• Monasteries in Amdo

    labrang We start the last stage of our journey either in Golmud or in Delingha, depending on the logistics. As I said on the preceding post (link) Delingha seems a city difficult to visit by non-Chinese, and Golmud is a dull, boring city.

    But in any case on our way to Xining, we will enter Amdo, a separate cultural area, not a political region, nor now, nor when the territory was under Tibetan rule, but it is a cultural region, marked by Tibetan faith and tibetan monasteries,whose density (link) is paramount to Europe in the Middle Ages. Photo at left is a Stupa in Labrang Monastery

    This is a map of Amdo, with Chinese regions boundaries underneath

    1024px-Tibet_provinces

    Most of the monasteries were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and they strive to recover with (a little) help of the Chinese Government. As, per exemple, Labrang Monastery:

    At its height the monastery housed 4,000 monks. Like so many religious institutions, it suffered during the Cultural Revolution; and the monks were sent to their villages to work. After it was reopened in 1980, many of the monks returned; but the government restricted enrolment to around 1,500.

    Two views of the Labrang Monastery

    labrang3

    labrang2

    There is a division in Tibetan Buddhism, which divides in sects that will be explained in the next post, but, at this point, we may divide them in “Red hats” (the Old Tradition) and “Yellow hats” (Gelug). The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelug. “The “Way of Virtue” (Gelug) school was originally a reformist movement and is known for its emphasis on logic and debate. The order was founded in the 14th to 15th century by Je Tsongkhapa, renowned for both his scholarship and virtue. Its spiritual head is the Ganden Tripa and its temporal one the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is regarded as the embodiment of Avalokiteśvara. Successive Dalai Lamas ruled Tibet from the mid-17th to mid-20th centuries.”

    Labrang seems impressive, and may be an interesting diversion is to travel from Qinghai Lake to Labrang (270 Km), and from there to Xi’an (570 km)

    Photo Credits: from the Internet
    Featured Image: Dzogchen Monastery
    Other Images:Labrang Monastery


  • Tuesday, May 23, 2017, Da Qaidam Zhen to Golmud

    xia-he-delinghaThe original plan was to skip Golmud, to go directly from Da Qaidam to Delingha, and there to take a train or a bus to Ulan and Tsaka.

    Although Delingha does not appear on the Lonely Planet guide (nor, by the way, in other guides, and Ella and Peter went 125 km towards South in their trip, direct through the Dulan Desert to Dzounchia), it seems rather interesting (see photo at left). So, the plan was crystal clear, either go from Mangnai Zhen to Golmud, through Teijinar (Urt Moron), or go from Mangnai Zhen to Da Qaidam Zhen, and then there is no need to reach Golmud (and empty city as Lonely Planet describes it: “For three decades, Golmud faithfully served overlanders as the last jumping-off point before Lhassa. Bedraggled backpackers hung around the city truck depot (powerful image!) trying to negotiate a lift to the “Roof of the World”. But since the completion of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, this lonesome backpacker has become even less important (…) ”

    There is no description about anything to see in Golmud, although on the Internet some interesting sceneries does appear, usually with a train in the background.

    So, the plan was to skip Golmud, and go to Delingha instead. But.. but this is what a fellow traveller says about Delingha:

    this area is covertly known for nuclear missile base. said so, entering without this knowledge would give you much trouble. as foreign travelers, no where you can stay over night, as hotel would not allow. skip this area, whether you head east or west for next destination…

    As a consequence, I have asked for information several hotels, and I will update the information here. If Delingha is out-of-limits, then the journey will bring us from Da Qaidam to Golmud, through lakes of salt, and emptiness. Da Qaidam may be a city with a scenery, a little like Santiago de Chile, with high peaks in the background (Qaidam Shan 5.179 m).

