Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Most Dreary Day in Xiahe.

Sangke Grasslands.

Dreary day today - cold and rainy.  In all honesty, I was very uninspired to do any sightseeing.

Mal and I were suppose to meet up with the other two at 8a and walk back to the same noodle restaurant we had breakfast at yesterday for our first meal of today. But I hadn't slept well last night - waking up at 3:30a and pretty much tossing and turning until the sun rose. I just wanted to sleep in and Mal was feeling the same.  I was toasty, comfy under my blanket and I didn't want to get out of bed.

At 9a, all of us met up with Eric.  Today, we would be heading out of Xiahe to see the grassland regions that surround the small town.   One step out the front door and I realized I was a bit under dressed - could have done with the shirt that I had packed away in the suitcase thinking I wouldn't need it. We piled into the van for the 37 km ride to Ganjia grasslands. The rain steadily fell as we made our way out of town.  It didn't take long for the scenery to change from urban to rolling hills of green.  It reminded me very much of the steppes of Mongolia and Kazakhstan.



We passed shanty towns and yurt camps along the way.  Every now and again, we would stop for a photo op. Unless the ground wasn't muddy, I just shot the photos from the van door. I've got my hiking sandals on and I have no desire to get my socks and feet wet with mud.


The grassland area was pretty - high mountains ringing a narrow valley which had a small river meandering through it. The tuffs of prairie grass were seeding and the whole landscape looked like a fluffy yellow carpet. The expansive views would have been so pretty had it been a sunny day with a bright blue sky. Today, against cloudy skies, it just looked okay.  Actually, it looked a bit sad, especially the towns which some how looked more ramshackled than they might have had there not been so much mud everywhere.



We arrived at the ruins of an ancient castle. Eric was ready for us to all go out an explore it but I was quick to say I would hang back. One look at the muddy path leading up to the stone walls was enough to turn me off. Besides, I've seen countless ancient castle walls. I'm okay with not seeing another one.


We could at least get a glimpse of the old rammed earth walls of the castle.  Perhaps it's actually a fortress.   In any case, I did read (after our drive) that there are quite a few interesting monasteries in the area but we saw exactly zero.  My thought Eric is not a seasoned guide in this part of China.  I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he knows other regions better. 




At this point, our drive was just that, sitting in a car and moving along.  In some ways, that was good enough for me.  Nothing about what I was seeing outside the window was inspiring me to get excited about where we were.  Very sad.




From here, we backtracked to Xiahe and continued in the opposite direction out of town for the 15km drive to Sangke Grasslands which from many accounts that I read on the web are prettier.  Xiahe is not a pretty looking town in the rain though I'm not sure it's a pretty looking town in the sun.  As I write this post, I realize I'm being very negative today.  I will have to change that mindset quickly!




Just as we drove by Labrang, Eric pointed out Ngakpa Gompa which is a Nyingmapa (Red Hat sect) monastery.  There's also a nunnery nearby.  Both are accessible via the long kora from Labrang.  Why he didn't tell us this yesterday after our visit to Labrang?


In no time, it was grass and hills and rivers and lakes. 


Sangke is prettier than Ganjia.  It was good that we hadn't come here first so we saved the better of the two places for the last.  Driver pulled over in to a small rest stop area so we could take in the scenic view.  Again, it's really a shame that it's such a drab day today.  



The rest stop was also a chance to use the facilities.  I can't remember if they were a thumbs up or thumbs down for Mal Mal but as with many people who are not used to squat toilets, that in itself is not a good experience.


Nope.  Sangke might be pretty when the sun is shining bright but today, it was nothing to admire.  As quickly as we had arrived, we turned around and left.  The consensus among the gals was to go back to Xiahe.







As we neared Xiahe, Eric had the driver pull over to the side of the road so we could have a view of Labrang. Yim and Sal climbed up the muddy hill for a view higher up but I decided to just stay by the van.   I'm sure their shots are better than mine but I'm okay with what I got.  I think I can recognize some of the buildings from their rooftops.


Eric dropped us back off at the Nirvana Hotel. We took a few minutes to use the facilities and then headed back out to Zhaxiqi Street. Along the way, we did some shopping.


