Friday, 10 June 2011

Week 27 Guiyang to Bamei 420km cycled

Highlights: Pandas, Snow capped mountains, Rocky Gorges, Tibeten culture 
Low blows: Going to wrong bus station, Bus break down
Music of the week:  Danny’s Song – LTJ Bukem

Cold wet day. Up at 6 as apparently Pandas don’t like the warm weather and they’re more active in morning, so wanted to get there early. Got lucky as a bus was arriving just as I got to stop. Had to change at a bus station. Ate expensive noodles then went to find bus. Info desk girls useless as didn’t know which bus went there and sent me to wrong bus, but eventually found the right bus and boarded. Arrived at Panda Base 8 ish. 58Y entry.
Got a map and then set off along cold pathway in search of Pandas. First came to red Panda enclosure- an open area outdoors. One was sat cleaning itself on a post, lovely dark red fur and long fluffy tail, my first thought was “thatd make a nice hat”! Soon came onto the sub- adult male enclosure, about 6 pandas all munching on bamboo for breakfast and really enjoying it too. They sat in a group mostly on their backs while they contentedly munched away on the platform, much to the delight of the crowd who were snapping away like mad, me included. Watched them for a while then walked around a large adult enclosure, a Panda wandering about and rubbing its arse on the trees to scent them. Then onto baby enclosure, about 8 pandas here clowning around and climbing up a tree, one panda kept losing its grip and looked like it would fall but managed to keep hold and pull itself back up onto branch again. Others playing and lazing around high up in tree. A real delight to watch and all crowd loving it too.
For those with a spare 100quid you could gave your photo taken holding a baby panda. The people with money to spare had to don plastic shoe covers and a mack before entering special area where a well preened panda model awaited. This one’s fur was pure white, whereas the ones outside had dirty yellowish fur.
While leaving this area a sign said ‘wildlife is not food’ – bloke passing said, “no, it’s cuisine”.  Had a look at all the other enclosures and then did the rounds once more – a lot of Pandas crashed out asleep and annoying to see people shouting at resting bears.
On the way out I walked down to Swan lake to see a black swan almost peck a duck to death before it managed to make it’s escape. Had to wait 40mins for a bus and then it took the longest route ever arriving at tourist centre over an hour later. Walked back to hostel and relaxed. Chinese people noisy again at night of course!
Juvenile Pandas enjoy breakfast together

Young cubs fooling around in the tree tops

Feline-like Red Panda

Evil Black Swan hands out a severe pecking

Chengdu to Wolong  bus then 73km cycled
Bloke in hostel had told me the bus station for Wolong was in the SW so set off for that 13km through the morning traffic arriving at 10am.  Found out that buses don’t go from here, but from a station to the NW. Made my way back using ring roads and pleased that Chengdu has a good transport infrastructure that made my way as painless as possible. Got to correct bus station 11:30 and a total of 30kms later. No direct buses to Wolong so took one to Dujiangyan that left every 10 mins.
Dujiangyan city is ‘back to normal’ China and not modern westernized shiny place of Chengdu. Once there discovered there are no buses to Wolong as road bad so figured out nearest place and got a ticket for that. Weather turned cold and overcast – looks like rain. Had a quick lunch then got on next bus that only went 20mins up road, through a 4km tunnel and past a huge hydro dam.  Driver pulled over just before another tunnel and lad pointed to a tunnel to left saying Wolong. Had a look at map and decided I would cycle there as still enough time.
Changed clothes at roadside, put lights on bike and entered the tunnel. Bit scary as no lighting inside and not wide, a bit of a squeeze as trucks passed by, but only 500m so soon out the other side. It was like going through some kind of magic door and into another world. Soon heading up a tight gorge, thick mist trying to creep over the tops. Road followed a rushing river of white rapids alongside the road. Road deteriorated into rough ground and then just a massive boulder field washed out from side stream. Quite exciting to ride on and amazing scenery, so beautiful after being cooped up in crowded dorms and busy cities for the last week. Feeling free again.
Catchnets having a hard time holding back the boulders

Good road came and went and eventually more good road than bad. Lots of catchnets holding banking together and some huge boulders in road. Many landslips from rain but later discovered the lower end of the valley was almost the epicenter of an earthquake that devastated the area 3 years ago. Passed villages, some houses with cracks and huge holes in walls. Some hydro projects and several tunnels being drilled along way. Exposed rock, sheer high cliffs, trees. Impressive. At one point had to go through a long 1km tunnel, pitch black and full of dust as cars and lorries kicked it up. Eventually arrived at Wolong by 7pm, getting cold and just as it started to rain so lucky! Invited to dinner by an NGO bloke working with Pandas in area. I asked him about the rows of houses Id passed on the way here and he said it was people were still in temp accom 3 years after quake that happened. Big Pass tomorrow hope weather is better.

