Saturday, July 21, 2012


Wu tells us there is speculation that Eskimo culture and Western Canadian natives, all of whom built totems, are descended from Tibetan mountain tribes.

We ride on this very curvy mountain road, with plenty of switchbacks, part paved and part gravel,  steadily climbing.  There is grass, and an occasional meadow,  and a few trees.  No houses or signs of habitation. We pass a couple of kiosks  with people selling trinkets. No sign of where their village is, or how they get there. Then, in the middle of nowhere this beautiful building. It is a restaurant where we are having lunch. We shake our heads. This is China.

In front of the restaurant is this handsome fellow adjusting the feathers on his hat. Without the language we can’t engage him. Vicki is arguing with someone inside and comes out complaining about “government-run restaurants”  but eventually we are seated and enjoyed a marvelous lunch. But for all 14 of us and other wayfarers, there was one western toilet and  several pit toilets outside with very little cover.

We came to a bridge over the river and wranglers were washing and watering their yaks. We wanted to get out and take pictures, but there was no place to park the bus. We begged and Vicki gave us ONE MINUTE.

I climbed down and got a couple more shots, but the place was mobbed and I couldn’t get close. Just the sounds,  the cool water and colorful clothing was enough as four of us  ran back to the bus parked on the bridge.

We arrive in the village of Hanzai at the base of the mountain.  We are greeted by colorful booths with all manner of souvenirs and memorable foods, mostly cooked over open braziers.It was tantalizing.  Exotic foods cooking mixed with a bit of incense burning.

We know instantly why that state-run restaurant is so strategically placed. It is lunch time and the booths are crowded with a mass of hungry humanity. You can’t blame our guide for not wanting us to try these foods because then she has the extra work of caring for someone who gets sick.  A sick person affects the whole group.

One dish was hanarobi cooking in oil. It is a flat dough with rounds of some kind of sausage resembling  salami inside, fried on a 3 foot diameter wok. With boiling hot pots everywhere, spices and chili scenting the air, it was wonderful enough just smelling my way from kiosk to kiosk.

If you can’t afford the high-priced food in the kiosks, you can bring along your own raw duck and cook it on a portable brazier as this family did.

Our goal today is to take a gondola from the village at 7,800 feet to this huge meadow at 10,000 feet to photograph the mountain. It is a couple of miles from where the gondola drops us and we hike the trail  to a boardwalk with a spectacle before us.

Michele Maurer engages an English-speaking, costumed model.

A wooden stage of kiosks sits in the meadow beneath the beautiful mountain.

We have our choice of costumed models  with whom we can have our picture taken in front of the  mountain. It seems a little Disneylandish to us and we decline.

The Chinese tourists seem to love it.

It was a bit hazy, but I got a picture of the much touted mountain peak with an unpronounceable name.

A couple of models taking a break.

If they catch you taking a picture, the hand comes out immediately for money. It is probably unfair and impolite to sneak pictures of them when this is their livelihood. I didn’t get many but it was definitely worth the hike in to enjoy this very unusual experience at the base of this lovely mountain.

The gondola ride down gives a good view how steep it is, and of the surrounding area.  Each car carries two people.

I got paired with this lovely Chinese woman. I smiled. She smiled. I talked, she didn’t understand a word I said. She talked and I didn’t understand a word she said.  I indicated I’d like to take her picture and she assented. Then near the end of the ride, the gondola slows so a photographer can take a Polaroid picture that is instantly developed and waiting for you when you are unhitched from your gondola. I thought I would buy the picture for my companion. She had the same thought  and she held up her hand and said “No pay!” and bought the picture for me. I remembered how to say thank you in Chinese as Vicki taught us. We walked out together smiling and she brought me over to meet her family. Her daughter, Annie, spoke perfect English and was visiting the home country from San Diego. What a small world. We all hugged goodbye.
As I got on the bus, everyone was talking about the Chinese sex “manuals.” Everyone but me had seen them. One of my tour mates pointed to a kiosk near the bus parking. I made the driver wait while I ran over and bought one. Tedd told me that when he boarded our ship, one of the workers approached him surreptitiously and offered him a set. We laughed, he turned them down and I bought one. I was curious and obviously everyone else was too or they wouldn’t have been talking about them.  I passed them around for everyone to see. They are made from two-inch square pieces of bone, nine of them,  joined together in a circle like a bracelet, each carving showing a sexual position.
My partner, Michal is sick as we make a last stop at the end of the parking lot for the pit toilets. These  were the worst ever seen on the trip. God awful, dripping, stinking things really unusable. Thankfully, I’m a camel and didn’t have to deal with it.  Tomorrow, Tiger Leaping Gorge.

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