Along with our new friends Andy and Tara, we arrived in Zhongdian and searched for a couple of recommended guesthouses
. The first was full and we couldn't find the other so we checked into a nice little place located down what looked like a quiet side street. Little did we know! That evening we went to a traditional Tibetan restaurant for dinner where Tom enjoyed a huge yak burger. We were joined for dinner by a friendly group of Americans who had spent a few days in Tibet and just arrived here by plane from Lhasa. When we walked back to our guesthouse looking forward to a good night's sleep we were horrified to discover that our guesthouse was located next to two bars pumping out techno alternating with karaoke! Most of the tourists here are Chinese and they seem to love these places. So much for a restful night! It is also very cold here at night although our bed has an electric blanket which makes it cozy just as long as you keep your arms and feet under the duvet at all times!
The next morning Andy and Tara left on a bus to Deqin on the Tibetan border, also our next destination. They have to catch a flight to Shanghai in a few days so their itinery is a bit more rushed than ours which is a shame as it would have been nice to travel together. We spent the day exploring the cobbled lanes of the old town which is a bit like a smaller version of Lijiang but much quieter and with only a fraction of the number of tourists. We visited the Buddhist monastery in the old town where there is huge, twenty metre high prayer wheel made of copper, which locals push round and round to gain merit
. Inside the monastery were a number of colourful paintings covering the walls some of which were rather disturbing in their depictions of Buddhist hell. At least in the Buddhist version of hell, it is not an eternal realm but a place that people can work their way out of. Then we took a walk up the hill behind the town where yaks were grazing contentedly in the fields. At the top of the hill was a little monastery where hundreds of colourful prayer flags were fluttering in the cold wind. Later in the afternoon, the skies clouded over and it began to rain. Without the sun it became very cold so we spent the rest of the day hiding under the duvet with the electric blanket on!
Tomorrow we head to Deqin, which is on the Tibetan border and our furthest point north. At over 3500 metres it is going to be freezing up there and we have no jackets but the mountain scenery is supposed to be amazing so we are going to brave it for a few days. Let's hope there are electric blankets there too!
We are in Tibet! Well that's not actually true. We are in Zhongdian, also known as Shangri-La, in Yunnan's far north west corner. But this is almost as good as being in Tibet as everything here is Tibetan. Most of the people are Tibetan and many wear traditional Tibetan clothes, the buildings are Tibetan, there are snowy mountains all around (we are at 3200 metres) and there are yaks in the surrounding fields. We noticed the change almost immediately on the journey from Qiaotou as we rounded a bend and emerged onto a grassy plain and suddenly saw that the buildings looked completely different. They are a square shape, painted white and sometimes have an elaborately carved wooden front along with wooden window frames and are often decorated with patterns painted around the top of the house in bold primary colours.