Wild West Show

13 Sep

The trip from Zhongdian to Litang had been the topic of gossip since landing in Kunming. Glancing downwards into deep gorges, peering warily upwards into precarious boulder slides, and out across spectacular mountain ranges, while chugging over altitudes of at least 4500m – in a public bus. The journey lived up to expectation despite a detour due to landslide, a flat tire (no spare), and a slightly worrying stop when the bus began making crunching sounds (universal hoozywatzit). I wish I had photos to do justice to the beauty of the landscape, but wanted to keep all my limbs safely inside the bus at all times…

Well and truly after dark, and 16 hours into our journey, after a car came to deliver our spare part, we eventually made it to Daocheng around 11pm. Daocheng is not the loveliest Han Chinese town. In fact, I think it’s a sister city with Nameo, our Vietnamese border town from hell. There are plenty of brothels and plenty of minivan drivers in Daocheng, but not much else. A busload of foregin tourists proved way too much fun for these guys, who for some reason weren’t keen to leave town. After about 6 hours of fucking around, we found a minivan driver from Litang that needed to do the return journey, cornered him, and away we went.

The main relief arriving in Litang was no altitude sickness! As a Sydneysider who grew up around, well, 2 or 3 m above sea level where possible, there was a bit of altitude paranoia going on, but a slow and steady pace and plenty of free tea seemed to do the trick. Litang’s population appears almost entirely Tibetan, “Tashi Dalak” a more common hello than “Ni Hao“. Crazy that this is China, but I’m not going to get political about it here… The people of Litang look like they are proudly upholding their local cultural traditions, while adopting what they fancy from modern China and the West, which is a great sight for a traveller.

What is incredible is the lifestyle of the cowboys (yak-boys, really) that zoom round on hotted-up motorbikes, with boom boxes on the back playing Tibetan pop or eurotrance, 70’s sunglasses and leather jackets complimenting traditional red braids in their long hair – all topped off with a jauntily angled cowboy hat. These guys (the women no less stylish, but quieter due to lack of sub-woofer ownership), come into town to buy supplies, trade, and gossip, before heading back to small isolated villages and nomad tents. It made for a great atmosphere in the town, and we stayed for a few days just to enjoy it; wandered up past the stunning new monastery and the very grotty ‘hot springs’. We stayed at Snowland Guesthouse for 40Y, run by crazy girls who stomp around the place to activate the dodgy sensor lights, singing at the top of their lungs – Chinese Idol won’t know what hit them when they head to Litang.

From Litang, next stop was Tagong town (via a 4 hour wait for roadworks). This is a town famous for its grasslands, and again felt more Tibetan or Kham (the local minority) than Chinese – and that’s a compliment. From here Ros rode a few ponies, and in fact so did B, although we were mighty disappointed that our “horse trek” was more like a pony ride, as our guide lead us all the way to our accommodation – a nomad tent deep in the grasslands, and our one and only “homestay” of the trip.

The nomads of west Sichuan are yak farmers, and during our stay in their home (see photo below), we were treated to yak milk, yak butter, yak yogurt, and yak cheese – plus some potatoes thrown in. Their day is filled with milking, herding, mating (yes, the yaks need help apparently), and cleaning up after these creatures. The environment is stunning but I do not envy the life of these nomads. Their one luxury is a solar panel, which they use for a couple of hours lighting the evening. Our camera was they source of much fascination and amusement, especially for the little kids Tanza and Dronkiona. It was lovely to see siblings playing together in a land of little emperors – as minority people, the Kham nomads are allowed to have more than one child.

Returning to Tagong with very sore arses after 2 days on wooden saddles, we were headed back down the mountain, and back into true China…


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