Amazing. Just three days have past since we arrived in NEPAL!
And what can I say... Such a change to China. It is very surreal. But I have to stop now, otherwise I will post about Nepal instead of China which would be very rude because there is a great story to tell about the Middle Kingdom. About our travel there anyway.
After our last post from Xinjiang, Chinas biggest province in the far west, we traveled several thousands of kilometres. About Xinjiang I have to tell that it is so far away from the east coast and all the more developed provinces that even some Chinese people we met on the road, did not know it. And if you tell them Urumqi (Xinjiang's capital) those people might nod like they remember something from their school days.
We experienced that even the Chinese notes we had written down, are sometimes not useful in this province, because many Uighur people do not speak Mandarin.
We got stared at like in a zoo and laughed at and smiled at. We took loads of pictures with people's smartphones, felt once again welcomed in a very friendly way, especially when they found out that we are German. Most of the people around the world (in those parts we saw) all seemed to love Germany. Even though, Chinese did not talk about Football or politics, they talked a lot about German cars and, later on our travel through China, also about German beer. (Anyway, most of their Volkswagen cars have not even been produced in Germany, do not even exist on German roads).
A funny thing was, that if officials checked our documents, they could not solve the riddle of our origin and it could happen, that after a few minutes of guessing and looking they would ask us with their shoulders pulled up: "Where are you from?" - The German passport has no Chinese translation in it, and "Germany" is as unfilmiliar as "Deutschland" to most of them. When we explained in our (only) well trained sentence "Women shi degvoren" (We are Germans) they burst out in excitement!
Anyway, this was all still last year - after the Chinese calendar. We had the chance to experience how the Chinese people celebrate their biggest party and where just in the middle of it, in Dunhuang, Gansu, not far away from the Gobi Desert. Chinese New Year which the Chinese call Spring Festival is becoming more and more popular also to the western world, although it will never be the same like in China itself.
Unfortunately (sometimes I think 'fortunately'!) we haven't been in a bigger city where there are big street festivals held, with dragons and music and fire crackers and fireworks and everything you might imagine if you think of Chinese New Year. That did not happen in Dunhuang, which is a very sleepy, cute place in the middle of nowhere.
In Dunhuang we met the first fellow travelers after three weeks being only among Chinese (or better: Uighurs). Anyway, as nice as it was to meet Mads and Mathilde from Denmark, their information that Tibet is closed to foreigners changed a whole lot in our travel schedule. Not that we had one so far, but now that we knew, there were just another one and a half months to the Holi Festival of the colours in the north of India, we had to create one and think of another way to reach India without crossing Tibet and Nepal.
For those who are not that familiar with the geographical situation that we got stuck in:
India has no direct borders with China. The only one that exists on paper is the one in the far west in Xinjiang province in the border area with Pakistan, called Kashmir, where we did not like to travel, as it is said not to be safe (although we heard different stories as well).
That meant, we had to cross another country. Nepal was out of the game, since we could reach it only if we arrive from Tibet. Also Nepal has no border with China. - "What a pity", we thought!
The other way leads through Burma, a very interesting country, especially now that it opens up to foreigners more and more. We did a lot of research on 'if' and 'how' it was possible to go from China through Burma into India. And we found out that (although the borders that exist are only open to traders) it IS possible to go into Burma by land, crossing Huili border checkpoint. But for this a special permission was required, which could be issued in Kunming, Yunnan. - At that time this was about four or more thousand kilometres away.
A quick look at the calender showed that we would need a lot more time than one and a half months. - Waiting until we get the special permit, crossing into Myanmar, rushing through the country, getting a Visa for India, getting a special permission to cross the other border into India, hiring a guide on either side, crossing Nagaland - without actually enjoying to be there.
So, what to do? Forget about the Holi and forget about meeting our friends?
- We were kind of heading for the Holi Festival already in Iran, where we could have stayed for another month or so.
The only way was to take a flight, we thought. Against our principle.
We checked prices, checked flights and booked it. For the end of February. A flight from Kunming, Yunnan, China to Kathmandu, Nepal. That meant, we could reach Nepal, arrive in India on time for the Holi Festival in Nepal, we could meet our friend Isaac and it also meant more time in China. It came with a schedule. We sent out CouchSuring requests for the big cities that we wanted to visit on the way to Kunming.
We hitched a ride to Jiayuguan in Gansu province, rented bikes and cycled around to see a bit of the "Great Wall". At first we saw a very dissapointing part and later we found quite a big part of it, which was rebuilt in 1979. But as it always seems to be, around it were many modern facilities: Big power plants and an artificial ski slope. In this surrounding it felt quite strange to see this ancient site, which was constructed in the early years of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
From Jiayuguan we were lucky to get a free ride again and arrived in Zhangye, Gansu, where we visited the Giant Buddha Temple - which was the first Buddhist Temple we entered - and saw the biggest chinese wooden indoor Sleeping Buddha!
One month had passed since we left Kyrgyzstan. We had seen mostly desert and plain countryside. No big trees, no changing landscape. The mountains around Turpan were impressive, though not more than what we had seen around the Kyrgyz-Chinese border. - I know, it sounds very spoiled, but when you travel for one month, several thousands of kilometres, it is just a very new thing to me, to still be in the same environment, to still be in the same country!
We arrived in Xining, Qinghai by bus (we had booked the wrong ticket...but it turned out even better in the end!) and met Tanna, who hosted us for two days in the capital of Qinghai, a city of 2.2 million people - a small city for Chinese people, a big one for us. We enjoyed some western-like moments in a small café, experienced the biggest muslim friday prayer since we left Iran and continued our travel to Tongren, a Tibetan town south of Xining.
