Tag Archives: biking

In the Fields of Dali

Dali is one of those special places in China that everyone seems to love, westerners and locals alike. To those that have been there, Dali is synonymous with tranquility, nature, yummy food, and of course, beauty. And unlike its somewhat chaotic neighbor, Lijiang, Dali has a chillness about it. Yes, there are a fair share of tourist shops in the Old City (大理古城), but the surrounding area feels authentic and connected to the stunning landscape.

For us, Dali was a two night visit, but one could easily spend a week. For many, Dali is one of those places that makes you wish you could just quit everything and go live there permanently.

Fast Facts:

Name: Dali | 大理

Where: Yunnan Province | 云南

What to Do: Enjoy views of Erhai lake (洱海湖)and its surrounding villages, visit a local market, ride your bike through the farms, perambulate the old city, and do some hiking in the nearby Cangshan mountains(苍山).

Getting There: From Kunming: fly  (<1 hour) or take a bus (<5 hours) or a train (around 7 hours).

The nice part about taking a bus from Kunming is you get to see the countryside, which is picturesque to say the least – one farm after another and a red flag here and there zooming by through the window. We left Kunming in the late afternoon, so by the time we approached Dali we were treated to an orange baked sky.

DSC_6970

DSC_6980

The common thing to do in Dali is to take a walk on the wonderful Jade Cloud Path. Starting at Zhonghe temple, you head south and follow an impeccably maintained stone path for about 11 kilometers to the end. If you’re feeling particularly energetic you can hike up and down to the path, though there is a cable-car as well. The path itself sits about 2,500 meters up, and provides great panoramic views of Dali and Erhai lake.

The path should only take about 4 hours to walk at a slow pace, so this is a perfect excursion if you’re getting a late start after a healthy brunch at The Bakery No. 88.

DSC_7108

Our favorite part of Dali was riding bikes through the farms. Much like in Yangshuo, this area has infinite paths to ride along. You can ride around the entire lake if you’re up for a more involved trip (planning a route ahead of time is highly advised), or like us, you can just go get lost in the farms for a while.

Dali is quite small and flat, so there’s no easy way to really get lost as you can almost always see a major landmark. Riding through the farms is great because you get amazing views of both Cangshan and Erhai. You also get to pass lots of locals who are very friendly and super used to tourists rumbling by on bikes. And definitely get a mountain bike if you plan on riding through the fields.

DSC_7127

DSC_7135

DSC_7141

DSC_7152

After eating about a billion little bugs because we’d been riding around all day through farmlands with stupid grins on our faces, the sun began to set. This is really the best time to be out in the fields, especially on a day with white puffy clouds. The sun sets behind Cangshan and litters the fields with beams of light piercing through the clouds.

Eventually we circled around to the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple (崇圣寺三塔). The tallest and oldest of the three pagodas dates back to around 820 A.D. (though it looks totally new now). We didn’t actually go inside, as it was the end of the day and the 121 RMB per person ticket price seemed a little steep. People will give you conflicting reviews of the pagodas and exhibits inside the compound. If you like looking at artifacts and relaxing in a park, then it might be worth it. If you’re looking for something to blow you away, then you won’t really find it and you can probably do with just enjoying a view of the pagodas from the outside. That said, we didn’t go in, so it’s difficult for us to judge.

DSC_7154

DSC_7155

DSC_7163

DSC_7172

DSC_7176

DSC_7189

DSC_7199

DSC_7208

On our last day before taking the bus back to Kunming, we decided to go visit some local villages and markets. There are over a dozen villages around Dali and they offer a great way to experience rural living at its best. Biking to and through the villages is probably the best way to do it, starting by heading to Caicun (才村) village and then continuing on from there.

We also visited a weekly market called Shaping (沙坪)market. Double-check with your hotel/hostel to make sure it’s open on the day you want to go (you’ll probably also want to get a driver, as it’s 30km north of Dali). This is a real local’s market, so you won’t find tourist trinkets. Instead, you’ll get a flavor for the produce and livestock that people in Dali sell. You’ll also get to see all the colorful baskets and clothing that the locals (especially the older generation) still wear today. The colors in the attire come from the Bai tradition, though there are certainly other minorities in the area as well. If you’re not already in the habit of visiting local markets, you definitely should start. As markets across China are a great way to pickup the sounds, smells, and color of a place, especially if time is tight.

