You might wonder why we don’t find better accommodations? The next Bingwan was 84 kilometers, and 1500 meters up the road, a hard all day ride. Sometimes the basics seem awfully nice after a long hard day, with another one waiting.
Shangri-la is changing as we drop in elevation. The yaks are gone, replaced by mixed breed cows, sheep, goats and donkeys. The high meadows, empty of human habitation, other than seasonal tents, with sparkling air and clear water, have been replaced with terraced fields of crops, villages with substantial houses, roofs filled with drying corn and racks with hay. The people remain friendly and vocal as we pass, our unusual mode of transportation a novelty still.
But there is a change. The prayer flags, stupas and monasteries are fewer, the flags more likely to be tattered and faded, and the architecture increasingly Han and not Tibetan. There have been a few instances of architecture new to us, indicating we are entering an area of more diverse ethnicity. Groups of women walk in brightly decorated dresses and several varieties of head dress.
Today was a nearly perfect cycling day: the road was smooth, and mostly downhill, with just enough cooling upstream breeze. We had a few hills, but none were long. There were friendly people, cute donkeys and goats, spectacular gorge scenery, and all our official interactions at check stations were pleasant. I’m beginning to think we just got a couple of bad eggs, on edge because of the 60th anniversary of Communist China’s founding. The army was even guarding a bridge, complete with sand bagged bunkers, though they seemed relaxed, perhaps because the day, October 1, has come and gone without incident, as far as we know. Unescorted foreigners are still blocked from the Tibetan Autonomous Region, though that was supposed to be lifted this week.
The soldiers gave us the news that we were entering Yunnan at their checkpoint. Sichuan is one big, mountainous province; now we will see what Yunnan has to offer.
Headwaters of the Yangtze
We saw the Yangtze overwhelm our (unknown name) aquamarine river, with a hard line of flood brown. With the load of sediment being carried by the Yangtze, here in the mountains with little agricultural land to contribute to the load, I wonder how long the impoundments behind the Three Gorges Dam, will last before filling up the impoundment? About a week ago we were within 100 kilometers of the true headwaters, much higher in the Himalayas.
We were in a spectacular gorge all day. This is a land of precipitous mountains, still thousands of meters high, and rushing rivers cutting deeply, quickly. We expect to see the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge in a few days, but I can’t imagine it being more spectacular than the ones we have already seen.
We are in a basic dorm guest house tonight, with cold water washing up done at the roadside tap. Oh well, we had a hot water shower the last two nights, and privacy; what do we want anyway?! There is a fandian here; we will test the food, and our dishes will be washed at the same tap. The video explained the other toilet facilities.
Shortly after we turned out the lights the proprietor of the place knocked on our door. That’s usually not a good thing. He repeatedly traced Chinese characters on our door jamb, hoping that one more time would get through to us. I finally figured out that there was something about 8:45 (yes, we were in bed well before 8:45). I went downstairs to see that in the fandian (restaurant), they had laid a table full of festive foods. Evidently, there was to be a party at 8:45 and we were invited. We contributed what was left of some cookies and joined the fun. People dropped by and we snacked on mandarins, tangelos, apples, walnuts, sunflower seeds, boiled peanuts, moon cakes, candy and some type of gingerbread.
Bob had to turn down several offers of cigarettes during the night. We later learned this was for the mid-autumn full moon celebration.