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Spoke Notes Stamp

Peter Snow Cao
Spoke Notes

Lebrang Monastery
Copyright © Peter Snow Cao, 1998.

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | Introduction | South Korea | Hong Kong | Macao | China | India | Pakistan | China, Again

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | Introduction | On the Road Again | Pakistan | Roasting in Islamabad | Monsoon Washout | Breakup in Gilgit | Khunjerab Pass | Kashgar | Urumqi | Lanzhou in September | Labrang Monastery | Zoige, Sichuan | Farmhouse Family | True Love in Chengdu

Xiahe (Lebrang)
Today makes 28 months on the road. I made it to Xiahe, up hill and all and in about eight hours. It was tiring, but not too hard. It felt good to put in a long day. But I think it was a bit too long for enjoying the places I passed through. About 40 km from Linxia, I saw my first Tibetan Buddhist stupa in China. There were a few people about, including an old monk doing prostrations around, around, and around the stupa. I was happy to see it. I arrived in Xiahe and was spotted by two German women from Lanzhou. It was nice to see some familiar faces after a long day.

Labrang Monastery

I woke up early and went with a group of five Westerners to the temple to watch the morning prayers. The temple was incredibly ornate. The yellow hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism is alive and well here. It was interesting and quite a bit like McLeod Ganj, India. Seeing all the traditional Tibetans in their traditional clothes was very good.

However, I think I must be getting burned out on travelling. I keep hearing comments from other long-term travelers about how they are losing their steam for the sights. When they see people just starting out they are so fresh and full of energy. Now my mind is so burned out on it all that I have no desired to write in my diary or letters to friends and family. Is it another phase I'm going through, or is it something more permanent?

A productive day in spite of the cold weather. I wrote six postcards and a letter to Elizabeth, plus I traded my heavy Russian stove for a tiger eye stone, a silver Mao coin, and 15Y. I think it was a fairly good trade. I'm happy to get rid of it, as I don't think I'll need it again. There always seems to be good food everywhere I go.

In my letter to Elizabeth, I told her of my current feelings of being "touristed out". And although I consider myself a traveler, it is impossible in Asia not to be also a tourist. I feel like I'm burned out on being the object of so much attention if that can be possible. Maybe it is what celebrities experience and why they value their privacy so much. At this point I feel like it is time to wind things up and start heading home, perhaps before Christmas. A probable plan would be to head to Chengdu by bike and maybe Dali, then go to Hong Kong. I could see about getting more money, visas, and tickets on the Trans-Siberian or Trans-Mongolian trains to Poland or Berlin. I could go visit Uli and friends in Europe and fly home when I'm ready.

The long-term plan of going to Thailand, India and Europe and getting home in a year is too ambitious and I think I would use up all my money before I finished. This would mean I would have to start working right away. That is not a pleasant prospect. In spite of the bad weather I'll encounter, I think it is the right course of action. Two and a half years on the road is enough.

On the Road
After a lovely breakfast with the Muslim family, I took off up the valley of Xiahe (Lebrang). The Chinese are in the process of widening the road from about 15 km form Xiahe to the pass at 34 km. It was very rough, exhausting, and frustrating riding although the landscape seemed truly miraculous. The soft gentle treeless hills and grasslands are covered with the most perfect autumn colors. And the light seems to intensify the visual orgy. Yaks, dzos, sheep and horses are grazing in the hills. Small adobe villages of Tibetans appear regularly. Near the pass a cluster of Tibetan nomads were camped in their yak fur brown/black tents.

I stopped to photograph a family packing up and moving out using a walking tractor. It wasn't nearly as picturesque as the Cossacks at Heavenly Lake moving using the huge bullocks. The industrialized world is making an impact on their lives. I stood there a while and watched them. They all stopped loading the tractor and started watching me. We waved to each other and the women motioned for me to come to their tent, an invitation! What a special treat that was.

The man of the family was very kind and hospitable. He offered me something to eat. I swear he could read my mind. I gratefully accepted and was ushered inside their tent. It seemed almost square inside. There was an old man sitting in the corner. The centerpiece of the tent was the fire and adobe made stove/oven where they made delicious round heavy white bread. There was also a butter churn for making cheese and butter. I was given a tea bowl with butter, tsampa (finely ground roasted barley) and cheese and then filled with hot water. It was really great having a hunk of bread to dip in the "tea" as the hot water melted the yak butter that was absorbed by the bread. They also had me try tsampa "straight up". It was a difficult thing to master having only had it once before in India. Tsampa is an extremely fine powder of roasted barley that when put in the mouth instantly absorbs all the moisture, forcing you to drink something immediately. I found it impossible to eat with my fingers without getting it all over the place. While trying to put in my mouth I accidentally inhaled some tsampa and it threw into a coughing fit, which the family thought, was hilarious

Later, an older woman from another family came by and indicated that she needed medicine for a headache. I gave her about 10 aspirin and tried to tell her that adults are to take two pills and children are to take one pill. I hope she understood.