DSC_7225

DSC_7237

DSC_7248

DSC_7257

There’s no shortage of online information out there on Dali, so definitely do some comparison shopping when choosing restaurants, hostels, and excursion companies. We stayed at the Laughing Lotus Inn, which was terrific. The owners are super nice and helpful and the place is really cute. They even offered us their kayaks to take out on Erhai lake (we didn’t do it, but if you have time that might be really fun). Just know that the rooms are small and don’t have much in the way of amenities. But if you’re in a backpacker mode you’ll be quite pleased. As for Dali, like so many places in China, it will only get more and more developed, so go as soon as you can!

Finding Dali on a Map

 

Lost in Yangshuo

When we first came to China every place we visited filled us with a sense of romance and adventure. But if you stay anywhere long enough, you become jaded – especially when visiting famed Chinese tourist destinations, which tend to have a somewhat tacky and artificial veneer.

Yangshuo is an exception, which can, at least temporarily, rekindle anyone’s love affair with China. And if it’s your first time visiting China, I can’t think of a better first impression than Yangshuo.

——

Fast Facts;

Pinyin: Yángshuò | Chinese: 阳朔

Location: Guangxi Province, China

Getting There: Flew to Guilin, then hired car for 350 RMB 1-way

Where to Stay: Yangshuo Tea Cozy

Attractions: Li River, Karst mountains, biking, tea terraces, kumquats, rock climbing

——

Yangshuo is covered by karst topography, created by thousands of years of erosion by what today stands as the Li River (漓江). We visited in February, which meant warm days (70s) and relatively cool nights (50s). The weather was rainy and overcast for much of our trip, but that only added to the magic.

DSC_1504a

What makes Yangshuo so great is the area’s humble and quiet awesomeness. The landscape’s beauty is physically assaulting. Whether your image of China is a classic landscape painting or some documentary you saw on the History channel, Yangshuo authentically embodies the now almost stereotypical image of natural beauty in China.

DSC_1478aYangshuo is the cool younger sister to Guilin. Guilin is of course stunning in its own right. However, poor Guilin is the subject of many years of tour boats and buses battering its rivers and roads. The aftermath is a beautiful landscape scarred by over development of the tourism industry. While Guilin is still a worthwhile place to visit, I’d argue that Yangshuo offers everything Guilin has, and much more. Geographically, Yangshuo is literally just down the Li River from Guilin. You could take a 4-hour boat from Guilin or even hike it in about 6 hours.

There are two sides to Yangshuo. One is calm, idyllic, and peaceful. The other, represented by the West Street (西街) in Yangshuo’s city center, has all the trappings of other popular Chinese tourist spots (think Lijiang Old Town and the Badaling Great Wall). So if you want to experience hoards of Chinese tourists, junky gifts, and over-priced questionable food, then West Street is your ticket. Otherwise, it’s safe to avoid it entirely.

What you really want to do in Yangshuo is to get lost. Anyone who has been to Yangshuo will probably have a story about getting lost. And it’s very likely that the getting lost story is his or her favorite memory of Yangshuo. One reason Yangshuo is so amenable to getting lost in is because it’s small, so you’ll never really be in danger of getting stranded on the side of the road overnight. You can pretty much always know that you’ll find a way back to your hotel eventually, which makes getting lost a much more carefree and enjoyable experience. Moreover, all the trails and paths are unmarked, so you sort of have to just point yourself in a direction and go anyway.

 

Bike Ride 1 – Dragon Bridge

There are literally almost an infinite number of paths you can take around Yangshuo. From its winding roads to the web of dirt paths across its farmlands, Yangshuo truly is a biker’s paradise. And you don’t have to be hardcore at all. Many areas are flat, so if you want to take it easy you certainly can. On the other hand, getting a mountain bike and going off-road is a blast as well. Get a map from your hotel or one of the tourist offices and then all the route instructions below will make a lot more sense.