Wolong to Rilongguan   90km 
Rained all night. Bought some dust covered packets of snacks, then off then set off along river in a gorge. Exposed rock and pine trees - beautiful. Quite a few birds flitting about one a red/brown wagtail, black body, white strip back of head. Some lovely wooden shrine bldngs. Lots of netting and fencing up to try and hold bankings in place but boulders smashed thru barriers all along the way. Had a rest stop and looked up to see 6 eagles riding thermals. All Tibeten people along the way v friendly, old women wearing long smocks and turbans. One family was repairing their house and the mother who must have been 50 odd was carring the 10m central beam of the roof on her shoulder as she turned around with it. Strong women these Tibetens!
Arrived in Dengsheng marked on the map as a town just before the uphill, but it was only a hotel under construction and workers shacks. Asked where I could get food and a bloke pointed to one of shacks where they’d just prepared lunch so ate with all workers. Said thanks for food. They wouldn’t accept the money I offered. Then it was up up up, along long stretches of switchback road. Awesome scenery, Yaks grazing on grassy banks, snow dusted on mtns across valley. An eagle gliding on thermals around me and another swooping below me. Loving it. Gradient fine really. Had a stop every 12km. Some of road gone down bank. Rounded corner heading for the pass. Lack of oxygen for last 10km tough going, but beautiful mtns covered with heavy snow and snow along roadside too kept me going. A few Yak carcasses and lots of crows fliapping about in a large group. Up Up , Knackered, found breathing faster helped and got a pace going. Rested frequently for last 10kms whenever I needed it. Felt light headed and music Id put on to get me up hill was freaky as I was spaced out. Had to stop more and more as felt like energy zapped out of me.  Upper part of mtn v cold too. Could see top of pass and a lot of switchbacks to get there, spurred me on as I got close and eventually there 6 hrs later at 6pm. Balang Shan Pass 4500m. Cold wind blowing prayer flags about, nearby a stone bldg for emergencies I presume, also a weather station on hill. Glad weather today not like yesterday or it’d be vile.
Had a rest then through pass to other side – reward for all effort was a 25km downhill and at end of Valley a beautiful mtn range covered in snow –Si Gu Niang Shan (4 girls mtn),  so beautiful. Put on several layers for freezing downhill and zoomed down into town, fingers icy cold and numb. At beginning of town got collared by a bloke touting for gh’s so followed him. Place seemed ok at first but just a trickle of hot water and no towel. They tried to sort it but couldn’t so I said sorry and left. Got a place up road for 50Y  after haggling down from 80Y, again no towel – must be a local thing . Ate there which took some sorting trying to explain I didn’t want the sad floppy piece of cabbage they were gonna use. Got food in end but then they wanted 30Y and it was only small dish too. I got another guest Chinese bloke to tell them it was most expensive dish Id had in 2 months in China and in end paid 20Y. Think they were trying to make back what Id haggled on room.  A lot of faffing to get room and food – Id arrived here at 7:30 and only fininshed food by 9:30. Fantastic riding today.

Riverside riding

Dengsheng- population about 25 construction workers building hotel in background

Long and winding road up to the pass

6 hours later.............the top of the pass!!!

Just through the gap, a great view of 4 girls mountain and quality downhill

Rilongguan to Xianjin   52km  
Noodles and a fried bread thing for bf. Lovely sunny day cold with blue sky. Wrapped up and set off downhill, wind quite chilly. Blokes leading ponies up the hill. Downhill for first 25km, lovely morning light. Lots of whitewashed stone buildings with red painted corner posts and motifs on side of walls – conch shells, floral patterns and other stuff. Corners of roof are built up too which makes each home look like a little castle. Some villages I rode through had wooden doors with colourful paintwork of flowers and birds etc. Hills look very crumbly, basically riverbed, boulders with sediment holding it together. Lots of blossoming fruit trees and most agriculture going on around fertile river banks. Sun soon hot and had to strip down, even took wooly socks off! Stopped off for a look at a scripture tower and  turns out this village is being themed for tourism, although it does make sense seens everthing was flattened in this area by earthquake, a lot of new houses and rebuilding going on. Everyone very friendly. Face feeling sunburnt, even though put on cream but probably from yesterday too. A big white stupa where 2 rivers meet and 2 old chain bridges no longer in use.
Arrived Xianjin 1 ish. All youngsters in town v excited by my arrival. Ate noodles spicy chips and rice, surpised myself I ate it all actually then found a gh, 50Y after haggling.. Did laundry and hung it out in hot sun. Turns out theres a mini temple thing on gh roof with a row of prayer wheels and a monk to! Needed to clean up front derailer as seized up yesterday. Was giving bike a quick spray before cleaning bloke appeared and did a shoddy job then asked for 10Y.
Had a look in temple built under cliff. And later on chatted with a load of students over dinner. Really nice ride again today and downhill practically all way!
Blossoming fruit trees and stencilled homes

