Sunday, January 19, 2014

Yunnan Part 4: BingHu (Glacial Lake)- Meili Xueshan National Park

The road to Bing Hu

While most trekkers try hard to get out early in the morning in order to maximize their days, we were kind of lazy trekkers... we'll say our excuse was our honeymoon, but it is entirely possible that we are just extremely lazy trekkers in general. Nevertheless, we finally got our gears in motion, probably close to noon on our second day in Meili Xueshan National Park. We asked around to the locals how long it would take to get up to BingHu 冰湖 (the glacial lake or literally 'Ice Lake'), and we were told 2-3 hours there and back. That sounded quite reasonable to us, so we headed out of town towards the lake.

We got a little lost once or twice, but eventually we found ourselves on the correct path to the lake. It was rainy, and we were very thankful that we had both bought ourselves quick drying hiking pants before coming on this trip...

After two hours of hiking up (and no sign of any other hikers) we started to wonder if we really were on the right path... Finally, we met one person coming down and they informed us that we should expect to arrive within an hour to 1.5 hours. Hm... not quite 2-3 hours there and back as we were originally told.... 

Finally, after three hours of hiking we were finally within sight of the end. We could see the glacier now, and we just had to climb up one more small peak to reach it...

Utterly exhausted we finally made it to the top of the peak and looked down at the glacial lake. While it was a lot smaller than I expected, I would recognize that blue color anywhere from the last time I was near a glacier, way back in 2006 in Patagonia. If only I had been blogging at that time...

Some people ventured down to the water's edge for photos, but we were exhausted, it was getting late and we still had to go all the way back the way we came.

There's not enough houses up here to call it a village, but there seem to be a few people who live way up here in the mountains... and their cows roam freely around the open grassy area near the river flowing from the glacial lake...

Walking back we found a slightly different route that was a little more scenic. Here is another Tibetan prayer wheel, this time it spins with the flow of the water, I guess it's like putting the mantra inside on repeat keeping the world saved from evil... or something like that.

Finally we got back to YuPeng for another night in our guesthouse. We certainly slept well that night... We also learned our lesson. When Tibetans tell you how long it will take to walk/hike from one place to another... double the the time they tell you....

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Yunnan Part 3: Feilaisi to Upper Yupeng - Meili Xueshan National Park

The next morning, we woke up and decided to make our decent into Xidang, the starting off point of hiking trails in Meili Xueshan National Park. Before leaving Feilaisi, we got some breakfast of dumplings and Tibetan butter tea. I was very excited about drinking this tea, as it is a staple in the Tibetan diet. I was a little disappointed by the taste. It is very strong.. it tastes... just about how you would expect butter tea to taste. Not great. But, I forced myself to drink it down and head out for the National Park.

From there, we had to find a minivan (called Baoche 包车)to take us down to Xidang. We thought we would have to hire one on our own, as we got  a later start than most hikers in the area, but then we bumped into a group of five Chinese tourists who also were heading to the same place and we were able to share the minivan with them.

In order to enter the national park, you need to have a ticket like this. Actually, the price is quite high, but it includes entry into the park, Feilaisi, YuPeng, and another location we never found. You can buy this ticket either at the gate to the park or near Feilaisi and the cost is 230 Yuen ($38). Considering that once you are in the park, you can eat and sleep for $5-10 USD/ day per person, it's worth spending the money.

Finally we arrived in Xidang and were brought to the starting point of the hiking area. In order to go further into the National Park, one must go either on foot or by mule as there are no roads that lead in to the towns deep in the mountains. We didn't stop to rest here but made our way straight to the trail and started our upward climb. 

About an hour or two into our climb we happened upon our first rest stop. Here you could buy all manner of things, the most popular being a Chinese form of Red Bull (see the yellow cans piled high), Snikers, Dove Bars, and ramen.

We wanted the local cuisine, however and opted for more butter tea and some sort of fried bread.  Then we continued on our hike up the mountain. 

About four hours or so into our hike, we made it to our next rest stop and got ourselves some lunch. Here, the most popular fare was by far the ramen, so we figured there was no point in being different and bought two cups of ramen noodles. Just to prove the popularity of the ramen here, if you see in the background of the photo above, there are towers of something red in the background. It's hard to tell in the photo, however those are actually piles and piles and piles of used ramen cups. As it can be difficult to dispose of waste up here, the locals have started using the waste as decoration rather than tossing it into the environment around them. Unfortunately, the hoards of Chinese tourists continue to treat the mountain like their own trash barrel and there is trash strewn everywhere, undoubtedly 98% of which comes from tourists (of which probably another 98% happen to be Chinese).

After another hour or so of hiking, we finally reached the top of the mountain, a holy place for the local Tibetan population. While I expected the summit to be a little more exciting, with breathtaking views, those were to come later on the decent on the other side. For now, we had to be satisfied by the prayer flags which covered the summit. 

