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May 28, 2006 – A journey to Eastern Tibet, China in Asia

On the Way to the Great Canyon of Yarlung Tsampo

A lot of the places and towns we drove through, actually all, were not listed in the Tibet section of LP China (which in turn is teaching me to rely on that book less). Didn't have LP Tibet with me either. So, I can only write down what I recorded and can remember in terms of the English translations (sorry, I'm illiterate in terms of reading Chinese characters and don't have an excellent grasp on more difficult terms).

Top 3 highlights in photographs:

A Pilgrimage

On the first day, an hour or so into the trip (by minivan from Lhasa), stopped by to chat with three Tibetans making a pilgrimage to Lhasa. The two pilgrim guys were praying the whole way (they pray by kneeling first and then placing their whole body flat on the floor, belly down and arms forth, towards Lhasa). This is a picture of them on our way back to Lhasa on the third day of the trip.

Canyon of Yarlung Tsampo

cruising down the Yarlung Tsampo River

flags on a giant sand dune

wild horses

thousand years+ Tibetan ruins

partial view of the canyon

On the second day, went cruising down the Yarlung Tsampo River at high speed. Then took a pickup-like truck up to the viewpoint overlooking the Canyon of Yarlung Tsampo, deepest in the world. Also to view a 7000m+ snowcapped mountain (our "smaller version" of Mount Everest since we didn't make it to see the real thing ;)). Passed by quite a bit of awesome scenery and noted-spots on the way.

Ma Bang (translation "Horse Gang")

some of the best horses in China

leader with some of the best horseriders in China around a campfire

After the canyon trip, had the fortunate luck to pass by the "Ma Bang" or "Horse Gang" in translation. In the past, they used to be gangster-cowboys. Nowadays, they travel around the country selling horses and goods such as Yunnan tea. They've been traveling for half a year from Xishuangbanna in Yunnan province (close to the border of northern Thailand). The leader told us stories of where they've been. He even introduced us to one of his best horses and let people sit on the horse for photos. Apparently, a camera crew has been traveling with them. They're planning to put out a documentary on the Ma Bang within a year or two. There was a foreigner traveling with them, too. Maybe he'll be putting out a book within a year or two also.

A few downers:
- Took a nice guided tour by a monk through Tsozong Monastery on Tashi Island, which is located on Basomotso Lake (the only positive of this downer). After the tour, the monk led us into a small prayer hall where he led a prayer and told our fortunes. First of all, the monk wasn't even Tibetan (he was clearly Han-Chinese). Second, they expected a fat donation afterwards. I wasn't really aware of what was going on till after I left the prayer hall.

The fortune the monk told me was that I should be wary of people, such as friends and family, for taking advantage of me because I'm too nice. I think he said this based on my appearance (I don't have the mean look). He handed me a big candle tin (not even sure if the candle was made of yak butter either). The irony of it was, once I left the prayer hall, a non-Tibetan (again, Han-Chinese) woman in Tibetan dress asked me for 199 yuan ($25 USD) for lighting the candle. I returned the candle to her. Besides the fact that everything was fake (horrible that Tibetan culture is being capitalized on like this), why would anyone want to pay for a bad fortune like that?

As for Rick's fortune, the monk told him that he's got women all over him and is able to make a lot of money but can't keep it. Ha ha. Again, sounds more like a curse than a fortune. Even though the monk looked at our palms, I think he gave fortunes by the way people looked (Rick was scruffy that day, like your stereotypical Asian gangster/gambler that you see in movies).

How can you tell a fake monk from a real one? According to the locals, the fake ones ask for money. Got approached quite a few times by fake monks in Tibetan robes since Zhongdian...

- Previously I wrote that the tour agency lady said we wouldn't be stopping by any souvenir shops on the way. Well, we didn't on the way. But we did after we returned to Lhasa. Such the way it is with Chinese tours!

The first one was a traditional Tibetan medicine store. Before leaving for the next few shops, Rick made an excuse and said we had to get to our hotel before they canceled the reservation (the second was a Tibetan tea shop, and the third, a Tibetan mushroom store). Good thing that our tour guide was cool about it and didn't make us stay!

inside the medicine shop - looks similar to the one we got suckered into in Beijing, except this one's got Tibetan decor

- A very stinky chain smoker with extremely raunchy smoker's breath sat in front of Rick during the trip. This couldn't really be helped though. At least the stinker wasn't allowed to smoke in the minivan.

Rick couldn't stand it (I offered to switch seats with him, but he didn't want to because mine didn't have as much leg room)

I am not a tour person, especially if they're Chinese tours (wherever you take them in the world, they're all the same - rush the site-seeing, then go and spend most of the day at shops you don't care for). Since it is Tibet and backpacking the region by yourself requires quite a bit of undercover work, or quite a bit of money for the many different permits you have to get, this left us very little choice but to take some type of tour. BUT, in general, I was actually satisfied and pleasantly surprised with this particular Chinese tour. Maybe because it's new and they want their first set of customers to have a good time. Who knows? To me, this trip turned out to be like a Chinese-version of a GAP or Intrepid Travel tour, but with the addition of stopping at shops (although this happened at the end of the tour rather than throughout). Our personal guide for the whole trip, a young guy and although not of Tibetan descent, was very upbeat, surprisingly knowledgeable, personable, and funny. Thought he was one of the best guides we've experienced.

Even though only a small area in Tibet was covered, got to see a great amount from natural scenery to the people and culture to the heritage sites. And was able to avoid most of the time what I really didn't want to see - the unstoppable encroachment of industrialization (which is happening quite a bit all over China - don't get me wrong, development is great, just not in terms of eradicating culture and heritage sites). For instance, my brother visited Tibet a month earlier, traveling the main route that most go on, which is to Mt. Everest and Nepal from Lhasa. He reported that he was pretty disappointed with all the modernization going on in what used to be the main "holy" cities, and didn't really get to experience "Tibet." Hearing that was quite upsetting, as any traveler can imagine, but it made me very thankful of what I had the opportunity to see.

Some more photos of the tour (note that photos aren't allowed to be taken inside Tibetan temples - that's why there aren't any here and in related posts):

Tibetan homes

sky burials along the highway

a Tibetan woman

a Tibetan tent by snow-covered mountains

prayer flags and a partial view of Basomtso Lake, a very blue lake

another newly opened site-seeing spot - you can view certain figures in these stone mountains - this one is of an eagle's head

a Tibetan boy with yaks in the Nyang Scenery Valley in the background

scenic view of a field of yellow flowers

Tibetan men spinning prayer wheels in the morning sunlight in a small village somewhere

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