Then the family wanted me to take a photo, but only of their son by my bike. I did and tried to talk them into letting me take one of all of them, but they wouldn't agree. The women were fascinating with all their jewelry and well worn and adorned clothes. We parted and I offered to pay for the food, but the man wouldn't have it. It is very true that those that have the least are the most generous.

Miles from nowhere, 80 km - What a great day! It is almost dark at my little hideaway. Three Tibetans on horseback spotted me at my first choice and they seemed to indicate that I wasn't welcome to stay there. The dude in charge seemed to be very drunk so I it was the liquor talking.

I continued riding for a total of 65 km. I ended up in a small town with a rather large monastery. There were several water wheels set up along the streams I passed with the Tibetan phrase "Om Mani Padme Hum" painted on them, endless spinning their wishes to the world. An old monk was laying by the stream tapping the water surface with a pyramid-shaped object, mostly likely with the same phrase imprinted on the bottom so as to carry the message down stream, and out to sea.

At the town I stopped to get a bowl of noodles (and I was disgusted with myself for not specifying a meatless dish). Instantly there was a crowd of mostly children surrounding the bike and me. They were peering in the window and playing with the bike. When they started to open the panniers I decided that was enough and tried to get control of the situation. Whenever I made a move toward them they backed off. However, they returned as quickly as I withdrew. It was a tense situation. It is now too dark to write anymore. I hope it doesn't rain.

Miles from Nowhere Again, But This is Where It is at
Regardless of what the political boundaries call it, this is eastern Tibet (the Chinese arbitrarily have drawn the Sichuan province line to include this area). The rolling treeless grassland hills with a range of snow covered mountains as a backdrop. The silence is broken only by occasional Tibetan voices, often miles away, tending their herds.

Rooftop of the world, and it feels like winter has begun. It has been very chilly all day today as well as being sunless.

Last night I was awakened many times in my makeshift campsite by a cheeky field mouse who apparently had no fear of people. He began by grabbing a hunk of my hair and giving it a good yank. Then he scratched and gnawed at my pad. I must have parked on top of or near his house. I thought he might discover the loaf of bread I had sitting on top of my packs and invite the whole clan for an impromptu feast. Fortunately that didn't occur.

While I was taking a dump behind some bushes, a young Tibetan couple came whizzing by on a bike come down form the pass. The eagle eyes of the woman that seem to be a trait of all Asians spotted me. A few minutes later, as I was finishing up with Mother Nature, the young man came to investigate. He seemed very surprised to see me and when he came into my camp and saw I spent the night there, and caused no harm, he dropped the two large rocks he was carrying. I was a bit startled and relieved at the same time. After the usual examination of my things, he left smiling.

On hitting the road, I met up with an older Tibetan man on a bike. We rode together about 20 km. He asked me all sorts of things, including whether I have seen the Dali Lama. He was quite impressed when I told him I had.

We later came up on some Chinese road workers and he held up his little finger and licked it showing his dislike for the Chinese. He also stuck out his thumb and tongue to me on several occasions, a gesture I have heard means he likes what he sees.

Prayers at the Pass

Top of the Pass
What an incredible view! And combined with a beautiful sunny day makes me very glad I didn't accept the several offers for lifts. The road is unpaved and rough and the climb to the pass was very steep, but the rewards more than outweigh the difficulties. The pass is "littered" with small squares of paper with the drawing of a horse and several other Tibetan symbols. There is also a rock with "Om Mani Padme Hum" inscribed at the crest as well as several lines of Tibetan prayer flags running up the ridge toward the crest. Seeing is feeling and I definitely feel the power of this place. It is so magical. In one side of the pass are the rolling green hills with snowy mountain peaks in the background. On the other side, a vast golden yellow and burnt red plain of marshy flat land that spreads out as far as the eye can see.

"Om Mani Padme Hum."
Tibetan prayer ("Praise to the Jewel oat he Heart of the Lotus")

Last night I set up camp with my rain poncho as a windbreaker and slept near the open end. There was a heavy frost that built up as thick as snow got everything that was exposed got wet. I had several dreams (none of which I remember now, of course) but I did wake up for the most spectacular sunrise I have ever seen. The fog was floating in and out the valleys, which brought some things into clear view and obscured others. The light was wonderful.

After break camp, I started down the pass, a very cold and foggy ride. After a few kilometers I passed some Tibetan tents. I stopped and was met by a Tibetan who invited my to join him for some food, which I accepted. Three men were harvesting hay in the adjacent field and it was breakfast time. Once again, I had butter tea, tsampa, cheese and noodle stew. I had no chopsticks to eat with, so the Tibetan found some sticks and shaved the ends with his knife for me to use. This time my host showed me how to turn the tsampa flour into a thick dough with my hands in butter bowl and then formed it into small balls and popped into the mouth with relish. It made a very satisfying meal.

They asked about the Dali Lama, like nearly all Tibetans and condemned the Chinese. It was a very warm experience.

On to  Zoige, Sichuan

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | Introduction | On the Road Again | Pakistan | Roasting in Islamabad | Monsoon Washout | Breakup in Gilgit | Khunjerab Pass | Kashgar | Urumqi | Lanzhou in September | Labrang Monastery | Zoige, Sichuan | Farmhouse Family | True Love in Chengdu

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