As I said, the real views were for the hike down the other side, once we reached the inner side of the mountain. The whole hike down afforded us views like this with the snow capped mountains and glacier looming in the distance. 

It was also not uncommon to find collections of objects like this concentrated in one area. I'm not sure yet about the significance here, but I imagine it would be akin to the prayer flags. A way to make a prayer in a holy place. 

Finally, after six hours or so of hiking up and down a large mountain at a relatively high elevation (I think it was 3600 at the peak, but I could be wrong), we finally caught sight of Upper Yu Peng 雨崩村. I can't say I wasn't excited to be done with the hiking (especially with my huge backpack!). We settled down here in Upper Yu Peng for the next two nights to continue our exploration of Meili Xueshan National Park. More on that later.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Breakfast with Khenpo

I am now finally situated in my home for the next five weeks, the Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro Institute, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery situated in northern India. Here, I live in the monastery with the monks, eat my meals with the monks, and will be teaching the monks English during their winter program as a volunteer.

It's quite an opportunity to live in a monastery like this, something most people would never dream of being able to do (although apparently it's actually not on most people's to do list in life, though I can't imagine why...).

I've got to get used to the daily routine here, and today, as classes have not started yet, I thought I'd catch the morning tea served at 9:00am according to the schedule given to me as a new volunteer (I'd already missed breakfast, which is served at 7:00am). As I left my room and started to head toward the cafeteria, I was stopped before I even got out of the building by the monk living in the room next to mine. Upon asking him if it was tea time, he replied... "Yes, but tea is not hot.". I told him that was no problem for me but he insisted that he make me a cup of hot tea in his own room and invited me in.

I was told by the head teacher that this monk living next to me was no ordinary monk, but one of the most well respected instructors of philosophy in the monastery. Teachers here are known as Khenpos. As he introduced himself to me, he did not refer to himself as Khenpo, but just his first and last name. I feel terrible, but I can't remember it. Maybe I'm getting older, but these Tibetan names are making my head swim. Fortunately, I'm realizing that there are many common names that you hear again and again, so maybe after a few weeks the names won't be so hard for me.

He sat me down and brought me a cup of green tea and when he realized I hadn't yet eaten breakfast he whipped me up a bowl of Indian style ramen noodles... with some sort of snack like Cheetos sprinkled on top. Then we started chatting. His English was far from perfect, but good enough to understand and chat for a while. He started telling me about where he comes from, high in the mountains of Kashmir, much further north in India, an area with large ethnic Tibetan populations (however, he does not call himself Tibetan!). He showed me beautiful photos of the first monastery where he began his monastic studies and where he grew up.

Then we started chatting about Buddhism and I asked him all my questions about how Korean Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism differ (not about philosophy, because I still am far from understanding that, but just in simple things). He explained to me about the Tibetan prayer flags. Each string of flags should represent one form of Bodhisattvas. Depending on which Bodhisattva you may need (wisdom, compassion, happiness, etc.), you can buy the flag which reflects your need, and hang it where you like, often in a holy place.

We also discussed the relics left behind by Buddhist masters after cremations. In sandskrit they are known as sarira शरीर (in Korean 사리), however Khenpo was not familiar with this word, but the Tibetan word ringsel. These are small crystal balls that are found in the cremated remains after cremation of the most holy of masters. He told me as well that relics such as these, or teeth or other matter which are saved as relics can actually grow over time.

I'm sure he tried to explain other things to me, but I am so clueless about the philosophy of Buddhism that I can not hope to understand things yet.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Yunnan Part 2: Getting to Meili XueShan National Park

 Street Seamstress

Upon our arrival in the Shangrila airport in Yunnan Province, China, we wasted no time in finding a cab to the bus terminal and buying tickets for the next bus to Deqen (pronounced Duh-chin), the nearest city to Meili Xueshan National Park.

While we waited for our bus to depart, we wondered around the area. The husband got a pair of pants hemmed by a seamstress on the side of the road. The woman stated the price was 10 Yuen ($1.50), but then doubled it when we went to pay, stating that 10 yuen was the price of one pant leg. Welcome to China! So, basically we paid the same price as we would have in Korea ^^.

 Breakfast on the street

We found some street food for breakfast. Bread with soy milk. Not bad for less than a dollar! 

View from the bus window

Finally, it was time to hit the road. We piled into the bus, full mostly of locals plus a few other Chinese tourists also heading for the same area we were. Because of the early wake up time and stress of the day up until this point, I fell asleep quite easily in the bus for the first hour or two of the ride, passing out before we even left town.

I must certainly say I was shocked to wake up and look out the window to see these sights. Let's just say from the height of the bus, it was hard to see the side of the road, all you could see was the sharp drop into the ravine below. I was fairly sure I would not make it home alive. 