    As a consequence, and depending on the answer of Delingha’s hotels, we will go to Golmud, and then a train to the South shore of Qinghai Lake (Kokonor)

    view of Da Qaidam
    da qaidam zhen

    views of Santiago (by the way, from my appartment) in June

    after a light snow in the mountains
    after a light snow in the mountains

    in December

    Santiago in summer
    Santiago in summer

    Photo credits: Featured image, Delingha and Da Qaidam, from the Internet
    Santiago images, from the author


  • Monday, May 22, 2017 Mangnai to Da Qaidam (260 Km) or to Golmud (352 Km)

    There is not a lot to see in Mangnai except if you are interested in the mining business. And, more specifically, in the asbestos mining. An interesting page from 10 years ago -> -> Shimiankuang <-

    Carlos
    Carlos at Atacama

    Assuming that we have arrived to Mangnai, we may try to cross the Tsaidam from North to South, towards Golmud. There is a road marked on the map, but, as there is not a lot of geographical accidents in there, this “road” may be a dusty local path. But, as in Google Earth the path is marked by photos (like scattered breadcrumbs left by some Tom Thumb) we may assume that the road exists. A major village marked in this road is Urt Moron, near the Senie Lake, which is a brine (salt) lake. Bathing is a salt lake is an experience, it is absolutely different to anything known before, the “tact” of the water es different, gliding, like inmersing in a liquid pearl.

    If possible, it would be fine to find a transport to Golmud through Urt Moron, and, eventually, even to stop at Urt Moron, to see what the Qaidam looks like. In the Tsaidam, a “must see” for whoever loves deserts, are the “Yardangs

    Wikipedia:

    “A yardang is a streamlined protuberance carved from bedrock or any consolidated or semiconsolidated material by the dual action of wind abrasion by dust and sand, and deflation which is the removal of loose material by wind turbulence.[1] Yardangs become elongated features typically three or more times longer than wide, and when viewed from above, resemble the hull of a boat. Facing the wind is a steep, blunt face that gradually gets lower and narrower toward the lee end.[2] Yardangs are formed by wind erosion, typically of an originally flat surface formed from areas of harder and softer material. The soft material is eroded and removed by the wind, and the harder material remains. The resulting pattern of yardangs is therefore a combination of the original rock distribution, and the fluid mechanics of the air flow and resulting pattern of erosion.”

    Yardang-01

    The “normal” road (E 315) goes East, to find the E 215, Urumqi-Golmud Highway, and from them on, Qaidam Zhen.

    Travel plans are to continue towards the Kokonor (Qinhai Lake) in bus, but, eventually, plans may change, and our route now almost follows the train line from Beijing to Lhassa, so, we may use train, or bus, at our convenience.

    note: trains may be taken at Gormud or Delingha (250 East of Qaidam Zhen), but probably there are stations between this two cities.

    Photo credits: all photos, but the Yardang, are from the Author, taken in the sorroundings of San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)

    Atacama Desert Brine lake I
    Atacama Desert Brine lake I
    Salt lake in Atacama
    Salt lake in Atacama

  • كتاب ألف ليلة وليلة . In search of a dream land and of Roland and Sabrina Michaud

    alflailahOrient opened its doors for me in my grandmother bookshelf, with the “Alf-Laila Wa-Laila” the Book of One Night and One Thousand Nights, complete and uncensored (it was edited before the Spanish Civil War). It was a popular edition, translated by Vicente Blasco Ibañez, a well known Spanish writer. As he did not know the arabic, he translated it from French. Note on translation was misleading: “Translated direct and literally from the Arabic by J.C. Mardrus. Spanish version from V. Blasco Ibanez.” but of course, Blasco Ibañez was a best seller writer, and he did not knew arabic.

    It was printed like pulp literature, small (100-120 page) volume, sold weekly. But before being able to read them, I still hear my grandma telling the Fisherman and the Efrit (Ginni, in the English translation) matrioshka of tales, and one of the embedded histories, the four fishes presented to the Sultan, and the incantatory phrase, repeated three times: “Pececitos, pececitos, cumplireis con vuestra obligación?”

    Her dress was a silken head-kerchief fringed and tasseled with blue: a large ring hung from either ear; a pair of bracelets adorned her wrists; rings with bezels of priceless gems were on her fingers; and she hent in hand a long rod of rattan-cane which she thrust into the frying-pan, saying, “O fish! O fish! be ye constant to your covenant?” When the cookmaiden saw this apparition she swooned away. The young lady repeated her words a second time and a third time, and at last the fishes raised their heads from the pan, and saying in articulate speech “Yes! Yes!” began with one voice to recite:—

    Come back and so will I! Keep faith and so will I! ❋
    And if ye fain forsake, I’ll requite till quits we cry!<

    And this was my first introduction to Orient.

