In Leichhardts Footsteps
Two Lipsticks and a Lover
The Alchemist
Symphony of Australia
Rock Chicks
My Pelvic Flaw
Life in His Hands
The Lives Of Abused and Battered Women
Now That He's Gone
The Remembering
Hold It Sister
Happy Healthy Kids
Is it in the Genes?
Does a High Life Count?
History of Valentines Day
The Battleground of Somme
Shaolin Kungfu
Greenpeace & 'Espy' Tour
The Bucket List
Cheating Men
Male Menopause
Satisfying Sex
It's Rubbish
Let's Talk About It
Juggling it All
Friendship
What is a Grandmother
Nanny - I love it !
A Friend Indeed
Adult Kids at Home
The Wisest Woman
Volunteering Children
Turning 50
What Wise Women Want
Australian Christmas
French Christmas
Lets have a Tea Party
Eat Outdoors and Relax
At Your Table
Arthurs Restaurant
Coeliac Disease
Hot Rocks
Pay Up or Pay for It
Learn for Free
Lead Light or Stained Reputation
Hells Angels
Flying High
Wedding Celebrant
New Words
Memory Workout
Puppy Training
Why do Some women do Heaps!!
Tips For Organising - Declutter
Volunteering - Rewards for All
Your Super!
Women and their hobbies
Green Clean
Miracle of Coconut Oil
Beetroot is Tops
Recipes
Gluten Free Recipes
Cairns
Magical Lake Eyre
Coastal Walk - Sydney
Bush Walk in Manly!
Royal National Park
Norman Lindsay Gallery
Indulgent Beach Break
Heritage Walk - Sydney
Alcatraz
Sequoias
Monument Valley USA
New Zealand
Florence in a Bath Chair
"Plain" Travel
"Pain" Travel
Shangrila Laddakh
I go Crazy in Paris
Volcano Villarrica
Climbing Mt Kinabalu
Exotic Vietnam
Camel Ride in the Sahara
Trekking is Fun!
Shangrila in Laddakh
I go Crazy in Paris
San Diego Zoo
Antartica
Turkey and Israel
Yunnan China
Did I go to Morocco with Karl Pilkington
1. Trek in Nepal To Lukla
2. Trek in Nepal Lukla to Phadking
3. Trek in Nepal Phadking to Monjo
4. Trek in Nepal Monjo to Namche
5. Trek in Nepal Namche Bazaar
6. Trek in Nepal Namche to Mahang
7. Trek in Nepal - Mahang to Dole
8. Trek in Nepal - Dole to Macchermo
9. Trek in Nepal - Machhermo to Gokyo
10. Trek in Nepal - Up Gokyo Peak
Stay at Home Children
Stay At Home Children
Nanna's Love
Extended Family
Grandmothers
Volunteering Children
Gift of Life
Seniors Club

            
            

Yunnan China

YUNNAN PROVINCE 

I want to take you on a journey and I hope it will give you a step into a Chinese world that is a little bit off the beaten track.  

Travel broadens your horizons.....and that is exactly where I am going to take you.....to Shangri-la and Lost Horizons.   

 
           Mr G whirls me away on another adventure  

 Mr G decided that China was our destination of choice this year.  We spent 14 glorious days in the Yunnan Province the south-west corner of China, bordering onto Burma and Tibet Central. 

 
 Across the city - note the solar power on all those buildings!

Yunnan is noted for a very high level of ethnic diversity. It has the highest number of ethnic groups among all provinces and autonomous regions in China.

Twenty-five are found in Yunnan including the Yi, Bai, Hani, Tai, Dai, Miao, Lisu, Hui, Lahu, Va, Nakhi, Yao, Tibetan, Jingpo, Blang, Pumi, Nu, Achang, Jinuo, Mongolian, Derung, Manchu, Shui and Buvei and there are more!  They all have their own unique appearance, customs and outfits.  And then there are Hat colours as well!!! I never got to grips with what that was all about!


             Beautiful 'long sleeve' ethnic dancing 

To me all of these people and their customs were delightful, the food was fresh and excellent, the scenery was beautiful and I actually came away from this holiday with a whole new feel about China.  I liked it enormously.


                                   Yum Yum

It was bustling, thriving, busy and bursting at the seams with enterprise and growth. 

 
     Kunming with its ancient pagodas

But the China I have just seen will be non-existent in 10 years as roads open up hidden valleys and far off places and the modern world seeps in.

Thankfully the Chinese can now see the value of saving the past and restoration and renovation is everywhere.  The ‘old’ part of any town is essential tourist viewing.

 KUNMING

The old and new - a mish mash of cultural architecture

We flew into Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, on the start of our 2 week adventure tour.  We met the other person on our trip. Gail was from Western Australia and was travelling without her husband.  Ma, our guide, took us on a couple of guided tours.

We were staying a the Green Lake View Hotel (which ironically had no view of the lake) unlike the Green Lake Hotel which was perched on its edge!!   

 YUAN TONG TEMPLE


             Yuan Tong Temple and Goldfish paradise

Ma collected us from the Hotel and we took a short drive to Yuan Tong Temple.  It is more than 1200 years old and the largest temple in Kunming.  It is a destination for pilgrims from all over the world, and many were there they day we visited!

The Temple precinct is an unusual design as it sits on a declining slope and not an ascending one which is typical of Chinese Buddhist temples, and quite something I had never noticed before!!!


               Make way!  Incense lighters galore!

