Entering the Back Gate to the Garden of Shangri-la

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We’ve called this often grueling trip from Chengdu, the Back Road to Shangri-la. A few days ago, we entered the high gate to the garden of Shangri-la. We topped out above 15,000 feet each day, and often stayed there for hours. We meandered the Tibetan Plateau, in company with yaks and Tibetans, surrounded by a landscape stippled with stupas, prayer flags, tiny wildflowers and singing mountain streams. Meadows of jade steepened up to fresh snow covered peaks, at least some days backed by a cobalt sky and cotton clouds.

At least one day was miserable with rain and we cut our day short, rain soaked and freezing, at an unheated roadhouse infested with Mahjongg playing and yelling, day off revelers. But those are not the things we will remember. We will remember the smiling Tibetan greetings of “tashi dele” from every roadside yak camp or a passing motorcycle, laden with bags of grain, and sometimes the whole family.

We will remember the hours long climb each day, each switchback revealing new wonders of high meadows and lines of blinding peaks. Then we begin the long descent through rock walled paddocks, friendly villages, and herds of yaks and deep gorges of evergreens, autumn coloring trees and roaring streams.

Do the people here live to very old ages? Are they always healthy and happy as the Shangri-la myth tells? No, they are mortals, increasingly invaded by the outside world, nudged into ways foreign to their culture and religion. But from the smiles on their faces as we pass, an exceedingly strange apparition from afar, the hearty waves and open-faced surprise, I know they are a happy people. We were told by one man that they don’t even think about the weather, no matter how bad, and it can be very bad! That tells me the Buddhist philosophy is real and alive in their lives. We’re not there yet, especially when it comes to weather!

So Shangri-la is in some measure real, at least here in the high meadows. There is much more to discover, much more to come.

Tibetan plateau

Tibetan plateau

Claire getting a hug

Claire getting a hug

Zippy's new Tibetan prayer flag

Zippy’s new Tibetan prayer flag

Stream and mountain on Tibetan plateau

Stream and mountain on Tibetan plateau

Tibetan Pony

Tibetan Pony

Tibetan Grazing Camp

Tibetan Grazing Camp

Nice Tibetan Roadhouse on freezing morning

Nice Tibetan Roadhouse on freezing morning

Tibetan writing on rock

Tibetan writing on rock

Too surprised to smile

Too surprised to smile

Monastery on cliff

Monastery on cliff

Prayer flags and bicycle

Prayer flags and bicycle

Rock Art at Sacred Site

Rock Art at Sacred Site

Lucky Found Yak Horns

Lucky Found Yak Horns

Tibetan archictecture

Tibetan archictecture

 

Tibetan plateau

Tibetan plateau


Comments

Entering the Back Gate to the Garden of Shangri-la — 3 Comments

  1. At least one day was miserable with rain and we cut our day short, rain soaked and freezing, at an unheated roadhouse infested with Mahjongg playing and yelling, day off revelers. But those are not the things we will remember. We will remember the smiling Tibetan greetings of “tashi dele” from every roadside yak camp or a passing motorcycle, laden with bags of grain, and sometimes the whole family.

    We will remember the hours long climb each day, each switchback revealing new wonders of high meadows and lines of blinding peaks. Then we begin the long descent through rock walled paddocks, friendly villages, and herds of yaks and deep gorges of evergreens, autumn coloring trees and roaring streams.

    I’ve enjoyed reading through your site as I also am greatly interested in cycle touring but simply can’t afford to. I suppose it’s like vicarious touring or window shopping…

    One thing that bothered me a little, in the quote highlighted above, something I wanted to touch on briefly, is selective memory making. I think it is important to remember both the good and the bad, the idyllic and the flawed. It seems a little like you are trying to preserve or reinforce in your memory a picture-perfect image, a seemingly benign stereotype if you will, of a people and a place. Unless I am misunderstanding, you seem to have essentialised both people and place and wish your memories to conform to your preconceived notions. The noisy Mahjong-playing day-off revellers are as much part of the reality of a time and place and people as the Tibetans smiling and yelling greetings as you pass by.

    Sorry that my first comment on your site seems critical. I hope it will be viewed as constructive criticism and dialogue.

  2. Abram,
    If you have not cycle toured, and tried to keep a blog/site going at the same time, you do not understand that there is precious time and energy left at the end of the day for perfect writing, perfect memory. Certainly I remember more positive than negative in this post, and that reflects the live-in-the-moment person I am, the optimist that I am. I won’t apologize for who I am. I do think however that you have not read the entire Shangri-la posting, or you might not have come away with the opinion that I was not looking at the “real” world around me. Read the site, watch the videos, and I think you will see more. Also I felt “watched” while still in China, and reserved a few observations, and one video, for after we had left China.

    As for not bicycle touring because of cost, that is not an excuse. We live more cheaply per day in Asia than we can living at home. For a four month tour, we spent less, including air fares, than we would have spent living a very frugal life in the inexpensive city of Tucson, AZ. Your excuse is gone. Get on the road and do a better job than I have and I will applaud you. I stand ready to offer any advice, answer any questions you might have about bicycle touring.

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