We've left the Tibetan Plateau!!
The feeling of utter relief that we felt on reaching the final pass (4,298m) was absolute! Knowing that on the other side we would be freewheeling for the majority of the 35km down to the small city of Kangding (at an altitude of 2,600m) you couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces! We were more than happy to pose for a seemingly never ending stream of photographs that were being demanded of us by the dozens of Chinese cyclists taking a break from their journey towards Lhasa (a popular cycle route from Chengdu).
We were ready for a change of scenery (preferably one that didn't comprise any more big mountains!) after spending 17 days cycling from Xining through an interesting landscape that flitted between stunningly beautiful and (occasionally) underwhelmingly monotonous. We had rarely experienced the blissful pleasure of 'easy cycling' and our bodies felt a little bit worn and weary! On our way towards the eastern edge of the plateau, we had passed through the Tagong valley. After having read many positive reviews of the area from various sources, we were looking forward to spending a couple of days there. It didn't disappoint, with wonderful Tibetan architecture, ornate temples, vast (grassy) plains and meandering rivers...put simply, a really pleasant place to cycle through.
Arriving in Kangding, we had a mission to accomplish: extend our visa to allow us an (essential) extra month in China. We checked into a reasonable hostel and spent the weekend relaxing and eating! On Monday morning, we arrived promptly at the PSB office and were greeted by a friendly police officer, who soon told us that she wouldn't be able to grant us an extension (aaaaargh!). None of the hotels that we had stayed in during our time in China had officially registered us with the police (despite being 'foreigner approved' and always diligently noting our passport and visa information). Even though the police officer sympathised with our predicament, it was simply a case of 'computer says no!'
With just two days remaining on our visa, we allowed ourselves to get a little stressed!
We had two options: firstly, catch a bus to Leshan (7hrs) and hope that we would be able to get an extension there or secondly, catch a bus to Chengdu and then fly to Hong Kong (visa free) where we could pretty much guarantee getting a new Chinese visa. We chose the first (cheaper) option and, after changing hostels (to one where the staff spoke English, so that we could explain our situation more easily and leave our bikes (and most of our luggage) behind whilst we travelled to Leshan) rushed off the bus station to book tickets for the following day.
A horrible night of sickness and diarrhoea ensued (bought on by a combination of dodgy food and stress no doubt) which isn't much fun when you have no en-suite facilities and you discover (far too late) that the only solid-looking receptacle in the room has a hole in the bottom! With me feeling somewhat delicate, we soon found ourselves on the early morning bus heading to the home of the world's largest stone statue of Buddha! The bus journey was fine. I still can't comprehend the need to spit on the floor of a moving vehicle when there are two, seemingly preferable options of: a) the window (out of it not on it!) or b) the bin....but, given that people seemed intent on dumping their rubbish on the floor of the bus, next to, rather than in one of the many bins provided, I just don't think I'll bother trying to understand the Chinese mentality any more!
On alighting the bus in Leshan, it felt as we had arrived in a completely different country: the temperature had rocketed back into the mid 30s, the plant-life was much more tropical (bananas, bougainvillea, monstera, bamboo) and everyone appeared to be struggling with the humidity! We decided that it would be fun to take a bicycle taxi into the centre of the city (making the fatal flaw of not agreeing on a fair price in advance!) and soon felt incredibly guilty as the slightly-built lady visibly struggled to keep us moving, often mopping sweat from her brow and constantly pointing out hotels that might be suitable for us (probably in an attempt to end her torturous journey early)...she got her revenge though when it came to us paying for the 'pleasure': ¥50! (it would have cost us ¥1 on the nicely air-conditioned bus!). It was still fun though!
We eventually checked into our hotel (Home Inn) and prepared for our 'all-or-bust' visit to the PSB office in the morning (on the day our current visa would expire). With thoughts of having to make a mad dash to Hong Kong (via Chengdu) still lingering in the back of our minds, we arrived at the PSB office with feelings of slight trepidation! We needn't have worried too much, however, as the police officer who dealt with us was incredibly friendly and helpful and within half an hour, we were leaving with the positive news that our passports (with one month visa extension) would be ready for collection on Friday (a mere two days away!). We celebrated with ice cream!
I am still struggling with chopsticks! To be honest with you (in time honoured tradition of a workman blaming his tools) I think they are a stupid method of eating food! At our buffet breakfast, amongst more traditional fare, there is the option of toast with jam and butter (well, some plasticky, vegetable oil-based alternative). How is one supposed to spread jam and butter with a chopstick?! It's a very messy process I can tell you! Not wanting to be defeated however, I have purchased my very own set of chopsticks, with which I can practice at will until I become a chopstick wielding master! Perhaps, by the time we leave South East Asia, I will be able to eat food rather than chasing it around a plate and/or using it to decorate my clothing!
We went to see Buddha...he was very big...the biggest stone Buddha in the world in fact (a whopping 71m tall!). There was a long queue, trailing down the cliff face, as hundreds of other tourists (99% Chinese) also wanted to see the big man and all his oversized appendages. Not wanting to spend a couple of hours as part of the sweaty, slow-moving throng, we decided that the view from the top was sufficient and simply enjoyed wandering around the 'scenic area', looking in caves, admiring the Buddhist temples and relaxing beside Koi carp-filled ponds in the tropical gardens. If you are ever in Leshan, we'd both recommend taking the time to visit this park.
Tomorrow we return to Kangding, where we will enjoy two more evenings of watching hundreds of people dancing to slightly weird Chinese pop music with impressive synchronicity in the People's Square. It's a very enjoyable way to while away an evening and can do nothing but bring a smile to your face! From there, we will head towards the city of Kunming, our next rest stop!
Love and hugs. X