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.
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