Jules on Tour

Japan, China, Laos 2014



Whatever the maps might say, Tibet starts in sichuan province. West of Chengdu the mountains begin. After a few hours on the bus along alarming earthquake ravaged roads there is a checkpoint. After this everything changes. Snowy peaks appear in the distance and there are temples and ravines festooned with Buddhist prayer flags. All the houses are suddenly Tibetan style,  people are wearing traditional clothes,  speaking Tibetan and, in the cafes they sit down to a nice bowl of yak butter tea.


A lot of Han Chinese are around too, declining in number as the mountains get higher. They got quite high, around 5000 metres, some of them, with plateau at 3500 metres, enough for the possibility of altitude sickness. 

Some of the Tibetan villages do homestays. A very nice family put me up for a couple of days. Here is my bedroom


This is the view from the room


The beautiful houses and stunning surroundings helped alleviate a certain primitiveness in the facilities.  The toilet, for instance,  is a ledge built onto the side of the house with a hole in the middle of the floor and a ten metre drop separating you from the bodily waste of the household. No sink.

The peasants fed me simple, hearty food,  including soon after arriving,  a dish of slices of pure pork fat. It reminded me of a scene from James Herriot when the farmer insists he stays to dinner after attending to the cows and gets served a huge slab of fat. My family were similar,  being sure I must be extremely hungry having climbed the mountain up to the village. I had been hungry,  but two hours had elapsed and id already been for a walk round the village.  I met a group of Chinese tourists and ended up having a huge lunch with them


They were very jolly chaps. And the food was delicious,  I stuffed my face. But when ‘my’ family offered food I couldn’t refuse,  it would have been rude and they didn’t speak a word of English. I dont think the mother and grandmother spoke chinese either,  not that my few words would have been up to the task.So I loosened my trousers and downed as much pork fat as I could politely get away with. And two large Tibetan pasties. And dinner later on.

Luckily my hosts’ notions of sanitation were nonexistent and a day later I became ill and ate next to nothing for two days. I pretended I had altitude sickness so as not to make them feel bad.

Continuing towards Tibet,  tho still about 200km from the border, I stayed in a town on a high grassy plateau with snowy peaks all around (pic to follow). Yaks everywhere. The men ride around on motorbikes with tassels streaming from the handlebars,  wearing shades and cowboy hats. They look like Tibetan Elvises. 

Some yaks


It really felt like the Wild West. I never expected to go to Tibet. It was cool. And the antipathy to china was palpable. The Chinese tourists were not popular. I talked to a young woman reading the Dalai Lama’s autobiography,  in English. It’s banned of course and she hid the book whenever any chinese were nearby


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in Chengdu

Sichuanese people have a reputation in the rest of China for being lazy. It’s true that while elsewhere everyone is rushing about all the time,  in Chengdu they like to sit around shooting the breeze in tea houses in the park


I liked doing that too. The tea comes Iin the form of a cup containing leaves, plus a large thermos for refills. All the tea houses were closed during the Cultural Revolution,  being considered by Mao’s supporters as bourgeois and anti-revolutionary. Happily they came back in the 80s.

II’m not sure what happened to the other park activities but since pretty much anything that might fall in the category of fun was outlawed, there probably weren’t any people dancing


Or drawing with water


Even grass and flowers were considered too much and were torn up, and lots

 of historic buildings went too. That last part has continued,  in a different way. A local guide told me that until about 2000 he took people on walking tours around the city’s traditional streets. Now they are all gone, replaced by tower blocks and offices. 

It’s still a lovely place, though. Also going on in the parks was badminton, Chinese opera singing, group singing, storytelling,  karaoke and people spinning large metal tops by cracking a whip around them.

Activity everywhere and a total cacophony of competing music systems. Apart from the tea house aficionados, seems like even when they’re being lazy the Sichuanese are busy