Squid Kebabs and a Sleeper Bus Across Qinghai

We decided to spend one day in Xining, the capital of Qinghai province. Although one of the main Buddhist Yellow Sect monasteries is nearby, I had an alterior motive for convincing Yann to spend the night in the city: the night market. With a 20 hour sleeper bus ride slated for the next day, we eagerly sought out the market for some fine dining. It took us a while to find it, tucked away along a side street. The street was blocked off, set up with food stalls and dining tables. It was packed with people and most importantly, lots of food. Xining has a large Hui Muslim population, contributing most of the dishes, including mutton, fish, noodles, soups, dumplings, fruit kebabs and the most delicious squid kebabs barbecued and covered in sesame sauce. The night market succeeded in getting Yann to stop insisting that we should have taken the earlier bus. The next day, before catching our bus, we decided to visit Ta'er Temple. The temple was built at the birthplace of the founder of the Yellow Hat Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It has now become no more than a bizarre tourist sight for the Han Chinese being guided around the complex by other Han Chinese dressed up as Tibetans. We even saw a Chinese soldier giving a tour. We visited in the middle of the mid-Autumn holiday week, so the place was completely overrun. Although some of the buildings were attractive, as a whole the place was extremely disappointing (we had been warned by our guidebook). We boarded our sleeper bus in the afternoon and were happy to find our two bunks were bottom ones, near the middle of the bus, each with a window (the ticket seller had looked after us). We had become slightly paranoid about being too close to the front of the bus, afraid of flying through the windshield in the case of an accident (stories had been circulating about a traveller who had recently died that way). I made Yann wear his seatbelt for the whole ride, which strapped up near the chest instead of the waist and made it pretty much impossible to get any sleep. Neither of us were entirely convinced that the seatbelts actually increased our safety, but we wore them anyways. Sleeper buses in China are a pretty nice way to travel long distances when trains aren't available. The buses have three rows of bunk beds except the back section where they suspend planks between the bunks so that five people end up side by side in a giant bed (we have thankfully never ended up in the back). There are two narrow alleys separating the rows of bunks. The beds are on the short side, so that you have to sleep in a semi-seated position, but you get blankets and a pillow. We arrived in Jyekundo (better known by its Chinese name Yushu) after only 17 hours on the road, three hours earlier than we had thought. We settled in the hotel run by the local monastery. The rooms and bathrooms were absolutely filthy and the monks were grumpy and pretty much incompetent. We paid 3$ each for our beds, but we felt that we were grossly overpaying.

Being fairly isolated, Yushu doesn't get too many tourists, at least that's what we concluded by the stares and attention that attracted (much more than the usual). People were happy, even eager to be photographed. Yushu is almost entirely Tibetan, even the Tibetan souvenir shops seem to be owned by Tibetans. The streets were busy and colourful, filled with villagers and herders, shopping and socialising. Stores were filled with various prayer items and Tibetan clothing and music. The meat market, selling mainly yak meat and other yak parts, lines the banks of the river that runs through town. We watched the butchers, hacking away at the carcasses with huge axes, the smell of dried yak parts filling the air. The Tibetan diet consists mainly of Yak meat and dairy, we ate the usual momos (yak meat dumplings) at a small restaurant by our hotel. Despite the town's small size, it has three bus stations, and it took us most of the morning to figure out that we couldn't buy a ticket to our next destination. We were however given the street corner where we should stand to grab a seat in a minibus. After we failed to organize onward travel, we visited a small village a few kilometers out of town, home to one of the world's largest mani (prayer stone) wall. A constant stream of pilgrims circles the giant pile of stones over and over. Other pilgrims, and tourists add their own stones to the wall in the most prominent position they can find. Again, our presence attracted attention, but not enough to keep people from their circling and prayer-wheel spinning. After lunch we hiked up into the hills surrounding the town and got beautiful views of the Jyekundo Monastery. We spent the afternoon weaving through narrow village lanes and hiking past the prayer flags and white chortens before being greeted by a few novice monks perched in a nearby tree. Even though we only spent a day in the town, there was no question that it had been worth the trouble getting there.

1 comment:

mom said...

the Dalai Lama was received diplomatically in Ottawa which caused a huge furor. I'm still muddled on the connection between freeTibet and tourism both in China and in exiled Tibet.