Perhaps the most frightening part of the ride was the landslides that were to be found all over. While I'm not sure if they're natural, or a result of all the roadwork going on as the road in to Deqen was clearly under a constant state of construction. However seeing how the landslides have clearly tumbled down on roads in the past, and in some places we even had to travel in the opposite lane to avoid them, I really thought that our bus would be the next to have a giant rock through the roof. 

I certainly had some flashbacks to my time in Georgia. Part of it was the scenery: the tall mountains, switchbacks on the roads and the sharp drops on the side of the roads; however it was also the people and animals. Cows and goats being herded along the roads, even on this major highway.  

Finally we reached the end of our bus ride, the tiny city of Deqen. However, our journey was not quite done. Generally travelers continue another 10 minute drive out of town to Felaisi (飞来寺). If you recognize that character 寺 as temple, you are correct. While the temple is beautiful, the area around the temple overlooks the Meili Xueshan National Park making it the perfect resting point before starting one's journey into the park.

House near Feilaisi

Here was our first introduction to Tibetan architecture. I really loved the colors of the houses in this area!

Tibetan Woman

Circumambulating and spinning prayer wheels at Feilaisi

We also journeyed into the temple, which was, of course, a very rewarding experience. Here you can see the prayer wheels around the temple, as typical of Tibetan Buddhism. Each while contains one mantra, and by spinning each wheel the prayer is automatically said. Typically, when one visits a Tibetan temple, one should circumambulate around the temple clockwise, turning these prayer wheels, if present.

Large prayer wheel

Bigger prayer wheels are also common in Tibetan temples. Feilaisi also had one as well, the painting on it looks quite ancient.

Inside the temple

For those daring to enter the main worship area, it was pretty exciting. The monk there was very welcoming. We bought some incense and bowed (Korean style) and then walked about and gave a few yuen here and there as the locals were doing.

 Money and Buddha

But, here, the main attraction is not the temple, it's the mountains. For just a moment they came out from their shroud of clouds to say hello.... 

 View from afar of Meili Xueshan National Park 

Actually, these peaks have never been climbed. Some foreigners died while trying to climb here a number of years ago and have since been off limits to climbing. While there are a number of hiking/trekking trails here, none go past the snow line.

And it was here we spent the night, overlooking this enormous mountain range and trying our best to get acclimated to the altitude (about 3,500m above sea level). I had no problems, however, the husband looked absolutely terrible until the next morning. Fortunately, he recovered in time to start our trek. And speaking of the trek, that will come soon enough...

ps. sorry for switching between India posts (which are basically current) and China posts (which date back to Sept. and October). I'm extremely backlogged and finally have some time to get caught up!  To follow only stories about China, click the China link, and to follow only stories about India, click the India link.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


What can I say about Delhi? I spent just two days wondering a little around the city, but I feel like I couldn't relax enough to truly get to know it. So, what can I say? Basically, that every photo you've seen of it and every word you have heard about it; the beauty, the chaos, the poverty, the pollution and trash etc etc. is true. Words can not describe it, so I will try with just a few photos.

A welcome into India from Delhi's international Airport

New Delhi Train Station

A tapestry made from remnant fabric for my house: 700 rupees ($11 USD).  
Size is approx. the dimensions of a twin bed.

My clothing purchases: two shirts and pair of pants (total $600 rupees/ $10 USD) 
and thick wool scarf ($310 rupees/ $5 USD)

The Red Fort (closed on Monday)

A view of Jama Masjid (India's largest Mosque) from the bazaar

View of a busy bazaar from the steps of Jama Masjid

Typical street in Old Delhi

Around Chawri Bazaar

Hindu temple, not sure, but they may have been doing funeral pyres here... many people were standing around and someone was building a fire, outside there was a sign for 'mortuary'... 

Door to another Hindu temple

Same temple from above

 Typical road near Nehru Place

 Indian fast food take away

 Simple but nice palak paneer

In the metro

Young trees

 신라면  in an upscale local food mart

 In a local Hindu temple in Greater Kailash

 Monkey god

Playful kitten outside the Hindu temple

Everyone kept asking me how I was handling Delhi, and I kept telling people that it was "fine, no problem". I think it hit me much later that it was not "fine, no problem". Generally, when traveling, I have no problem walking around cities for hours on end, but here in Delhi, after just one or two hours I found myself longing to be back in my hostel. I realized later that the reason for that is that if you choose to walk around Delhi, especially downtown, but really anywhere, you are constantly on guard. Pickpockets, tourist touts, scam artists, beggars, insane traffic, and the necessity to bargain hard for nearly any service you need creates a certain amount of stress that builds and builds. 

Once on the train to my next destination I got quite sick and wound up vomiting in the train. Some may blame the food, and no doubt, it is quite possible, however, I tend to think it may have been my body's way of dealing with the intense amount of stress and lack of sleep it had been experiencing the previous few days. More than likley it was some combination of the two. 

After a long journey that took an extra day longer than expected I am finally in my home for the next five weeks, a Tibetan monastery in Himachal Pradesh, India. More on that in the coming days.