China: Xia-he: A Journey Across Chinese Mecca
It is hot. We sit in a bus crammed by a window and we are trying to breath fresh air. The freeway changes to a dusty road with many bumps. Bumped we got off the bus for a short visit in Linxia town.
„Chinese Mecca ,“ say information on the Internet. From what we have seen we can only confirm this. Most of people we have seen are Chinese Muslims, or Hui people . Voice of muezzin from a minaret not far away only underlined extraordinary atmosphere of the place.
Although we liked it there a lot we couldn’t spend too much time there. We had to find a bus station first and then we could continue on into the city of Xia-he. The city is famous for Labrang, a Tibetan monastery. We were really excited about this. We quickly ate our lunch in a local restaurant; well our choices were limited as there were either noodles or noodles in a soup. Soon we found ourselves in another bus.
We enjoyed our ride very much for everywhere were high mountains, shepherds yurts and herds of yaks and horses. Suddenly the bus arrived in Xia-he. Have you a problem to navigate yourself, here you wouldn’t have any problems. The city consists of one main street and we got off the bus at one of its ends. We went to the other end to find some accommodation for it was already getting dark and we were tired.
Being a blond white girl proved to be a disadvantage. They refused to accommodate us in any hotel we stepped in; allegedly they were forbidden to accommodate foreigners. We didn’t want to live in overpriced and sterile hotels. We were almost dragging our backpack behind and pondered what shiny hotel we would choose and suddenly we got lucky. We entered a small hotel the Tibetan owner of which was surprised when we told him our Chinese names and Chinese address. We didn’t care about hotel’s lack of showers, or a horde of wild Tibetans happily drinking spirits. When we revealed the source of strange smell in our room, it was an old sock in decay under the bed, we quickly threw it away. Then we took off our backpacks and decided to take a walk, despite it was getting late.
Our next steps headed to that famous Labrang monastery. We expected that the visit would be worth it, but eventually it was even better…
Text/photo: Hana Bašová
When we purchased the tickets that we guarantee that we will be able to leave the Zhangjiajie National Park, we did not protest when we found a complete state of affairs: a printed inscription in characters wu-cuo quite clearly said that most likely during the way we sit.
We decided to give the park another chance and start from the other end - from the south. We also fulfilled our commitment to avoid the stairs, so we walked along the river.
Our first impressions of the Zhangjiajie National Park were not positive from the first moments we were there. Positive impressions, however, were not following. At the entrance we met a woman who insisted on offering us an amazing hotel accommodation in the park at a price that we even had to haggle areas not favored by tourists.
After a nine hour train ride we got to the station in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province. What was our surprise when we tried to beat a hot gust of fresh air as Chungking! You can not say, although it would not be hot, but there was a gentle breeze, and overall was a lot more comfortable.
We just reinforced our opinion that it is difficult to find how you can get where you need to go. The IN thing right now is the mien-c' face concept. We have something similar in the Czech Republic as well. Long story short – you don’t want to loose your face in front of others.
K625 train from Chengdu to Chongqing was relatively ... interesting means of transport. But since it was turned on only every other light, and because we were tired to death, we just passed the seat (unusually empty, endured a few most determined). Nerozhlíželi we left nor right, because ignorance is sometimes the key to success, and we slept fitfully.
We both knew Chengdu quite well, so after a thorough sleep we went to a bamboo park at the university where I studied. Refreshed by a sweet watermelon we set ourselves another goal: the mosque to the west of Tiananmen Square.
The path to Sung-Pan lasted about three hours. As soon as we got off the bus, we realized that we were in a an area superpacked with tourists. While the night was still far, we were worrying about overpriced accommodaiton.
As we decided upon a plate of la-mien soup. So we did. Right in the morning we got on a city bus going to the Xiang River. As soon as we got off the bus, we saw our destination - Tung-Chou. Because it is a real island, the only access road goes along the river.
On the following day, around seven o’clock in the morning we got to Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi. It has very rich history.
While browsing in the diary, I found this note: "Qufu, arrival around 00:00." I remember that moment too well. It was quite cold, pitch black, and right at the exit of the station greedy taxi drivers came to us. Matter of principle had to be rejected. Then, however, had no choice but to hope that they were wrong and that you can get accommodation in and around the station ...
Although, I was about to tell you how we lost accommodation in Heze, I should mention our train trip as well. We sat in a slightly crowded carriage and talked in Czech, which of course attracted the attention of our fellow travelers. In contrast, a bunch of us sat constantly laughing gentlemen who were watching us a lot, and finally dared to ask where it actually are.
Another day spent in Kaifeng was very spirituality. At first, we visited five mosques, because in Kaifeng there is a large community of Chinese Muslims. We were surprised also neglected half-ruined church, where making of wedding photography took place. We finished the entire circuit in a Buddhist temple.
We loved Kaifeng from the very beginning. Well, not actually, no. Because I was snorted over the fact that they even hadn’t swept up the room when the previous guests left.
Bozhou said good bye in style. We went to temple Mu-lan cch'. It is a temple dedicated to the memory of famous Chinese heroin, Mulan. Perhaps some of you have heard her name in the Ballad of Mulan. Until the present, Mulan is an example of traditional Chinese son/daughter devotion (siao in Chinese).
