Almost Tibet!

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Where I stayed
Deqin Tibet Hotel

Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Thursday, April 21, 2011

Until now all the buses we have taken in Yunnan have been very good; modern, clean and with plenty of leg room. The bus to Deqin changed all that however! It was a bit of an old crate, cramped and dirty and most people on board were chuffing away on cigarettes and spitting on the floor. Tom had the worst seat of all, a fold out seat in the doorway! The road to Deqin is currently under construction so we had to endure 8 hours of bumpy, windy, unpaved dirt road. The first part of the journey took us past rounded mountains covered in dense pine forests. Then we followed a deep valley which eventually led up to a high pass over 5000 metres high where snow lay on the ground, before descending down the other side into another valley. The scenery was dramatic but unfortunately the road construction has caused a lot of damage where the material dug out of the mountain to create the road has been tipped over the side, resulting in great scars of rubble.

Deqin itself is is an ugly, concrete town but we had come here to enjoy the mountain scenery. At 3500 metres, Deqin is surrounded by snowy peaks including the 6740 metre high Kawa Karpo which sits on the Yunnan-Tibet border.

We were hungry after our long bus ride so found a little restaurant just up the road from our hotel where we enjoyed a big meal of stir-fried shitake mushrooms, tofu, and mangetout. The restaurants in Yunnan are great because although no one speaks English there is always a large, open refrigerated unit full of vegetables where you can simply point to what you want.

We woke the next day to cloudy skies which was disappointing as the mountains we had come to see were mostly hidden from us apart from a few quick peeks when the clouds parted for a brief second. We decided to hire a minibus to take us to the Mingyong Glacier, an hour's drive away. The drive took us down into the dramatic gorge of our old friend the Mekong, last seen in Cambodia, a very different river there to the fast-flowing torrent here. After crossing the river we passed through small hamlets of Tibetan style houses surrounded by vineyards, whose juicy wine we have been drinking! We then drove through the village of Mngyong to the foot of the valley which leads to the glacier, where our driver waited for us.

Our guide book made no mention of how tough the walk would be so we were surprised to discover that it was really hard going, climbing steeply for a good hour and a half. The forest itself was beautiful though and the path was lined with purple iris. Eventually we reached a Buddhist temple surrounded by prayer flags and soon after that, the glacier itself which, with its huge chunks of jagged ice, was quite a sight. At one point, we heard an incredible rumbling sound and right below us, a large section of glacier split off from the main body of ice. I thought the sound came from overhead and looked up expecting to see a great avalanche about to engulf us! Compared to the walk up, going down was a doddle and we reached the bottom in an hour.

That night we were tired from the day's exertions and went to bed early only to be woken a few hours later by the hotel owners and their friends having a bit of a gathering in the courtyard directly beneath our room. We asked them several times to be quiet, at first calmly and then angrily but it made no difference and we eventually fell asleep at some point in the early hours.

The return journey back to Shangri-La started off well. We were sat next to each other this time and Tom didn't have the fold out seat in the doorway! However, the second half of the journey was a series of frustrating traffic jams due to the road construction. Then we got a flat tyre so had to wait some time while this was fixed. At one point a vehicle infront of us managed to get itself stuck in a rut and we had to wait while it was pulled out by a JCB. We were trying to listen to our iPod but the guys behind us were playing their portable stereo so loud that we couldn't hear our music. Tom decided to get out our own portable speaker and play our music to the bus. Luckily the guy turned his music off and we enjoyed the rest of the journey listening to the Fleet Foxes. Not sure what the locals made of it!

Back in Shangri-La, we walked past a hairdressers and decided to save some money by both getting our hair cut here rather than back in the UK (it cost us 1 each!). I went first and was rather alarmed when she started manically hacking away at my locks, taking off quite a bit more that I had asked for and doing it in a layered style which I also hadn't asked for. She had finished the whole thing in about 5 minutes! Luckily, it actually looked ok so I was pleased. Then it was Tom's turn. He now has a grade one up the sides and only a bit left on top after we gestured urgently not to take it all off! He is rather embarrased by his new look and refuses to remove his hat in public!

That night, remembering from our experiences with the karaoke bar next door to the last place we stayed in Shangri-La, we checked into a different guesthouse. All seemed quiet and peaceful and we fell asleep a little after 10.30pm, only to be woken again around midnight by some Chinese tourists returning home after a night out. They do not seem to have any idea about being quiet and respecting other guests. We have also noticed this on buses where people almost shout into their mobile phones with no regard for anyone else. I don't think it's rudeness, it's just the way things are done here. And it's certainly not just China. This is something we have noticed all over the world. Outside of the west, people are a lot noisier in general. While we prize peace and quiet, they seem to need a constant source of noise to feel comfortable. This is our only criticism of the Chinese people we have met in Yunnan though (apart from the noisy hacking up of phlegm and spitting which is also found across the whole of south-east Asia and India!). We have warmed to the Chinese people greatly. They are sweet and cheery, quick to smile and say hello, and eager to help.

From here, we head back south to warmer climes and the rural village of Shaxi where we will spend a few days.
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