On our first afternoon we did a very popular ride to the Dragon Bridge (遇龙桥). We started from the Tea Cozy, our hotel along the Yulong River (遇龙河). From there we headed up the river, keeping the Yulong River on our left side the entire time. Before you hit Xiangui Qiao (仙桂桥),  you’ll turn left off the paved road onto a stone/dirt road, which continues north. In addition to all the karst mountains, one highlight of the trip is passing a duck farm, where you might be able to catch a glimpse of dozens of baby ducks.

DSC_1487a

DSC_1499a

DSC_1506a

Eventually you’ll come to the Dragon Bridge, which is surrounded by a couple restaurants and shops. For years now foreigners have enjoyed jumping off the bridge into the river below. Locals get a kick out of this, and sure enough when we were there some good ol’Americans were jumping off.  We crossed the bridge and headed back, again keeping the river on our left side. In all this ride only takes a couple hours, including plenty of stops to take pictures and drink in the scenery.

DSC_1514a

DSC_1520a

Bike Ride 2 – Moon Hill

Our second ride again started from the Tea Cozy. We then went down river all the way to Gongnong Bridge (工农桥), which is a busy intersection that crosses over the Yulong River.

DSC_1551aFrom there we went to Moon Hill (月亮山), which was just down the street. The ride to Moon Hill is completely on paved roads, so it’s very quick and easy, but of course still beautiful.

Once we arrived at Moon Hill we met Mama Moon. Mama Moon is an old lady who will help you save 5 kuai by taking a secret path up Moon Hill. Now when she first approached us we ignored her and thought she was just another scam artist. Then she started whipping out some very good English and even some Korean. We were intrigued so we stopped to talk to her. She then took out a book. Inside were testimonials from other foreigners about how you could trust Mama Moon. The English was clearly written by Americans (with perfect execution of slang and typical English handwriting). So from there, Moon Mama knew she had us.

Here’s her scam. Basically, you pay her 5 kuai instead of the 10 kuai that a normal ticket costs. Moon Mama’s associate then takes you around the street to climb over a stone wall that leads to a path which eventually connects to the main stairs up the hill. The main gate doesn’t check tickets on the way out, so you’re good to go. You save 5 kuai and you get to meet Moon Mama. We even ate lunch at her recommended restaurant across the street, which serves up typical simple, but tasty country food (农家菜).

The hike up Moon Hill is fast, as there are steps the entire way. From the top you get some amazing views of the surrounding landscape. Our day on Moon Hill had overcast skies with scattered showers, so the red hazy distance looked like something out of a kung-fu movie. You can also climb (at your own peril) the moon gate, which I’d imagine would be a pretty challenging overhang.

DSC_1558a

DSC_1568a

DSC_1570aFrom Moon Hill we took a right turn and followed a road parallel to the Baomao Expressway (包茂高速).  Eventually we hit the village of Longtan (龙潭). We paid an admission fee, only to find out later that the right turn onto the dirt path that would take us back up the Yulong River was before Longtan. In any event, we eventually found the way. Just know that if you cross the Baomao Expressway, you’ve gone too far.

After finding the small road back up the river, we were essentially riding in farm fields and through local villages. We got lost a couple times and had to ask locals which way to go. These locals are super friendly and are very used to being asked directions from lost bikers. What’s great is that we were totally by ourselves the whole day. We saw a couple other tourists on Moon Hill, but for the entire ride home it was just us.

DSC_1589aEventually we made it back, after doing a river crossing no less, where we carried our bikes across a narrow section of the water. The whole round-trip only took 5 hours, and that was at a very leisurely pace.

 

Scooting Around Town

Another great option is renting a scooter. Yangshuo is very hilly in some areas, and if you want to cover a lot of ground in one day a gas-powered scooter is the way to go. On our third day, we spent the whole day exploring the tea terraces and kumquat fields of Yangshuo.

From the central bus station in downtown Yangshuo, our path first took us to the Seven Star Peaks (七仙峰景区). Here you can see the iconic tea field terraces with karst mountains in the distance.

