This Post: Langmusi --> [Hezou] --> Xiahe --> Linxia --> Lanzhou
(A proud Tibetan in Xiahe)
So when I left off the last time we were about to board the bus from Langmusi to Hezou and then head to Xiahe. The ride from Langmusi was excellent! For the first time in a while we had an excellent bus and the road was brilliant! I also had the front seat which meant great legroom (heh heh heh). Anyway, the scenery outside the bus was still quintessentially what we had seen on the road to Langmusi with the exception being no dangerous mountain roads.
Arriving in Hezuo brought us back to our feet. On the bus there we thought the rough rides were over. Think again! The bus dropped us off at one bus stop and to get to the next one we (Queenie, myself and Trevor who we hadn't lost again) hopped onto a motortricycle with all our bags. Well, as you can imagine there was not much breathing space.
After we got to the second bus station we duly boarded the bus and the for the first time were obliged to store our bags on the roof, a decision we would regret later when we discovered that we would be travelling on another dirt road! Of course, after we retrieved our bags they were all mucky and dirty!
At the second bus station in Hezuo things started to get exciting. We saw two poor people arguing over the garbage! They obviously collect the bottles and tin cans and then hand them in for a few mao (cents). They nearly came to blows and had to be forcibly separated by the station authorities. The one guy actually grabbed a wooden stool and wanted to hit the other person on the head with it. It was a really saddenning event to witness.
Well anyway, after a while we were on the bus and ready to go and, as it turned out, this was to be one of the most eventful bus rides of them all! Just before the bus was leaving a drunk guy got on board with two bottles of beer! He opened one with his teeth (a particularly painful thing to do) and continued with his binge. He was, in the beginning, really friendly. He told us a lot of stories and he also said he was a famous singer. We then asked him to sing a song and he noticed Trevors guitar. We duly gave him the guitar and for about half an hour he strummed it quite happily (while I dutifully held his beer).
After he was finished he gave the guitar back and he was fairly peaceful but then we hit the dirt road with all of its bumps and of course the beer went frothing and flying all over the show! It was actually quite funny. After a while this guy seemed to get bored again and he turned around in his seat and started grabbing my hands and twisting them around. After that he pretended to try to hit me but being drunk and on a bumpy road he nearly hit poor Queenie. As a result I was forced to subdue the poor guy. Okay, I never hurt him but he got my message and was fairly grumpy for the last hour of the trip!
We actually found out his sad story a little later from an English speaking tour guide who came from the same town. This guy came from a good family and was quite a good guy until about 28 when he started to drink. He had apparently, through drinking, made his parents quite poor and as a result his father died last year because they had no money to take him to hospital. His sister still provides him with some money but this guys wife divorced him, remarried and opened a business in Lhasa. I felt sorry for the guy, especially after having done what I did but Trevor said that I probably had no choice and that I was really gentle with him.
Arriving in Xiahe 3-hours later, covered in dust and beer, we were a little disappointed. The town wasn't at all what we imagined. It was a little cold and of course there was no hotwater! The second day we dutifully went for a walk around the Labrang monastry! This monastry has over a thousand prayer wheels around it and people come on pilgrimage to kowtow and to spin the wheels. We joined the pilgrims and walked around the entire monastry. It is quite a far walk!
We also went inside some of the temples where we saw people kowtowing on the steps and rubbing their heads on the door handles and the pillars outside the temple. 95% of the people were elderly and to see them doing this and giving their money to this was really sad. As soon as we left some of the temples, some of the worshippers came running up to me and actually grabbed me asking for money. That was quite a shocking experience to me. I have never had beggars physically restrain me and demand money from me! And I never expected it from people worshipping at a temple.
Anyway, we continued around the monastry and saw people kowtowing on the ground! Apparently their goal is to kowtow around the whole monastry in a day. Like those we saw on the road to Ruoergai they walk three steps and kowtow, walk three steps and kowtow etc. It is in the dust and the muck! Queenie said that this religion is too hard for her. I have to agree. All this kowtowing in the sand is just too much for us.
There was also a structure on the outskiurts of the monastry around which many of the pilgrims walked. We stood there for about ten minutes watching them. Some walked around it only a few times. Some people were still walking around it when we left. It is part of their religious devotion.
