Articles

Sichuan

The four girls mountain

My last stop in the Sichuan mountains is going to be Siguniang Shan. The four peaks, referred to as the “fours girls”, are not mentioned in my guide book, but I heard about them from other sources. I am ambivalent about this, as the place could turn out to be a foreigner-free heaven or a dodgy den for Chinese tourists that I’ll find difficult to come to terms with after the latest experiences. As I have a few days to spend before Chengdu, I may well take the risk, for I’d rather stay in the mountains than in the muggy plains.

The mountain elevation ranges from 5,355 to 6,250 m with the highest peak (the youngest of the “girls”) a year-round snow-capped summit unconquered to date. Nicknamed the “Queen of Sichuan's peaks”, it will make a worthy epilogue to my highland roaming.

The spider attacks

Disgusted at the way the evening turned last night, we leave Jiaju for another village around Danba. We have to reach the town, itself lying in a dramatic gorge at the confluence of three streams, and take a taxi to the village of Zhonglu in a different valley. Danba would not be an attractive place, were it not for this incredible gorge with gigantic walls of rock dropping into the stream.

Zhonglu is another charming village lying on a sloping plateau amid maize fields and other crops. This time it is not a homestay but a hotel built according to the local style. I spend a nice evening in the company of other travellers staying here.

The following day I go for a walk to the far end of the village, where I see a path cut in the mountain side at a certain height, possibly the connection to the next village. I struggle to find the start of it and hurt my shinbone slipping on a rock, but finally get to the path that is dangerously bordered by a sheer drop of a hundred meters into the valley.

Mountain jamboree

Although the previous driver was going on to Danba, I didn’t want to have anything more to do with him. Before long, I found another car heading there, whose driver was the owner of a homestay and he proposed to take us to his house, promising an entertaining night of singing and dancing. Little did we know about what was in store for us.

The imposing valley is scattered with fortified settlements consisting of stone houses huddled together, unlike the ones I saw this morning that looked more like isolated towers topped by a wooden barn structure on three sides, maybe doubling as insulation. It is a fact that every valley has a slightly different building style, that reflects cultural differences and tribe affiliations, surely. As a result, this lower lying region looks completely different from yesterday’s environment, culturally and landscape-wise.

The slaughter of the badger

The long day of yesterday left me completely exhausted. It was not just the climb to the mountain top, the rush to the sky burial and lots of walking that did the job, but the altitude of this place that put a strain on the body even performing usual activities. I was so excited about exploring this place that I didn’t care to check my enthusiasm and kept gambolling around all day.

As if it was not enough, we spent the last hour of sunlight at the temple on one of the highest points. Devout worshipper were performing their prostrations or spinning the prayer wheels around the building, which were all provided with dynamos and attached by a cable to collect the power generated.

The bus leaves at 6 in the chilly hours before dawn and follows a magnificent itinerary along beautiful valleys, grasslands, later covered by a rich vegetation of fir trees, often alongside streams or rivers. In the early afternoon we get dumped at a crossroads at the entrance of a tunnel where the highway branches.

Another incredible monk city at 4,000 m (Seda)

The weather was uncertain last night and I asked myself what a sprinkle of rain down in the valley could turn into at the height of the pass. There was no reason to worry, however, because the road was as good – or as nasty – as it was when I came the first time with clear weather. Only the mountain view was affected by a cloudy sky and a sunless day.

The big bus I’m travelling on does not stop at the pass, but only has a lunch break at Maniganguo. At Ganzi I get a bed at the Tibetan house I had stayed at and, surprise! as I was sipping some tea in the courtyard, in came the French couple I had met days ago at this very guesthouse. They’re back from Baiyu and are heading to Seda tomorrow, just like me. We have a stroll together around the noisy but vibrant town centre in the bright afternoon light that makes Ganzi such a lively scene.

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The bus to Seda is full from the start, but I’ve bought a ticket which secures me a regular seat. Other excess passengers are accommodated on loose stools in the aisle. The ride is a long one, starting with a last farewell view to the beautiful valley and its gorgeous mountains from a high ridge.