Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Monday, August 30, 2010

A city of blue tents

A city of blue tents. It isn’t a place I have visited before. All the landmarks and reference points that I have put so much effort in remembering – the great steamboat restaurant, the market places, Yak Square where trading of cordyceps was like buying and selling of ikan bilis, Princess Hotel the place I used to stay, the little family shops along the main road near to Norling Library – are all gone, replaced by rubbles, cleared land and an ocean of blue tents. Many buildings are cordoned, awaiting demolition. Almost everyone is either living or doing business in blue tents.

When I left Yushu I left my sleeping bag, winter jacket, warm clothings, thermal wear, socks and everything that will help clothe someone warm for the coming winter. In Yushu there are only 3 months of cool weather, leaving the other 9 months biting, freezing cold. They are expected to live in this condition for the next 3 to 5 years.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Yushu July 2010 - Journey Into Wamlung

Double rainbows

The next part of the journey took me to Nangchen town and into the Ga Xiong District which is well over 5000 meters above sea level. The truck departed at 5.00am on 11 July. At 6.00am my alarm jingled me out of bed to a cool, crisp morning. We left Yushu at 7.30am, heading to Nangchen town. After a 2 hour ride, we made an R&R stop, where the men were seen heading in one direction and me heading a different direction. It is a common rule that one does not follow someone on a stroll during such an R&R stop. It is a call of nature stop!

An hour later we reached Nangchen town. Clusters of mud dwellings dotted the outskirts of this town. We made a 3 hour stop; lunch and a short wait for 2 units of 4-Wheel Drive that will take us across peculiar variety of scenes and huge ranges of pristine mountains.

The drive from Nangchen to the hot spring near Wamlung averages on an altitude of about 5,000 meters. This 5 hour journey takes you through breathtakingly spectacular landscapes which helps take one’s mind away from the numbness of the rocky, harsh ride. We caught up with our truck which broke down soon after Nangchen town.

We reached the hot spring around sevenish and Rinpoche immediately made arrangement for the night’s accommodation. On Rinpoche’s request one tribal family gave up their tent for me to put up for the night while Rinpoche camped out on that cold, raining night. Next morning after a hurried breakfast, we left for Wamlung Monastery foothills, another hour from the hot spring.
Rinpoche's tent for the night at the hot spring

My room for the night at the hot spring

Local tribes

Had to hike up

The welcoming at Wamlung foothills was warm and we were immediately ushered in for another round of breakfast – tsampa and butter tea. I had to politely decline and resorted to my Iko biscuits. My abode for the next few days was a little blue “suite” in a garden (Ling-kha Doe-khang) with sofa and coffee table, 2 mattresses complete with TV. Toilet was yonder and don’t even bother to think about having a bath. Staying up at Wamlung Monastery was out of the question because of the high altitude and even at the Wamlung foothills one has to battle with the thin air.

The monks and some lay people were trying their best to cater to my taste buds and even came up with porridge (with milk!!!!!!!). I tried to compromise my taste buds but failed miserably. I lost much weight. After 2 days the truck arrived and along with them were vegetables, fruits, noodles, etc. My cravings were delightfully spoilt. I saw light again.
Blue tent my room and colourful tent Rinpoche's. Notice the satelite dish and solar panel outside my tent

My room in the garden or garden in my room

With TV set too

My room with sofa and table
The next day I was taken up to Wamlung Monastery. Construction was underway and hopefully by next summer the 4 storey building complete with separate monks’ quarters and retreat houses will be ready. Wamlung Monastery had been in a dilapidating state and the shrine hall finally gave way in September 2009.
Artist Impression of Wamlung Monastery

My blue tent & Rinpoche's tent

Wamlung Monastery's kitchen

Main shrine hall that collapsed in 2009

Cracking walls - Monks' quarters
To sum it up, a trip to Wamlung Monastery and to the Ga Xiong District is no ordinary adventure. The high altitude and thin air, maneuvering dangerous stretches of road, the inconveniences or absence of basic “comfort stations” are deterrents to many a traveler but if one has enough conviction and determination, you can even move the many majestic mountains and be rewarded with many masterpieces of nature.

Long and winding road

Dro-ma plant


Tsampa plant

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Yushu July 2010 - Update 1

Landed at Chengdu airport on 3 July at 1.30pm. Rinpoche arranged for a friend to pick me up. After checking into the hotel I took a much needed shower as Chengdu was hot. I explored Jinli Street during dinner time but had some problem with the Chinese language and at times had to resort to sign language. Had an early night to rest my body for the great assault over the next one month. Next morning I was back at Chengdu airport for my onward journey to Xining.

Xining by night

Dinner prepared by Rinpoche's caretaker

Arrived Xining at 3.30pm and Rinpoche was there waiting. Stayed the next two days in Xining to acclimatize before setting foot into Yushu. The flight to Yushu on 6 July took an hour versus by road which took me 18 hours in 2009. As the plane descended I had tears in my eyes, remembering the old Yushu and not knowing what to expect of the now devastated Yushu. Thupa and Ganyuk were there to pick us.

My eyes were blurred as we drove into town, passed Rinpoche’s completely flattened family house and a few meters away, Thupa’s badly damaged house. I could not snap any pictures as a part of me was numbed by what I saw (write up and pictures over next few articles)

Reached Norling Library, proud and majestic amidst all flattened buildings. The school behind Norling was down. About 80 school children perished on that fateful day. Norling, though standing, is 100% structurally damaged and will be pulled down at a later date. The 2 guestrooms, showers and toilets were undamaged. The guestrooms though undamaged were unsafe to stay. The clinic now serves as a temporary store and kitchen.

Rinpoche, with the help from an organization, had 6 rooms erected just before I arrived. These rooms were intended as storage rooms for the 50,000 over library books that will be brought down later from the first floor. Meantime it was home for Rinpoche and me.
In my room were two mattresses laid on a carpeted floor, with 3 floor tables. It was made homely with 2 “sofas” and a coffee table. Thupa and his 2 siblings, Kush and a few others live in the 3 government tents erected in front of these 6 new rooms.

The showers have no doors or curtains
It was a non-activity day/acclimatization day on the day I arrived. Over the next 4 days Kush brought me to Lepa Gou, Mani Pile, Princess Wen Cheng Stopover, Thrangu grounds, etc. One morning when I awoke I saw a big truck with a few lamas and a handful of workers loading things into the truck. I knew it was time to make the trip to Wamlung.

Wamlung monks loading mattresses, floor cushions, vegetables, pots & pans and building materials for next day's trip into Wamlung Monastery

I was both excited and apprehensive about making this trip to Wamlung which is more than 5,000 meters above sea level. Will I be able to take the altitude? What if I have altitude sickness and it becomes severe? Will they be able to transport me down in time (the roads are hopelessly bad)? Rinpoche mentioned there are bears and wolves at Wamlung. What if they decide to visit me at my tent? There will be no baths for the number of days that I am there. No toilets. Sleep in tents. Freezing cold at night. There is no backing out. This trip is definitely on. This is the first time that Rinpoche is taking any visitor up to Wamlung and I cannot chicken out. After all I am going with Rinpoche and with his blessings everything will be alright.

More to come …. The journey into Wamlung and the devastated Yushu …