We walked off the busy road full of noise, cars and beggars and down a pretty pathway to an open area where a choir, orchestra and dance troops were entertaining the crowds.  We were here on a festival day and were catapulted into a frenzy of celebration!  Ma said it was Buddha’s birthday but whatever it was, the place was absolutely throbbing with people. 

Then we made our way to the main temple area where a huge pool surrounded a small temple - like a moat. The pool is reserved for releasing captive fish and we stood and watched as many devotees spilled the contents of their plastic bags into the water.  

Many happy gold fish live there and relieved sinners walk free.   


     Hot cauldrons of fire and as the devoted take aim

This area was also busy with people lighting candles to place on large timber altars.  They also lit great bundles of incense and tossed them onto huge piping hot caldrons.  I decided to give it ago.  So with incense lit, I bowed in all directions naming my loved ones as you do.  Then, with much hustling and bustling I tried to get near the mass of smoke to fling my incense sticks. Off they flew onto the top of the pile! Great shot!

The heat from the caldron was positively terrifying though.  One deft shove from the throng would have had me in the burns unit for years.
 

BAMBOO TEMPLE

The beautiful courtyard of Qiongzhu Temple rendered un-beautiful for a second as a Chinese woman cut her toenails while sitting on one of those little seats. 

The next temple we visited was the15th century Qiongzhu Temple was first built in the Tang Dynasty (618–907).

Ma told us, after a huge festival, the main temple was burnt to the ground.  Apparently the incense, decorations and paper money notes ignited in the middle of the night and caused an inferno.  

Having just visited the other temple I could see exactly how this could have happened.  

A new Temple has been now been erected out of concrete!!! Smart move I must say. The clever Chinese have made sure it still looks the real McCoy too with huge 'timber' like beams and many exquisite paintings! 


       A sneaky look at the Arhats sitting in the window

Qiongzhu Temple is best known for something really different.   There are 500 life size, surrealistic, coloured clay sculptures of Erhats, Arhats or lohans.  

These are Buddha images and animals, made in the 19th century by a Chinese Sculptor Li Guangxio and 4 of his students.  They are crammed on three tiers of three smaller temples in the surrounding grounds.  It was quite eerie being surrounded by these looming and animated figures. All I can say is it must have been such fun creating such masterpieces!  Each of the figures is unique: some happy, angry, sad, funny and so on.  Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside!

Ma said we should choose an Arhat that we were particularly drawn to and then start counting clockwise the number of years old we were.   Whoever we landed on, then that would forever be our special Arhat and ‘our life’!  Wow! Got to be in it I thought.  I started counting and landed on a saintly looking (too good to be true) kindly, happy and sweet monk who looked entirely content.  Well what can I say!!!! 

Mr G decided to bypass the counting business and just chose a very serious chap with a long wispy beard (well that works for me) and Gail chose a fiery and crazy looking monk who was flaying a book!!(Obviously that spoke to her!)


     The bearded one and his kindly saint!

We saw many wonderful things in this lovely city, the beautiful Green Lake Park;

 
  Green Lake magic in the middle of down town Kunming

The Provincial Museum cram packed with Yunnan's fascinating history;

A forbidden museum photograph - ooophs

The old town just like yesteryear

     Smack in the middle of the high rise

 and so much more........


We started our journey of the tastes of China there too.  Crossing the Bridge Noodles were a must!  The food was fantastic but I could see that noodles would be the order of the day - everyday!  


              Noodle making the authentic way 

OVERNIGHT SLEEPER TRAIN

 

        Mr G and the triple bunker!!

Ha! What a scream!  

We left Kunming on the overnight sleeper train destined for Dali.  Ma dropped us off late at night where we were left to the mercy of the Chinese Railway system, a ticket that we could not read and a platform full of people who could not speak English. 

We managed to work out the number of the ‘Gate’ the train was departing only because we knew what time it was supposed to leave! 

When the time was right, the passengers, including us, raced down the stairs like a herd of mad escapees hauling our heavy baggage.  We had no idea what we were doing?  And we were hoping the train was actually ours!  I have never seen such a long train.  How on earth would we know which carriage to enter!

Ma had kindly written us a note in Chinese which said something like: 'Please help these Australian passengers who can only speak English.  Help them to their carriage please?’  

Oh yes were working with ‘high tech’ here!  We thrust the note at the guard and she pointed up the platform – so we weaved our way through all the hundreds of people while trying to locate our carriage.   We tried another guard and he pointed back down the platform.  So we wove our way back to the middle of the train.   We reached another guard who pointed back up the train. 

This was getting a tinsy winsy bit annoying.  By that stage most people were on the train so out of fear of being left behind we leapt in the next open door. Then began the nightmare situation of trying to find our sleeper beds!  As we inched down the carriages asking passengers to point us in the right direction. 

Eventually we found our beds, we think! There was a hall running down one side of the train and six bunk beds per cubicle opened to the hall.  It was a very, very intimate arrangement. 

We managed to stow our luggage on racks above the hallway and this was no mean feat considering we could barely lift our bags.  I prayed the racks would hang together because if they had snapped, anyone standing below would have been killed.

We climbed into our beds.  Fortunately Mr G and I had bottom bunks.   This would allow our toilet visits a bit easier.  When I eventually summoned up the courage to visit it – out of desperation really, it was surprisingly OK.  A sleeper bunk should really be named ‘a lie down’ seat though.  Sleep was pretty much non existent!

What was really, really adorable though was the young ‘just married’ couple (they looked about 16) who had unfortunately scored the top two bunks.  After hauling themselves up the notch ladder and onto beds inches from the ceiling, they held hands across the gap all night….Oh Sweet, sweet young love! Mr G and I are so far beyond that sadly and all we hoped for was the kind hand of sleep!

 DALI

 
      Down old Dali town - look no people!!!! 

We arrived safely at the train station in the ancient city of Dali, 300 kilometres northwest of Kunming.  It sits on a fertile plateau with the picturesque Erhai Lake on one side and the Canghan Mountains, always snow covered, and it is so very pretty.

At 6am we were met by our new guide Tashi and driver Hur.  If first impressions were anything, I am sure they would have been pretty horrified to see their new tourist group – rag taggle and exhausted from lack of sleep.  Animated we were not!  

We were immediately driven to Weisham, a historic town with a fantastic mansion tucked away in the main street (often used in films). 

 
 We take a walk down the main street of the old town of Weisham

But first on the agenda was breakfast- hot chilli noodles and dumplings.  This could get some getting used to!!!  Chillies certainly get the blood rushing to your head though and you don’t need to clean your teeth after either!

 
            Inside the old mansion

Our adrenalin ramped up during the day and we were getting to know our guide and driver better.  Tashi, Tibetan was born and thankfully spoke impeccable English.  Our driver Hur, whose stint in the Chinese army certainly had us grateful for that training as it was sorely needed during our adventures.  

 
     Dali Hotel - our room is the window on the right

We were taken to our hotel in Dali for 2 night’s accommodation.  After checking out the facilities, we went out to check out the old town – there’s always an old town!   It is beautifully set on the Erhai Lake and is quite charming.  Rows of streets filled with shop after shop and and eager sales people.


Monkey Magic and who is Pigsy! Oink Oink!

We ducked into Café 88 for a Mr G’s dose of coffee and cake.  While we are there a film crew came in..  There were sound people and producers, a couple of cameras and then ‘the stars’ flourished in.  They sat at the next table and of course we got chatting. 


Daniel, a Brit living in Shanghai, was a producer and making a documentary about foreigners running their own businesses in Dali – you know the sort of thing, when, why, and who!!!  This chap, Daniel, was Hollywood looking and his divine co-star was Chinese. 

I said ‘you are both absolutely stunning’

He said ‘someone asked us if we were engaged and I said no we were just colleagues’ 

And so I said “Well you have to start somewhere’

 
Daniel and his colleague - I wonder if they are engaged yet!

The look of adoration I got from the Chinese temptress it was plain to see I was on the same page as her!  Anyhow, the upshot is we got filmed and might we seen in some far flung country.

Tashi and Hur took us on a tour to the other side of the Lake which meant we got to see the fancy apartments being built by the wealthy as holiday homes (or the rich merchants from the old town – yes we were fleeced left, right and centre).   We stopped on the way at the flower market.  This was an interesting interlude where Tashi bought himself an enormously long pottery plant pot with a smaller one inside.  Thinking of our already packed boot area

I said 'Who is nursing that for the rest of the trip, Ha Ha Ha!”

That pot had its own story but despite everything it arrived at Tashi’s home, hundreds of kilometres away in Shangri-la, unbroken and I really don’t know how!


 
         Yet another temple

On the other side of the lake was a very nice temple built high on the hill.  We had to climb (as you do) hundreds of steps to look out from the top but to also look squarely in the face of the Buddha.  The view would have awe-inspiring had the smog/fog/haze or whatever it was had been absent.  However, we could just see across the water to Dali.
 

         The stunning view back across to Dali
 
After an hour or two of enjoying this special place we jumped in ferry boat and spent the next half hour or so chugging back to town across the water.

 
     All aboard - I really dig the little pagoda sitting area!

We shopped til we dropped in Dali and ate gorgeous throbbingly fresh food.  Now I get home and find out the Chinese are overdosing their crops with fertiliser so much so, that things such as water melons are growing so fast and going off like bombs!!!   Hopefully I won’t have suffered any ill effects from such a fertiliser ingredient! I haven't grown any taller so far!!

SHAXI

 
             Here I am in a little bit of heaven

Shaxi (pronounced Shah Shee) is a beautiful little gem, off the beaten road to most as they make their way up to Lijang.  But Shaxi is a treasure not to be missed. 

Its on the Southern Silk Road and has apparently been listed by the World Monuments Fund as one of the world´s 100 most endangered sites. 

 
           Our accommodation in the old town

It played an important role as a main trade station on the Tea Horse Route. 

We stayed in a family hotel just off the main square of the old town.  The building was the usual rabbit warren of rooms running off hallways and courtyards.   A large group of French people were arriving and took up all the usual accommodation, so Gail was escorted to another hotel and Mr G and I given a strange room off a side passage near the rear of the building. 

 'Oh my gosh’ I said as the door swung open.

 
           A little harem away from home!

On a small wooden platform to our right was a mattress taking up the whole room space.  Over the top and around the sides hung a white mosquito net, tied like the inside of a desert tent which all looked very romantic.  To the left was a reasonable sized bathroom completely tiled in slate and with shampoos/conditioners/body creams reminiscent of a large Hotel!!  There was just enough room to put our bags at the end of the bed but it really was a squeeze.  It was comfortable though and an absolute hoot!