Tibetan style petrol station

Bamei   24km cycled
Decided to have a rest day as a long day yesterday and this town looks interesting.
Had a wander round the town, or rather up the one road. Women in frilly white summer hats and long black gowns fiddling with  prayer beads. Men with thick smocks, tall cream hats and dark weathered skin. People in street laughing at my shorts, and everyone looks cold but isn’t that cold. Had a look round temple at end of street then had lunch.
In afternoon went back towards the pass to have a look at a huge monastery, set on the plain. Large square formed by monks rooms then a large grassy inner courtyard and the prayer hall in the middle of that. A pot bellied monk took me into inner prayer building. Very dark inside, but once eyes adjusted there was a large seating area for the monks to chant, several Buddha images, then round the back was a large Buddha shrine with many effigies. The monk showed me a cabinet full of murals made from coloured wax. Each had taken him 3 years to do and there were five in all.
The monk returned to his picnic under an umbrella on the grass and I went for a wander around the complex. Round the back a  huge wooden building being constructed. 170 pillars, marble bases at the front. Elsewhere in the compound rows of 2.5 meter high prayer wheels.
Eventually rode back to town passing solid buildings surrounded by stone walls with turf tops.
Back at hotel all the staff out the back sorting out rare caterpillar mushrooms, which grow high in the mtns and fetch a tidy sum in Hong Kong. The pile they had was worth 5000 quid. Funny in hotel cos they have solar panels on the roof for heating water but you have to pay 40Y extra for this privilege. The cheaper rooms get a hot flask or you boil your own in a kettle which uses electricity, so it actually costs them more.

Funerary mini-stupas surround the main stupa at Bamei temple

Colourful hotel on the main street

Sorting caterpiller fungus, about 5000 quids worth!

New construction in the monastery grounds, 170 thick pine pillars with marble supports at the front

Prayer hall of nearby monastery (no photos allowed inside) 

Colouful murals adorn the walls of the prayer hall entrance 

Hundreds of prayer flags on the plain

Typical local house with spiky bushes surrounding the fields

Bamei billiard 'hall'

Xianjin to Danba   and visit to nearby village 72km  
Massive bowl of noodles for bf. Put suncream on before I set off as clear blue sky and skin feeling burnt. Also lips v dry and chapped due to very dry climate. Set off by 10 and discovered this town is actually quite big, stretching up and along, all buildings and front shutters covered in colourful motifs. Easy downhill for nearly all way following river. Beautiful scenery all the way, huge cliffs either side of gorge, Tibetan housing dotted about the landscape, fruit trees, some in bloom. Things got a lot greener after about 20km and the rock also changed into a more solid type. Passed a temple on other side of river and rode through some lovely villages, everyone saying hello. Old woman walking in road with prayer beads, old women sat on stools sewing outside their homes and old men sat crossed legged smoking or sat in groups chatting in shade of trees. Road getting sandy and broken in patches every so often and lots of dredging for pebbles/boulders going on in river on a huge scale .
Stopped off for lunch in small town and was pointed up some stairs into a building that looked closed. Woman appeared but all she had that looked ok were eggs so just had omelet and rice for 6Y.  Van selling vegetables pulled up just as I was leaving and drew a big crowd as all the village came to purchase.
Continued downhill, road worse and really bad along one bit where the river suddenly dropped, turning into a churning mass of white water and road was being redone. Stopped to have a look at another tibeten temple at road side, completely surrounded by prayerwheels and prayer flags. Very colourful. Rocks in this area also full of mica. When a lorry went past it kicked up a load of silver dust which fell like glitter onto me and bike. A bit further on across river a golden roof of a temple glinting in the sun.
Danba wasn’t that much further down the road, the distance on my Chinese map wrong by 20kms, so a pleasant surprise to get there sooner than expected. A strip of a town set along banks of river in bottom of gorge. Some massive construction going on – tunnel? Hydro? Looked around for accom and eventually got a room for 60Y (down from 80) overlooking river. Really hot and now overcast so feeling humid and looks like a storm might happen. 
As only 2:30pm, decided to go and look at the defense towers of nearby Suopo village. Just 3kms out of town downriver. Crossed over a wooden suspension bridge covered in prayer flags all fluttering in the wind, then along a sandy track, through a village which wound up the hillside, lined with thorny bushes, trees and violet flowering bushes, eventually leading to the towers. I lost the way as no signage so skipped over a few walls which turned out to be a shortcut. Some village women tending to a field. Was waved into one house with a tower, so immediately asked how much to go up tower and it was only 10Y. Left bike in courtyard then up a series of 5 monkey poles (trunks with single steps cut up them), wood and adobe floor at each section and one part very flexible under foot. Soon at the top of the tower. Good views all round, snow peaks in distance, 3 other towers nearby and several more scattered further up the hillside and across the valley too. Presumably they were a safe retreat for the whole family should your house come under attack. Magpies fltiing about in trees. Really beautiful houses set amongst lush greenery. Other people in house were a bloke in red monks robes chanting at a table an old woman with baby and 2 women, one of who took me up tower. They had some goats skins hung up in one corner, a threshing machine for barley and a chicken coup on a lower level. Nice living arrangement and lots of space, and the view! Sun came back out about 5.

