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china Travel

THE GIANT BUDDHA OF BINGLING SI

Today was a rainy and cold day in Xiahe. I was going to Lanzhou and then to Bingling Si, but as Bingling Si was before Lanzhou I decided to change my route. I actually had to go to the city of Linxia, I was hoping to sleep there or in Bingling Si, or even in Liujiaxia.

The bus left early, I was talking to Vanessa on the bus, she was going to Lanzhou, after spending 8 months in India and now she was at the end of her trip. She was in doubt whether she was going to Xinjiang or Beijing with the little time she had left. The big bus was empty, had only five people and no one else went up, rare thing in China, I thought it could be full on the way, but it didn’t happen. The trip lasted about 5 hours.

The driver dropped me off in the middle of the road in Linxia, about 2:30hs from Xiahe, glad there were taxi and bus. I took a bus to the old bus station, but it was disabled, I then went to a terminal where I took another bus to Lianhwa. The bus was climbing a mountain passing through inland villages, dirt road, something unusual around here, the streets and roads are almost all paved, there were more beautiful landscapes such as canyon, mountains and finally the Yellow River, which this time was green.

In Lianhwa, I negotiated a motorized boat for USD 14.80 one way to Bingling Si and back to Matou, where there was nowhere to stay, so only Liujiaxia or Lanzhou left to sleep.

Typical landscape on the way to Bingling Si.

Bingling Si is where there is a statue of giant sitting buddha of 27m carved on the slope of the mountain, it means “Ten Thousand Buddhas” in Tibetan. The boat ride along the Yellow River to the buddha is fantastic, the formation of the mountains was beautiful and unique. The place with the big buddha also had hundreds of other smaller buddhas, carved or painted on the walls of the mountain, was impressive for its beauty, it has 183 caves. The place located in a canyon has access only by boat during the months of June to October, when the river allows navigation. It was built over dynasties for over 1000 years, having begun around 420 AD in the Jin dynasty. In the region there were also some temples, I entered one that there was a buddha lying down.

The driver of Matou van, which was on the other side of the river, wanted to extort me charging RMB 4 to take me to Liujiaxia, it was about R$ 1 (USD 0.50), it was not expensive for me, but also it was not fair, because the other passengers were paying only RMB 1, after the discussion and another passenger intermediary in my favor, he charged me the fair price. When he left me in Liujiaxia, I was going to give an extra RMB 1, but the driver refused, we will never understand!

In Liujiaxia there was a hydroelectric power plant, after a half hour ride I was in doubt if I would sleep here but I decided to go to Lanzhou 2 hours drive away. On the bus to Lanzhou, the guy next to me was a high or middle school English teacher and he had a poor English, but at least he spoke some and wanted to practice, he was so excited. He praised me for the physical aspect. The first time I was praised by a man I found it strange then I got used to it, the Chinese had no intention or malice, it was part of their culture. It was also common to see heterosexual men walking down the street hugging, this would be inadmissible to Latin people. In that sense I was Latino, I don’t really like masculine touches or physical approximations.

The itinerary of the day was like this: bus in Xiahe, bus in Linxia, boat in Lianhwa, boat in Bingling Si, bus in Matou and bus in Liujiaxia to Lanzhou. Later I came to find out that “matou” means “pier” in Chinese, it was not a town’s name. The weather was good in Lianhwa, Bingling Si and Liujiaxia, unlike Xiahe. At night in Lanzhou looking for a hotel to stay I ve found that foreigner could not stay at anyone, I was turned down in some. The chinese-only hotels are pretty dirty. But what I stayed in, I don’t think they could have hosted me either. Since I was disguised as a Chinese man, I think they let me stay. Perhaps these hotels are of such low class that in order not to make a bad impression on foreigners, they were simply forbidden to non-Chinese.

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china Travel

LABRANG, THE MONASTERY TOWN

Today Laetitia, Vanessa and I returned to the monastery of Labrang, since yesterday we could not know everything.

Labrang is a true monastery city, smaller only than Llasa, one of the six largest monasteries of the Yellow Hat Sect, larger than Xining’s Kumbum, with several Tibetan temples and full of monks in red robes and some with yellow hats. It was founded in 1709 by monk E’Ang Zongzhe, who became the first generation of the “Living Buddha” or “Jiemuyang”. It was the scene of battles and atrocities between Tibetans and Muslims in the 1920s, later with the Cultural Revolution, monks were persecuted and the monastery closed, re-opened only in 1980. It’s a city within another city.

