Sunday, October 4, 2009

To the Lake

The Xining train was uneventful. Two and a half hour hard seat with amazing mountain views (at least until the sun went down). Also got Anna hooked on Noah's Arc (what a lovely show).

Our hostel in Xining was actually legitimate (the only one of the trip - and the Qinghai Sangzhu Youth Hostel for future travellers' reference). It was decorated in Tibetan style: lots of red and lacquer. The beds were a bit softer than before, but still pretty hard. However, reception was nice and there was wireless. Also, it was Hostelling International, so it had a lot of nice facilities including maps, guidebooks and a pool table. And we got showers.

We had a pretty good dinner at the corner of Snack Street (小吃街)and Home Avenue(家街) (seriously). It was pretty good. Then we went looking for a bar. Several false attempts at KTV places first, then we ended up at a shady basement "club"/bar. It was filled with absolutely wasted Chinese people. Absolutely wasted. We danced with them and had some good times. This club was literally slapshod together - clapboard walls, plexiglass blocks over x-mas lights for a dance floor, etc. etc.

Yesterday Charlie, Jose and I woke up at 6 to go buy train tickets back to SH - the never ending saga of nervousness. Success! We were waiting in the line that forms before the station opens, and a policeman came up to us, took us to another line, had us cut that line, and opened up the ticket window just for us. Then he helped us to ask for tickets. It was amazing, and I'm not sure why it happened, but I'm always in favor of trusting in the kindness of strangers. Long story short, we all now have tickets for Saturday night, getting in at around 4 AM Monday morning. Getting to class will be awful, but there's only one SH train per day and it leaves at 10 pm. Ah well.

Everyone else woke up around 10 (and took glorious showers). We went out for brunch and then explored the Snack Street. So much delicious naan and deep fried sesame bread! I love the west. Then we went to Beishan temple (北山私). The Daoist temple is built into a mountainside. Most of the shrines were in small caves or grottos. There were also full temple structures built into the rocks.

I am also convinced that every tourist location in China involves about 20 miles of stairs.

We bought incense and learned how to worship. We also got some amazing views of the city and a random flash rainstorm. When the rain started the plateau dust swept over the city in a matter of minutes. The result was eerie and awe inspiring, and this photo absolutely does it no justice.

After the temple we went to visit Dongguan Mosque (东关清真寺) on the recommendation of some people I met on couchsurfing. It's one of the oldest and largest mosques in China and was pretty visually impressive. We made a bunch of friends on the grounds, although most Uigher muslims do not permit their photo to be taken. Then we explored the area around the Mosque. It had delicious bread, tons of tea shops, cookies and other Muslim wares.

Before dinner we went to the Tibetan Market by the train station which was awesome! They had every kind of Tibetan good you could imagine and they were such nice people! No one tried to hustle you or anything - such a welcome change from the big Eastern cities. Ben bough sheepskin, the boys all bought winter coats, Anna and I bought jewelry, Jose bought incense etc. I also got this sick pair of long underwear - so warm and comfy. Prepare for them to be heavily featured in future photos.

We attempted to find an Indian place for dinner and failed epically, but did end up at a Tibetan restaurant which was quite delicious. They had that sweet potato stuff, but it wasn't as good as it was in Lhasa. Mild downer, but the rest of dinner was delicious.

Later we went to two bars that were in the area (side note for future visitors - we found the bar area on Wenhua Lu - 文化路). At the first we played some cards, and then when it got slow we went upstairs to another bar. We were playing kings when a bunch of Chinese kids came up and asked to meet/join us. Thus begins the epic translation of Kings into Chinese. It kind of worked. More amazing was successfully teaching them how to play Thumper (like concentration). Successful evening. We were even kicked out of our table for being too loud.

This morning we took the 8:30 bus to Lake Qinghai. First we tried to go to the Tibetan Market again because the rest of us decided we needed warm coats as well. Only Jose and Ben found one - including a legit Chinese Police Jacket which has been a huge hit among the locals - but Anna and I had to settle on mittens. I have dibs on the sheepskin should I die of cold tonight/tomorrow/etc.

The bus took about 4 hours and dropped us in the town of Hatu (哈图). The ride was uneventful, but the scenery was incredibly impressive. The valleys and mountains we passed through were exactly like those I was in at the first nunnery in Tibet, and the rolling hills around the lake seriously remind me of Xiahe. Most of the rapeseed had been harvested, so we missed out on those crazy swaths of yellow, but it was still just absolutely beautiful. There were some squares of rapeseed that had awkwardly been left for the tourists, and we drove past the Minorities "Amusement Park" - disgusting.

Hatu itself is pretty damn touristy. Its obviously the place to go for matching orange hatted Chinese with too much money. After talking to our incredibly kind hosts at lunch (thus I highly recommend the Lanzhou restaurant with the red sign across from the gas station) we found the only dorm in town - no hostels here - and were able to bargain the price down to a somewhat reasonable 30 kuai per night. I have to say though, these bunks are a good deal more comfortable than where we've slept the past few days, although the massive picture window is a bit of a creeper and a heat drainer.

After settling in we asked around for a way to get to the top of a mountain and/or downtown to the shore of a lake. The hotel owner found a friend, and we negotiated an afternoon of private driving to 150 kuai, pretty legitimate. The six of us loaded into a sheisty van and headed up. First they took us to the top of one of the mountains. The views were stunning. They also took us to a friend's house that was on a bluff with 360 degree views of lake, mountains and sky. What an absolutely perfect place to retire to. The lake is saltwater, and looks like an ocean, and there was hiking everywhere, people no where, and mountains all the way to India. After that they took us down to the lakeside where we borrowed some horses. We rode back and forth along the beach for a bit and then back into the van to 4-wheel it into town.


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