 
 Shaxi town square - you can just about imagine the horse caravans coming through here

Because this town was on the Tea Horse Route, there are reminders everywhere.  The main square with its enormous tree smack in the middle has a museum on one side with relics from the past, and on the other side, a large renovated temple.  A couple of shops have prime position with their business right on the square.

 
    Now this is what I call 'having a holiday'

There was also a very nifty bar where we had a couple of evening drinks.  At dusk, sitting at an outside tables watching the people of Shaxi go about their business, while sipping a a whisky, is about one of the nicest things you can do.

 
                               Slipper making 

The road down to the square is lined with many shops, the most common being the embroidered satin slipper shops.  In fact Shaxi is the home of embroidered slippers.  Old singer sewing machines being masterfully executed over little pieces of material was absorbing to watch. 

I decided to see if I could get my jeans taken up.  Mr G said ‘good luck’ and sent me on my way.  None of these people say anything more than hello in English so it was gong to be an interesting experience.  The job was actually executed due to my amazing miming skills!  While ‘mum’ sewed away I spent 10 minutes teaching her son some English words.  Such fun and lots of laugher!

 
                    Little bridges of Shaxi

But the one thing that made Shaxi a real joy was the two minute walk down through the town Gates and out into the fields.  There, a large river runs along the back of the town traversed by the most glorious of ancient stone bridges.

 

           Down along the river and into the farmland

Majestic mountains surrounded the valley, small clutters of buildings in the distance were small villages, yellow mustard seed crops, yaks pulling ploughs, people riding bikes, women chatting as they tilled the rich earth….

I can’t really describe to you just how beautiful a scene this all was under a bright blue sky. 
 

 

This was stepping back a thousand years into a peaceful, quaint, and picturesque postcard.  We simply loved our time in Shaxi.

 
              Here you take the cow for a walk!

Hur drove us up the nearby mountain to see the Shizhong temple and Shibao Shan 7th Century Buddhist Cave Rock Carvings and because of their remoteness, they were saved from the destruction during the cultural revolution so they are truly genuine and quite beautiful. 

       “Sweet Dew” sits here with regal presence. 

    "Sweet Gigi" is about to walk down the mountain!

Then, instead of driving back with Hur to Shaxi, we walked all the way back down the mountain, passing by more stone carvings, until we reached finally reached the bottom, Hur beating us there by minutes.

 
      .............the long way down

And yes, of course I bought some slippers!!!  The largest men’s ones in brown!

 LIJANG – Oriental Venice

 
 Mr G gloves up and hopes the bird is lice free!

Our next destination was the amazing township of Lijang.

The Old Town of Lijiang is a well-preserved old city of ethnic minorities with a brilliant culture. On December 3rd, 1997, the Old Town of Lijiang was put in the list of the World's Relics by the World Cultural Heritage Commission of the UNESCO.


             The gorgeous roof tops of Lijang

Old Lijang has a history of more than 800 years and with its beautiful waterways, traditional ethnic culture and customs, stone bridges, willow trees, flowers and extraordinary buildings you could spend weeks here wandering around.   

 
            The waterwheels still grind away

Hit by the terrible earthquake a few years back though, a great deal of the ‘old town’ was destroyed – but you wouldn’t know it!!!  The old town has risen from the ground an exact replica and completely squeaky clean. 

This is really 'the' tourist town and it is packed with tourists, mostly Chinese.  A bit like a Disneyland mock up of an ancient village – but it actually is one!  Shops line every street and if you don’t succumb to a few purchases here you are incredibly strong. 

 
   At night Lijang comes alive with bright lights and music

We spent hours cruising the streets and yes, we got lost!  ‘It’s the fun thing to do in Lijang’, Tashi assured us! 

 
                      Dr Joseph Rock's home

We did some trips out of town to see the home of Dr Joseph Rock.  He was an explorer, geographer, photographer, linguist and botanist man from America and ensconced himself in this area for more than 20 years looking at all things ‘botanical’.  We were told his caravan expeditions could be 5 kilometres long, not a surprise when you find out he carried essentials like a complete set of silverware for his dining, and a rubber bath! 

His original homestead was filled with old photos of his amazing adventures.

He must have been very small though as his bed was minuscule.   Maybe that is why he felt at home here. 

WE VISIT DR HO

 
                      Dr Ho's very credible Clinic
   
Tashi took us to meet a world famous medicine man and herbalist, Dr Ho.  We walked up the steps into his little shop and were greeted profusely by his son also a Doctor.  As two British girls went through to Dr Ho’s office to have their consultation and we set about reading lots of photocopied paperwork extolling the greatness of the man…and I was suitably impressed.

 

     Dr Ho - a step into ancient cures

It was my turn to see him.  A big smile on his wizard like face, he shook my hand and took the pulse in both my wrists.  He asked me how old I was? 
“You are happy, not stressed!” He asked.   

I say that I am happy and not stressed.  He looks at my tongue and stays glued to my eyes.

He says ‘Menopause, you have circulation issue, for good sleep and circulation I will give you something’. 

Oh dear, I thought.  Does all that show on my face!!!

After rummaging around he brings in a scoop of green ground herbs and places it in a paper cone, carefully writes on the dosage with a paintbrush and ink.  After shaking hands with the entire family we say our farewells to Dr Ho.  Now that was a surreal experience!

I am a believer in natural things and the enormous stoush of remedy had me in a quandary though - should I actually take it given I did not exactly know what was in it?  That night Mr G insisted I at least try the stuff as he forked out a hefty donation for my consultation. 

