Well, I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore…
Greetings from what may as well be Tibet…minus the actual border (and all the bureaucracy associated with it)! I’m in a beautiful little city called Kangding (pronounced kawng-deeng), my first stop on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, which eventually leads all the way to Lhasa (though I hear that at the moment, foreigners cannot enter Tibet by road at all, even if they possess the necessary permits). Nestled in a deep valley in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau, Kangding is a town simply bursting with charm.
While it’s true that I have not set foot in Tibet so I cannot compare this to the actual thing, this place certainly doesn’t feel like the rest of China, or even the rest of Sichuan province. But what I’ve seen so far of Tibetan culture has some similarity to, unsurprisingly, Bhutanese culture! Yes, the religion is virtually identical with many of the same characters, but buildings here even have some resemblance to Bhutan’s radically unique architectural style.
It was a long bus ride here from Leshan, one which exceeded 8 hours, including a stop for lunch. But as flat land gave way to hills of ever increasing height, the scenery suddenly became far more interesting than my book. I was the only foreigner on the bus that was stuffed full of people and their luggage, which took its rightful place in the aisle, making getting to ones seat a bit of a gymnastics routine!
I can’t even begin to describe how truly eye popping the scenery was, and unfortunately I have very few pictures to show for it, as unfortunately, a bus does not stop on request for photos like our van in Bhutan did, nor did I have a window seat!
Fortunately, Kangding is equally as striking. Buddha images and Tibetan sayings are carved into some of its surrounding peaks as strings of prayer flags make their up the mountains. Tibetan monks wander the streets, their “rosaries” (with 108 beads, after the supposed 108 parts of the body) in hand, enthusiastically saying “Tashi Delek,” hello in Tibetan (which, incidentally, means “Good Luck” in Dzongka, the Bhutanese language) as I walk past them. Even the riverside street lights are shaped like prayer wheels, with that oh-so-familiar inscription, “Om mani padme hum,” which basically means, “Praise to the Jewel in the Lotus.” (See the far deeper meaning of it at Wikipedia).
At an altitude of 2616 meters (8,582 feet), the air is slightly thinner here, the wind is absolutely ferocious and the weather changes very quickly (much in the way that it’s currently snowing here all of a sudden!). Of course, this altitude is nothing compared with what I’ll be encountering tomorrow as I head further west to Litang, crossing peaks in excess of 5000 meters in the process! When I bought my onward bus ticket today, I experienced a first. Stapled to the ticket was a paper in Chinese from some life insurance company… Hope that isn’t a sign of things to come!
All I can say is that I am very much so looking forward to what wonders tomorrow’s lengthy bus ride will bring as I head further into faux Tibet!