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Chengdu (China) to Seoul (South Korea), August 2010

Chengdu was our springboard for the visit to the Tibetan plateau. In two days, we drove with the bus from here to the small town of Gānzī, where we arrived in the middle of the Tibetan culture. The western part of the Chinese province of Sìchuān is officially not a part of Tibet, but most travellers who visited both Tibet and the western part of Sìchuān say that latter one is not less Tibetan than the first one. This has to do with the migration politics that the Chinese government uses already for decades, in where they stimulate the Han Chinese to migrate to areas where the minorities live. The idea behind these politics is to make these minority areas more Chinese and indirect less vulnerable for uprisings and possible future independence struggles. Lhasa for example, the capital city of Tibet, is such a place where nowadays more Chinese live than Tibetans. But the western part of Sìchuān is fortunately still a predominant Tibetan area.

Our visit to Sìchuān was a big success. We spend one day hiking in the area around Gānzī and brought a visit to one of the nunneries in the area. We visited the area before and made pictures of the nuns at that time. We printed the pictures in Beijing and came back to hand them over personally. They were very happy with the nice pictures. We also had the opportunity to visit a evening meal ceremony of the monks of Gānzī’s main monastery. At the beginning we thought that we weren’t welcome, because a tour group was not allowed to come in. But after they left, we were invited to come in, probably because we behaved ourselves more reserved. It was a unique experience to see how the monks enjoyed their meal after half an hour of chanting religious prayers. Also our visit to Manigango was great. Manigango is just a small Tibetan town at around 4000 metres, but the main reason to come here is Yuhin Latso, a beautiful glacier lake just outside the village. Yuhin Latso is seen as one of the most beautiful glacier lakes of the Tibetan plateau.

Crossing the 5015 metres high Tro La pass
After Manigango, we crossed the 5015 metres Tro Las pass on our way to the town of Dege. The monastery of Dege is one of the three most important monasteries in the Tibetan Buddhist religion because it is the main printing press monastery. More than 70% of all Tibetan Buddhist wooden moulds are kept here. For this reason the monastery is also a very popular pilgrimage destination for Tibetans and a great place to see them walking a ‘kora’ (pilgrimage). We have admired how the printing press monastery operates. Everything is still done by hand, from making the paper and printing the religious documents to the binding of the books. It is amazing! After our visit to Dege we travelled back to Gānzī and took from there the bus to Lĭtáng. Lĭtáng is also a town where more then 90% of the inhabitants are Tibetans. Also the monastery of Lĭtáng is special, because it brought forward two of the former Dalai Lama’s. Enough reasons to visit Lĭtáng. The town is nice and the monastery is one of the most monasteries that we saw in western Sìchuān.

Gradually it was time for us to travel back to Beijing. Our first destination was the city of Xian, world-famous because of the terracotta army. We absolutely do not deny that the army is impressive, but our expectations were higher. The army stands in a sort of hangar where crush barriers are used to keep the thousands of Chinese and foreign tourists on a safe distance. People literally fight to get a good spot near the barrier to make a decent picture. The knowledge that this huge terracotta army is once made by an emperor with the idea that he also had an army in his life to come, whatever it is, is impressive. But the way you visit the army, the atmosphere, is a disappointment. After Xian, we took the bus to the town of Pingyao. Pingyao is described in our travel guide as one of the few places left where you can still experience the real traditional Chinese life. If the Chinese lived in an amusement park, then the guide book is definitely right. The reality however, is different. The town is indeed newly built in a ‘traditional’ architecture, but the way of life has nothing to do with the past. Almost everybody in Pingyao seems to earn his or her money by exploiting a hotel, restaurant or souvenir shop. But, it is still a friendly town to visit and to get an idea how it was in the past when you are on your way from Beijing to Xian or the other way around.

Walking the kora in Lĭtáng

When we came back to Beijing again, we had two more sights to see: the summer palace and the Great Wall. The summer palace is a nice place to visit, but as most tourist destinations in China; it is crowded and not very authentic anymore. For the Great Wall, we decided to go to a place where the crowds do not come. And it was a great success. We walked ten kilometres over a non-restored part of the wall, and our group was the only one around. The walk was spectacular and we enjoyed every second of it. On August 21st we had to say goodbye again to our travel mates Anne, Fay, Sten and Joris. Their holiday was over and they had to go back home again. We had a fantastic time together!

Since then we are travelling again with the two of us. The day after our travel mates left, we got a disappointment to process. We got an email from a travel agency in Seoul (South Korea) in where they wrote that, since July 1st 2010, it was not possible anymore for foreign tourists to apply for a Chinese visa in South Korea. That was a main disappointment because one of our main reasons to come to South Korea was the renewal of our Chinese visa. There was only one option left; applying for the visa in our home country. We decided to send our passports and the necessary papers back home with Fedex and asked our parents to arrange a visa for us in The Hague. It took more than a week before we got our passports and visas back. We stayed all the time in rainy Seoul and enjoyed ourselves manly with drinking coffee. Now that we have our passports back, we are on the road again. Our next destination is the little town of Sokcho on the eastern coast of South Korea.


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