GANZI – DEGEBy
Today, I have no idea where to begin! There was so much to see and do between Ganzi and Dege. I will not dwell on the drive, though the drive was easier and less of the ‘main event’ as it has been in the past. Today’s drive was a means to and end.
Leaving Ganzi was a little tough, since it was so very comfortable, and I knew I was again going to be visiting upcoming towns which were going to be again, rough and uncomfortable!
Even before driving out of the gated parking out behind the hotel, the beauty of this region impressed me. Rising over a blue shed roof next to the parking lot, the impressive mountains were up earlier than I, catching the morning sun. I will get another look at tem, as we will be back here in a few days.
Fertile grazing grounds stretched out before Su’s van in every direction, as we plodded along to Dege. Our first destination was to a lake at the base of a mountain in search of the “barefoot lama”. There is a lama who lives in the area and is reported to wear nothing on his feet – ever!
Along my journey so far I have seen monks and lamas of all sorts. I have seen very young monks-in-training, debating monks, long braided-hair monks, old sutra-chanting lamas and monks who own flashy cars. But never a barefoot lama living in solitude. The word solitude would also suggest he does not want a curious foreigner with a determined driver finding him in the first place!
Arriving at the location of the lake, we had to pay to enter the area. Just a few dollars and we set off over grassy hills, following a well-worn footpath that led to an idyllic lake. The water is silt-filled emerald green from the glaciers. Sitting on a boulder and looking across the still water was engrossing. The lake is very large and surrounded by mountains and grassy hills. Nobody was here. Other than us, the place was deserted. Quiet and still.
Waking from my reverie, Su and I start to circle our end of the lake. Close by a small gazebo, tucked between trees would offer us a higher vantage point. There was no way we were going to set off down to the end of the lake. The going would be tough and long and we were just at the beginning of our day.
An oh-so-familiar sound pulled me away from the lake over to my right, along the shoreline. A small engine motorcycle sounding more like a hedge trimmer than the big muscle bikes you see in big western cities. These bikes tend to be almost delicate and almost always have fancy mud guards and someone sitting side-saddle on the back.
No surprise here at the sight of a motor bike, the destination of the bike was a little bizarre!
Sitting on the quiet and tranquil shore of the lake was a large white, decorated tent. Decorated after the large, big-top tent where the Tibetan Opera performed, this tent was open on the lake side and had 20-or-so monks hanging out around it, some sitting in conversation, other standing and joking around with each other. How festive!
At the sight of Su and me, a group of them came to meet us as we headed in their direction. To me, this was just so funny to see. To them, the sight of me, must have been off-the-charts weird!
Here, was a camp set up on the beach, a bunch of saffron-robed monks, one child, hundreds of bottles of soft drinks, many watermelons (I hate watermelon!), Tibetan tunes being played and a big stereo & microphones for, you guessed it, karaoke! I can’t use the word, surreal, I’ve used it once too many now!
Turns out these guys were on their last day of a camping trip! All week, monks from all over the province and perhaps beyond, had a holiday! I never really thought about this before – monks on holiday. Sounds like a movie plot! But I guess even monks deserve a break. And this place does not get any better.
On their insistence, I was invited, no, physically guided around to the back of a long, low row of tables butted against each other, forming a long head table under the tent. Here I sat cross-legged on carpets with a few more senior monks. Ever hospitable, I was offered a sampling from their seemingly endless supply of pop and a huge slice of… watermelon!!! It would be very rude if I turned this gracious offering and honour down, so I smiled and endured my watermelon all the while waving off the knife-wielding monk who wanted to carve off another slice for me. Again, I made circular motions with my hand over my stomach to communicate that, I just couldn’t fit another morsel into me. They fell for it and I sat, smiling and spitting out more seeds.
After a while, we managed to say our good-byes and set off again west to Dege. As for the barefoot monk… We never saw him. Apparently he lived in a small hut way at the end of the lake and spent his days in prayer, only interrupted by someone who would bring him his meals. In a way, I was glad not to find him. It would be a little unsettling to disturb a man who was intent on seclusion.
Continuing along the road, our truly empty stomachs brought us to a collection of small buildings and a dim restaurant. Inside, the walls were darkened by cooking smoke from the two large fires. Despite the smells outside on the street, the lady who begged for the food I didn’t finish and the rough interior, the restaurant was cozy and warm. At this elevation, rice does not cook well. Not the soft fluffy rice you get at sea level – this rice is more like eating grits. Hard and nugget-like and cooked in a pressure cooker, the rice is nonetheless filling and if you can catch it early in the process, free of chilies! My kind of rice!
As we motored westward, the mountains came ever closer and so did the big mountains crossing. At the crest of the road we pulled over to admire the chilly crisp blue sky. Here much was happening. Su sang his Tibetan chant for surviving the drive to the top. I went in search of a boulder large enough to give me some privacy, and three Belgians were toasting each other and holding high a bottle of their finest national liquor!
I know what you are thinking! What are other westerners doing here? I wondered that myself, and must admit to feeling disappointed that my stretch of foreigner-free days had broken! (not for long). These guys came over to China to also explore this stunning part of the country and take in its beauty. They had visited China before, but this time wanted to experience to hardships and hospitality of this region.
After photos and a bit of conversation, the Europeans descended from our stop at 5,050 metres (16, 500 feet) east, while Su and I began winding down our side of the mountain to the west. By ‘winding’, I really mean it! Our road down was an endless series of switchbacks and hairpin turns. The reward for this was the lush green valley far far below. Looking more like a movie location, the beautiful valley never seemed to get any closer! The decent was slow since the switchbacks in the road were so frequent. Again, I missed some of the scenery since my eyes were tightly closed while Su drove around tight turns on the edges of the cliffs!
Eventually we did make it down and the rest of the day’s drive was nothing but lazy green valleys, pasture and black peppercorns on the hills – yaks!
Reaching Dege was pretty uneventful. The hotel was another get-what-you-pay-for $10 spot on the main street. Tomorrow we will start by visiting another temple. This one with a world-renowned reputation!