I don’t know whether I was more scared of the luke warm water from a strange kettle in our hotel room or the ‘remedy’, but I gave it a go. 

I sipped my way through it praying I wouldn’t have any awful side effects – you know, of the toilet variety!  It didn't taste too bad and I was going OK until I got to the bottom of the cup and saw a large black hair. 

Was it Dr Ho’s, his wife’s or maybe a Yak?  Maybe it was a vital ingredient but I was a tad put off. 

          
  Dr Ho's very sweet wife

In the next room I could hear Gail coughing away.  Well, she had been coughing incessantly the whole trip but that night I was worried about her because she never stopped. 

In the morning she told me out of desperation she had drunk a glass of Dr Ho’s remedy to help the cough, and the powder got stuck in her throat and she nearly died!!  I do have to say right here in defense of Dr Ho that he did not give her the concoction for her cough!!!
  


                        A bag of herbs......

Anyhow
, I carried that remedy the whole trip until we had to pack our bags to return to AustraliaI was uncertain how I would get it back in, if the customs would truly believe it was herbal and not green dyed cocaine!!!

We left Lijang on route to Shangri-la but on the way we had a couple of very exciting stops.

 THE FIRST BEND IN THE YANGTZE RIVER

 
                           The elbow bend

We all know about the ‘first bend in the Yangtze, but to actually see the river in the flesh and blood was really exciting.  The river carves its way through probably thousands of kilometres but here in this spot in China it makes a complete bend that ferries the water back into China and beyond.

If it did not make such a mysterious manoeuvre it was have sent water through the valley we were standing in and straight on to Burma A huge Chinese water source would have vanished. 

 
    From the hill, spectacular views & long march statue

So this bend is highly important and a significant tourist spot.  At the little village we walk across the old bridge from yesteryear and take a hike up a flight of stairs to get 360 degree views of the surrounding country side. 

TIGER LEAPING GORGE or is that LEAPING TIGER GORGE!

 
               The most famous Gorge in the World

We drove about 100 kilometres northwest of Lijiang where the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge lies between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain

It is supposed to be the deepest gorge in the world but I am sure around the world there would be other contenders for the prize. It just didn’t seem all that deep to me! To its credit it has the amazing rushing waters of the Jingsha River and its famed ancient legend which says a tiger leapt across from one side of the gorge to the other.

Most of us have heard of this gorge which conjures up visions of narrow caverns and the rushing waters and it was certainly that.  But as the Chinese would have it, not only does it have an enormous new car park, but also a huge viewing platform and hundreds of neat wooden staircases to take you to the bottom to eyeball the frothing water. 

 
 There he is and if he truly made the jump - what a tiger!

Well, I know, it was good as it was dead set easy to walk down and up all these stairs but I think some of the romance was lost in the erection of these manmade buildings in such a place. Scrambling down cliff paths would have felt a whole lot better.  It felt a bit like a tourist attraction especially with the sculpture of the ‘leaping tiger’ on the other side of the valley.  But I did like that tiger!

SHANGRI-LA


Up into altitude and the scenery gets better and better
 
Through gorgeous terrain we make our way towards the Tibetan Autonomous Region on a brand new road that apparently shaved hours off our trip. 

Located on the Diqing Plateau and originally named Zhongdian, the town was renamed Shangri-la in 2002 because of its beauty, and charm.

Over the crest of the hill there are the outskirts of Shangri-la.  You would feel, as we did that, we had just stepped into a heaven of peace and happiness.

 
           Everything you see here makes you feel good

Imposing mountain ranges capped with snow surround the plateau, and on expanses of flat land sit very cute houses and animals roam free.  Somewhere hidden amidst the sprawling houses sat a very new and glamorous airport.  Up an over a hill and we are in Shangri-la proper.

 
  There in the old town sits the largest prayer wheel in the world

We arrived in a new town that has had an accelerated period of growth where it went from humble beginnings (going back hundreds of years) to a thriving metropolis in the just 15 years. 

We are staying in the old town which is delightful but just up the road the new areas are glamorous and highrise   The houses on the outskirts displayed the wealth of a rapidly growing tourist industry. The new road and flashy airport will ensure this continues.  

 
            The new town is flash and modern

This is Tashi’s hometown and he was keen to get home, wash his cloths and position his pot.  We have to continue to recycle our dirty clothes and counting out one more time to see if we have fresh underwear to get us through! We buy socks!

 
Gail and Ed head into the Hotel Kefu - comfortable and warm

We stayed at the Hotel Kefu in the ‘old town’ where walking is the mode of transport. – few cars allowed.  Hotel staff carefully wheel your bags to the hotel on small wooden wagons but by now my suitcase has a great gapping hole in it.   

The old cobble paths look superb but are incredibly slippery.   Our saunters on these paths were taken with extreme caution, lest we have a fall!

 
Take the middle path!  Oh! so beautiful here in Shangri-la

Shangri-la was a joy to wander around.  Luckily for Mr G there are a number of ‘westernish’ style cafes selling great coffees, hot chocolates, cakes and breads.  Since we were there for four nights, I get to see most of these establishments as Mr G seeks out the best coffee in the place.  

A view from the top & good wishes to you as you pass by these prayer flags

The old town has a very pretty temple sitting on a steep rise and has the biggest prayer wheel in the world.  You can’t push it yourself as it weighs so much but there are always plenty of others to help you push like crazy and complete the three circles.

 
Warrior women outfit for me if you don’t mind!

