Sichuan Tour. Day 8, 21 May, Danba to Tagong via Bamei

Well rested and refreshed, it was time to move on. Today, I’m heading for Tagong, famous for its grasslands. It would have been great to ride there but there’s a 4,000m pass (and freezing cold, too) to surmount and I wasn’t exactly looking forward to another oxygen-deprived ride. The plan was simple — take the mini-van to Banmei, about 80km away, and then ride the remainder of the 38km or so to Tagong (I was assured that it was all downhill from Banmei but…I’ve heard that one before). As well, I would not be able to make Luding and still keep to schedule, as this route is longer and adds a couple of days to my already tight itinerary.

So here I am, after a hearty breakfast of ‘pau’, and looking at the van that’s going to take me to Banmei . I had expected one of those tourist passenger vans, but somehow this one seemed a little shabby…..

A short distance out of town, the van stopped and the driver (in red shirt) proceeded to unload my bike to take in goods for Banmei. He explained that it'd be better if my bike was on top, which made sense.

So what was the load? Freshly slaughtered chickens! Oh man, I thought, I'm gonna suffocate with the stench of decomposing meat (think wet Pudu market, meat section)

But thankfully, because of the cold air, there was practically no smell whatsoever.

The road to Banmei is alpine country...the rich verdant greenery was so amazingly beautiful.

At this particular point, the river is crystal clear, gurgling over rocks that were reddish in colour. The driver very kindly stopped here for me and the other passenger to take in the views

I made a very smart choice in not riding the road to Banmei ... this was a particularly nasty section. Even the van had trouble getting up, so we came done and walked. Did I mention that it's freezing cold here?

Where we had just driven up from

A little after we descended the other side of the pass, the landscape changed dramatically -- arid and flat, very Tibetan.

Just before the town of Banmei where I started my ride to Tagong. The guy does the Danba-Banmei route almost everyday to deliver goods (and the occasional cyclo tourists and backpackers)

On the road, I was hailed with a 'Tashi Delek' from a passing monk ... I'm in the real Tibet now! (Tashi Delek: 'hello' in Tibetan)

The most happening place in Banmei -- where similar vans to the one I rode in congregate to pick up fares, either to Tagong, or to Danba.

The landscape was beginning to be take on a decidedly Tibetan influence. I was so glad I changed plans.

Just outside of Banmei, I stopped at this promising looking shop to have lunch

More 'Tashi Deleks' ... from these local slackers upholding China's national pastime, including the boss and cook.

The youngest waiter ever to have served me. He very dutifully poured me hot cha. Actually it was more like dragging the thermos across the floor.

The little fella was a joy to be with. Another one of those moments that really make your day.

How cold was it here? Count the layers...

Dad cooks up a storm while mom waits to serve it piping hot

Rice vermicelli soup and fried julienned potato with yak meat.

I gave up on the inner-tube yak meat after a couple of chews (discarded on the right side of plate)... As usual the food was spicy, salty and oily.

The road here is of the all-concrete variety...harsh but more lasting

Colourful prayer flags of every configuration are to be found all along the road.

Grand entrance to some grand monastery

Typical Tibetan architecture

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I was right again, or rather, I was conned again. It never fully turned out to be ‘downhill all the way to Tagong’. It was more like half and half, although the gradient was a little more forgiving than the one that went up to pass before Banmei. Still, it took a bit of effort, but the scenery more than made up for it. When it gets a little tough, I always stop to soak in the scenery and just be thankful that I can be here admiring God’s wonderful handiwork instead of slaving for the man in the office πŸ™‚

The first thing that greets the visitor to Tagong — a prayer flag-covered hillside, and the looong row of prayer wheels of the town’s monastery.

The red building is the monastery and the guesthouse I stayed in, Snowland GH, is just next to it, the one with the red and white signboard.

First order of business — food.

Sally Kham, the owner of Snowland,Β  and her mother run the place. They’re not very good cooks but they more than make up for it with their genuine warmth and friendliness. This here’s is a dish of over-fried eggs and bacon and apple/cucumber salad.

Overly fried potato crisps...tastes great when you're hungry

My room, on the first floor

And the view of the hill from my room.

