A travelog of my journey from Qatar to China. Beside staying some days in Chengdu and Nanchong, the current plan is to visit Sertar (Larung Gar) and Xi'an. The blog will be daily updated depending of the availability of internet coverage and time.
Today the journey to China starts. In about one hour I'm on the way to the airport. From Doha my Himalaya Airlines flight will bring me to Kathmandu and than further with Air China via Lhasa to Chengdu in China where my lovely wife will pick me up from the airport. After one day break we are planning to take a bus to Sertar. But now it's time to get ready. Uber taxi is already on the way....
Arrived at the airport, a huge line of nepalis was already waiting that the check in counter opens. I planned already before to upgrade to business class since the Himalaya Airline webpage stated that it's only 200 $ more to be paid during check in. It was obviously that the staff at the counter didn't exactly know how to handle my request. Later when I was sent to a dark corner of the airport where the cashier was located, it turned out that I was the first one ever who did ask for an upgrade on this flight. I saw the receipt block where my receipt was indeed the first one ever used from this block.
Now boarding has started and I'm a bit exited to experience Himalaya Airlines Business Class.
It turned out that transfer passengers from Qatar arriving with Himalaya Airlines in Kathmandu are another uncommon thing. But very friendly security and airport staff sorted everything out and organized for me the ticket for my connection flight to Chengdu in China.
Unfortunately the Air China flight to Chengdu was delayed for almost 5 hours.
At 4:45 boarding started and after a short stop in Lhasa where the immigration was done and a wild and bumpy flight further to Chengdu we arrived at 11:20 pm.
After we failed to get tickets for the bus to Sertar, we did a small walk and enjoyed the day in Dujiangyan near Chengdu with sunflower seeds and green tea. The problem with the bus ticket was that police sometimes checks the bus for foreigners going to Sertar. The current situation for foreigners who want visit Sertar is confusing. While there is no official statement that foreigners are not allowed to enter the area, police seems to have instructions to stop them. That's why we decided to go with a friend's car who will pick us up from hour hotel the next day.
Saturday, 09.06.2018 - Trip to Sertar
At 11:00 a.m. our journey to Sertar started. After a short stop in Dujiangyan for lunch we continued our trip on the northern route G317. The route is known to be one of the most dangerous routes in the world. However while road construction is still ongoing, major parts of the road have been already renewed. Starting from Dujiangyan, the road leads thru countless long tunnels, amazing beautiful valleys, villages but also countless construction sites.
At 11:40 p.m. we reached a police checkpoint in the village Wengdazhen which is approximately 90 km away from Larung Gar. After 550 km and almost 12 hours on the road through the mountains, the police didn't allow us to enter the area. The reason they gave us:
"There is a lot of construction ongoing and we need to protect our foreign guests. But next year it will be back open again."
We turned the car and searched for a hotel where we could stay for the night. Without exposing to much details of how we managed to get to Larung Gar although I would only like to emphasis how incredible friendly and supportive the locals where! With some help of them and a farmer couple we where able to pass the checkpoint at night and reached early morning Larung Gar.
Sunday, 10.06.2018 - Larung Gar
Since it was early morning when we arrived in the city/village we checked-in in the first available hotel where the interior wasn't in the best condition. It was just enough to finish the night. We both where still tired from the trip and the elevation of 4,000 m did also show some effect.
After we woke up, my wife checked the city and asked some locals how I as a foreigner could reach the monastery best. My face covered with cap and face mask (I shaved my face already), we continued our trip again with a local who brought us to a place where daily sky burials taking place.
It wasn't something which I had to see at the first place, but my wife was insisting. I agreed since our further walking route to Larung Gar started from this location.
The area where they put the dead bodies was a bit further away and surrounded by a fence that tourists couldn't see them directly. However, from a distance you could look still into the area. Surprisingly, there have been a lot Chinese tourists gathering at the hill close by, waiting for the start of the burial.
After one hour waiting, the body arrived at the scenery and put it within the fenced area. In the meantime the numbers of vultures exceeded already the numbers of tourists waiting for the show. At one point two men opened the gates of the fence for the vultures to enter, what they immediately did with creating a big dust cloud.
The vultures dug into the body and together with the butcher smell in the air, I had the feeling being in a horror movie.
After the burial, we walked several km as advised by the locals along the mountains to our final destination. In this height and under consideration that we are both no real hikers, it was challenging. But we did it...
The valley was mind-blowing. Everywhere small red houses. We walked through the streets and enjoyed the atmosphere and again we experienced amazing friendly people. While heaving dinner in a small kitchen where they served some very tasty noodles, we where surrounded by local women. Exited to see a guy from Germany in Larung Gar they gave me the advise to be careful and to always cover my face in order not to be spotted by the police.
