Dinner in China: Part III, Tibet on the Cheap…

20180618_141518Kangding is a revelation, that such an integral part of Tibet is so accessible, so unique, so easy, and all at reasonable prices! Now that the ‘official’ Tibet—aka Xizang—is so off-limits (again), available only on guided tours, for whatever reason (for their own protection, no doubt), this western part of Sichuan province and Qinghai are the next best thing, or maybe even better. The historical region known as Kham, Dalai Lamas have come from here, so it’s still the real thing…

And admittedly I wasn’t expecting much, since Kangding is probably a majority Han Chinese town—uh, make that city—but that’s okay, too, as all the modern conveniences are here, so not exactly roughing it in the outback (though that can be done nearby). Best part: it’s only a five-hour bus ride from Chengdu, and less every day, as roads improve with blinding speed…

20180617_162542And given the fact that Chengdu has international flights from all over now, that means that a little bit of Tibet is easily within reach of many budgets, where a $2000 one-week tour (not including airfare) to Lhasa or Bhutan would not be. And the architecture is very similar to that of Bhutan (Lhasa I haven’t visited—yet), except for the modern bland Chinese portions…

What is not very similar is the gregariousness of the people. I’ve met Tibetans in other provinces, decades ago, and knew they had a wild streak, but hardly expected them to be all over me from the get-go. It’s nice. I like the eye contact, something that once attracted me to Thailand…

The Bhutanese didn’t seem like that at all, though, the little bit I was able to see, on my own, without my guides attached to me, after I tricked them into leaving me alone one afternoon, feigning weariness, then walked 3mi/5km to Paro and back. But no one ever talked to me, or even tried, though Nepali is a second language there, and very similar to Hindi, so I might have been able to fake it a bit…

20180620_194515.jpgAnd the Tibetan Buddhist temples are the real thing, too, and full of resident monks. At 2560mt/8400 feet it’s a bit chilly, though, and this is the time of the summer solstice! It’s the rainy season, also, so there’s little or no help from the sun. And alas and alack: we have no fancy heaters here, though a fancier place might. We do have hot water, though, so that helps. I can only imagine that the tour from here to Shangrila, in Yunnan, must even get quite a bit colder…

But don’t believe the rap about tourism rapidly developing here, even if by all logic it should. I have yet to see a tour company, though the attractions are here, both within the city and without. And at 100k population the urban area is nicely manageable, i.e. walkable. I like it. Once I get up to speed in Mandarin, or Tibetan language, haha, I might have to spend a full summer here, if I can find cheap digs…

20180619_112752I’ve already found the supermarket, and it’s better than any of those I saw in Chengdu, with a section of bulk goods better than any I’ve seen in the west in twenty—no, make that thirty—years, back when ‘whole foods’ meant whole grains, not whole paycheck. I even found brown rice, and at a reasonable price, something that eluded me in Chengdu, all this in a country that I wasn’t even sure had supermarkets as recently as a week ago. That is one of capitalism’s finest moments, after all, a good supermarket…

And that is the revelation, more than anything else, that the hybrid culture here works, not just Tibetans and Han Chinese buying each others’ goods, as they always have, but sharing each others’ songs, live in the square every evening, I the lone Westerner taking it all in. Could this be love? Probably not, but you never know (and the trip from Kangding to Shangrila does sound nice, so maybe one summer, once again, after I’ve mastered Mandarin)…

Did I mention that it’s cherry season here now? And the prices are reasonable, if not as cheap as the 99c store in LA, but those are corporate cherries; these are handmade. And the native market is full of veggies, so 2560mt/8400ft is kinder here than many places in the world, and so are the people. That’s the best part. A guy could stay here a while and maybe find himself a friend or two, if he tried. But it’s cold. Next stop is back down in the lowlands, Leshan and Emeishan, major tourist destinations for locals…

 

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