A Tibetans home is pretty much a castle

Gorgeous scenery as I coast downhill

Prayer flags flutter on every bridge

Defense towers around the hillsides of Suopo

A tower up close

Earthquake proof traditional housing

Danba as seen from bedroom window

Danba to Bamei   83km  
Road followed river nearly all the way. High sided narrow valley of exposed rock and lush greenery from dark green through every shade almost to yellows. Saw a Chinese maple tree too on one hillside. Again scenery so beautiful, but quite hard going as uphill all the way to top of pass at 66km, and some sections steep where the river dropped. Rock cliffs most of way but interesting to notice after going through a narrow gorge it changed to shales and then a light clay soil. Rock was being dug out by jcbs equipped with drills a lot some of route and construction going on every so often. Dust that hung in the air kicked up by passing vehicles. Some lovely tibeten houses along way with a castle- like tower attached to main building, one even had flags fluttering from the four corners of the tower. Lots of birds flitting about river, wagtails, a fat dipper type bird, sparrows, magpies, and eagles soaring high in sky.
Glad to arrive at small village at km35 as getting hungry. 3 blokes having a rest from motorbikes sat on a bench with shop owners and an old woman. The bikers looked like something from an 80’s glam rock band, big hats, round sunglasses, scarfs and fancy jackets. All friendly. Had lunch of pot noodle at a small village shop and dumped the can of pilchards Ive been carrying since Laos in it. Chatted with a young lad eating potatoes and rice (I asked women if I could have what he was having but it was his lunch). He gave me some potatoes so I returned the favour with some fish. After lunch he went and got all his mates so had chatted with the kids.
Hot afternoon, but became overcast later on. Passed a hot spring but really didn’t feel like going in as hot already, feeling tired and some blokes there that seemed dodgy. The sulphurus deposits had formed a layer of yellow crusty rock from the pool down river bank into river. Passed by some monks riding motorbikes too. One wanted to know what my ipod was and then asked if he could have it, I said Id swap it for his motorbike and he said ok, but I caught them up again further up as the bike had broken down so wouldn’t have been a good swop anyway! Another hot spring at km58 set in 2 large cement tanks. Bunch of blokes in there waved me over, and air getting cool, me tired so decided to have a dip. Went over wooden bridge and then sat down and paddled, soothing my tired legs. Stayed there 15mins till 5pm and realized I must crack on. Wasn’t much further till road left the river and started going up the hillside, quite steep to start but then about same as itd been for most of afternoon. Some jcbs doing something to road, I squeezed past one that’d stopped for me to get by and hit my pannier against its track which pulled off bag and snapped off a small piece of the grip, although it still works.
Sky had cleared and was sunny but now getting really dark and threatening to rain. Soon at the pass although nothing as dramatic as the last one, just between two grassy hills, crows cawing over the picked at carcass of a dead yak, head still intact everything else gone. Put on fleece and wooly hat and set off downhill. Didn’t want to arrive in dark and still 20kms to go.
A lot of roadworks going on so road mainly dirt but still a fair pace. Dropped down onto a plain, prayer flags fluttering in wind all over the place and may pole type things with flags coming off them too. Some beautiful solid looking stone houses, painted red with white decorations. Soil type changed again I think this is glacial soil as v powdery and the landscape is reminiscent of Brecon Beacons, although with Yaks and horses grazing on it. Wind really whipped up as rain wanted to start, but it only spotted a bit, dust clouds tumbling up the road into my face. Had wind at my back for last 7kms which was a nice change and needed it as knackered. Prayer flags dotted all over the place, even a huge cable hung across valley over river draped in them.
Got into town and then in search of gh. A lot wanted 100Y. Found a hotel for 60Y but no hot water so wandered a bit more and got a place for 45Y for 2 nights, bathroom outside. Went and found some food 15Y after haggling, then had a thermos flask bucket bath in a bowl and dried off on micro towel they gave me. Decided it wasn’t such a deal after all so just paid for one night and will go over to hotel tomorrow, which is still a bucket bath set up but at least Ive got my own bathroom and the room is at back of hotel and not over road and the noise coming from people and intermittent traffic. (That which does come tends to be trucks who of course have to blast the horn).

Inspiring views that keep you going 

Very green

Should read 'Public Toilet for Biological Tour'

Something to look at while going the last few kms uphill

Clouds peaks and snow

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