After a further walk through the area of the Larung Gar monastery, we booked a room in a local hotel. First they disagreed to accept a foreigner but after some discussion they finally agreed if I (still waiting outside) sneak in and stay in the room.
Larung Gar Gallery
Monday, 11.06.2018 - Back in Wengdazhen
We both where extremely exhausted and we suffered from the height. But due tot he old beds with hard springs we had a horrible sleepless night.
Since it was raining we decided to go back to our hotel in Wengdazhen behind the police checkpoint and rang our local driver to pick us up. When we arrived at the hotel, I got out of the car and got shocked when I saw that the accommodation of the local police was just opposite our hotel which we didn't see when we checked in the first time at night. While I was waiting outside of the car for my wife to pay the driver, I already had the feeling that the guy who stopped us recognized me. However, we went to our room and felt after 15 minutes asleep.
2 hours later a knocking on our door woke us up - police. After a big discussion in Chinese language with my wife they left the room without further consequence for us.
After they left, we booked a private car for the next morning to bring us back to Chengdu. I need again to emphasize how friendly and nice the people in this area are. Always very helpful, never cheating and the wife of the hotel owner served us even home made butter tea since we mentioned that we both like this tea so much.
Tuesday, 12.06.2018 - Wild trip back to Chengdu
The next morning we got kicked out of the bed at 5:10 since the car with further passengers was already waiting outside (6:00 was the agreed time). We packed everything together and were only 10 minutes later at the car. We squeezed us in the car with already 5 passengers (+driver) in it, which was usually only allowed to transport max 6 people.
- A young couple
- A doctor
- A Buddhist monk
- A guy
- A chinese with her German husband
And than the ride began. The driver kept a speed between 80 and 100 km/h and just ignored that it was still dark, cows and other animals were everywhere crossing or staying on the road and rocks blocking the way due to the rain at night. He overtook cars at the least suitable locations, preferable before curves. While the usual overtaking process consists out of a approaching and acceleration phase, he remained at the approaching speed until the overtaken car was left behind. The whole trip was like a rallye with the spectators sitting directly in the rallye car. To be fair, it seemed to be only me - the crazy German taking note of the wild ride. Ok, at least the monk did somehow also recognize it, since he opened the window after an hour and started emptying his stomach while still at full speed.
9:00 o clock was breakfast time.
We continued our ride with trucks appearing on our lane due to the narrow road, sudden reversing cars from construction sites, further stones on the road....
...until our driver became the information regarding a police control a few kilometers ahead. The monk was forced to leave the car and pass the checkpoint by food. After the checkpoint our driver stopped and started washing the car while waiting for the missing passenger.
With a clean car we hit the road again
60 km before reaching Chengdu I recognized that we got slower and slower although we had been back on a proper Highway again. I looked at the Driver's face in the back mirror, and saw that his eyes looked tired and his mouth was open. I told my wife my observation and she started immediately talking to the Driver and asking him if he feels tired. He confirmed that and the the doctor who was sitting close to him started giving him a head massage.
Lessons learned: Never again traveling with a private car in China where you don't know the driver!
Wednesday, 13.06.2018 back in Chengdu
After the trip to Larung Gar, we both required some recovering from the trip. Arrived in Chengdu we checked nearby Hotels and ended up in a very lovely hostel in close proximitiy to Jinli Old Street. Chengdu and especially Jinli pedestrian street are perfect locations for street photography. There is always a lot of activity and lots of people from different nations.
Chengdu Jinli Pedastrian Street Gallery
Friday, 15.06.2018 relax @ Home in Nanchong
Still exhausted from our trip, we reached our home in Nanchong where we spent the next days until we continued our journey to Xi'an.
Tuesday, 19.06.2018 - Thursday, 21.06.2018 - Xi'an
Arrived late night in Xi'an we had to find first a hotel. After my wife refused to take a taxi and after a 2 km walk with luggage to a hotel which wasn't quit what we have expected and after a first taxi ride to a wrong location due to Chinese/English miscommunication we finally ended up in the Taxi which brought us to a decent Hotel. The next morning we took a Uber car (Chinese we-chat version) which brought us to the Lintong District, where the famous Terracotta Army is located.
Tuesday, 22.06.2018 - 24.06.2018 the last days in Chengdu
The last days of my Holidays we spent again in Chengdu enjoying Sichuan food and green tea and doing some streetphotography. On the 24th I headed to the airport to catch my flight to Frankfurt.
...see you in Italy...
Cameras used: Leica Q and Voigtländer Bessaflex with Zeiss Jena Flektogon and Sonnar.