October 11, 2011

October in Amdo, Part 2

Hezuo wasn’t that much colder than Lanzhou- t-shirts were fine during the sunny afternoon, although the night air cooled off quickly. As we got on the bus to Taktsang it was drizzling, which quickly transformed into snow as the bus climbed mountain passes and entered the broad grasslands of eastern Amdo. It was nice to finally see the Land of Snows in the snow, but I was starting to wonder if it would turn into a white-out:

I was also getting worried, because most of the stuff to do in Taktsang involves hiking or otherwise being outside. Luckily it seemed a bit clearer by the time we got to town, where we rushed to secure our hostel room before mobs of Chinese tourists could claim it. That afternoon we checked out Sertri Gompa, one of two major monasteries which dominate the town. Their stupa and prayer hall in the snow:

The one street, with snowy red cliffs in the back:

Back in the hostel common room that night we were drying off our shoes and playing a game of cards by the stove when I started to notice something was awry. You develop a sense here that tells you when people are taking your picture. I can be walking down the street and suddenly sense that someone is leaning out a fifth floor window to snap a shot, spin around and give them a thumbs up, but this was different. It turns out that a marauding band of Chinese photographers, lured by the “Switzerland of Asia” tagline that promotes the region, had come back in for the night and found the exotic sight of three foreigners playing cards irresistible. Two had set up tripods, and up to six of them at a time photographed us, each shooting with professional cameras worth more than my annual salary here. At one point I stood up and photographed back, catching the three on the right side of the room as they snapped away:

One even came over later and offered to drive us to the first bend of the Yellow River the next morning, apparently so that he could photograph three random foreigners in front of an otherwise non-descript river bend. His driver had apparently already started to arrange a larger car to make it all work out, but we had to turn down the offer- four hours each way seemed like a tall order after an incredibly long train ride and two lengthy bus rides over the last two days. It’s too bad, too, because I’ve always wanted to be photographed with two other foreigners in front of the first bend of the Yellow River by a $10,000 camera.

The next morning we awoke to find that more snow had rolled in overnight. We walked through Kirti Gompa to the gorge behind it, where the entrance is marked by an enormous prayer flag vortex and a stream of early-morning pilgrims giving way to mid-morning tourists:

The higher you walk up the gorge, the thicker the snow gets. Beyond where I turned around two years ago was this field where the trail forks, which we called Snowman Field:

Hot springs feed the White Dragon Creek, which runs through the gorge:

A carving etched into the cliff beside the gorge:

Back in town things were beginning to clear up (click for a full-size view):

The rest of Taktsang to come tomorrow.

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