t have much meat on your bones, you may have to be mixed with some yak meat to make sure the vultures will enjoy all your tasty goodness. Oh, and the best part is that anything not left eaten by the birds is finished off by the local dogs!
The only reason vultures were present for me to take pictures of today is because they had a burial a few hours before and it takes them most of the day to digest most of their meal before they can fly again. They just hopped around as I snuck up to get as close as I could with my 200mm.
I used to think cremation was the way to go, but now I am having my doubts. Just imagine your family standing around with a keg while vultures pick the flesh from your skeleton! Hell of a way to go…
More passes, more prayer flags, more headaches (although they are getting better!), more nomads, some prayer rocks, and snow!
The desolation of Tibet reminds me of Patagonia in many ways; very few people, lots of livestock – but then you hike a hundred feet, try breathing and realize you can’t. Pushing our way up to 4400 meters (14520ft.) today was hard on me, especially after I felt like I had just got used to yesterdays 3500. If you stand up to quick you get the spins, your head is constantly throbbing for oxygen, and your bones are aching.
At the same time you are passing some of the most astounding views in the world. Surrounded temples, nomads, prayer flags, and from the comfort of a car the elevation doesn’t really hit you until you stand up.
Felicia, Shauna, Nimrod and I arrived in Maduo (complete with tasty mutton in the streets and the hotel that has pit toilets at the end of the hall) around four and set off on a slow pace adventure to see what was around, mainly heading in the direction of the giant hill covered in Tibetian prayer flags.
We heard chanting and were soon invited inside to sit with the Tibetain Buddists as they said their prayer songs. Afterwards we were shown around the entire temple by the man in charge and his wife, and invited back for tea on our way back through Maduo in 10 days. Easily one of my best experiences in China so far.
The night was spent, once again, getting used to the altitude and watching episodes of The Simpsons (Nimrod had bought 17 seasons on DVD while he was in Hong Kong).
It feels like a vice is on my brain. It’s only the first day at 3500 meters (11550ft) and my head feels like it is cracking and my body is struggling with what feels like a fever. We made it into Chabcha later in the afternoon after a full day of driving, and with the four of us all feeling this dramatic altitude gain we settled on a little walk, dinner and watching the Simpsons on my laptop.
I know, not dramatic stories of world travel, but still the truth.