Sunday, December 28, 2008

Chengdu Travel Guide - Tibetan Faces

We've spent our Christmas days around Chengdu, but are looking forward to soon travel westward again. Chengdu is very close to the Eastern geographic borders of the Tibetan Plateau - a region that is often referred to as Kham.
The map illustrates how easy it is to get to this region by road - at least half the distance to Kangding - the gateway to the grasslands - is made up of modern motorway - while the the rest of the route which winds its way up to the Erlang Tunnel - is on main-road (a few more potholes on this section - but still an easy drive) - and the whole trip to Kangding, if you did it without stopping, is only a 6 to 7 hour project.
Beyond Kangding the roads are not of the same standard - but, in normal conditions, 2WD vehicles can easily drive in this area.

We saw a picture of this guy in a magazine - voted the most beautiful man in the world - I suppose you could call him a beauty-king. This picture is out on the high grassland between Yajiang and Litang - when we drove past and just happened to stumble upon a local horse race meeting.

Well its not all beauty-kings - these ladies, and their dogs, also looked very regal.

The grassland is also a place for 'real' men - and women.

A face of concentration. Walking around the Temple at Dege - praying with beads and prayer-wheel.

A monk at Dege.

A smaller cheekier monk - taking a peep at the strange foreigner driving an old Jeep.

And here's my old jeep surrounded by a group of beauty queens - they don't seem too camera-shy. This was at a religious festival in Litang.

A crowd scene from the same day.

A portrait from the crowd

another portrait - but this time it's Meggie munching on a Tibetan blood-sausage. These things taste just like the British version of blood sausage - the black-pudding you get up in the North of England!!!!!

Well I suppose you can't portray a series of Tibetan faces without including this one!!!!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bi Feng Xia - A visit to the historic town of Shangli

Chengdu Travel - we've already put up a report about the Bi Feng Xia Panda Research Center - however this article shows that this area isn't just Pandas. One of the best spots around Bi Feng Xia - just 10km's up the road from the Research Center - is the ancient town of Shangli. Once an important center for the old tea-horse trail - a trade route where tea and other commodities were traded to the Tibetans to purchase horses from the grassland - a bit of this old town has survived to make it into a worthwhile stop-over for any body doing a trip to the Pandas. You can even do a circular route from Chengdu - driving to Bi Feng Xia panda Center via the Ya'an Expressway - and then going back to Chengdu on a small winding country road that takes you over the scenic mountains in which the Bi Feng gorge is located and then on to the Qionglai/Chengdu Expressway for the final leg back into the city. This route takes you past many sites of interest - including the ancient town of Shangli.

The picture above shows the bridge that leads to the main gate of Shangli - and the river that runs around the town.

Although not a huge tourist spot - this site is still popular with locals - and as such some of the town has been re-built in the old-style. It looks okay - but many of these building aren't old.

However if you take to the side streets.....

There is still some of the genuine old tucked away in this place.


and old wooden buildings.

Impressive carved doors -

with people still living behind them - and using the old traditional furniture which has disappeared from the modern China.

These doors used to open up into courtyards of rich traders and land-owners.

Although events in China's recent history have caused the destruction of many old artifacts - in Shangli you still get a taste of the craft and culture of old traditional China.

It's very easy to spot the genuine old.

With an eye for fine detail - there's a lot to discover and enjoy here.

But even the tourist part of the town is interesting - a counter selling traditional sweets.

An old-style local barber.

and of course the doctor of traditional Chinese medicine.

Inside the doctor's shop - the ingredients for the different cures.

When you're paying for your potion - an abacus to tot-up the price.

It was Sunday when we made our visit, and couple of small girls had set themselves up selling small animals and flowers made out of folded leaves.

A flower is nearly finished.

Other locals took it a little easier and passed their day tourist-spotting.

There's a lot of interesting food in these places - these are steamed buns made out of rice-flour.

In one kitchen they were smoking pork and sausages - by the look of those roof beams this isn't the first year they've been doing this!!!!

A lady selling soft-white tofu - one of my favourites with a good red-pepper sauce.

Another product of soya-bean is tofu milk - this small hand mill is used to extract the juices from the beans.

Something not quite so healthy - deep-fried peafritters - and some tofu which also gets the same treatment.

Something that strikes us western-folk as odd (and indeed a few Chinese city people) - in the countryside you often buy your coffin before you die!!! Here's somebodies coffin lying out in the backyard - covered in boxes and empty bottles - but it's ready for use when the time comes!!

Shangli - an historic town that still hasn't been completely taken over by the tourist.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chengdu Travel Guide - Sichuan Winter Wonderland

Chengdu Travel - A couple of Weeks ago we received an enquiry from a young Canadian engineer - on a short working trip in Shanghai - about wanting a weekend break with a difference - something a little beyond the usual 'snap-snap another nice photo' experience. So where better to go than explore some of the trails around Moxi (about 5 hours to the west of Chengdu). This scenic area with its forests and soaring peaks oozes adventure - but what we didn't expect was the weather - a day before we set-off Moxi had sun - when we got there it was in the middle of a snow storm!!!

It was snowing the whole of the first day - here's the path we took the first morning.

Although the temperatures weren't too cold you need to dress well for these type of conditions - our guest; Dave - with Meggie.

The snow and the ice created some very pretty scenes. Many of the trees here are covered with hanging moss - in the sub-zero conditions this had frozen to create an effect that would have been the envy of any Christmas tree.

The frozen berries also looked very neat.

They may have been cold - but the birds were still tucking into them. This is a White-throated Redstart.

It's also good fun playing with these snow-shot photos in Photoshop.

In cold conditions what better way of getting warm that to build a campfire. We moved out of the forest and got some firewood from a local farmer - we had taken grill meat with us from Chengdu - but that snow is falling even harder.

That's better - it didn't take long to get a good blaze.

Nothing like grilling in the snow - we had ribs, steak, sausages, corn and potatoes - and just to wash it down some local brandy mixed up into a hot toddy with boiling water and brown sugar. That fire was very effective - we spent six hours grilling, talking and watching the embers.

We weren't going to keep that fire going all night - so back to the hotel - and set the electric blankets to top heat. The hotel we stayed at was rather primitive - but these electric blankets keep you cosy enough.

To get our car through the snow we fit chains onto the drive wheels.

Although the snow had stopped falling the second day we needed those chains to climb the pass to get to our second walk. It's difficult for camera light-meters to work out settings when you have a combination of silver car and white-snow!!!

The big problem with our first day had been the low cloud which had prevented us from enjoying the view - but as we climbed over the 3,000m mark we started to drive through the top layers.

Up around 4,000m we were in strong sunlight - indeed so strong, I had no sun-glasses, my eyes suffered minor irritation the following night.

The walk here is fantastic - at this height we're coming close to 5,000m. As usual we all had to take it easy in the thin air - but our guest had no altitude problems.

and we still had a rib or two from the night before - they taste extra better up here!!!

We found this Christmas-tree like branch by the side of the prayer-flag - I'm sure its nothing to do with our own festivities - but it does look rather seasonal.

These mountains are great places!