    Several years have passed and once, in a book shop I found this photo book, written by a French couple, Roland and Sabrina Michaud, who lived there for a while:

    memoirs de lafganistan

    I bought it. And I decided that I wanted to travel, to go there with a big telephoto lens, and just stay there, taking photos.

    And then I got married.

    For the people interested, here is a short bio of Romain and Sabrina Michaud, as well as a collection of their photos

    There once was a man who loved a woman so much he could not be without her. The man, a French photographer named Roland Michaud met a Moroccan born girl called Sabrina in the late 1950’s. They began their life together traveling through the mystic lands of the Orient discovering and documenting its wonders. They made their way by car and by horseback, by boat and on foot; crossing the dramatic landscape of the Orient and documenting its rugged charms. From ruined cities covered with desert sands to the Pamir Mountains, where caravans of camels walk across frozen rivers in winter, to the Turkestan bazaars along the old Silk Road, Roland and Sabrina travelled and came to love this exotic paradise and its proud peoples.

    Ethnologie / Asie / Afghanistan. TurkmËnes avec leurs enfants prenant le thÈ dans leur yourte.
    Ethnologie / Asie / Afghanistan.
    TurkmËnes avec leurs enfants prenant le thÈ dans leur yourte.
    Ethnologie / Kirghizes (peuplade turcophone díAsie centrale). Dans le corridor de Wakhan du massif du Pamir au nord-est de líAfghanistan, province de Badakhchan : portrait díun Kirghize dans sa yourte. Photo, hiver 1970/71.
    Ethnologie / Kirghizes (peuplade turcophone díAsie centrale).
    Dans le corridor de Wakhan du massif du Pamir au nord-est de líAfghanistan, province de Badakhchan : portrait díun Kirghize dans sa yourte.
    Photo, hiver 1970/71.

    RS_Caravan

    Prière du couchant.

    mountains

    caravanes de Tartarie

    Iran_max1024x768

    Iran

    Kirgiz Caravan

    Religionen / Hinduismus / Sadhu (Sanskrit ìder Guteî, Heiliger, Ehrenname f¸r einen Hindu, der als Eremit oder bettelnder Wanderasket lebt). In Talati am Fufl des Mount Girnar (Gujarat, Indien): Sadhu mit Haarknoten. Foto, Februar 1988.
    Religionen / Hinduismus /
    Sadhu (Sanskrit ìder Guteî, Heiliger, Ehrenname f¸r einen Hindu, der als Eremit oder bettelnder Wanderasket lebt).
    In Talati am Fufl des Mount Girnar (Gujarat, Indien): Sadhu mit Haarknoten.
    Foto, Februar 1988.
    Sravana Belgola / Shravanabelagola (Karnataka, India), (most important pilgrimage destination in Jainism), Indragiri Hill, cult image of Bahubali (also Gommateshvara, son of Rishabha (Adinatha), the founder of Jainism; monolithic colossal statue, donated 981 by Chamundaraya, height 17.5m). During the Mahamastakabhisheka festival (Jain festival held every 12 years. The statue is anointed with libations and offerings, poured from a scaffolding specially built for the event): Digambara monk at the feet of the statue. Photo, December 1993.
    Sravana Belgola / Shravanabelagola (Karnataka, India),
    (most important pilgrimage destination in Jainism),
    Indragiri Hill,
    cult image of Bahubali (also Gommateshvara, son of Rishabha (Adinatha), the founder of Jainism; monolithic colossal statue, donated 981 by Chamundaraya,
    height 17.5m).
    During the Mahamastakabhisheka festival (Jain festival held every 12 years. The statue is anointed with libations and offerings, poured from a scaffolding specially built for the event): Digambara monk at the feet of the statue.
    Photo, December 1993.
    Agra (Uttar Pradesh, Inde), Taj Mahal (mausolÈe ÈdifiÈ entre 1632 et 1653 par líempereur Chah Jahan ‡ la mÈmoire de son Èpouse favorite Mumtaz Mahal). Vue sur la Yamuna avec une caravane de chameaux et le Taj-Mahal ‡ líarriËre plan. Photographie, dÈcembre 1981.
    Agra (Uttar Pradesh, Inde), Taj Mahal (mausolÈe ÈdifiÈ entre 1632 et 1653 par líempereur Chah Jahan ‡ la mÈmoire de son Èpouse favorite Mumtaz Mahal).
    Vue sur la Yamuna avec une caravane de chameaux et le Taj-Mahal ‡ líarriËre plan.
    Photographie, dÈcembre 1981.

