Monday, May 09, 2005

A side trip to Yubeng (雨崩)

yubeng3, originally uploaded by mutikonka.

Unable to cross the Doker La because of heavy snow, we made our way up a scary knife edge road up the Mekong canyon to Deqin (德钦). Passing through Yunling (云岭), the scenery down into the gorge was absolutely breathtaking. It seemed like a mile deep. I would have enjoyed it more, though, if I hadn't been so worried about our bus coming off the road.

Resting up in the rather utilitarian town of Deqin, we stayed at the Tibetan Family Guesthouse at the bottom of the main street and stocked up on food and internet surfing. The internet bar was full of snotty Tibetan kids playing the Counterstrike online game. Surreal.
deqin me
Deqin 2001
Deqin, 1924

From Deqin we hitched a lift up to the Feilai Si (飞来寺)monastery, which sits on the edge of the valley and looks over to Kawakarpo [Meilixue Shan 梅里雪山]. We rested at the teahouse there watching pilgrims and tourists coming to burn a forest worth of juniper bushes at the ceremonial chimneys.



atuntze lamasery
The old lamasery at Atuntze [Deqin] in 1924.

feilai lady


Back of Feilaisi

Meili Xueshan
Feilaisi juniper burners

We then descended the huge drop on a snaking switchback road, down to the floor of the valley and over the Mekong to go to the village of Xidang (西当). After a brief stopover at the "Jungle Temple" we took the left [southern] fork of the dirt track to Xidang. The right fork went up to the tourists viewing area of the Minyong glacier (明永冰川).

The road to Xidang was even more scary than the one up from Cizhong to Deqin. It was only a couple of km, but it was a very narrow gravel track with a sheer drop of several thousand feet down to the river on one side. Very airy!

xidang route
Mekong canyon near Xidang
The same scenery in 1924


White deity at Jungle Temple

Disembarking at Xidang we made our way up through this small Tibetan village into the foothills above town, and hiked up for a couple of hours to the hot springs. These few bathing sheds were run by a Sichuanese guy who seemed extremely bored with his post. It was very cold and damp there, so the warm baths were a welcome chance to get the circulation going - at least temporarily.

The next day at the hot springs we met some New Yorkers who had just hiked back from Yubeng. They ran the GORP outdoors website and were raving about how beautiful Yubeng was. They headed off almost straight away in their nice hire jeep, making us feel very impoverished dossers after our 15 kuai bus ride to get there!


For most of the afternoon we hiked over the lonely trail to Yubeng and got a few glimpses of mountains on the way. But for the most part the weather really socked in for the next few days and we saw nothing but fog and snow. There was nothing to do except play snooker at the Yubeng village table, which was sheltered from the incessant drizzle by a few planks of pine and a tatty square of polythene.

snooker table

Snooker champions of Mekong
Shanti: snooker champion of the upper Mekong


Bored with that, and of sitting around the [not very effective] fire all day in the kitchen of the Yubeng guesthouse, we made an ill-advised excursion up the valley to try see a sacred waterfall. Instead, we ended up going to a sacred lake, which turned out to be more of a pond, and was almost completely snow covered and frozen. I was not in the best of moods when we returned, especially as I had water sloshing round in my boots. Another day of rain was spent looking in at the tiny local school, where kids were learning Chinese and Tibetan. After three days of this, and a diet consisting exclusively of eggs and flat momo bread, we decided to bale out.

Snow but no view
Yubeng school

Things were not much better when we returned to Xidang. We stayed the night in the main guesthouse there, and spent a pleasant evening watching the local Tibetans rehearse in mufti for their annual festival. But the young Xidang punks started getting out of hand when the music turned to disco, fighting and posturing. Boredom, drink and aggression - small country towns are the same the world over.

Unfortunately our room was right above the disco and the music went on until 4am, by which time I had packed and left. Stupid move as I didn't realise that in Tibetan villages they bar the gates of the houses and let the huge dogs roam the trails - so I spent a petrified cold night under the eaves of the village store trying not to attract the attention of the local Hounds of the Baskervilles.


Mountain lady
The mountain worshipping lady of Yubeng.
Yubeng woman
The long road home: Deqin to Zhongdian bus. Note the Dalai Lama picture on the windscreen.

No comments: