The Joy of Traveling the Backdoor

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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Where I stayed
Angela's Khampa Cafe and Guesthouse
What I did
Sakyapa School Tagong Monastery

Flag of China  , Sichuan,
Tuesday, September 20, 2011

OK, remember I mentioned that the bus rides through these parts of the Tibetan Border are grueling well I guess it was time I got a taste of it. Arranged with the guy from the Peace Hotel, it was set that I would be picked up at 8:00AM along with another couple headed to Tagong. I heard that the vans often won't leave until they are full so I clearly confirmed with him the time and that the mini bus would go to Tagong seeing that there were at least three of us going. Sure enough 8:00AM came and went and there was no sign of a van. Desperate to get to Tagong today I marched over to Peace Hotel to wake the dude up and figure out why the delay. He then informs me that since there are only three of us and the driver won’t go until the van is full. I started to get upset because I knew our chances of finding more people at this late hour were slim. I was angry at myself for ignoring the 20 plus drivers who stand around all day looking for passengers assuming the arrangements were in place. The other couple scheduled to go was the German pair that I traveled with from Shangri-La to Daocheng so it was nice to see familiar faces.

The three of us killed time until Peace guy called us back an hour later. Now 9:00AM we loaded our things into the van and sat in the car for another half hour. I took the front seat while the couple sat in the front row. Finally they round up five other locals, but when they insisted that we move to the back so these other people could sit in the front we held our ground and said no. It was a really unpleasant struggle as the driver violently yelled at us and me back at him as I refused to give up the front seat. The argument was that these other people get car sick and it wasn’t until we communicated that we do as well, which resulted in other Tibetan couple opting out. So now we were back down to six people. The driver still refused to leave until he had 11 because that is how many the van seats. If he had any brains he would’ve counted his blessings that he had six committed parties, instead he lost two more people who got tired of waiting. This process went on until 11:00AM with the driver disappearing in search of more people and other drivers approaching us offering to take us now. I was ready to switch cars but the Germans stayed loyal thinking there was no guarantee elsewhere either.

When the driver finally realized that he would lose us too, he started the ignition only to turn it off again telling us he has to wait for the police to calm down since none of these drivers even have a license to carry passengers. OMG, I feared we were going to get stuck another night in Litang and have to deal with this same scenario tomorrow.

After three hours dealing with this and a nine hour ride ahead of us, we finally got moving. But that doesn’t say much, we drove across the street and parked again while the driver tried to collect more passengers. Needless to say my blood was boiling and my tolerance for the uneducated had exceeded the negative.

Eventually we left Litang for a very slow, bumpy, curving climb up to 4,800 meters on 100% unpaved road. To top it off I got the feeling that this kid had just learned to drive as he had no clue how to navigate the pot holes and rocks. Because this 200KM of road is under construction, we found ourselves stopping for periods of 20 minutes at a time to let the bulldozers pass. As the road was nothing but dirt it was a dusty, suffocating ride keeping the windows up and no A/C.

We stopped at about six hours in for the driver to drop one passenger off in another village that I can’t find on the map and for him to socialize with his buddies. That delayed us another 45 minutes. According to some locals Tagong was still two hours away, although with our driver’s technique it would be more like three hours. Realizing it was getting late I threatened to not pay and find another ride which finally got him back in the driver seat and rolling. This leg lasted all of a half hour for him to stop and visit his family. In my opinion this was the first legitimate stop. He acted like the big brother handing a Yuan to each kid and collecting a bag of apples he generously shared, from a lady who eventually joined us for the rest of the journey. It was refreshing to get a taste of the villages with the local architecture but the clock was ticking.

The sky went dark around 8:00PM and we were still a couple of hours away from our destination. Just then we came upon an SUV in need on the side of the road. Surprisingly our driver stopped to help but little good it did because the jack wouldn’t work, at least not the way they were attempting to jimmy it. All the while the sky was lighting up with thunderbolts and lightening.

Finally at 9:00PM we arrived at the one of the passenger’s homes as the rain was coming down harder. Thank God I was paying attention as the driver unloaded the car because he somehow mistook my new backpack cover as one of the potato sacks belonging to the Monk. Sensing that we were close by, we were furious when the driver tried to tell us he would stay in this town to sleep through the night. After much bickering in our native tongues and me making a phone call to Angela, the American woman whose Guesthouse I was planning to stay at in Tagong, he had a change of heart. According to Angela we were only 40 minutes away, she agreed to keep a light on for me.

With prayers that the driver would get us there safely, we managed to arrive to Tagong around 10:00PM, making this a 14 hour journey when all is said and done. And to think that there is at least one more 12 hour bus ride ahead of me, ugh.

It was such a relief to meet Angela, an American from Colorado who fell in love with a Tibetan from Tagong nearly nine years ago and has since opened a guesthouse to go along with her original cafe selling local handmade goods.

I settled into a cozy room with a double size normal mattress with Ikea sheets and have spent the entire next day recovering, eating delicious Western food and hanging out with Angela’s four year old daughter, Somsa.

Somsa acted as my tour guide while we explored the local monastery. It was interesting since they were in preparations for some kind of a festival. The kids were packing bags of treats and the older monks were decorating a cake in the shape of a monastery. I think they were using some sort of Yak Butter for frosting but can’t be sure.

Prayer occupies the bulk of everyone’s day here. At no particular hour there are people making the clockwise stroll around the large gold prayer wheels including the old who barely walking with a cane use all their strength to push the large wheels. The square sits just behind the walls of the monastery with a backdrop of thousands of flags decorating the hills just above.

The relaxing day was topped off with a delicious Yak roast beef straight out of the oven, mashed potatoes and a nice cucumber/tomato salad. I guess I am starting to get homesick.
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