Category Archives: Xidang

Road constructions

I came to this area first time 2009 and the road from Shangri-la to Deqin was under construction then. Half a year after it was finished the construction started again and is now almost done (besides the tunnel Through Baima Mountain which is supposedly going to be finished next year). Also the road through the village here is paved now and now they are doing the rest of it from the village to the bridge crossing the Mekong.

So some days ago i fried my computer cable but unfortunately the road construction had decided to blow up the road the next day so no bus was leaving the village. You could get to town by hiring a car to the construction site, hiking over it and getting another one from the other side. But that was a bit too much trouble so I decided to wait for a few days. Yesterday the bus was running again so I went to Deqin and luckily found a cable there saving me a trip to Shangri-la (again). Deiqin is a two street town with really nothing to do so I sat at the bus station reading my book. There’s a lot of construction happening in Deqin as well as the number of tourists is expected to explode especially next year which is the birth year of Kawa Gepo, the highest peak of Meili Mountains and holy to the Tibetans.

Deqin

Deqin

At one o’clock I got a call from my Tibetan brother that he was driving his friend’s car to the village and i could have a ride with him saving me from 2 hours of waiting (or so I thought). We got maybe half way to the bridge when the traffic was stopped first time because of constructions but it was only half an hour waiting. Then just before the bridge the traffic was stopped again. Road to Mingyong was open but you couldn’t go to Xidang before 5 which meant 2 hours of waiting.

Road to Xidang

Road to Xidang

Most cars turned back to Deqin at this point. My brother waited for an hour before he realized that the car he was driving wouldn’t make it over the construction site anyways. So he arranged me a drive in the only other car still waiting to get through. And this turned out to be the sunniest day of the week with no shade on this side of the river. And then half an hour before we could get through huge part of the slope fell down to the road!

Road construction

Ah, this meant more waiting and waiting while they cleared the road. And the slope wasn’t very stable so there were several smaller slides every time the wind picked up. Finally after 6 they started letting cars through from the other side. Some tourists decided to leave the car and ran through the slide. And then it was our turn. And here we go…

Here we go

And made it through without any problems! 🙂

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Popping to the shop

A week ago my internet stopped working and I needed to go to the closest town Deqin to top up my card. There’s a public bus from Xidan to Deqin every morning at 8 and it comes back at 3 pm. But now dad has bought a truck and he had some business in town also so I could get a lift with him. “Great! So easy” I thought. No need to hike to the village early in the morning and then wait all day in Deqin for the bus to go back as there’s absolutely nothing to do in Deqin besides shopping for food. And besides the internet I could do some shopping. So off we went, slowly but surely until thee bridge crossing the Mekong River. Last year the road from Xidang hot springs was paved all the way down to Youngzhu village but the bit between the bridge and the villages is still under construction. And just before the bridge the traffic was stopped for maybe a half an hour.

Road to Xidang

Road to Xidang

But then we continued. Just before Deqin dad had to make a stop to fix something in the truck. I sat there waiting maybe for an hour until dad told me just to go ahead as the mechanics wanted to have lunch before fixing the truck. He’d call when all his business was done. So ok. I went to the road and one truck gave me a lift to Deqin. I had my lunch, fixed the internet problem and did some shopping and was done before 3 pm so I could have taken the bus back to Xidang but dad assured me that he’d be going home soon. So I sat on some steps and read my book waiting. And sat. And sat. Took a little walk every now and then when my legs started getting numb. Finally at 6.30 i called dad. He said he’s not finished so he’d be going home tomorrow. Which meant that i had to stay in a hotel for a night. I had 120 yuan left and the hotel room would be 80 + key deposit so I had to get more money. There used to be one ATM that gave money with foreign cards but that was now demolished. Instead there were 2 new banks. And I tried them all and none would give me money! So I had enough for the hotel and some instant noodles for dinner but then all was gone. And on top of it all I could have spend the whole day in a hotel room instead of sitting on some steps!

The next day mom called that dad had come home after all, although very late, but was back in Deqin now. But he wouldn’t be going home before late in the evening. I could take the public bus but that would use all the money I had and I’d have to wait 3 hours for it to leave. Sat on the steps again thinking when one mini-van driver came to ask if I was going to Shangri-la. Well, I might as well if it was ok with him that he drives me to a bank when we get there as I didn’t have any money at the moment. So off to Shangri-la, 4-hours drive just to get more money. And I’d have to stay at least one night as no cars would be driving back that day. … In the end it turned out to be 4 nights. The weather turned really bad, raining every day so I decided to stay in the guesthouse by the fire and interview some tourists and guides and see friends. As things here never seem to work as planned I was prepared enough so that I had my computer and toothbrush with me but not a change of clothes and such.