Also nearby the temple, I paid the grand sum of 10 Yuan to dress up as a Tibetan.  I liked the red colour and all the fur…much more exciting looking to me than the more feminine outfits!! 

THE MONASTERY OF ALL MONASTERIES

 
        Yikes, I have seen this with my very own eyes!!!!!!

We take a drive out of Shangri-la and there on the side of a hill, sits the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan, Songzanlin Monastery and it is truly spectacular

The monastery is situated in an altitude of over 3,300 meters (about 10,827 feet) high. You have all seen photos of the incredible Potala Monastery in Tibet, well, this one almost rivals it. 

      
         What an amazing world.....

Construction began in 1679, but Songzanlin was severely damaged during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). The majority of the temple is still being restored and to such grandeur! 

 
The joy of roaming around this place was indescribable.

The network of buildings is a fascinating jumble of buildings and of hidden alleyways and temples to search out and discover.  We entered one such hall that was exquisitely filled with frescos and sculptures.   

Buddha’s lined the wall, but in this one there were female sculptures as well.  As I moved around the room and took in each one I came face to face with one beautiful female and immediately felt close to tears.  Something seemed to reach out from her and touch me.  I completed my clockwise tour of the room and returned to this divine face.  What was it that enveloped me?  I had been around a millions rooms like this one on the tour and this was the spot that affected me so. 

I saw Gail and said ‘I was so overcome in that hall’.  She said that she was  not spiritual but in that room, she had also felt something incredible.  WOW!


           Many doorways welcome you in

On th
e way around the monastery we lit candles, were blessed by the monks, heard the monks drumming and clashing their symbols, took in the mind blowing view of the countryside and immersed ourselves in Tibetan splendour.

 
             The sublime view back to Shangri-la

SHANGRI-LA CHAIRLIFT

 
           Tashi sets off towards the entrance

We had the option.  Take in the lake or go up the Chairlift.  The Chairlift won.  We drove 15 minutes out of town, past the airport to foot of a large mountain. 

Now I don’t actually know what this Chairlift is called or the mountain range as I have no record, nor can I find any concrete details on the internet to help me out.  It exists though and the round trip was absolutely terrific.

 
Mr G                              Hur                           Tashi

At the bottom on the mountain you have to walk in between rows of shiny prayer wheels on the way to the impressive entrance building.  We got our tickets (very expensive I might add) and we hopped on board the first of three stretches of the lift journey to the top. 

It was glorious…snow flakes fluttering by, the trees covered in snow, the valley with Shangri-la and the Songzanlin Monastery, and there in the distance the Himalayan foothills covered in snow.  The view was spelling binding. 

We left the chairlift and into an snow top wonderland.

 
Walking the timber walkway, hang onto your hat & don't slip over!

Panoramic views of Shangri-la were astonishing and we madly took as many pictures as our cold fingers would allow. 
 


Hur and Tashi carefully make their way back to the chairlift

We did a round loop walk on the timber walkways trying not to fall and managed the whole thing without mishap, 
that is until the end!

As we were walking down the long flight of concrete steps to the chairlift,

I said to Mr G 'Boy! you wouldn’t want to slip down these’ 

And within a nano second of me finishing that sentence, Mr G took off down at stairs at break neck speed on his backside….

Horrified, I stood there terrified not only for him, but that I would follow him in the same fashion!  

‘My god, are you all right’ I yelled. 

 
                         Lethal stairwell......................

It’s funny what flashes through your mind but I was thinking ‘I wonder what Shangri-la Hospital is like'!!! 

Thank goodness he rose from the bottom step in tack and put down his lack of broken bones to his martial arts training.  I waited for the chairlift operator to come up and hold my hand to get me safely down.

The ride back down in the chairlift was just as much fun as the trip up and I would thoroughly recommend this activity when visiting Shangri-la – watch out for the treacherous staircase though!

VISITING THE FARMERS HOUSE

 
   We take a spiritual lap of the temple!

After visiting a very special temple in a hidden valley we were taken to a traditional home for morning tea. 

We had passed by many impressive looking farm houses along the way and it was terrific to stop and take a look inside.  We were welcomed by the very shy daughter-in-law of the owner of our farmhouse. 


   Maker of Yak butter tea and biscuits 

Firstly we looked under the main part of the house where the animals live.  Each animal has its own special area for night-time or bad weather accommodation.  The houses are made from giant timber beams and so structurally solid that even an elephant lurking in the darkness couldn't flatten them! 


                          Cosying up around the warm fire

Up a flight
 of stairs we entered the huge vacant living area with its gorgeous wall paintings.  Over in the corner stood a large drum radiating enormous heat over a large flaming fire.  Large pots sitting on top were bubbling away.   It was cold outside so we so we crowded around the fire. 

 
    Hur gets a serving of the Yak Butter Tea

W
e each given a little cup and hot Yak
 butter tea was poured in.  Ummm, my first Yak Butter tea experience and it wasn’t that bad really.  Well they love it, so it might just be a bit like vegemite.  If you are brought up on it you love it!!! 

Anyhow Mr G braved the Yak Butter tea and some sort of grainy thing that he shoved into his mouth before the sip.   I left him to experience that all for himself! 

The family cat had taken a liking to its visitors and sat snuggled up between Gail and me.  Our little interlude was over way too quickly but it was a treasure to remember.

DRIVING TO DEQIN AND BEYOND

 
      On the road to Paradise on the road from Hell!