Tomorrow — exploring Tagong and its surrounds.

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Ride stats:

Danba to Banmei: 80km (by van), uphill all the way to the pass at 4000m, then downhill a bit to Banmei.

Banmei to Tagong: 38km half uphill, half downhill, concrete road all the way.

Distance today: 118km

Distance to date: 496km

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Sichuan Tour. Day 7, 20 May, rest day in Danba

Danba, like many towns in China, owes its existence to a river. In Danba’s case, it’s 2 rivers — both of which meet at the confluence where the town sits. The bigger, more important one is the Dadu river, and it was made famous largely due to Mao Tze Tong’s Long March, and their crucial crossing of it at Luding, 133 kms due south and downstream of Danba.

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New uses for old tyres. Notice the special sewing machine next to the man

Danba lies in the eastern side of Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. It is here that the Tibetan influence becomes more and more apparent as one moves eastwards. Danba is no different. The town’s claim to fame is Jiaju Tibetan Village,Β  a few kms out of town, and voted the most beautiful village in China. Understandably, I gave it a miss. Hordes of tourists are not really my thing.

Instead, on my first day off the bike, I decided to visit a less visited village not far out of town. It’s called Suopo, and the only reason it is less visited is because the only access to it is a pedestrian/motorcycles-only suspension bridge. Real tourists, you see, avoid walking too far to get to a tourist site, which was fine by me. But, the lure of big-bucks tourism has reared its ugly head. I can see a modern bridge being built about 100 metres from the old one. Before long, the lazy tourists will be bussed right up to the ancient stone towers of Suopo village.

The dirt road that runs alongside the main road and the Dadu river leading to Suopo. The bridge leading to the village is just ahead.

The only link to Suopo village...but not for long

This boy took me to see the best towers in the village for just 50Y

 

Some of these towers date back a thousand years

To get to one of the towers, we had to hike up a small hill

 

My guide was pretty good with a camera as well. Here, I've just climbed up to the top of a tower

My guide took me to visit this house when I asked if it was possible to do so

I even went inside to peek at a bedroom

The nice owner of the house

One that's being built. All materials come from the river

In China, they are very practical when it comes to baby clothes...just pee, poo and go, without having to take off any clothes

Villge lasses at a xiao mai pu

This one very obligingly posed for a portrait

I’ve decided to change my plans and instead of riding straight down south following the Dadu to Luding, I’ve decided that I want to go further west into Tibet country — Tagong and its vast grasslands. But, the thing is, I won’t be able to keep to schedule if I rode there. As well, there’s a 4,200m mountain to cross, and my Balangshan ordeal is still fresh in my mind. So, I do the next smart thing — go by public transport over the mountain into Bamei and then ride the last 30km or so into Tagong.

Sichuan Tour. Day 6, 19 May, Rilong to Danba

Warning: Pics-heavy post. Please be patient while it loads πŸ™‚

The hotel in Rilong that I stayed in.

My hostess, a Qiang-chu (pronounced Chiang), a people different from the Qang-chu (Chang) or Tibetans. All the rest are Han-chu, or Han Chinese, which most of us Chinese are.

her husband

and her father.

I feel like lazybones today, even if I’m not in the Chengdu hostel of the same name. The sun was already up but I figured that I’ve earned the right to loll around in bed and get up at a indecently late hour, which in my case would be 9am. I took my time, and since it was too cold to take a shower, I did a quick Chinese-style wash-up and went downstairs to see what my friendly hostess was going to surprise me with for breakfast.

I was not disappointed – Tibetan flat bread, peanuts, raw cabbage and yak butter tea. What a combination. The bread was warm and sweetish with some traces of what I can only suspect to be yak butter. I’d seen 2 huge blocks in the kitchen, partly wrapped in newspaper. The yak butter tea? Well, I needed to tick that off my list, so I’m looking forward to it.

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Yak butter

Note: Lonely Planet lists yak butter tea as #2 in the list of ‘Top 10 Worst Experiences in Tibet’.

