Wednesday, December 17, 2008
[Old pic of minya Konka trip from 1998]
Had a bath yesterday. It was the highlight of my week. Probably the highest altitude bath I've ever had. It was in a hot spring, about five miles out of the mountain town of Kangding, almost 4000m above sea level. I went up there on the bus on Saturday and soon discovered that it was very cold. Nice clear blue skies (unlike smoggy Chengdu) but very very cold. The town is half Chinese and half Tibetan, but everyone regardless of ethnicity was wearing earmuffs and face masks or scarves wrapped around their faces. It was so cold the phlegm had frozen on the pavement.
I'd been here before about five years ago in the spring and started a trek from here, in the foothills above Kangding. So once I'd kitted myself out with some earmuffs and a nice scarf and some long johns, I set off walking up the hill into what had once been a deserted valley and the start of the Minya Konka trek. Last time there's just been a scattered Tibetan village up this valley, a few log cabins. This time I got a bit of a shock because it was full of newly built luxury apartments, all being sold off the plan under the banner "Draw the Elite Card"??? And if you fancy buyng one they start from 4000 kuai a square metre, or about $100k in our money.
Once I got past the fancy real estate block, there was the old village of Yulin, looking quite neglected - but the hot baths were still there. Just a few brick cubicles covered with cheap corrugated green plastic. I paid my 15 kuai and ran the hot water till the bath (about 1m square sunk in thre ground) filled up. And I had a nice 45 minutes soak under the shadow of the 5000m snow peaks of the Minya Konka range. It must have been grannies half price day because the other cubicles seemed to be filled with an old ladies outing up from the town.
After my bath, feeling quite refreshed and a bit less smelly, I traipsed up the rough track through the village - no easy thing as after a few steps I was out of breath because of the altitude. I was looking for the Tibetan guy who'd acted as my guide and horse wrangler on the last trip. But all I found was three blokes holding down a shaved pig in buckets of hot water, ladling steaming water over it and scraping off the last few bits of hair as one of them sharpened his knife. The pig didn't look very happy.
I didn't hang around to watch.
At the top of the next hill I found a Tibetan family in their back yard trying to corral some of their horses into the back of the van with a big stick. I asked about the possibility of trekkking up to the Gongga monastery but I knew the answer before they spoke. The guy said it was possible, but why would anyone want to go at this time of year when the place was barren, the snow thick on the hills and the days so cold and so short it would be hard going? I looked up at the first peak visible, Jiazifeng, and realised this would be as close as I would get ... it was up there some where that the Lonely Planet writer Clem Lindenmayer had died of exposure last year after wandering off the trekking trail and getting stuck in a snow fall. And that was in May. Not a wise idea to try it in this season.
So I headed back down, past the now ex-pig, its belly slit open, past the real estate showroom (no queue), and the long road back down into Kangding.
It seemed like I was the only foreign tourist in town - certainly the only one in the hotel. So as I sat in the cafe on the edge of the town square, drinking lemon tea (I'm off alcohol still - wonder why?)watching the locals doing their Tibetan line dancing at dusk, I decided to try warmer climes - back down to Chengdu and go south.
So this morning at 6am I was down at the bus station in the bitter cold morning, saying farewell to Kangding and its colourful Tibetan cowboys. These guys with wild, sunburnt faces in the chuba capes hanging off the shoulder, the silver daggers concealed within, and many with red wool plaited intheir hair. The Tibetan women all wear the traditional floor length dark cape with a colourful belt and a traditional square-sih hat. It's odd to be standing next to them in the supermarket waiting to pay for your biscuits ...