    This gallery contains 16 photographs in all as   photograph etc.

  • Traveling abroad is always complicated. And specially, in China.

    jellyfishPeter and Ella had just left Gorumu (Golmud) with Li. “We always called him Brother Li which is the custom of the country. He was not really our servant; we ate together and shared whatever work there was to do, though Li did most of it.” Li was with them from Tangar, short after Xining, he went with them and Prince’s Dzoun Caravan through the Dulan Desert; they departed Tangar in March, 28 ““Then, with joy and incredulity, we remounted, turned our horse’s heads in the general direction of India, and cantered after the camels” (Peter Fleming). Now some time has gone by, one month exactly, this is April, 28, and they leave Gorumu for the unfathomable Teijinar, six camel stages away, were they should meet Borodishin.

    They spent three days in Gorumu, and “Kini even bathed” (it seems that Peter does not feel the same urge), and, on May 1st, they departed. “This time we did feel elated at departure. We had got away quicker than we expected; we were on our own at last; and Teijinar was only five or six stages farther on. The sunlit world seemed a very satisfactory place.

    But after two hours we stopped at a yurt belonging to a Chinese with a Mongol wife, and Li said that we must stay the night there because our Mongol, who lived close by, had yet to grind its samba and make his preparations for the journey. Li had told me this the night before, but I had not understood him. I was angry with myself. The incident reminded me what innocents we were, how effectually the language difficulty prevented us, not only from learning anything worth learning about the people and the country, but from ever really knowing for certain what was happening to us.”

    seacucumberIn my opinion, Peter is wrong this time. Even if he had understood perfectly the words of Li, the fact that departing for a long trip and stopping for the night two hour later was outside his comprehension envelope. We all live in our cultural bubble, and when something is outside it, although we may understand the words, their sense is lost in translation. If Peter had understood the day before what Li said, about making a two hour first stage, and stopping for the night, he had become mad at Li. They probably had had a discussion, to finally leave as Peter wanted, only to find, two hour later, than a camel was limping, or a girth must be mended and they needed to stop. And the Mongol must grind its tsamba, collect his camels, whatever, before they would be able to depart definitively.

    To understand the words is not enough. It may be useful to find the restrooms (男, male, nan, 女, female, nu), and know the differences in a menu between the Jellyfish salad (Liang Ban Hai Zhe 涼拌海蜇), the sea cucumber (Haishen, 海参), and the almost divine Phoenix Claws, aka. chicken feet (Fèng zhuǎ 鳯爪). But, who may know the taste of the Phoenix Claws before eating them? Even understanding the words, we may be as lost as Peter was. Moreover, a culture which calls a dish “Phoenix Claws” would not be easy to understand.

    How to prepare the Phoenix Claws… starting by a manicure.

    20140828-braised-chicken-feet-shao-zhong-3
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .

    and this is the finished dish…

    20140828-braised-chicken-feet-shao-zhong-15

    Photos: Featured Image: Dunes in the Namib : Carlos Griell
    other photos from recipes in the Internet


  • Sunday, May 21, 2017, Ruoqiang to Mangnai Zhen by minibus… if possible

    InsidersExpeditions_Qinghai8_0So, we leave the Xinjiang to enter the Qinghai. From Lonely Planet Qinghai Guide: “Big, bold, and beautiful barren, Qinghai larger than any country in the EU, occupies a vast swathe of the Northeastern chunk of the Tibetan Plateau. In fact, as Tibetans are concerned, this is the Amdo, one of the old Tibet’s three traditional provinces. Much of what you’ll experience here will feel more Tibetan than Chinese; there are monasteries galore, yaks by the hundred and nomads camped out across high-altitude grasslands.