It was the first place for us to experience Tibetan culture. Their fashion, their style - way more enjoyable for us to see than the urban style of ordinary chinese people. We saw the great Rongwu Temple, a lot of Tibetan monks and were very surprised what people bring to give to Buddha: Sprite, candy, bread and loads more.
Another Tibetan place we visited the next day. We went to Xiahe, back into Gansu.
There we could see many foreigners, we found many english speaking Chinese and a very colourful mix of cultures. Chinese, muslim and tibetan people live all gathered together in a valley that spreads out to more than seven kilometre along the rivers Daxia and Zhao. The Tibetan quarter is next to the huge area of the Labrang monestery with a lot of temples and chortens (place for buddhist meditation), surrounded by a long walk with prayer wheels that Buddhists call Kora.
The only downpoint in Xiahe were the Chinese tourist groups that arrived with two or more hightech cameras each which they held shamelessly in monks faces, a pitiful sign of their missing respect.
From Xiahe we took a bus to Gansus capital Lanzhou, one of the most air polluted cities in China, although it is a quite small city with around 3.6 million inhabitants - a city as big as Berlin! We were welcomed by a family of musicians. We were welcomed as guests from the "country of Beethoven" and got invited for a very delicious chinese homemade dinner.
We left by train to Tianshui, after the freeway was closed due to "heavy snowfall" and no busses left the city. The temperature had not dropped since Kyrgyzstan. It was constantly cold and constantly sunny until we reached Lanzhou. It was the beginning of a cloudy period.
In the small town of Tianshui (which is actually to towns, about half an hour away from each other) we saw the first Taoist Temple on our travel and we were happy to participate a taoist celebration.
We left to the biggest city in China so far, to Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province, world wide known for the "Great Warriors of the Terracotta Army". We had the chance to do Couchsurfing again and met a nice family who hosted us for a few days. We cooked German food, ate spicy Hot Pot and tried also a lot of street food in the muslim quarter of Xi'an's old town, which is close to the Bell and Drum Tower - the most famous sights in Xi'an city. The Terracotta Army is about one hour outside the city and a very touristy place.
We had a price limit and were hoping for student or off-season discounts. They did have neither the first nor the second - and we did not see the over eight thousand warriors and horses - each one built in a unique way. We decided to save the money and spend it for some breaks in small Cafés that we usually would not have due to the money.
A little dissapointed our road went south towards Chengdu, Sichuan - "The kitchen of China". Sichuan is well known for their spicy food - their chicken and their hotpot. It was possibly the coldest period we had in China. We were couchsurfing with Yiou in a nice apartment outside the centre without central heating and had to wear two pullovers to stay warm. At daytime it was even warmer outside. It was still very pleasent and we learned a lot about Chinese education and started to understand...
The first thing we saw before entering the city were the green fields, grasslands and flowers - infront of the windows of the train. It felt amazing.
Chengdu was just another trainride away from Kunming. This time we took a hard sleeper train through the night - which sounds less comfortable than it is. It was by far the most relaxing train ride in China - if not on the whole trip.
In Kunming we could wear T-shirts. It was finally spring! We checked in the Hump Youth Hostel, met many nice people there and had a couple of good nights out with them. We changed locations and moved to Olaf and Anne, a german couple who live and work in Kunming for eight months already. They were just another reason to feel good in this place. We had a beautiful time with coffee on rooftop cafes and had great talks with Elad from Israel, Cathy from South Africa, Rene from Germany/Rome or Andrea from Spain. It felt nothing but great to meet people with interesting backgrounds and stories!
So, yeah, it was hard to leave Kunming. But we did not leave without dancing with Chinese people - a modern way of recreation in public parks. An amazing and hilarious thing to watch - and participate!
We had such a good time in Kunming and I hope to be back soon! It is definitely a very relaxing place in China and somehow I'm sad that we found this place only so late. There are tons of other places that I want to visit in this country but as always, it is just another reason to come back! We've met great people, seen beautiful places and our hearts "grew" a lot! On the other hand I experienced how it feels like to be lost, without language, without the ability to read or write, sometimes even hand and feet did not work as a way of communication. So of course, I felt frustrated a couple of times - as if that would change anything - It didn't! I am thankful for all the information that we got from Michael, and also all the people we met on the road, that shared their time with us and helped us! I am glad to continue the travel, it is good to leave a country in peace and with the wish to return. Most of all, with the temperature also my love for China rose and so I saw a whole lot of things with different eyes.
'Xie Xie!' and 'Zaijian Zhongguo!'
|In the Gobi Desert near Dunhuang, Gansu.|
|Definitely one of the most beautiful places in the West of China|
|Spring Festival fireworks. The fire crackers were amazingly loud, too...|
|The most preferable street food! For us anway! Fried veg or meat on sticks in kebab-like bread with a lot of spices. Nice.|
|Hitch hiking in Chinese can closest be described with "da bian che"|
|Big factories are just one reason for the smog in China - Seen in Jiayuguan, Gansu.|
|"Chinese Tourism" on the Great Wall in Jiayuguan|
|Entrance to the Giant Buddha Temple in Zhangye|
|Sleeping Buddha with Sun Wheel|
|I really love the ancient chinese architecture.|
|Mostly grey. - On the way to Xining, Qinghai.|
|New buildings are build inside a few months, the infrastructure of cities change extremly fast. Here: the new train station in Xining. And mostly aesthetic reasons do not apply.|
|Chicken fresh market.|
|Muslim friday prayer in Xining, Qinghai.|
|Many cleaning tools he sells from his bicycle. - Xining.|
|Chinese cities will never be dark. - Xining.|
|Tibetans - Rongwo Monestery in Tongren, Qinghai.|
|Tibetan Monks and Ladies infront of the prayer wheels - Tongren|
(More pictures coming soon!)
Regards, Elmi (+Emma) from Kathmandu!