A Trip to Gannan: Gansu’s Tibet – Part 2

After a restless night, Bella and I woke up at 5am to travel to Langmusi, a town whose river divided it into two parts: Gansu Province and Sichuan Province. Each side had its own Buddhist temple complex too.

At the edge of Xiahe, a guard stopped us to inspect our health codes. After a close inspection, he let us go. We continued for another two hours past green-carpeted mountains in the mist and fog until we reached Luqu. Here they had a hospital where they could print out the Covid test results for foreigners.

After getting tested, we had to wait until the afternoon to get the printed results. So we stopped at a restaurant for some breakfast. After that, we walked along a river walkway that passed through the town to the mountains beyond it. We walked for nearly two hours and enjoyed the scenery around us. The town was nearly surrounded by mountains, and clouds were hovering near some of the peaks. It was certainly a bucolic scene.

Back in town, we ate lunch and waited another hour to get our test results. Finally, they came out. Now we could go to Langmusi with the official reports.

In the late afternoon, we arrived in Langmusi. Our hotel was owned by a Hui Muslim, and the place looked clean and tidy. After unloading our luggage, we wandered through town and found the Hui neighborhood. There was a 200-year-old mosque that was at the end of the alley. We were allowed to walk inside but couldn’t climb the minaret. It was clearly a Muslim place of worship, yet the architecture was distinctly Chinese in its design. Some men with skullcaps were lounging on benches inside another building nearby.

Oddly enough, there was a Buddhist temple almost directly across the road. We didn’t want to pay to enter so we found an alley that took us up to a grassy knoll, overlooking the town. At the top of the hill was a tower of colorful, “wooden-feathered” poles whose tips pointed at the sky. There must have been at least 50 poles bundled together about 5m high. Near them was a fire that was burning quite intensely.

It was a lovely view until gray clouds rolled in from the mountains and drenched us. We found a dirt path to lead us back down the village. Ironically, construction workers were finishing a newly paved road that would lead us back to the village. Bella asked the boss if we could walk on the fresh macadam, and he surprisingly agreed. We were joined by a herd of cows who had come from the grasslands. The men who were steamrolling the road were not too pleased with cows blocking the way. But there was not much they could do.

That night we ate a hearty meal of vegetable noodle soup, baked bread, and skewered BBQ meat at a Muslim restaurant. It was a good to be inside after a rainy, gray day. We were ready for some rest.

The next day we ate breakfast at a Tibetan restaurant. We had some lamb baozi (ground lamb stuffed inside a bun), butter tea, and milk tea. The butter tea was not so great, but everything else tasted good.

Today we planned to hike through Namo Gorge, which was behind the Sichuan monastery in Langmusi. First we had to pay for tickets to enter the complex. We walked along some small dirt roads where it seemed like villagers still lived and found a stupa made from wood. Its doors were locked, and most of the paintings on the wall panels had faded over the years.

There were many temples here, but most seemed off-limits, especially where a monk was leading younger monks in some ceremony. The biggest one with a shining, golden roof was open to tourists. Whenever we entered a room, we had to take off our shoes before walking inside. Many of the rooms had multiple golden chandeliers dangling from the ceilings that illuminated golden Buddhas seated in the lotus position. Some were beatific, and others were wrathful. It was difficult to understand them without having a guide.

After the temple tour, we walked outside along a stream that led us straight into Namo Gorge. Giant pine trees flanked it on both sides as eagles soared above them. Soon after we entered the gorge, we found horses and their guides stopped near the river. They asked us if we wanted to ride them, but we decided not to.

After an hour of hiking, we entered an open valley surrounded on all sides by mountain peaks. This was where nomads would let their sheep graze, but all we saw were the droppings they had left behind. As we continued along the trail, we had to avoid yak and horse poop that seemed ubiquitous. Clearly, this was not just a trail for humans.

At a later point, we encountered a herd of yaks on a narrower part of the trail. They seemed unsure of us, and I was hoping to walk past them but didn’t want any head butting from them along the way. Fortunately, some riders came along on horseback and moved them past us.

A little while later, we entered another valley where sheep were munching grass on the hillside. A shepherd was watching them with his tent nearby. At the base of the valley was a flat, muddy stretch of land that was several football fields long. It was essentially a poop minefield.

They yaks had possibly had some gastrointestinal issues, or they saw this place as an open latrine. Regardless, it was a nightmare to cross. Finally, after crossing it, we continued along the trail that seemed to get even wetter and muddier. Horses and yaks had carved out clear trails, but the rain had muddied them all. We found some walking sticks nearby just as the trail began to lead us up to the mountain pass.

We began our steep ascent to the pass that always seemed just out of reach. The view of the valley below and the mountains surrounding it was spectacular, but there was also much less oxygen at 4,000m. Our hearts beat much faster than normal, and we rested several times along the way.

Finally, we reached the top of the pass. We could see a lush alpine meadow that dropped down into another valley below. Yaks and sheep were eating grass from the mountainside. Far down in the valley were two nomadic tents. This must be the summer grazing lands.

We were fairly high up, but I wanted to climb at least one of the nearby peaks. It was a much steeper climb than I anticipated. And my heart hammered hard for oxygen the further I went. When I arrived at the summit, I found a pile of giant, “wooden-feathered” poles at the top. All the colors had leeched from them a while ago. One the one side of the peaks was a sharp drop to the valley below. On the other side, I could see many mountain peaks and even grasslands in the far distance until clouds obscured them.

On the way back down, I found the place where I started climbing but couldn’t find Bella. I yelled her name and couldn’t hear anything. Then I saw two human specks far away near the nomads’ tents. One began moving back to where I was. She must have visited the nomads.

When she came back, she told me the dad was watching the animals while his kids stayed near the tents. There was a road about an hour’s walk from them, but the kids were afraid of other nomads’ fierce dogs that protected their masters’ animals. Apparently, after sundown, wolves would come into the valley to attack the sheep. This was probably not the best place to camp at night.

On our way back down the mountain, we realized that we had climbed a steep trail. It was harder to walk down than we thought. As we neared the valley, we saw a yak herdsman sitting on a rock and yaks munching grass far up the mountainside. We stopped to rest and ate some bananas, raisins, and peanuts. I felt nauseous and had a headache as we walked back down. Perhaps I shouldn’t have climbed the mountain peak.

As we continued, I began to feel worse. And suddenly, I knelt down and spewed the remains of the snack onto the ground. First time I ever threw up on a hike. I must not have drunk enough water on the way. On the positive side, I felt much better after emptying my stomach.

As we continued down the trail, eventually made it back to the first valley where there were now hundreds of sheep munching grass on the mountainside. Two female shepherds were there, watching over their herds. It was a noisy place to pass through, but it was impressive to see how easily they jumped over rocks and climbed the mountainside in search of grass.

Soon the gorge narrowed and we made it back to the trail’s entrance after 8 hours of hiking. We sat down on a bridge over the gurgling river and watched an eagle perch on the topmost branch of a pine tree. He was searching for a meal. We saw a mouse scurrying close to the river for a drink. He got lucky this time.

Back in town, the streets seemed deserted. Apparently, Langmusi officials had decided that no one could enter the town for at least a week. Even the locals couldn’t reenter if they left the town. It was a preemptive protection against Covid.

There were a few restaurants still open, and we ate at another Muslim restaurant. After dinner, a massive thunderstorm passed through the town. We talked to our hotel owner, and he agreed to take us to the outskirts of Langmusi tomorrow morning. Then a driver from Zhagana would pick us up. If all went well, we would soon be on our way to our last stop on this eventful trip.

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