I have done a lot of things in my travelling past, but this 10 hour drive was one of the most incredible driving experiences of them all. 

This is because the road has only been opened recently after a year of closure due to road works.  And they are not finished with the road works by any means, Oh no!  They work while you drive by on the edge of escapements, crunching through ruts and bouncing over boulders.  It is not a trip for the car sick or feint hearted.

 
We look longingly at the smooth road in another province!

I wondered how Hur was feeling about his new car getting such a lashing. 

When we stopped for lunch we found out we were in for another 5 hours, so we decided not to each much! 

We drove across a bridge and spent a very smooth 5 minutes ride on the nice road in Sichuan province before heading back across the river onto a nightmare of the Yunnan road work yet again. 


    Perilous - and maybe better than a Disney Ride!

We had plenty of time to watch and observe the road workers.  They live in tents and hastily built dwellings made from branches etc right on the side of the road in all the mud, dust or snow!  It amazed me that some of the men were dressed in business shoes and suit jackets while they were hand stirring cement or laying stone wall edging gutters on the road. 

 
   Out the muddy, bumpy window to see a magical land

When we reached the snow line and this is where the fun began, not! 

 
                   Mr G on top of the top pass!

Firstly we took a stop to look at the view and Gail and I decided to make it a toilet break.  Well, it was cold and all those bumps!!! 

There was absolutely nowhere to go so we squatted in knee deep snow beside the road with the graded snow as our only cover.  We were screaming with laughter as we sank further into the snow while trying to lift up our trousers.


                             Spot Gail

This
 road through the snow was only a car width wide and in the opposite direction came a never ending stream of huge mining trucks filled with copper and many trucks with road work supplies. 

 
                    The scary scary road

Imagine if you will a road scrapped out of the side of a mountain that is then covered in deep snow.  So on one side there is a perilous drop and on the other a wall of snow.  You might ask ‘how do you get past these trucks’.  Not that easily would be my answer. 


                           
Ouch!
 
Both ve
hicles had to squeeze themselves as far as they could onto their side of the road.  Either into the snow wall (we got bogged once), or precariously balanced on the slippery road edge of a perilous cliff and inch past each other. 

As I was on the side of the minibus that the trucks were passing I spent a lot of the time with my head pressed onto Mr G’s chest with my hands over my ears.  Half a centimetre separated us and I do not know how we did not get a scratch on the car.   How Hur’s heart stood up, I do not know!

At one point the truck in front of us was the road workers truck and they had been gathering wood branches for their fires.  It must have been freezing in their road side dwellings.


                             Canvas tearing melee!

Unluckily for them, one of their branches tore through the canvas covering of the truck going in the opposite direction.  What a commotion?  The drivers were yelling and screaming at each other.  Then other drivers rushed in from all the stopped traffic.  We sat in our front row seats wondering what in the heck would happen.  Fortunately, no-one died!

As we drew closer to Deqin we did see a truck halfway down a cliffside so we KNEW then disaster could happen!  We felt safe with Hur.

We finally turned a corner and Deqin came into view, the last stop before Central Tibet.  This strange little village lies sandwiched in-between huge valley walls.  It snakes down the valley as far as building land allows.  We thought we were at our destination, but no….we still had a long way. 

Fortunately the road from Deqin to the Glacial Village has been newly completed.  But it is very, very windy and because it is nicked out of steep mountain sides, landslides of scree still spill onto the road.  At least the views kept our minds off the road itself, but I was starting to worry that our driver might be starting to tire as it had been an exhausting trip. 

As the sunset came over we could see the village on the other side of the Mekong River, and the end was near. 

 
                            Mekong zips by

Ten hours of driving and Hur needed a medal.

THE GLACIER

 
     The mass of the glacier lurches down the valley

Near the border with Tibet, Meli or Kawa Karpo in Tibetan, is Yunnan's tallest mountain and the Glacier runs down the side of the mountain range to 2,700 meters in elevation, making it one of the lowest glaciers in the world.  This extraordinary mountain, draped in its long chunky scarf, is something to behold.

We were there to climb the sacred mountain to see the Glacier. 


The surrounding country is utterly picturesque - Hey! It's Shangri-la!

We had two nigh
ts in this village, staying at a quaint family run hotel with the most amazing view of the Kawa Karpo from the verandah. The rooms were basic, but it was the western toilet that actually lifted off the floor when you sat down which worried me a bit! But I am not complaining - it was a western toilet!

Next morning we strolled up to the entrance of the mountain climb and I was still unsure whether to walk up (Mr G had decided on that), or to hire a mule ($25) and accompany Gail. When I looked up to the top of the mountain, I decided that $25 was the way to go! 

 
 My worn out mule on his way home afterwards.....at least he could still walk!

I hopped onto a lovely brown mule who wore a clanging bell.  Gail was already away and being led up the hill.  After a short while the young folk who were leading our mules, tucked the reigns into the saddle and let us go! 

 
Isn't that Mr G up the path, he must have got a head start!

It was then that Gail’s mule decided that a leap off the steep embankment followed by a speedy return to the start was preferable to the long haul.  The only thing that stopped that occurring was her expertise as a horsewoman.  (Or maybe the mule was just pulling a prank!!!)


              Tashi on lead duty

The scenery was superb and each corner, as the mule stopped and huffed and puffed, well it is altitude here, I got to take photos and drink it all in.  Mr G and Tashi were making good progress walking up and when we got off the mules for a rest break they caught up! 


