Today was a day of great contrasts. What began in a nice large bed in a city, any amenity one could wish for – ended in Kangding, my first real Tibetan town. While not in Tibet, this area is also called a Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Eight a.m. in Chengdu: the bus threaded its way through an hour’s worth of very thick traffic to a freeway before launching me onto the famed Sichuan Tibet Highway. This is reported to be one of the most difficult and dangerous roads in the world. Not only is it an engineering feat because of it’s elevation at times, but the fact that it was built in the 1950s is astounding The road hugs mountain slopes of 80 degrees and often the driver must pull well away, to the outside of the roadway, to avoid overhanging rock cuts.

On the sheer-drop-to-death side of the severely potholed road are occasional safety barriers that would be very useful if one was riding a bicycle. Not recommended on this road, but frequently chosen. Classroom sized boulders occasionally careen down the slopes and add to the potholed complexion as well as taking out those useful bicycle barriers. All in all though, the drive, however. is awe-inspiring and breathtaking in every sense, and not to be missed.

The town of Kangding. Like many of these towns, a river runs through it.

The reward for today’s seven-hour epic drive is the town of Kangding. Once off the bus, there was no doubt Kansas was left far behind and I was in a very different world. The temperature is lower, the faces darker and ruddy, the painted buildings more like the colourful detailing of Tibetan themes; and a noticeable shortness of breath from an increase in elevation.

And this is just the start!

The hotel is cheap and is a must-stay for backpackers On the wall, there is the logo of the International Hostel Federation. I am in a fourth-floor walk-up. This building is typical in that there are no carpets to hold the bright orange earth from hiking boots, walls are whitewashed with no decorations, save for the graffiti of past travelers marking their passing, and compact fluorescent bulbs to light the way, welcoming you down the long featureless corridors of white walls, and shiny white tiled floors.

Some of the very friendly, and curious people of Kangding I met

This is the life here. It is not fancy. It is stripped of embellishments but comfortable. What there is, though, is warmth. The people are friendly to a fault, always wanting to chat, even though we cannot understand one another. But with a smile, a gesture and vigorous hand waving and pointing, one can always find a place to eat – and the eating is astounding. It is simple food, but hearty, healthy and with abundant chilies… hot hot hot!

Before turning in for the evening, I am one of hundreds watching an equal number of participants in a dance. The town square is enormous. Dancers join in and seem to all know what to do as they dance to the music on ubiquitous the public address speakers. A giant ring of jovial locals, at least 50 metres across is the dance floor. Moving in intricate steps with curious foot movements and hand gestures, the ring keeps rotating around the square.

What a moving and fascinating introduction to this part of China. The music still rings in my head as I draw up my legs to fit the length of my legs under the covers. Tomorrow I have hired a car that will go much higher and pass some spectacular sights on the way.

In the evening, Kangding comes alive with hundreds of people dancing in the town square

Categories : SICHUAN


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