Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Wild West Frontier

The early morning bus ride to Langmusi takes us across beautiful high-altitude prairie grasslands with grazing herds of shaggy yaks and horses. Snow-topped mountains brood in the early morning light. The landscape is unutterably beautiful. At least this is what Gayle tells me. I sleep through most of it, like the locals, who are always away with the fairies the moment the bus is in motion. That is, unless they are throwing up. When I am awake we pass by a truck that's managed to hit not one, but three yaks. He must have been really trying.

Langmusi is unfairly described as "enchanting" in our guidebook - a terrible misrepresentation of an ugly village plonked on the border of Gansu and Sichuan provinces. It is undoubtedly Tibetan - there are two monasteries here - and freezing pilgrims and locals go about in long coats from sunrise to sunset. They probably sleep in them too. At night the streets are virtually deserted. In the daytime young men ride into town looking like real cowboys from days of yore. Except nowadays they're riding Chinese motorcycles. They swagger into the noodles shops, doors left swinging in the wind, to slurp their dinner, picking out the vegetables from the broth in disgust. A beer is swigged and then Vrroooommm! they ride off in a cloud of dust.

There are snowy peaks close by and we once again plot a route and set off up the slopes in search of a sheep trail leading to the top. It turns out to be another great walk and we're lucky with the weather - clear blue skies and sunshine. No-one to be seen or heard. We climb up to a peak with prayer flags, snow and an impressive clutch of large wooden arrows tied together - the symbolism of which we know not. It's low season here but we still meet a few tourists in a traveller's cafe with apple pie just like our mums make. Well, sort of. We end up walking the next day with Jurek, a very jolly Czech who is going our way. We then travel souhwards together to Songpan, through more stunning scenery. Herds of yaks again, grazing the wide open flats and then an eventual descent into a narrow valley, passing some tidy and attractive Tibetan villages. New houses are being built in the old style. And then we reach Songpan itself - a disappointing town that's had an attempt at beautification i.e. a newly-bilt old fashioned pedestrianised shoppng street, red lanterns aplenty, and restored old walls. The weather has turned grey and Gayle has developed a Capstan on-Filter Cough - irritating to both her and me. Although it's still cold and a bit miserable (no heat in our guesthouse), we stay another day just to put off another bus ride. It's ten more hours down to Chengdu.

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