Our amazing trip to the source of the Mekong river has come to an end… Yet our travel has just started! The Mekong river, flowing down from the holy source of Zaxiqiwa, will soon enter Tibet territory. But, as we don’t have the special visa to visit this very controlled area, we won’t be able to follow the river there… Instead, we will have to make a large detour around Tibet border, traveling through Sichuan region to find the Mekong again at Deqen, in Yunnan. Finally, this detour doesn’t bother us much… Indeed, Sichuan is worldwide renowned for its fantastic sceneries, but also for its fine ( and hot! ) cuisine… So, ready to join us on a new adventure?
Back to civilization: Yushu
Leaving Zadoi is not as easy as you could imagine. First, as we just came back from the beautifully remote source Zaxiqiwa in the Himalaya and as we finally adapted well to the altitude, we just want to go back in the mountains immediately. Second, the bus departing to the next city, Yushu, is overcrowded… We have to take a « collective taxi » for the first time of our trip in China. Not much more expensive than the bus, the collective taxi is considered here as a luxury way to travel… But it wouldn’t leave town before being completely full. Luckily for us, we only wait 40 minutes at the back of the car before our driver comes back with enough passengers. Unfortunately, leaving Zadoi may be one annoying thing, but arriving alive in Yushu turns to be a completely different matter… Our crazy driver is counting more on his loud bouddhist prayers than on his ability to drive (nonexistent) to save us from fatal accidents… It’s a real miracle (thanks Bouddha!) if we arrive alive in Yushu 3 hours later.
As you may remember, Yushu suffered a terrible earthquake in 2010. Today, it is a whole new city. In 5 years, nearly everything was rebuilt! (It’s quite different from Christchurch in New Zealand…). And surprisingly, we saw none of those horrible concrete towers that usually grow everywhere in China. In Yushu , it seems that architects are having a lot of fun, mixing modernism and traditionalism, using sometimes Mexican style (we don’t really understand why) or North African style. Indeed, even if the majority of the population is Tibetan, a large community of muslims is living in Yushu and a huge mosque stands along the river in the city center, while a large monastery is enthroned in the mountain at the back. The muslim district is a real souk : animated, cosmopolitan, noisy and smelly. We love it! In the evening, the whole city turns into a bright Las Vegas, with neon lights flashing everywhere…
Nonetheless, we soon realize that many of the brand new buildings are only facades, and are still empty inside. Given 1-2 years, we are well convinced that Yushu will become one of the main tourist attraction in Qinghai!
Back to the mountains, en route to Sichuan
There is 815km between Yushu and Garze, the next big city on our map. We try a new experience: hitchhiking in China! The narrow winding road we have to take climbs up to passes 4700m high and makes its way through long empty steppes. As we were expecting it, hitchhiking there proves to be very easy. No need to even put our thumbs up: cars stop as soon as they see us walking along the road…That’s how we managed to drive 300km the first day. Hitchhiking in China is a very interesting experience, as we don’t understand our drivers! But it makes us practice our chinese and very often we end up cracking up laughing. People here are really nice and gentle, and hitchhiking is a very good way to meet them!
The first evening, we thought we would be able to spend the night in one of the few monasteries along the road, but we meet a young monk who tells us it’s not possible… Tonight, we will sleep in the tent, in the middle of the steppes and under a heavy rain!
In three days, we will finally walk only 60km… But what kilometers!! We went through beautiful valleys and long prairies covered with myosotis and edelweiss that yacks were grazing eagerly. This pastoral landscape is enclosed by stunning mountain ranges displaying snowy peaks and sparkling glaciers. The only boring part was when we had to walk through the never ending steppes (or so it seemed), where nothing in the landscape was able to distract us. It was feeling like walking in the wrong way on an escalator! Totally depressing!
At the end of the mountain road, we pass through a charming village called Manigango. All the wooden facades of the Tibetan houses are lovingly painted, and people there are very welcoming. We would love to stay there tonight but, as we are looking for a nice grassy piece of land to pitch our tent, a 4WD stops nearby and a laughing monk appears at the window gesturing for us to climb in. The driver on the other side is a small funny-looking man wearing a big hat, a golden chain around the neck and a gun at the belt..! He is going to Garze. We can’t really refuse such an insistent offer, especially coming from a guy with a .357 Magnum. So we jump in the car for an other 150km drive under the beautiful light of this late afternoon.
Suddenly, after a turn, it is love at first sight! We just entered in the most beautiful valley we ever saw! A pretty river flows at the bottom and thousands of flowers are blooming everywhere! This poetic and delicate landscape contrasts quite violently with the wild and rough beauty of the surrounding black mountains. This harshness is mellowed by a little bit of white snow, sprinkled lightly over the sharpest peaks. Soon, we see our first wheat fields and the road is suddenly bordered by tall trees. We haven’t seen any since we arrive in western China, so we are suddenly very excited! We forgot how nice it is to travel under a canopy! The villages are what we love most: the lovely adobe houses, with the traditional painted wooden facades, are beautifully decorated and tidy and fits perfectly in the scenery.
We fall in love with Garzê as soon as we set foot in its dusty streets. Here is a mix between the architecture of Manigango and of the small villages we’ve seen in the valley. The streets are full of little shops and workshops and colors and smells and people buzzing around. The atmosphere is unbelievable! The whole city is full of energy.
Numerous little street restaurants smell so good that we want to try them all. We join a group of monks coming from the large monastery of Garzê and sit amongst them in a dull small restaurant where we will try for the first time the Sichuan soup of dumplings, spiced with the worldwide famous Sichuan pepper. Absolutely delicious! A whole new fascinating world of flavors breaks open in our mouths! According to the plan, we should have stayed only one night in Garze to hurry down south. We finally decide to stay a few days to enjoy the authentic atmosphere and delicacies the city has to offer. It will give us the opportunity to go for a few hikes around the beautiful villages down the valley and to visit a wonderful temple, highly spiritual, where monks will invite us to drink yack buttered tea in their private apartment. Later, we will visit another impressive temple offering gorgeous views on the mountain ranges and displaying a stunning oversized stupa!
We really enjoyed our stay in Garzê. Get there one day if you can, it is well worth it! Hurry before all the tourists find it!!
Once again, we leave the city for 900km of hitchhiking. The first day is quite easy, and we manage to travel 150km through the typical wonderful panoramas of the area. Unfortunately, after a relaxing night along a river, we have to change our plans again: a few days ago, Mariette stupidly cut her right foot on a rock and, as it was bleeding quite heavily, put a plaster on it so it didn’t ruin her pretty hiking shoe. But the evil-plaster triggered an awful skin reaction that is getting uglier day after day… Today she can hardly walk. And moreover, she is in a very cranky mood! No way to go any further without her being in pain and Quentin having to stand her swearing loudly and ungraciously !! To do worse, cars don’t stop easily today, apparently not caring at all about two dirty hitchhikers, all wet from the non-stopping rain which enlighten this amazing day…
After 3 long hours slowly hobbling along the dangerous country road where it seems that fast driving trucks try to kill us at every turns, we finally manage to get a lift. We didn’t think it was possible to make that day any worse, yet it was! Our driver is nuts! He is driving no better than the driver from the collective taxi of Zadoi, Shumacher style and under a heavy rain. Our hearts are about to stop… He drops us (alive!) 200km later, in a town which is not on our map. As we want to escape from this doomed area as quickly as possible we jump on the first minibus we see. But we are still stuck in this unfortunate day, the minibus is not going directly to Emeishan. It will turn around a whole hour before heading for the next town where we will finally manage to take an 8h bus trip to our destination… What a long day!!! In Emeishan, we should be able to find a doctor for Mariette and, while we wait for her to heal, we will take some time to visit the few Unesco heritage sites of the area!
See you soon
M. & Mme Shoes