After walking around the monastry we went in to another temple. The main door was closed but there were two small boys on either side of the door. They told us that they were around 8-years old and that they were meant to be kowtowing, but they were just shooting the breeze. All of a sudden the abbot appeared from nowhere and these guys were diving into the ground as if their lives depended on it. Is this the way to raise a kid! Apparently their parents are happy to send them to the monastry at a young age! I guess it is one less mouth to feed. It kind of reminds me of medieval Europe where similar things used to happen.
We then walked into another temple where we saw boots scattered all over the courtyard and heard booming sounds from the interior of the temple. I went up to have a look and there must have been a few hundred monks meditating while some played musical instruments. It was a really eerie experience. We then watched how they ate lunch all huddled up on the floor. Some people would run out grab a big container of rice and meat and then charge back in and fill up the bowls of those sitting! It was really fascinating.
Queenie's observation was that these were the true communists! They all dress the same, eat the same and live in the same quarters. They are all perfectly equal! It is ironic how the "communists" tried to destroy these true communists during the cultural revolution.
After lunch time we met with a 16 year old monk from Mongolia whose government had sent him to study at the monastry. He had been there for ten years and at the age of 20 he would return home and become a teacher. He took us to watch some monks playing basketball and, I must say, after soccer, this must be the worlds most popular sport! We asked the monk if we could take a picture with him but he said it would be against the rules. He eventually conceded as long as no one saw us do it!
That night we found Trevor again and hung out and had a barbecue with him. It was an interesting evening as he is a Jehova's Witness (JW) and explained their theology to me. It is the first time I have ever had a theological discussion with a JW. All in all it was a great evening. It was also the last time we will probably see Trevor on this trip!
Anyway, on Thursday we headed off to Lingxia, a Uighar Muslim town. I thought it would be interesting to see the contrast in the cultures. The closer we got to Lingxia the more desolate and barren the land became. I knew we were close to the region when we started to see the traditional domed shaped Mosques on the horizon. On Friday, before we came to Lanzhou, we were woken up by the Muslim call to prayer. I felt like I was back in Turkey!
We found a small restaurant for breakfast. We spoke to the Han Chinese owners who told us that there were some tensions between the Han Chinese and the Muslims but that they had a peaceful coexistence. On the road in Lingxia we saw sheep being slaughtered and bled on the roadside. This was a little close to home, but I suppose that is where the lamb noodles comes from.
After breakfast we went to two of the older and bigger Mosques in the town and they were amazing. When we arrived I was expecting a dome shaped mosque with spires on the outside but these actually looked like Buddhist temples with people burning incense. The architects of these Mosques had synthesized Chinese architecture with Islamic themes to create something rather special. The one mosque we went into was apparently a thousand years old and had been completely destroyed during the cultural revolution and has only recently been rebuilt.
After the tour of the Mosques we dutifully boarded our bus and headed for Lanzhou, where we are now. The closer we got to Lanzhou the more desolate the land became. I guess you know that you are heading into the desert! Arriving in Lanzhou, the world's most polluted city according to the Lonely Planet, was a shock to the system. After travelling in the country for the last two weeks and arriving in the city and learning how to kick and scream and shout your way through the crowds was quite startling. I can imagine how people from the country must feel when they first arrive.
Lanzhou is not that interesting. We visited a night market and had a walk along the yellow river. Apart from that and shopping there is not much to do so we are a little disappointed. The one museum that we wanted to visit is still closed for renovations. Tomorrow we will be heading for Beijing and hopefully some more fun times. The hardest part of our journey is now over and we will be flying to save time so there will be no more exciting bus ride stories to share.
Before I end this travelog there is one news item I wish to comment on (close your eyes if you are not interested). Recently a video was taken in a Malaysian prison of a Female Chinese citizen being abused by the guards. This is tragic! The Chinese government has DEMANDED an immediate investigation into the abuse. But I am forced to wonder what types of abuse and barbarism we would witness if we were to get a camera into a Chinese prison? Yes, I am forced to wonder.
I will leave you with that thought. Stay well everyone.