DSC_1614a

DSC_1617a

DSC_1619a

DSC_1621a

DSC_1623a

DSC_1634a

From the Seven Star Peaks we made our way along the winding hilly roads. The landscape was inundated with kumquat trees. Covered in plastic wrap to protect them from the cold morning dew, the kumquats were juicy and delicious–unlike from any supermarket. While stopped on the side of the road taking pictures, a passing farmer stopped and offered us some cumquats for free. They were the most deliciously sweet kumquats we’d ever tasted. He explained that the farming areas around Baisha town (白沙) were known as some of China’s largest kumquat producers.

Along the road, there are innumerable places to stop and enjoy the scenery. You’ll know when you pass the good spots, because there are stone walkways made for people to walk up to the ledges and enjoy the views.

Finally we ended up in Xianggong Hill (相公山). Xianggong Hill is a tourist destination created by a local man who decided to invest in building stairs up a mountain that overlooked a particularly beautiful section of the Li River. In return for making the investment, the man gets to collect entrance fees. The view from the top of Xianggong Hill is nothing short of amazing.

DSC_1642a

DSC_1665a

DSC_1675a

We ate lunch at the owner’s hostel. While the hostel itself didn’t look like anything special (and nor was the food), we had to hand it to the guy for taking the time to develop a tourist destination all on his own. Plus the view outside the hostel wasn’t too shabby.

DSC_1685a

The Li River & Xingping Town

On our last day we decided to do the Li River bamboo boat ride. We took the bus to Yangdi Town (杨堤乡) where we picked up our boat. From there we went down the Li River. The ride is super relaxing and you’ll see plenty of other bamboo boats. You can also walk along the side of the river if you’re looking for a more active day.

While the boat is not amazing (lout sputtering engine), you do get some good views, especially of things like Nine Horse Fresco (九马画山). If you need an easy day I think the boat ride is perfect. But know that if you’ve done a lot of biking, scooting, or hiking, the views you see from the river aren’t entirely different.

DSC_1698a

We got off the boat across from the 20 Kuai Scenery Spot – literally what it’s called. The view here is printed on the 20 RMB bill.

20 Kuai Scenic Spot, Yangshuo

From there we took an electric three-wheeled scooter to Xingping (兴坪). Xingping is a really nice old town. While there are no “must-see” places, Xingping is perfect for ambling through old streets.

DSC_1741a

DSC_1742a

DSC_1744a

DSC_1751a

DSC_1753a

DSC_1754a

Other Things to Do

We only spent 4 days in Yangshuo. There are many things we didn’t do, including cave exploring, rock climbing, mud baths, cooking classes, and other village visits. Rock climbing was definitely high on our list, and we’d absolutely try it out the next time we go. As for the caves, I’d been to similar caves in Guilin, and the thought of tacky fluorescent lights inside a cave wasn’t that appealing. That being said, I still do remember the caves in Guilin to be pretty neat.

The mud baths seem like a tourist trap, but if I were a college kid on a spring break trip who knows, maybe I’d think differently. The point is we only scratched the surface of Yangshuo. We see Yangshuo sort of like Dali in Yunnan. It’s the type of place foreigners love because it’s quiet, natural, and despite being a tourist area there are still places to escape and find authentic experiences.

 

Where to Stay – The Tea Cozy

I’ll try and resist the urge to gush too much about the Tea Cozy Hotel (+86-773-8816158). But if you go to Yangshuo stay there and you will not be disappointed. Just check out the TripAdvisor reviews and you’ll know what the deal is.

The people at the Tea Cozy are super friendly. The food is good. And the rooms are tastefully done and truly give you a cozy feeling. I can’t say enough good things about this place. It’s local boutique hospitality done right, which I can assure you is a true rarity in China.

DSC_1468a

DSC_1531a

DSC_1538a

DSC_1606a

Finding Yangshuo on a Map

Faith in Langmusi

Langmusi is a small town in the Amdo region of China’s Tibetan Plateau. The town, which rests at 3,345 meters above sea level, is bifurcated by the Sichuan and Gansu Province border.