The mini-vans driving tourists up from Shangri-la bring their passengers straight to Feilaisi as no one wants to stay in Deqin unless they are catching early morning bus. So on the way back I got to Feilaisi around 1 pm and waited there for the bus back to the village. Bus to Foshan drove by, and one to Adong, but no Xidang bus. It was already almost 4 pm when a blue truck drove by. I didn’t pay much attention to it before I heard “Ou, Soniya!” behind me. It was dad! He had been buying cement from Deqin and was now on his way back home. So i got a ride back in dad’s truck after all. Sitting on top of the bags of cement! And the views were great from up there over the top of the truck cabin. Unfortunately this was the moment when my camera battery decided to die. So instead of great views, here is a selfie of me in dad’s truck when we were going up to Deqin.

Me

And next time, if I go to town with dad, I’ll be better prepared. And I want to ride at the back!

Back in Xidang

As Xidang is located in the Meili Snow Mountains nature reserve you need to buy a ticket to get into the area. In principle the tickets are for Mingyong glacier and Yubeng village but everyone entering the area has to buy a ticket. Last year when i left they had just introduced a combined ticket. It included all the sights (Moon Light bend -viewing platform, Feilaisi viewing platform, Mingyong glacier and Yubeng village) and it cost 230 yuan. This rule, of course, applies only to tourists. Tibetan pilgrims can enter for free. The other passengers in the car from Shangri-la had all decided not to go to Yubeng as it would take too much time and was too expensive. As it turned out, the ticket pricing had changed just that day and now you could also buy separate tickets for each site. After short negotiations i was allowed to enter also without paying the ticket as I promised I wouldn’t be going to Yubeng and one of the girls at the gate had heard of me living in the village before.

Xidang village

Xidang village

When I arrived to the house grandma was at the yard spreading barley grains to dry. When she saw me she started crying. I was also very happy to see her as she’s already 85 years old so it is always uncertain if there will be a next time. And so it was with grandad. He had died July 5th the previous year. One year after the death the family organizes big ceremony as the soul returns to see the loved one more time before leaving permanently. And that day is today but more about that later…

Grandma

Grandma

And mom, who is always busy with the farm work, hurried home from the fields. Tibetans are not big on hugging but we were all smiles.

Temple by the Mekong

Temple by the Mekong

Trekking

The most popular tourist attraction in Meili Snow Mountains is Mingyong Glacier ’cause the trip can be done in a day. Most tourists stay a night in Feilaisi, hire a car in the morning, drive to the glacier and visit the temples there, and return to Feilaisi for the night. Feilaisi has magnificent views of the whole mountain range (weather permitting) but the village itself has turned into a cluster of hotels. Except for taking photos there’s nothing else to do. In the morning the tourists flock at the viewing platform taking photos of the first rays of rising sun hitting the peak of Miancimu. This viewing platform and a huge wall were built last year blocking the view from the hotels. From Xidang it’s also possible to hike to Mingyong.

Mingyong village and the glacier

A bit more adventurous tourists head to Yubeng. Xidang is where the road ends, so to get to Yubeng you have to either hike or ride a mule. The trek starts from Xidang Hot Springs. (Don’t be fooled by the name. There’re springs but no pools, just showers. The water comes from the spring, though.) The distance to Yubeng is 18 km but the hike to the pass takes 4-6 hours and it’s a steep ascend. From the pass to the village it takes about 1-2 hours. Yubeng consists of upper and lower village, and it takes around an hour to walk from upper to lower. In Yubeng you are in a valley in between three of the snow mountains. You can stay in the guesthouses in the village and do day treks from there.

On the way to Yubeng

Yubeng Upper village

Yubeng Lower Village

The day treks include Glacier Lake (Bing Hu, 8-10 hours there and back).

On the way to Glacier Lake

Glacier Lake

Holy Waterfalls. These are holy for the Tibetans so it’s a pilgrimage site. The locals are supposed to do this at least once a year. The pilgrims want to circumambulate the falling water three times. The water comes from a glacier so it’s freezing. Afterwards you’re not allowed to wash yourself for a week, at least not your hair. Because of the holiness of the waterfalls the road there is lined with mani rock piles. Every rock in the pole is a prayer. One year we visited the falls in late autumn. We were very disappointed to see that there were hardly any water in the falls, just some dripping along the mountain side. But the younger brother of my Tibetan family started to chant to the falls, and the water came. We were able to do the three rounds, and when he stopped chanting the water also stopped flowing. This trek takes around 5 hours.

Holy Waterfalls

You can also hike to Holy Lake which is located in 4 370 m.

From Yubeng you can return to Xidang either the same way you went in or hike around the mountains through Ninong. This route is 38 km but it’s mostly down hill from Yubeng to Xidang. The change from the old growth forests of Yubeng area to the moon landscape of Mekong river valley is huge. But this route is also a bit dangerous as sometimes you need to cross water flowing over the path balancing on slippery stones and sometimes the path is very narrow and the fall down is hundreds of meters. If it’s windy or raining you also have to pay attention to falling rocks. Three tourists have died on this trek.

