<Side note: These posts are from a trip I made in 2012 and lived in a gorgeous city named Chengdu for 5 months. Nevertheless, its memories are fresh and warm in my mind and I’d love to share them with you. >
This was the most awaited place I wanted to visit in the Sichuan region of China and it stood out in every possible way of wonderfulness.
Our whole route had the view of several layers of mountains. At the far end of what we could see, we couldn’t be sure if the clouds were imitating the mountains, or the mountains, the clouds.
Courting ritual of the locals explained by the guide and translated by my friend to me: Boy steals girl’s head-dress. Girl runs behind him to get it back.Boy sings a song to woo the girl. Girl sings a song back if she likes being wooed. Repeat until clear.When the girl decides he’s the one, she comes to him with a group of other similar looking girls. Face covered and he has to pick the right one. And that’s just round one. If the boy passes that he then has to fight with her brothers and win, to prove he’s strong enough to take care of her.Then the wedding with lots of money given by the boys family to the girl and lots of jewellery given by the girls family to her. One can distinguish the married women from the single ones by the decorated silver belt they wear.
As energetic and enthusiastic the guide is, since he speaks in Chinese, after trying to figure what he’s saying based on his tone and expressions alone for 10 minutes, I give up and doze off. As the bus stops for a break and I rub my still-sleepy eyes, I seem to have walked straight into a dream having mountains with a halo of clouds surrounding me and a snow white yak just outside the bus looking at me quizzically.
Our next stop was at the town of Songpan, with the statues of Princess Wencheng and the King Songtsan at the entrance of the town. It carried the legend of the princess who brought Buddhism and a whole way of life to Tibet and peace between the regions of China and Tibet during the King’s reign.
The bus stopped again on the way for my very first view of natural snow and for the life of me, I couldn’t stop imagining it as anything but milk chocolate over the dark one. We also had a mini snow-storm with vibrant temple flags fluttering wildly, thrown into the mix for filmy effect. I really have no idea how people ever get to work in snow covered places. I was keeping each foot with trepidation wondering if I’d just sink in, more worried about getting back to the bus with wet jeans than of falling into an ice-hole and being trapped for eternity. After that quick stop, we went on our way to one beautiful scene after another with cuddly looking yaks and calm horses nonchalantly dotting the otherwise harsh landscape.
We were received like royalty at the house of a millionaire (according to the guide) as revered guests with a bright yellow silk scarf and singing. The house was painted in cheery bright colours designs typical to the culture.
We even gold coloured dragons on our dinner tables with dishes made of buckwheat and meat. There was an introduction of the culture(in Chinese, so I missed most of what was not translated) and I picked some of the bits that they were mostly shepherds and polyandry and polygamy was pretty common in this part of the world. There was singing of the local songs in strong voices.
They demoed a wedding custom with a participant tourist wooing the lady with several exchanges of songs, and then married off (made to wear the traditional costume); followed by this had to prove himself by the number of bowls of wine he could consume from his ‘bride’s’ hands while carrying her at the same time! After all the singing, the best part was left for last. Dancing! We twirled and waved and went around in circles, to the local music with the light drizzle providing a natural accompaniment. I managed to actually last the longest on the outdoor dance floor
Despite valiant attempts, we had to give up on the evening walk I wanted to due to the terribly chilly weather by the end of the day.
The next day our guide was prone to exaggeration and just when he handed over our tickets, said with a flourish “Feel like God because you’re entering paradise.”
However, I’ll have to admit, our first view of Jiuzhaigou was straight out of a postcard. The mountains with ribbons of snow, deep green vegetation and a lake, called the Long Lake , that most certainly looked like a choice piece of paradise in one in the most beautiful shade of blue there is. Despite it being spring, there was still snow perched on the conifers and sporadic snow-fall just like the trappings of a white Christmas in April.
It was the first time I had held a handful of snow in my hand. Crumbly, malleable and not as cold as I imagined. The water in the lakes was lucid enough to see the floor of the lake scattered with driftwood and polished pebbles that had just decided to make their home in the tranquil setting. It was undeniably one of those places you let the surroundings woo you at every turn until you don’t notice that you are blissfully lost in its embrace.
Where there are tourists, there had to be pictures in costume and photos with the amusing looking foreigner in the local outfit too. But my favourite of the day was the one with a young girl’s parents, quickly followed by one with her adorable mother who wanted a picture with just me and paid back in more than full with a free hug in return
I happened to meet, probably the only other Indian in Jiuzhaigou at the time, a student who had come along with his friends. It’s endearing to note how much we try to clutch at the slightest connection to a common thread the moment we are in foreign environs. The instant reaction to the moment almost seems like a gasp of relief that indeed, home is not too far away.
We spent the evening playing poker and wrapped up the day with an animated conversation on childhood games, memories, families and their accompanying craziness.
Early the next morning we had to head off to our next target, Huanglong and the cold made it perfect for me to nod off to sleep. But each time I woke up on the trip I had views that seemed to vie with each other for attention. Layers of snowy mountain ranges, colourful bright temple flags in a fluttering frenzy, houses that seemed to just about balance themselves on the mountainside, and the gushing river that was a loyal companion throughout the journey on the road.
As part of our shopping agreement with the travel agency, we had 3 interesting shop-stops. A huge store selling crystals (exorbitantly priced but with sufficient buyers), a second stop at one dealing with a huge number of food items made of yak meat (not my area of interest but the buckwheat sweets were interesting) and the last one selling a wide variety of Chinese medicine. I really wished my Chinese was better, especially at the last one, because there was a wide variety of things I was finding very fascinating, and just the one thing I got a translation for, turned out to be thinly sliced deer antlers!
We reached Huanglong and after the trek amidst pit-stops to make a snowball, take a breather or just admire the view, we reached the 5-color lake that I had really been looking forward to. If there could be an image straight out of a fairy-tale, this was probably it. The snow-capped mountains provided the backdrop, a dreamy view of a traditional temple due to the lazily floating mist, and the flawless water in different shades of blue in, as per legend, the rouge kit of a fairy.
Even the harshest looking part of the terrain had the occasional peach tree enveloped in a celebration of white blossoms. And one couldn’t help but be tickled by even the scarecrows wearing the traditional attires in red and gold brocade!
The next break was at a river-side. The river itself had been crafted by the earthquake that had wiped out whole cities. Now, in contrast, the river flowed quietly between the mountains like a haven of calm with a lone boat trawling its waters. The beauty of tragedy or the tragedy of beauty, it was a little hard to pick a side.
After yet another break at a factory that made expensive things out of yak horn (!), we stopped for lunch. Among the entire group of people on the trip, I was the only ‘foriegner’ and only one other lady (excluding my colleagues) was able to speak to me in English, so the others were quite curious about India and me. At the lunch table, when a group of them realized that I wouldn’t be eating most of the meat served, they cheered aloud at the every vegetarian dish that arrived insisting I serve myself first before they proceeded 🙂 They had questions related to Indian clothing and food and were thrilled to bits to see me using the chopsticks comfortably People everywhere are more considerate than they need to be. It’s touching to note that despite the lack of a common language it’s easy to survive when you have people who care.
The trip back to Chengdu was almost like a shift from winter to summer in a few hours! On the way, one of my friends gave me a crash course on fishing. The bait : soft corn or earthworms (apparently with experience you know where to find them!); you find a place with deep but calm water and then all you need would be a fishing line and patience I’d probably be too queasy to think that I’d hook a fish myself but was good information to know anyway.
Well, that ended the lovely trip covering everything from snow to summer. Like the locals wish each other…Shashadale….shashadale sho!