Langmusi 郎木寺

While Langmusi is best known for the vast grasslands that surround the town, Langmusi also represents a unique dialectic created by all of Langmusi’s opposing, yet coexisting, forces.

——

Fast Facts:

Pinyin: Lángmùsì | Chinese: 郎木寺  |  Tibetan: Taktsang Lhamo

Location: Amdo Region of the Tibetan Plateau on the Gansu-Sichuan Border

Getting There: Bus from Xiahe, or by car

Where to Stay: Nomad Youth Hostel | Langmusi Hotel

Attractions: Grasslands, lakes, mountains, villages, and temples

——

The town is home to Buddhists and Muslims, Tibetans and Huizu, government-backed monasteries, Tibetan-back monasteries, the Chinese military, nomadic herders, Tibetans on pilgrimages, and a splash of foreign and Chinese tourists. Mix all of that among a population of less than 5,000, and there you have Langmusi.

We visited Langmusi in late October and found the town under heavy construction. The roads were essentially mud pits created by frequent rain and large scale renovations of the town’s infrastructure. Traffic jams caused by construction and yaks returning home for the night were a common occurrence at the town’s main intersection.

Langmusi 郎木寺

Outdoor Activites

The main attraction in Langmusi is the surrounding natural beauty. Just a few kilometers outside of Langmusi lies an ocean of grasslands, which is home to thousands of yaks, sheep, and Tibetan nomads. We did the nomadic experience in Tagong, and we’d expect that the experience is equally authentic and exciting in Langmusi. In the town center there are a number of touring companies that can hook you up with some nomads. We went to the Black Tent Cafe (located at the town center intersection pictured above) to setup a bike ride and a day trip to a nearby village (Black Tent Cafe Website; phone: +86 13893991541).

The person running the Black Tent Cafe (who also runs the above pictured Langmusi Tibetan Horse Trekking shop) is a Chinese guy who moved to Langmusi ages ago and has been biking and hiking there ever since. He’s super passionate about exploring the area and is really knowledgeable about all the things to do. On our first day in Langmusi, we ate breakfast at the Black Tent Cafe and badgered him with questions for about half an hour, which was really helpful in planning our activities.

Gahai Lake

One day 1, we rented some mountain bikes. Our destination was the nearby Gahai Lake (尕海湖; Gǎhǎi Hú), which is a protected area famed for its migratory birds, including the elusive black neck cranes. Apparently over 200 different species of birds pass through Gahai Lake every year.

From the town to Gahai Lake is about a 60km round-trip, which makes for a perfect somewhat leisurely day trip. There’s really only one long hill climb (which ends in a tunnel), and the rest is flat smooth riding on a highway that cuts directly through the grasslands. Along the highway you can off-road it where ever you want and ride along the fields, which are conveniently trimmed by grazing yaks. Just watch out for all the yak patties.

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Once you get to the lake, there is a gate (which sells tickets, 20RMB each, but no one was there when we arrived, so we just went in) that leads to a long cement path. As we road our bikes down the cement path we were lucky enough to spot some black neck cranes.

Around the lake a web of wooden walkways makes it convenient to walk or bike over the wetlands. If you’re riding a bike be careful though, as some of the planks are a bit loose. We had a GORP, tunafish, and nan bread picnic by the lake, which was lovely. However, a storm was brewing, which we got caught in on the way home. And while biking in a hail and rainstorm isn’t ideal, we were treated to a very dramatic view of clouds pelting the grasslands with heavy rain.

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

 

The Trail Behind Kirti

One of the best walks in Langmusi is through the mountain valleys behind Kirti Monastery. If you head through and past Kirti, you’ll eventually come to a valley trail in between a large stone and a hillside. Ask any of the locals walking around Kirti and they’ll be able to easily point you in the right direction.

Near the beginning of the trail, you’ll pass a stream with little bird feeder-like box houses mounted over the stream. The box contains a prayer wheel that, like a music box, chants when it is turned by the stream’s current. You’ll also come to a tiger statue. ‘Taktsang’ (the Tibetan name for Langmusi, means ‘Tiger Cave’, which the tiger, wrapped in katas, represents.

