|Still Nancy for now, we got lucky once again and joined another tourist in a taxi that took us all the way to Zhongdian from Tinas guest house so we did not have to deal with buses which was fantastic and not all that much more expensive, good to not lose our relaxed state just yet... The ride through the mountains to Zhongdian was stunning again, and once you hit the plateau on which Zhongdian sits, you can see much more of the Tibetan lifestyle already, the houses are huge and beautiful, even the ones recently built look very old. Lots of carved wood and thick plastered walls. We both got very excited to see our first Yak, followed by shops on the roadsides selling the ones whose time was up, dried Yak meat and their bushy fur line the highway, It was a much nicer sight seeing them alive in the meadows...
Have booked into the Tibet guesthouse and Tony is off now checking out how we get to Lhasa in Tibet proper - our next adventure...
Tony back -- Just to say, we really loved Zhongdian, which the Chinese now call Shangri-La. They call it this mainly to boost tourism, but it is actually the start of unofficial Tibet, sitting in the Himalayan foothills of northern Yunnan. And certainly all around us now we see the signs of being in Tibet. Firstly, we are sitting at nearly 3300m above sea level. And then there is all the culture, from the people, and clothing worn in the streets, to the items being sold in the shops and on the menu. This is great, and much of it is just how we imagined Tibet to be.
It has been really wonderful to have lovely sunny days, and being in a dry heat has been really quite a treat. The nights have been much much cooler and we have found warm clothes in our packs that we had forgotten about and have used duvets for the first time in six months. Best of all for me - no mossies! Also, we put clocks forward coming into China, and are now enjoying the kind of long summer evenings that we have in Europe and NZ. We are now a lot further away from the equator, and it is getting dark after 9pm.
And Zhongdian has been our favourite of the old towns of Yunnan. Much less tourists, although they are starting to come here, much more friendly local people, and a nice relaxed old town. On Friday night, we had a surprise when we walked into the old town square to see masses of locals all dancing traditional Tibetan style dance to modern Chinese music. It was hilarious and really lovely to watch at the same time. They were all beaming as they danced pretty much as one. Looked like China meets Line Dancing, but much cooler than that. This was not a staged event, as they were all in their everyday gear. Several hundred people - some in traditional clothing, some straight from the office - and men, women of all ages. They looked like they were having great fun, and we watched for ages. The hard core were still going when we came back from dinner a couple of hours later!
Last but not least, the highlight of this town was a visit to our first Tibetan monastery. We have put several photos up of this. We cycled out to this, the most important monastery in North West China. Most buddhist temples (especially Tibetan) were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but this 300 year old monastery has bounced back really well. And it really looks like all the images we have of Tibet. Massive plastered walls with golden rooftops, colourful ribbons everywhere, even the crows associated with the Tibetan Plateau were flying around en masse when we were there. Inside is musty, but very colourful, and here the monks wear crimson coloured robes. We must admit that the cycling, and the walk up the steps left us a bit out of breath - which we can only think is caused by the higher altitude. This trip though left us even more excited to see the sights of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet where we fly tomorrow morning. After the usual bureaucratic proceedings to get the elusive permit to go in, we are off quicker than we thought. We reckon the permit is now just a big money making scheme for the Chinese government rather than the protective measure it once was, hence the reason we got one so fast. And we know we are cheating by flying. Our only other flight was to get across the Indian Ocean to Bangkok, but this does take out a seven day journey over the Himalayas (and the chances of altitude sickness), and the only other way out of Zhongdian is to go all the way back to Kunming! Now our next problem is how to get from Lhasa to Chengdu (back into China proper!)