Our sleep that night, although intermittent, but still quite refreshing, so we did not hesitate and early morning set off to explore other monuments in Bozhou. Silently we hoped that the sooner we get up, the less heat will accompany us.
Even local policeman knew of our arrival. So we could safely roam the city. A relatively small community of Hui live in the city. We like them not only for their culture but also for their kind attitude. So we went to the streets to see their mosques.
The train, although it made us very, very tired. It took us safe right into Hefei, the capital and largest city in Anhui province.
Lao-pan of our hotel (if you dare to call it hotel) promised that the bus heading to our following destination, Zhuo-er-kai (a town known as Zoige), departs at 7 o’clock in the morning
It seemed that weather wanted to reward us for what we bore on the other day. So we woke up in beautiful morning. Also, we found out that somebody dig up the main street in the village. So we had to jump over many of the new holes on the road.
Do you know this feeling when you just want to try something new, different, just set out for some adventure? After spending whole January in Beijing we missed China so much we found the cheapest flight tickets and we decided to spend summer again in China.
Previous day in Chu-fu, sadly, in comparison to places that we've visited was not that interesting. Maybe if around the tomb of the great Confucius did not stand crowds of Chinese eager to make photos and if for passing the cemetery of the Kchung family was not required admission 40 yuans, the overall impression would be a little bit better.
A bus trip went relatively fast, sky became clear and we had a view of vast land before us. More and more we submerged between high mountains covered with grass and nimble goats.
After our visit of Labrang monastery we were falling asleep, in rain, and in rain we were waking up. We were also quite glad that we had abandoned our initial goal to sleep on steppe under sky.
Beijing – Datong– Hohhot... and Yinchuan was supposed to follow. As we were amazed that we managed to get some tickets, we didn’t examine it.
If we set off to China it is almost imposible to miss out its capital - Beijing. Beijing is full of traces of history but Beijing also lives in the present and future in every of its wide avenues and narrow streets. Beijing is full of fabulous food, noisy traffic... And so on and on. Where would you look for peaceful moments in busy metropolis?
Huge China is a country of contrasts. It consists of several climatic zones, there you can find a noisy city full of glass skyscrapers and smog, but also the traditional mountain village with mud houses and rice plantations.
It was already evening and when we left our accommodation and set out to the Labrang monastery. It is one of the six main monasteries of the Gelugpa sect, a Tibet Buddhist sect, known also as “the yellow caps sect.”
China - land of unlimited possibilities, a country which, unlike the developed world is growing and whose economic growth in today's world seems like a miracle. Country with many cultural and historical monuments, a country, that sends a man into space.
From Bejing to TaZ Pekingu do Datong. From Datong to Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, our second stop on our way across China. We waited on the Datong train station, instant noodles (in Chinese their name is fang-pien-mien, „comfortable noodles“, a really convenient name), we held happily our tickets. There was jing-cuo written on them (“hard seats”).
The Great Wall of China. The Long Wall. The Endless Wall. There are many names for the same wall, the wall that everybody knows wherever he/she lives. If you are Chinese, it is THE wall. You are proud of it because it is a national symbol. As Mao Zedong once said: “Who never got on the Great Wall of China is no man.” Or Chinese.
Another road was ahead of us, it was from Ping-liang in Gansu Province to Tianshui. The name of the latter means literally “sky – water “(天水). This was the very first thought we had when we jumped to a puddle right when we got off the bus.
A journey from Beijing to Datong was smooth, without complications. We arrived at the place few minutes to midnight and the city was unusuallay quiet and deserted. It almost seemed as some sort of furious storm swept through the city and wiped out everything alive. Even lamps were turned off. This made our orientation, if we can use this term for a situation when we had absolutely no clue...
Ancient city of Xian, or Si-an is about 3000 years old. It is one of the most important places throughout Chinese history, since it is here that housed 11 Chinese imperial dynasties. At the time when Beijing was a mere village, golden Si - an shone by bright colours of temples, wide boulevards and architectural excesses.
When you set out to Hohhot, it is almost impossible to miss famous Mongolian steppes. There are plenty around Hohhot, we chose Si-la-mu-zhen. With our backpacks we got in a bus and two hours later the driver unloaded us in the middle of nowhere.
One of most popular tourist attractions of the Province of Ning-Sia are royal tombs about 35 kilometers from the center of Yinchuan. It is a landmark you just have to visit. We set out there soon after we get an accommodation. After while we found a bus heading to Shun Hing, literary “western Xia Square”.
As it has been already said in the previous article, Yinchuan is the capital of Ningxia, an autonomous region of the Hui people. Long story short, the Hui people are Chinese Muslims and you may recognize them at first glance for men as well as women wear typical hats.
If you would like to have a stop in a locality, where the time is passing in another rate of speed, where everyday hunt for activity and stress do not have any chance, so, you arrived to the right spot. It is Yangshuo, small Chinese town, situated in nature karst along Li and Yulong rivers.
„Waky, waky! We are in Pingliang!“ It takes a while for one to realize that this is not just a dream but that a Chinese conductor tries to tell you that it is about time to leave your warm bed in the carriage for you arrived in your destination.
Photo: Amy Challen a Jan Lidmaňský