A tour around here is certainly something worthwhile, especially when you don’t have Tibet on the script. There is no separation or wall between the monastery and the city, the place is very beautiful with its architecture and typical colors. There was a large white stupa, a pagoda, several red-earth brick buildings, some with a golden roof, but what caught my attention most was the first building early in the monastery. In fact it was as if it were a giant rosary, while the monks prayed, walked clockwise around the building and spinning a kind of drum called “prayer wheels”, there were hundreds of these drums lined up around the building, I had no patience to count how many there were.

We joined a group that had an English guide to enter to some temples. The monks dropped their black-skinned shoes at the entrance to the temples, which were piled up, I don’t know how they could distinguish their peers, for they were all the same, perhaps by smell. Inside the temples the guide gave some explanations about Buddha and the various incarnations and schools, while the monks practiced their prayers in a half-light environment.

I climbed one of the temples from where it had the view of Labrang, on the roof of the temple there was a golden stupa with a Buddha inside.

In the afternoon I went with Oriane to the mosque and the old part of town. The mosque was entirely made of Chinese architecture, only the crescent moon erected on the roof and the minaret demeaned the religion.

In the evening at the restaurant we found out there were two menus with different prices, one for locals and another for westerners. In fact I realized because yesterday I had eaten noodles in that same restaurant alone, and today I have found the price more expensive, the menu was differentiated by color. Yesterday I was confused with a local Chinese, but today I was with the foreigners and not to create confusion I ended up paying the price of the menu for foreigners. The Chinese are full of tricks to deceive tourists, this is one of the things that most annoy tourists, apart from the lack of hygiene and politeness.

I took a copy of Lanzhou’s missing pages from Laetitia’s Lonely Planet, although being in French helped a lot, after all I understood a little. This guide is the backpacker’s bible. Without knowing, I ended up not knowing the other part of town where there was the temple and sect of the Red Hats.

Tibetan monks of the Yellow Hats sect.

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china Travel

ANCIENT SILK ROUTE TOWNS

From Turpan I took a tour of the hotel agency, the manager’s name was also Abdul, as in Kashgar. I visited the following sights:

•             Emin Minaret – a beautiful mosque from 1777A.D., made of brown bricks, with a 40m tower. It was built in honor of Turpan’s hero and general, Emin Khoja. Just like yesterday, I decided not to enter today.

•             Tomb of Astana – Astana means capital in Uighur, it was an old cemetery and dull, where there were some mummies, also thought it was not worth entering.

•             Gaochang Old Town – they are ruins of an ancient city in the middle of the desert 30 km from Turpan, left only mounds of sand and clay bricks that were confused with the color of the desert. The city arose around the 1st century BC, being an important warehouse of the Silk Road and it was destroyed in the 14th century. While the tourists took pulled carts pulled by mule to go from the entrance to the palace, I decided to walk through the ruins until there.

•             Caves of Bezeklik – or Mural of Buddhist Art, I entered to see the caves, I repented cause it was so boring. The murals with buddha drawings were removed by the Germans or destroyed by the Chinese Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. On the outside it was much more beautiful due to the landscape of a canyon. There were also dunes to walk, I was in a sandal and almost burned my feet in the torrid sand.

•             Valley of Grapes – it was just a region where grapes were planted.

•             Jiaohe Old Town – another ruin of town 9km from Turpan, it was also the former capital of some ancient kingdom. It was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century A.D. I found it more interesting than Gaochang, it was a little less ruined.

•             Karez Aqueduct – or “qanat”, is a water distribution system, used until this days since ancient times. The water is brought from far away, from the melting of the mountains. Boring site.

•             Flaming Mountains – They are mountain chain along the way that are part of the local landscape, it has this name because they are red, as if they were on fire.

During the tour I talked sometimes to a Japanese or sometimes to an elderly American couple and already retired. The lady as Chinese but she has lived her whole life in the U.S., married to an American gentleman who taught Chinese in the U.S., sometimes we talked in Chinese or in English.

Back in Turpan, I saw a beggar and obese lady bathing naked with PET bottles filled with water and sat on the sidewalk! I was triple shocked: first simply because it was a shocking scene; second because it is a Muslim city; and third for being in China. I discreetly registered a photo.