It was Mal who did most of the buying though I did pick up a few bobble head dolls that I liked. Yes, bobble dolls.  I just thought they were so cute, I couldn't resist.  Despite haggling with the shop owner, I still feel like I ended up paying a bit too much for them - he wanted 75 yuan for the 3, I got him down to 50 yuan (all of $7.25 USD). But looking at them makes me smile so I'm good with the price I paid!


We were on our way back to what I now label as Yim and Sal's favorite noodle place but along the way, another restaurant caught our eye - mainly because they had a large display of photos of their menu options. When you don't speak or read the language, pictures are indispensable. I took a photo of the dish I wanted so I could show it to the waiter and the other 3 did the same. We placed our orders.



The food arrived fairly quickly. Unlike a US restaurant where all the diners at a table are served at the same time, here as in many parts of the world, food is brought to the table as it is cooked. My bowl of beef noodles was the last to arrive. It was a fine bowl of noodles but sadly, I have to admit, I am noodled out. The bowls have all started to blur and I can't distinguish one bowl of beef noodles from another.


After lunch, we window shopped our way back to the Norden Cafe.  It was early afternoon and school had  just let out.  Zhaxiqi Street was flooded with swarms of kids in their school uniforms.  Like many kids, they looked very happy to be done with school for the day :-)





The gals have been pining for the Norden Cafe's apple cake ever since they had it two days ago. It was their lucky day today as there were cake slices available.  Filled with pieces of dried apple and walnuts and flavored with just a hint of cinnamon, it is scrumptious.... at least by Xiahe standards.


We lingered at the cafe for quite some time - Yim and Mal were excited to finally have good internet access. I connected just long enough to read a couple of emails and then disconnected. I've been enjoying being "off the grid" for the past few days and have decided that with the exception of posting up a few photos.....which I've not even done that these past few days, I will be Internet free. It's good to not be a slave to the web.

Once again, we had many giggling fits thanks to Mal.  Her imitation of a Valley Girl describing a Post-It is hilarious.  If Mal wasn't such a shy person, I would have asked her to perform for my camera so I could save the performance.  Watching her do a pitch perfect imitation of a Valley Girl speaking would be the perfect antidote for those days when I'm feeling a bit down.  As much as I get a kick out of laughing watching her, I get a kick out of her laughing at herself. 




Our original game plan for the day was to spend the afternoon exploring a bit more of Labrang Monastery and per the suggestion of the owner at the Nirvana, walk over the nunnery (that is adjacent to Labrang) as well as the Ngakpa Gompa (aka Red Hat monastery) that is adjacent to the nunnery. We would then walk back towards the hotel via what the owner referred to as the second kora or longer/outer kora as Eric would refer to it as. No doubt that the rain, which has fallen steadily all day, has put a damper on our sightseeing spirits. Sitting at the cafe, Sal and I pondered whether or not we should at least explore more of Labrang but with each passing minute, we got more and more comfortable relaxing at the Norden so much so that chances for venturing beyond the doors of the cafe to just going back to the hotel completely evaporated.

Located between the Norden and Nirvana is a place called Belike, a fast food joint serving up Western fast foods. For the past two days, Yim has been salivating for something, anything other than noodles and momos. Yesterday, she had some fried chicken and today she wanted the same although she also had foodie dreams of bacon. No chance of bacon in a Tibetan town :-)

We made a quick pit stop back at the Nirvana where Sal stayed back.  Mal, Yim and I made our way back to the Belike. There, all three of us ordered fried chicken in some form - I opted for a fried chicken sandwich - the chicken was crispy, juicy and tasty though the bun was crumbly and the mayo was all things wrong......too much it and it was much too sweet. Nonetheless, I got my fried chicken fix which made me very happy :-)

Back in our room, we settled in for the night. The TV had an HDMI connection so I whipped out my MHL/HDMI adapters and hooked up my Samsung Galaxy 4S phone to the TV. I fired up the Amazon video app and selected one of the movies, "Tortilla Soup" that I had off lined for Mal and I to watch. It was a much needed entertainment break.

After the movie, it was lights out. We have to be out the front door at 6:30a tomorrow so it's early night's out. I'm ready to catch up on lost sleep from last night.

Goodnight from Xiahe!