Along the Yubeng river (Photo by Katja Järvinen)

About half way on this trek there’s an empty house. The Tibetans believe the house is haunted. In the picture that my cousin took of it there’s a ball of light in the pitch black doorway into the house. Also bears sometimes come in there at night. I stayed in this house for two nights with a friend of mine. I have to admit that I didn’t sleep very well and a mouse looking for food outside of our tent almost scared me to death.

On the way to Ninong

On the way to Ninong (Photo by Katja Järvinen)

Ninong (Photo by Katja Järvinen)

The most demanding hike around here is the kora around the mountain range. The whole pilgrimage takes 6-12 (or more) days depending whether you use cars when possible or walk the whole way. The route goes over 4 high passé into Tibet and the back to Mekong river valley. In principle, you need the Tibet permit for this about there’re ways to get around that. You can also walk part of the kora and turn down to Nujiang valley.

Xidang Village

There are about 75 houses in Xidang and approximately 350 people. The village is located in the Mekong river valley near the Tibet and Myanmar borders. Xidang is a part of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture which consists of the counties of Zhongdian, Deqin and Weixi Lisu autonomous county. In 2001 Diqing officially changed its name into Shangri-la, although it’s mainly Zhongdian which is known by that name now.

The nearest town from Xidang is Deqin which is about two-hour bus ride away from here. The local bus leaves to Deqin every morning between seven and nine o’clock in the morning (not very punctual) and leaves Deqin at three in the afternoon. So, the trip to town takes all day. Not that I visit Deqin often anyways. The locals go there to do shopping but other than that there’s nothing to do. Nowadays you can’t even use internet there unless you have a Chinese ID-card.

Deqin is located 3 500 m above the sea level. As Xidang is in a river valley, we are only in 2 400 m. So, the temperature here is much warmer and even wine grows here. Farming is the main source of livelihood. Well, that and tourism. We get two harvests a year; the first is highland barley and second is corn. Every house also has a vegetable garden for their own needs. Every family also owns walnut trees around the village, and walnuts, corn and grapes are the money crops. The rest of the harvest goes to the needs of the family and their animals. From the mountains they collect mushrooms (i.e. matsutake) for sale, and many of the herbs of Tibetan medicine grow here (i.e. snow cabbage, which grows only at an altitude above 5 000 m).

Tourism has brought some opportunities, for example every family owns mules with which they transport tourists up the mountain to Yubeng. Many (especially young men) want to do guiding. There are a few guesthouses in the village. Now many boys wish to buy cars to drive tourists up here from Shangri-la and Lijiang. But tourism has also brought many side effects with it. Obvious one is garbage. There is no garbage disposal in the village. We burn what can be burnt. For example, empty beer bottles can’t, so they are dumped everywhere. Another one is the so-called sex tourism. It seems to be fashionable among the wealthy Han-girls to have a holiday romance with a Tibetan guy. They buy the guys cell phones, computers and even cars (many of the cars in the village are acquired this way). But some of these girls also fall in love with the guys braking up their marriages with Tibetan girls and disturbing the traditional family structures.

Background information

I graduated as a forestry engineer from Kymenlaakso Polytechnic in 1997. The previous year I had been an exchange student in Harbin, China. After graduation I couldn’t find a job, so I decided to study East Asian Studies in Helsinki University. I thought that being able to speak Chinese must be an advantage in future. Now I’ve finished my studies except for the Master’s thesis.

So, this is the background for my decision to move to China. While searching a place to complete my research, I ended up in Zhongdian which nowadays is better known as Shangri-la. The population of Shangri-la is mainly Tibetan but there are also other minorities, such as Naxi, Bai, Yi and Lisu, and of course the majority Han as well. I fell in love with this area and my plan was to open up a bar in Shangri-la in spring 2009. Unfortunately the economic depression is felt here as well, although quite differently compared with many other places. Many previously wealthy Han have lost their jobs but they have savings with which they want to open bars, restaurants and guesthouses in Yunnan. So the property prices and rents have rocketed. After searching for a while for a place for me I realized that my savings weren’t enough.

Xidang

The previous autumn I had also spent some time in Yubeng village which is located in the Meili Snow Mountains nature preserve. I had friends in Yubeng, so I decided to check out, what would be the possibilities to have by bar/hostel in there. Unfortunately, I found out that the rents in Yubeng were also too high for my budget. On the way back down I met my friend Renqing Pinchu, who told me that his family was building a new house in Xidang village. The trek to Yubeng starts there. He said that I could rent part of the house for my bar/restaurant/guesthouse. And after negotiations this is what we decided to do. So my bar in Shangri-la had turned into a guesthouse in Xidang.