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

The trail leads into the mountains and eventually to other villages. This route is perfect for a relaxed day of walking, as the flat path isn’t so much of a hike as it is a walk over rocks and streams.

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Eventually you’ll come to a grass clearing. This is a perfect spot for a picnic or just to lounge around. The clearing reminded me of the Shire and would be a sweet spot for a cabin. From the clearing you can continue into the mountains and eventually arrive at a Tibetan village (we did not do this, but heard from others that it’s more of the same in terms of views, which is a good thing). Round-trip from the town to the first clearing will only take you maybe 2 or 3 hours.

Langmusi 郎木寺

 

Zhagana Village

Zhagana Village (扎尕那村, Zhā gǎ nà cūn) is about an hour outside of Langmusi by car. En route to Zhagana, if you’re lucky (we weren’t), you’ll see a local species of deer that is endangered. Ask your driver to help point them out. The drive to Zhagana is really nice. You weave in and out of the mountains, and if you go during the fall you’ll be treated to some excellent foliage.

Once you arrive at Zhagana, you’ll see that the village is strewn across the bottom of a series of large stone mountains. We spent the better part of the day walking around the village and exploring paths leading into the mountains. Farmers use the paths into the mountains to herd cattle through, so you can ask them where they lead. The village is quite picturesque (save for the large cell tower plopped smack in the middle of it). There is a temple at the top of the village, and you’ll most likely see elderly people walking around stupas while chanting prayers.

If you’re feeling a bit sore (which our butts were after the bike ride), exploring Zhagana is perfect for a relaxed non-hiking / biking day. Though if time is tight in Langmusi, I’d definitely recommend bike riding and trekking over visiting Zhagana.

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺 Langmusi 郎木寺Langmusi 郎木寺 Langmusi 郎木寺 Langmusi 郎木寺

Tibetans on Pilgrimage

On our way to Langmusi from Tagong, we passed a couple on the side of the road. From a distance, they looked like snails inching their way forward. The husband and wife would take three steps, kneel, bow down to the ground until their bodies were flat on the ground, and then roll back up onto their feet, take three steps, and repeat. They were on their way to Tibet, a journey that would take no less than three years. And this was their second time making the pilgrimage.

To protect themselves, they wore leather aprons over their chests and wooden planks on their hands. Two pieces of thin aluminum were mounted on the bottom of the wooden planks to help them slide forwards.

Criticizing people for blind faith is easy, and sometimes deserved when that faith affects other people in negative ways. But, when you meet people such as this couple, a deep feeling of respect and awe is all I could muster. They sleep on the side of the road or in any home that will take them. They get money from anyone passing by who is willing to spare some change. We even saw a monk stop in a car to offer the couple some money. Seeing that the person offering was a monk, the husband refused, but the monk insisted.

I can’t say whether I lead a more or less meaningful life than that couple, but I can say that I’ve never done anything with that level of conviction. And while that level of conviction, to faith in this couple’s case, scares me a little, it’s also undeniably inspiring.

_DSC0686a

Langmusi 郎木寺 Langmusi 郎木寺 Langmusi 郎木寺

Kirti and Serti Monastery

The two main temples in Langmusi are the Kirti Monastery, located on the Sichuan side, and the Sertri Monastery, located on the Gansu side. The division between these two monasteries is not simply geographic. There are strong political associations with each as well. Local Tibetans explained to us that the Serti Monastery was sort of fake, in that Serti is funded by the Chinese government, and the monastery in turn supports China’s appointed Buddhist spiritual leaders.

The fruits of Serti’s allegiance were loud and clear, as the monastery shined with gaudy golden roofs and was undergoing major renovations and expansion. That’s not to say the monks at Serti were frauds or in any way fake, but nonetheless separating religion and politics is pretty much impossible when it comes to Tibetans and Buddhism in China. Below are pictures of Serti Monastery. In the last picture in the set, you can see a common device used by those walking in prayer around a stupa or temple to keep track of how many laps they’ve done.

