Archive for September 2012

Tibetan Plateau (Aug 28 – Sep 2)   Leave a comment

Horse Trekking and Monasteries

The land of snow, the roof of the world, the third pole. No matter what you call Tibet, it is China.  The communists have made damn sure of that. Many parts of the region have been flooded by ethnic Han, but many more areas remain Tibetan such as that around Xiahe, Langmusi and Tongren. There are occasional demonstrations, riots and monks burning themselves alive in the Tibetan regions, but for the most part the people are docile. Regardless of their more serene nature most Tibetans long for freedom. I suppose it’s fun to dream.

Leaving Chengdu, Magan and I boarded a train headed north-west toward the Tibetan plateau. As we climbed in altitude the hot, dense fog gave way to cool clean air, the tall skyscrapers were replaced by large rolling hills covered with tall green grass, and the cars were slowly replaced with herds of yaks and sheep. An interesting side-note: the word ‘yak’ perfectly describes the animal’s smell, taste and appearance.
Unfortunately we were unable to visit the Tibetan Autonomous Region due to government restrictions. Although we missed Lhasa and the Potola Palace we were able to visit the traditional Tibetan Amdo region. Here the people have flatter faces and slimmer eyes and are, by vast majority, Tibetan. The towns are small and cold and while there are some mosques with interesting architecture the main theme is the Buddhist monasteries and red-robed monks.

After a train and bus journey to the middle of no where (slightly reminiscent of Bolivia) we arrived in the town of Langmusi. Situated half in the Sichuan province and half in the Gansu province, the town is split by a small river and competing monasteries. At the gold roofed monastery on the Ganshu side we experienced one of our most memorable and authentic Tibetan moments. Approaching one of the large buildings of the monastery we came to the entrance surrounded by two rows of colorful columns carved and painted in various Buddhist images. After removing our shoes we entered the building and found dozens of monks lined in rows chanting their esoteric mantras. The temple was filled with images and statues sacred to the Tibetan Buddhists including a wall of 1,000 painted Buddhas and another wall of 1,000 Buddha statues.

Later that day we headed out on a two-day horse trek to experience the nomadic life style practiced by many in this region. The nomad life itself is pretty horrible, but the experience was amazing. Starting out we rode into the mountains that roll on forever covered with dark green grass. After a few hours of riding we reached a large plain of grass sitting in a valley between the mountains that sit at 3,600 meters covered with yaks and sheep.  On this plane were a few tents pitched near each other where the nomads lived and watched over their livestock.

The family we stayed with were a very nice Tibetan couple. The tent itself was nothing more than a few poles  covered with a canvas and a plastic sheet. Inside was a straw floor with a stove, a pile of dried yak dung for the stove, and an area for sleeping. The bed area took up about 1/3 of the tent and was simply an area with more straw covered with a thin blanket. The nomad life begins at 4am when the women go out to milk the yaks. After this breakfast is cooked and the rest of the day is spent herding the yaks (for the men) and collecting yak dung and laying it out to dry (for the woman). It is a hard life, but they seem to be happy in what they do. The temperature was near freezing at night, in August, but it was an amazing experience with beautiful Tibetan scenery.

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Posted September 28, 2012 by Magan and Brenden in Asia, China

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Southern China (Aug 16 – 22)   Leave a comment

Yangshuo

Our Chinese adventure began in the bucolic southern region of China. The temperature was high and the humidity was out of control, but the beautiful country side, idyllic villages and friendly people make this area a must visit for China. The first stop was in the small town of Yangshuo. This small city sits along the Li river surrounded by tall karst peaks that stretch for miles in every direction. Once we arrived a driver picked us up and took us out of the city where we spent the next few days enjoying the scenery.

The first thing we did was rent a bike and head out into the rural areas surrounding the city. Crossing bridges and riding past the cliff-faced mountains we were able to see the locals out in their fields and rice paddies. The next day we took our bikes out and found a tall karst mountain called Moon Hill where a woman showed us a back entrance for a small tip where we could climb to the top for a view over the surrounding area. Up many many stairs we climbed until we finally reached the top covered in sweat where we were rewarded with a magnificent view. In each direction we could see scores of tall karst mountains stretching into the distance.

Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terrace

A few hours away from Youngshuo we reached the small minority village of Dazhai. This tiny village sits in the middle of one of the most impressive feats of agriculture I have ever seen. Dazhai, and a few other small villages, sit surrounded by mountains that have been terraced for rice. Not just small sections, but entire mountains have been carved up for growing rice.

While here, Magan and I hiked around the trails that wound through the mountains where we were afforded great views. Each terrace is fed by streams that flow between the mountains and ingenious irrigation systems. Built around 500 years ago it is hard to imagine how these people accomplished this without the use of heavy machinery. The dark green rice climbing its way up the mountains over impressively constructed terraces is certainly one of the best things we have seen on our trip.

Posted September 20, 2012 by Magan and Brenden in Asia, China

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Central Europe (July 22 – Aug 6)   1 comment

Central Europe

Our trip to Switzerland took us through central Europe where we visited some of Europe’s most beautiful cities and some of the best landscape we have seen on our entire trip.

Austria

Vienna

Through Austria we stopped in Vienna, an often overlooked capital that rivals London, Paris and Rome. The former rulers, the Hapsburgs, created an opulant capital for their empire with beautiful buildings, museums and concert halls. One of the highlights of the city was the Hapsburg summer palace. The palace itself is quite large, but it is the grounds where the palace is situated that awes its visitors.


The large manicured flower gardens and shaded walkways stretching from the palace are flanked by shaded trails and hedge mazes. Half way from the palace to the top of a large hill overlooking the city is an enormous water fountain of Neptune and his entourage.

Salzburg

The city of Salzburg is a beautiful, albeit small, city full of baroque architecture in northern Austria. The best thing in this region is not the city itself, but the surrounding sights.


In the nearby town of Werfen, 1600 meters up on the side of a mountain, sits the largest ice caves in Europe. Equipped with lanterns we entered the sub-zero caves where the floor is completely covered by a thick layer of ice. Through the cave there are large columns of ice, walls covered in ice as well as ice stalagmites and stalactites (or ice cicles). There were also large ice formations that our guide would illuminate by burning strips of magnesium. This trip also gave us a great view of the surrounding mountains and taste of what was to come in Switzerland.

Another trip took us deep into the German Alps where we visited Hitler’s private get away, the Eagles Nest. Now a tourist trap restaurant, this building gives you a great view of the surrounding area and tourists are still allowed to use the original bronze elevator that takes you up 124 meters through the center of the mountain.

Germany

Munich

Munich was a great city. I suppose it is touristy to say that the best thing about Munich is the beer-halls and beer-gardens, but we are tourists and those are the best things. Magan, Matthew and I jumped from beer-hall to beer-hall drinking the delicious German elixir that comes in 1 liter glasses. One particular beer garden was even kind enough to give us a few of their large 1 liter glasses as souvenirs.  The city itself was nice and had a particularly nice clock tower with a 10 minute show at 5pm complete with jousting knights and spinning dancers.

Just outside the city is the large Neuschwanstein Castle that was the inspiration for the Disney castle. Even though it was under construction at the time, it was still a magnificent sight to behold.

Swiss Alps

Interlaken

As our train winds deeper into the Alps we are surrounded by steep green mountains and azul lakes which Magan, Matthew and I move from one side of the cabin to the other trying to get a better view of the magnificent scenery. Our train pulls into the Interlaken station in the center of the Jungfrau region, a contender for the best scenery in the world. Our tent hostel is situated in a valley surrounded with towering alps including one massive snow-covered peak known as Jungfrau.


Our first adventure was canyoning in Chli Chilere canyon. **(Click here for a video of the canyoning)** This six-hour trip took us down a river that has cut through the mountain to create a unique environment perfect for rappelling and jumping into pools of water. Through the trip we had slides, rappels and jumps up to 10 meters high. After our adrenaline filled, but exhausting day in the canyon we headed out for a hike through the large snow-covered Alps.


For this hike we took a train to Lauterbrunen then a cable car and another train to Murren where our hike towards Shilthorn began. This 4 hr hike may have been one of the steepest I have ever done, but it was certainly the most beautiful. We were surrounded by dark green mountains with towering peaks in the distance. At the top we watched paragliders take off and enjoyed an awe-inspiring view seldom rivaled.

Words cannot do this region justice, so enjoy the pictures: