From Dunhuang 敦煌 we took a 19h bus ride to Lanzhou 蘭州。we wanted to take the train but all the sleepers was sold out, hindsight being 20/20 we would have gladly taken a seat instead. The bus ride was quite terrible. The beds were filthy and likely the sheets had never been washed. The sleeper was full of peasants and no one cared that they were smoking or spitting on the floor of the bus. Actually I could deal with the spitting and smoking even if it is disgusting but the bed was so filthy I thought I would get lice. ( the sleeper bus from Almaty to China was a lot nicer. No shoes allowed, only 24 beds instead of 48, no smoking or spitting) Anyways no more sleeper buses for us.
So we reaches Lanzhou already in a bad mood and hopping to get some rest. The NEW lonely planet guidebook which was only published in April 2013 highly recommended the international hostel in Lanzhou. When we got there we got really strange stares and after 20min of waiting the receptionist finally told us they don’t accept foreigners. I could stay but not M. Also the receptionist ( who was an old man) was extremely rude saying Caucasians caused trouble and are loud. When I asked then why they have the world “International” on their hostel name they said it was for marketing and they never had a permit required I accept foreigners. I am extremely pissed at the hostel and their rudeness but more so at the Lonely Planet author who clearly failed to do proper research.
Anyways, we left to look for another accommodation and was eventually picked up by a really amazing cab driver. He picked us up after we tried flagging a cab for 20 mins and he told us that it’s extremely hard to get taxis in LanZhou and that most hotels were full due to a 2 day convention. For the next 35 mins he tried calling hotels for us but to no avail, all were booked. Finally we decided to just go back to the bus station to get a ride to Xiahe 夏河. For all that driving and calling he only wanted ¥30, we gave him ¥40 he really deserved more.
Anyways other than the nice can driver I can’t say Lanzhou left a good impression.
So to Xiahe we went. First we went to Linxia 臨夏 and then switched buses to Xiahe 夏河 since we had missed the direct bus. We got to the hostel at 5pm. That meant we had been travelling for 28h straight. It also meant in one week we had spent 78 hours on a bus. A week only has 168 hours.
Xiahe is a town famous for its Tibetan monastery. It also has a large Tibetan population and lots of nomadic Tibetans frequent the area; their traditional dresses are really cool. Although I don’t suppose they shower very much because they all smell like yak cheese.
Xiahe town is divided into the Han Chinese side, Hui an Tibetan. There are some ethnic tensions and the police and military presence is huge for a town so small.
Labrang monastery is one of the 4 most important monastery for the Gelugpa (yellow hats) sect. We saw many pilgrims endlessly circling the pilgrim path whilst spinning the prayer wheels. Some were literally crawling around the path.
Photos weren’t allowed so I had to sneak on to get a photo of the GIANT YELLOW HAT:
The monastery was also having its prayer time and I snuck some photos. The lead chanter has an amazingly low voice while chanting, very impressive. Tibetans were throwing money at the monks, I guess for offering and prayers.
How do the monks know which shoe is theirs?
Later on while we were walking 2 Tibetans stopped us since they saw a Caucasian and wanted to practice English. One was quite a devout Buddhist just starting to learn English and the other was a Thangka artist/ guide who spoke decent English but almost no Chinese! The artist invited us to have tea and Thampa at his small house. Apparently the government has been dumping huge amount of money to the towns infrastructure, building schools and such. Many ethnic Hans have moved in and now the town is no longer a Tibetan majority. Anyways we chatted a bit more mostly about movies and English and we said farewell to them. We hung out at the hostel which was Tibetan run and left early next morning.