Ok, so we’re not really in Tibet. We’re in Kangding, the capital of the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan. At 2,600 meters above sea level, we can barely breathe and it’s DAMN COLD!
We arrived just after sunset and were kindly led by some christian missionaries to a popular backpacking hostel, the Black Tent Guesthouse. I had a pounding headache from the rough bus ride and all I wanted was a nice, hot shower. Silly girl.
The hostel was entirely unheated. The (uninsulated) windows in our room were covered with gorgeous Tibetan tapestry to trap the heat and keep out the wind. There was one shower and one women’s toilet that I has the misfortune to use in the middle of the night.
To stay warm we huddled around the electric burner in the common room and drank warm water. Notice that I didn’t say hot water. We’re so high in the mountains that the water doesn’t boil, it evaporates. Between the warm water and the heat from the burner we were moderately warm — until the electricty went out!
We spent most of the evening hanging out in the dark with our absolutely stunning Tibetan guesthouse host. She sang for us and demonstrated the traditional Chinese workout dance that you see in every courtyard, in every town in China.
Although the experience was wonderful, we were literally freezing. It wasn’t just that you could see your breath as you spoke – my toes went numb in the middle of the night! The next day we decided to hunt down a warmer place to lie our heads.
As we were looking for warmer lodging, we ran into a local farmers market selling Yak meat and got totally lost in the hills overlooking Kangding. We ended up wandering around a hillside neighborhood, curiously peering in on people’s homes.
After a few hours of blindly wandering in the freezing cold, we finally found a good Tibetan place to settle in. It was also unheated but the lovely Tibetan cowboy owner gave us his personal heater. How amazing! We headed back out to see the town. It was gorgeous, even if the sky was grey and the temperature hovered around 35 degrees.
The Tibetan influence in this town is clear – even to me. In Kangding you can see women with colorfully braided hair carrying prayer beads, men with long flowing hair and cowboy hats and Buddhist monks chanting as they passed you on the street. Prayer flags hang from every surface imaginable and the mountains are decorated with Tibetan script and images of Buddha. Our pictures don’t do justice to the beauty of the town.
Back at the Tibetan guesthouse, as we wore our winter jackets to bed for the second night in a row, it became clear that this jaunt out west is going to be a little more than we bargained for. We’re wearing several layers of our warmest clothes and haven’t changed in three days. It appears that hot water and indoor heating is a thing of the past.*
This is what I consider an adventure.
* If you’re reading this and planning your trip to Western Sichuan in winter, you should stock up on hygiene wipes – they make a good impromptu shower.