Travelling Chinese countryside

Trip Start Jan 16, 2009
Trip End Nov 20, 2009

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Flag of China  , Sichuan,
Saturday, August 1, 2009

So after the lazy days in Chengdu, we started our rough bus tour in Sichuan. We’re now in a village called Litang and according to my calculations, we’ve been sitting in buses and minibuses some 36 hours within a week (almost a working week!), and given the awful roads around here, it’s totally stupid and exhausting. At least we plan to spend a few days around here in Litang before continuing south towards the province of Yunnan. The only problem is just our too tight schedule as Aapo should be in Laos in less than two weeks and they have a lot of interesting places here in South-West China.

However, despite (and because of) the intensive bus travelling, we have seen some pretty nice and unique places around here and the scenery is just stunning. Countryside is also of course more easy-going and relaxed and the Tibetan culture is very present here as most people look totally different from the Chinese not only by dressing the traditional way but also the faces are darker like and like some say, the guys with long hair resemble more native Americans. The buildings are different as well and the colourful prayer flags are everywhere.

One bizarre, and some could even say disturbing, Tibetan experience is their funeral, sky-burial. Our guest house arranges excursions for travellers to witness this procedure, what can be morally dubious - not many of us would like to have tourists watching the funerals of our loved ones, but I assume that the relatives of those buried there are aware that some tourists (we were around 15 in total I guess) come to see it every now and then as some of them even came to talk with us, one for example telling that it is his father who died yesterday and is being “sky-buried” right now. So I guess they have a little bit different attitude towards the funeral and death. So how is the burial then? Well shortly, it takes place on a hill and it involves first cutting the body, then letting the vultures eat the skin and meat, before smashing the remaining bones with an axe so that finally the vultures can finish it to the last bit. Sounds brutal of course, but like the people here say, “from the nature to the nature”. It may also be that the villages on the mountains are lacking the wood, so cremating wouldn’t be very economic, and the mountainous soil also makes burying difficult so their way is at least ecologic.

It’s the first time for us both to be really on the mountains and you can really feel the heavy air when you breath. The village of Litang is on the altitude of more than 4000 metres (the highest “mountain” in Finland is just over 1300 metres) and coming from a town of Kangding (elevation 2700m) I did experience some irritating head ache but it looks like it’s over by now and neither of really got the acute mountain sickness. And that’s good because it’s something that at least my travel insurance doesn’t cover.

People keep asking me, when I’m going home, and the answer is, I don’t know really. What I do know is, that in August I’ll spend the first half travelling in mainland China before going to Hong Kong for a few days. After that I’ll probably go back to Beijing to start a journey to Tibet through Xian and Xining with my old colleague Kaitsu. From Tibet, we’ll continue to Nepal, where I’ll stay a few weeks before flying to Thailand where my dear parents will be spending their autumn holiday. By then, it’s already October and after that, I should be a man without any plans. However, like any fixed plans, these are prone to change, but at least it looks like I’m not going to study in autumn. Maybe I still should return to my home town for the spring semester to continue my studies. Who knows?
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