The mules happily scramble up the hill with their loads off their backs

A couple of times we dismounted to walk on timber footways as the mules tore up steep mountain paths where carrying us would have shortened their lives.  We finally reached the main stopping point. 

The family that ran our Hotel also climbed the Sacred Mountain

The mules were tethered nearby the small temple, a café and divine views of the glacier with its mind blowing backdrop.  But there was more to do.
 
       There were steps to climb, many steps.  


 Tashi smiling that he has got us up the mountain

Up, up and up again from one viewing platform to the next.  Gail decided to return on her mule whilst Mr G and I kept climbing the staircases to the very top platform.  What a feat? 


                      Mr G & I in glacial heaven!

There the glacier swept down the valley right beside us, crunching and banging as they do.  This is actually the third glacier I have had the pleasure of seeing, the others were in Nepal and Peru.

 
                              The temple monk and me

So the walk down was a breeze.  Not for Mr G though.  He had slogged all the way up and his legs were shaky but like the true mountain climbing warrior he is, he soldiered on.  I ran, jumped and sprinted.  I chatted to others, took photos and watched wryly as my mule lumbered past without a rider!!!!  I think I have given him a year on his life for not riding him back down!!!

 
Almost at the bottom of this delightful walk            

It was a lovely sunny day and that meant the solar hot water heating would be providing hot water for a shower (not available the night before), and as were sweaty and dusty, this was a treat I must say. 

Refreshed Mr G and I wandered up the road of the little village to buy some water.  


                    Leading the mules astray! I think not!

Clang, c
lang, clang!  There was my mule with about 12 others walking up the street by themselves.  My mule and two others stopped at a barn, the owner came out of his house and let them in. 

The other mules followed us and I was certain we had led them astray.  But no, they were on their way home as they too were welcomed in by their owner. I have a greater respect for mules now, they are incredibly smart

While sitting on the verandah of our Hotel and taking in sunset over Kawa Karpo, I saw a face.  A woman’s face was peering out from the mountain face. 

                           She's watching you!

“Look Gail, Tashi.  See her”.  
 I took the following photos of this amazing apparition.  Who was she?  I have my own opinions on that.

 
  She's the female mountain so it makes sense to me

The next day it was time to make the long drive back to Shangrila which I am sure none of us were all that enthusiastic about, but it had to be done

 
 Looking back across the valley & somewhere, our hidden Glacial Village

We got a good start on the day and thankfully beat all the trucks lined up at the copper mines so our journey through the snowy mountains was a lot less stressful. The trip was far shorter, only about 7 and a half hours or so and it felt good to be back in our Hotel. 

Would I have done this trip had I known about the road beforehand?  I don’t know, but I would say, having done it was one of the most fantastic experiences of my life, so it was worth every bone jarring minute.

 TIBETAN FIVE STAR

 

We had to dress up for our farewell dinner and were taken to Tara Cafe & Bar.  Tashi was very keen to take us there and show us this beautiful building which has been restored to its former its beauty. 

 
     After our long trip, sitting here was a real treat

We entered a small corridor and turn into the sitting area and bar. After a drink downstairs around the fireplace, we are taken up a flight of stairs to the main table.
  

                           A feast fit for a King

Tashi and I sat side by side on the ‘mistress’s bed no less!!! Mr G, Gail and Hur filled in the spaces around the table.  Then out came the repast. 

 
                This food was absolutely divine

A huge pot, made from the black clay potteries we had passed on the way to Deqin, sat pride of place.  The hot bubbling mixture of vegetables and meat smelt heavenly.  It tasted even better. There were beans, delicious meat, vegetables and a tray of their delicious squares covered with chocolate crosses.  What were they called?

 
              The dining areas are very swish 

Tashi brought out a little teapot filled with Arrack and it was a real treat to have some authentic and delicious alcohol.  Sitting there in this gorgeous restaurant, 5star Tibetan if ever there was one, was a perfect ending to our journey together.

 
                Tashi and the Tara Staff 

    And a final dance around the plaza with Tashi

ALL ABOUT A TRIP LIKE THIS

 

A trip like this is a funny sort of thing.  You meet people you otherwise would never have stumbled across in a hundred years.  You live with them pretty intimately for a few weeks. Then suddenly they have left your life just like that.

Hur, our driver, could not speak English bar a few words such as Hello.  I tried hard to teach him ‘smile’, as his sunny smile always greeted us at the car. His exceptional driving skills were appreciated by all of us and I hope he continues to enjoy his driving duties and makes lots of tourist dollars for many years to come.

I admired Gail, our travelling companion, who was travelling alone and embracing life the way only she can.  She coughed a lot though and I certainly learnt a lot about her trip to Mongolia

And what can I say about Tashi! Yes, Tashi was a truly wonderful guide.  His guiding showed us a China/Tibet in a very unique way that the three of us really appreciated.  I will be forever thankful to him for the gentle, patient and informative way he took us on our tour.  When I remember Tashi, I will picture him with his gentle smile and holding his Samsung Ipad! 

And to Mr G, my absolute rock solid travel buddy who has been taking me on incredible adventures for years.  China was yet another of these journeys where we got to step out of the ‘real’ world and into a world where all your senses are awakened.  These trips are bodily revitalising, mentally rewarding and soul nourishing.

My life is so much the richer sharing these wonderful journeys with my number one man.

Oh by the way, did I tell you, we slipped into Hong Kong for a few days too!  But that, dear readers is another story!

copyright Gigi Gilchrist 2011