The bowl of tea was a murky white in colour. It didn’t smell horrible so I took a swig. It was …. not …. too … bad – a bit milky, a bit buttery in a yakky way, I suppose, and a bit salty as well. I couldn’t quite make out the taste of tea though, and I also couldn’t quite finish it either. Ok, been there, done that; it’s one for the journal. But I do think Lonely Planet was a bit harsh in their assessment. Personally, I would have listed it at #3 or maybe even #4 ……. The raw cabbage garnished with some weird condiments (I swear the whitish stuff on top was MSG, and lots of it) she served me was worse.

Having their own breakfast. The big urn is full of yak butter tea.

Aged pork hanging in the kitchen. There was quite a layer of dust on them. The nice hotel folks were having some for breakfast, so I asked for a bit to try. Surprisingly, it was rather good.

After such an interesting breakfast, the only other sensible thing to do would be – have a cup of coffee, freshly brewed, of course. I brought out my coffee equipment and proceeded to prepare myself a cup of hot brew, much to the amusement of my hostess, her husband, her sister and her father, a friendly guy who was always asking if I was ok. Seeing as I was the only guest in the hotel, I couldn’t blame him for being so fatherly.

Note: Rilong is suffering the same fate as Wolong and other tourist-dependent towns. Since the 2008 earthquake, cyclo-tourists not withstanding, tourists were far and few in between. The main reason tourists came here was to visit or trek up Siguniangshan, or Four Maidens Mountain, located in a natural reserve not too far from the town. The flashy hotel opposite the one (see pic below) I was staying, including a few similar ones, had long been shuttered down and was beginning to look very dilapidated.

Morning wash-up, to last the rest of the day.

After coffee, I went back to the room to pack up and get ready for what I knew to be a looooooong downhill ride to Danba, about 115km away. My legs were looking forward to a lazy ride today. I finally rolled off at 10.30am. Straightaway, I was on coasting on a beautifully sealed road, smooth and pothole-free. The scenery was just as breathtaking, and totally different from the other side of the mountain. There were more tracts on the mountain sides that were barren and arid brown in colour. At the same time, there were also abundant alpine greenery.

The houses are also different in their facade and architecture – mostly a mix of Tibetan and Qiang (say ‘Chiang’). However, they all shared one thing in common – the walls were built with slate, which is plentiful all around them. They also sported similar hieroglyphs and symbols, strangely, spray-painted on instead of drawn with a brush. The road continued to snake its way downhill, following the river faithfully. And for the first time since I started the tour, I was enjoying the awesome scenery unfolding before me … without having to do much pedalling. What joy. This was to continue all the way to the Xiaojin, a sizable town that straddled the river.

Almost every house I saw on this side of the mountain were made of slate, and sported pointed corners on the flat roof.

Check out this unedited, 4-minute video shot while passing through a small town::

Another one on the road…

The Qiang people here were definitely more friendly. This was an ice-cream stop at a Xiao Mai Pu.

Kids on the road:

One very glaring detail that I noticed -- no barriers

I shall always remember this nice, shady spot. I stopped for a break, took out an apple, peeled it and then ...dropped it on the dusty ground.

Just after 2pm, I arrived at the town of Xiaojin

...where I had lunch at this shop run by a friendly lady

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It was after busy lunch hour and I was the only customer so the friendly proprietress took time out to chat

An elderly admirer of my bike outside the shop

Out of Xiaojin....this was something to marvel at; a huge boulder on the left and a solitary tree on the right, directly opposite each other and claiming a section of the road each.

The smooth tarmac ran out soon after, with bad, dusty patches all the way to Danba, but the scenery was still very nice.

Finally at 7, I arrived at the T-junction where Danba is located. It is also the confluence of the Dadu River and Rilong River.

The bridge crossing the Dadu, the biggest river I

The town of Danba. The hostel I stayed in is on the left

My room with a nice view at Zha Xi Zhuo Kang Backpacker

Tomorrow, I take a well-deserved rest day and explore the town and its surroundings, and visit a couple of interesting villages.

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RIDE STATS:

Rilong (3,000m) to Danba (1869m)

Total ride time: 7.5hrs

Distance to day: 115km

Total descent: 1,131m

Distance to date: 378km