    Rough and ready, Qinghai is classic off-the-beaten-track territory, often as a last frontier feel to it. Traveling here can be both inconvenient and uncomfortable, though China’s rapid development plans have begun to touch the province, with huge railways and new rail lines under construction.

    Despite that, Qinghai still delivers a high dose of solitude among middle-of-nowhere high-plateau vistas, Martian-like red mountains and encounters with remote communities of China’s ethnic minorities”

    This (and 13 pages more) is all what LP has to say about a province bigger than any country in the EU.

    mangnaiOn Sunday May 21 of the next year we plan to leave Ruoqiang to Mangnai Zhen, which is a mine “town”. Village may be. LP guide says that there is a bus from Ruoqiang to Golmud. May be, may be not, as it happens often in China. Other travelers found themselves stranded in Ruoqiang (not so long ago, in 2014), and arrived to Mangnai Zhen in a shared car (very) full of smoking miners, which, at 4.000 m, may be a powerful experience.

    Mangnai Zhen is an asbestos mine, and the photo shows the pollution on the countryside (no, it is not snow) as one of the cyclists of may previous post specifies :).

    And, on the next post, we will talk about the Tsaidam (also spelled Qaidam) Basin, which is the area we just entered, and that finishes in Golmud. Teijinar is in its center. Moreover, searching for Qaidam, I saw that an american expedition found in 2002 metal pipes belonging to an ancient (or alien) civilization…

    Photo Credits: Featured Image a mine in Atacama, near Copiapo, from Carlos Griell
    Other photos from Internet. Second one from a blog of a briton who wanted to break all Silk Road speed records. An example that I do not plan to do link -> The fast briton blog
    Last one from Internet

    InsidersExpeditions_Yunnan89


  • Cycling through the Altun Mountains (and living to explain it)

    overview map stormkorpdotse When searching documentation for this post (Ruoqiang to Mangnai Zhen, probably the only difficult part of this trip), I stumbled upon a blog (I should say, a photo blog) with photos of a bike trip from Golmud to Kashgar. Two guys and a gal went from Golmud to Mangnai Zhen, and then entered the Altun Plateau.

    They crossed the path of Ella and Peter at the very beginning, in the Ayyakum Lake, and then they went South

    Alas, this is, essentially a photo blog, and a little text had been welcomed. I have looked in their blog to find a contact email, to ask their authorization to put some photos, and to link to them but I did not find the contact address.

    Here is the link -> http://stormkorp.se

    They rode (well, sometimes they rode, sometimes they just push the bike through marshes, snow, slush, mud, rivers), they were charged by a yak, and they did not see anybody in 39 days. And that means that they had food enough for so many days (Ella and Peter had a rifle, as had Owen Lattimer, and they were able to hunt), they climbed two peaks (Kukushili, 6388m and Purog Kangri, 6438m), and they removed a tooth with a Leatherman multitool…

    It is a really interesting reading. They lived a s.XXI adventure, without making any fuss of it.

    Photos are borrowed from their blog

    mzlight


  • May 18 to Saturday 20: Free in Charkilik / Ruoqiang

    xiaohejpg-8ae3d9f2df5727d7Ruoqiang is, for us, travellers from West to East, the exit gate from the Xinjiang, and the entry to the Haixi region. We leave the Tarim Basin, and the Uyghur area to enter the Qaidam and the Mongol area. Near Charkilik (near at China distances, 220 Km) was located Loulan one of the old cities in the desert, near the wandering lake of Lop Nor. And Ruoqiang has an interesting museum, which hosts the “Beauty of Loulan”, a red haired mummy, of Caucasian origin (aka. European) who died 3.800 years ago. There is an interesting history underneath, almost a detective novel, because.. what did a red haired, 45 year old european woman doing in the Takla-Makan, 40 centuries ago?.

    Ella and Peter skipped Charkilik, because they try to avoid controls, and they knew that they will found them in the main road, in the Altyn Tag pass. We have three days in Ruoqiang, it would be nice to be able to find one in Ruoqiang to go through the old 315 Road (marked in the map as “Tarim-Qaidam nn”). Part of the road is clear, because there are photographs of it, and it is a tarred road. But when it is marked with (?) that means that the road path is not clear.tarim qaidam

    Of course, as always, there is a “B Plan”, if we have not found a 4WD in Cherchen that drives us through the desert and beyond, Lonely Planet Guide says that there is a daily sleeper bus from Ruoqiang to Golmud. And other travellers say that there are minibuses from Ruoqiang to the Altyn Tag mines.

    Atacama near Copiapo


  • A diversion in Qiemo or map-makers horror vacui

    Altun-Mountains-InternationalHunting-Field“At the end of the first stage we rattled through Yamatu, a place prominent on mapswith no more justification than a tumble-down fort where half a dozen soldiers contemplate their chickens while waiting for tips from escorted travelers” (Owen Lattimore, High Tartary). When preparing today’s post I was on a trip, and I only had my Gizi 1:2,000,000 map, which shows a road, due South of Quiemo, that crosses places like Munaybulak, Kadalik, Bäshtograk to join the main road Qiemo-Ruoqiang at midway. I though that it should be a rather interesting diversion, at the feet of Altun Mountains, and, again, a road less travelled. And, probably, more interesting than the Cherchen River I planned

    Of course, I have no the faintest idea of the possibilities to find a 4WD with a driver for an acceptable price to follow the Cherchen riverbed, but, I liked the idea

    So, back home, I searched for the cities, or the towns, or the villages, whatever these places may be. And I did not find them. Not any of them, nor in Google Earth Index (which happens rather often), nor in the Index of Geographical Names for China, which includes Mongol and Uyghur names. So, I reverted to Google Earth. Usually, roads not marked as such in the map, and eventually not distinguishable from desert surroundings are marked by photos of sites uploaded by users. Well, in Google Earth, the cities do not appear, nor the roads, nor users photos following it, as there is a path following the Cherchen river in the desert.

    So, probably this road – should it exist – was draw on the map without verification. Simply, there was an empty place on the map, and there was no need to change anything. One of the complex issues that any mapmaker will tell you is that one of the great difficulties is to maintain more or less homogeneous the level of detail, if not on the whole map, in surrounding regions. So.. does this desert track actually exists, or not? when we will go there we will try to solve this question.

    trekking gobi

    Photos:
    Featured Photo: from Internet when searching for Altun Mountains, but really I do not know where it is
    Last photo, full size: From Internet, from a page about Gobi trekking
    May I suggest this page from the Gobi desert and its people, done by an excellent photographer : Mario Endara Photo Blog ? Mario is an excellent photographer


  • May 16, 2017: Qiemo-Rouqiang (315 Km) by local bus and a bivouac in the Takla-Makan

    lop-nur-south-ancient-city_214921Things become interesting from Qiemo until Da Qaidam Zhen, on the “Mongol” side of the Altun Mountains.

    Qiemo (Cherchen) is a city with a population of 50.000, in which what has to be seen is its Museum, and a nearby archeological site (for whoever is interested in archeological sites in which almost nothing remains)

    There are buses from Qiemo (Cherchen) to Rouquiang (Charkilik) (or, at least, quite a lot of bloggers have done this stretch of route by bus), so I assume that to find a bus full of smoking (and expectorating) people is not big deal. But… in Google Earth there are a lot of photos following the Cherchen River, which means that there should some kind of road there (and probably some tours too).

    I took a picture of my Google Earth screen in which you may see two different and almost parallel itineraries: the South one, which follows the road, and the North one, marked by the string of picture marks (alas, the map is a photo of the Google Maps, so, links do not work, but in Google Earth you select Qiemo, and you will have direct access to them). My idea is to locate a car and a driver beforehand, from Europe, through a Chinese agent, and then to travel one or two days through the desert following the Cherchen Hen, probably making a bivouac, should the weather be favorable (and the driver agree)

    Road Qiemo-Ruoqian

    So, either we take a bus and the road, or we live one of the two adventures of this trip. Because of course, going to a desert and following the tarred road is like to go to a Restaurant and ask for a hamburger… it can be done, but…

    Of course, what would be unforgettable is to skip Ruoqiang, and proceed directly through the Altun reserve to Issik Pakthe and Teijinar, but it seems impossible due to the high prices of the permit… but… who knows?

    ruoqiang