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Kirti, on the other hand, receives no funding from the government. The Kirti temples are made from wood, aluminum, and cement. The roofs lack the loud colors and glam that adorn the Serti Monastery. Most of the Kirti side is comprised of the humble living quarters of all the monks who reside there, quarters you won’t find nearly as many of on the Serti side. The Tibetan pilgrims that walk and bow for months when traveling to Langmusi all go to Kirti, not Serti. In fact, all the major gatherings of lamas and monks happen at Kirti. That’s not to say Serti isn’t worth a visit. But just know that those shining temples come at a price. Below are pictures from the Kirti side.

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

The Huizu Minority

Langmusi’s population is a mix of Tibetans and Huizu (a muslim ethnic minority). While the Tibetans heavily outnumber the Huizu, the two groups, who have strong prejudices against each other, live in a symbiotic state. There aren’t many towns in China where you can see a mosque literally 10 meters from a Buddhist temple.

Although they segregate themselves to different areas of the small town (most of the Huizu are huddled near their monastery), each minority has shops and restaurants next to each other and they seem to begrudgingly get along. You’ll see monks buying nan bread on the street from Huizu sellers, and you’ll see Huizu eating in Tibetan run restaurants. But, if you stop a Tibetan and ask him or her for an opinion of the Huizu (or vice versa), don’t be surprised if you get a rather bigoted answer. Nonetheless, actual conflicts between the two groups are rare. And all the locals will attest to Langmusi being a very safe place (at least from violence and crime). Below are pictures from the Huizu area of town. The second picture is of Huizu kids going home from school. The last picture shows drying yak patties, which are used as fuel for heating and cooking.

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Sky Burial

Please beware that the pictures below might be disturbing to some. A sky burial is where the deceased is hauled up a mountain, adorned in prayer wrappings, and left to be taken by the birds. After the birds do most of the work, the body is chopped up and burned. For many Tibetans, a sky burial is an entirely natural and beautiful way to go. I tend to agree and would much rather have a sky burial than be put in some box in field of other boxes. That said, visiting a sky burial site not long after a burial is quite an experience. Before coming to Langmusi, I’d never known what burnt flesh and bone smells like. Needless to say, it is not a smell I need to experience again.

If you walk up past the left side of Serti Monastery, you’ll eventually come to a clearing near a hilltop (ask any local around Serti and he or she can point you in the right direction). The clearing has two boxes of axes and knives, prayer flags, and a pile of ashes. Once the birds are basically done with the main job, the remains are burned. However, not everything makes it into the fire, which means the site is literally littered with skulls, hip bones, and other various bits and pieces. We’d come only days after a burial, so some of the bones even had flesh and skin still on them.

I know it sounds gross, but if you’re curious about this sort of thing, I’d say this is a must see, as chances to experience this sort of thing don’t come around too often. I’ve posted some of the ‘cleaner’ pictures below.

Langmusi 郎木寺 Langmusi 郎木寺 Langmusi 郎木寺

Langmusi 郎木寺

Where to Stay

We spent our first night in the Nomad’s Youth Hostel (Frommer’s Review). The hostel was very typical – hot water, a little heat, simple bathroom. The private rooms are nice by backpacker standards. On the second night a huge group of college kids was coming through, and there were no more private rooms available, so we moved to the Langmusi Hotel (Trip Advisor Review). The hotel was pretty nice. The rooms were very well heated and had hot water.

The second floor of the hotel housed a military installation. Chinese troops on rotation in Langumsi were stationed in the hotel. We woke up to military exercises. We had seen soldiers around the town, and now we knew where they were coming from. Seeing the permanent presences of troops in Langmusi was a reminder of just how tightly locked down China has this area. While the troops looked more like school boys than soldiers, their presence made an otherwise peaceful town feel a bit tense.

 

Our Itinerary

  • Day 1 – Arrived in Langmusi by car from Tagong; spent the afternoon doing the Kerti Trail Walk
  • Day 2 – Bike ride to Gehai Lake
  • Day 3 – Day trip to Zhagana
  • Day 4- Took the afternoon bus from Langmusi to Xiahe

 

Finding Langmusi on a Map