Sunday, May 25, 2014

Impressions of Bhutan

View from my hotel room balcony (The huge building is Bhutan's biggest Dzong and was built in the 17th century): 

Hanging up prayer flags for all my loved ones

17th century wood carving in one of the Dzongs:

Potentially Bhutan's smallest store:

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Interesting Things About Bhutan

So I am sure I do not have to tell you in length about how great this place is. Pretty much all the rumors you hear about this place are true. My Western trained brain is constantly trying to find problems and bad things, but I am really struggling. This goes to the extend where the national newspaper will write about patients in hospitals and readers can send in money or gifts to the person. The news here really is not like the news we know back home. It appears to be focusing a lot on the positive developments. 
It really is something weird to get used to. 
I don't want to bore you with the usual descriptions of how beautiful this place is, because no words would do this place justice. 
Instead, I would like to share some things/fun facts I have learned about this country, which you probably did not know about. 

1.) No Killing 
I am sure you are aware that Bhutan is a Buddhist country, however they really take it to the next level and there are no slaughter houses in the entire country. Also in villages no one will actually kill their chickens and cows. Because meat is actually being consumed the country imports all its meat from India. 
This is goes to the extend that no one can really do anything against all the stray dogs, which are really in abundance in this country. (As in any other country in Asia. The other countries just seem to have less mercy) So there is a national sterilization campaign, which asks people to bring in their dogs for sterilization. Tuesday is national love-your-dog day and you will get a free gift with sterilizing your dog. 

2.) "Life is a journey, complete it" 
This was written on a road sign asking drivers to drive carefully. In China the government just leaves the damaged cars along the road to warn its citizens, but in Bhutan they remind their drivers with a very philosophical sentence. 

3.) Most speak English 
And this to a very good extend. Some people will actually have an Indian accent, because for a long time Bhutan only had Indian English teachers. Now there are more Canadians and Americans coming to Bhutan to teach. But I can speak with so many people! It is truly great to have this many good English speakers in Bhutan. 

4.) Smoking Cigarettes is illegal 
That is right. Completely illegal in the entire country. The government is thinking about loosening the restrictions on this law though, because since the law has been put in place the illegal sales of cigarettes has picked up and has become a huge business. In Bhutan cigarette smugglers will get between 3-5 years in prison. 
I have seen many people smoke though so it doesn't seem to really work anyway. 

5.) The Beer is REALLY good! 
I mean.... really good! Just think about where Bhutan is and now imagine them producing beer. I know! It doesn't make any sense. But, the beer is really delicious! They even produce their own Scotch, which I am very eager to try and I will most likely buy a bottle to bring back home. 

6.) The Bhutanese love to party! 
They seem like pretty intense party goers to me. They love their beer and scotch and frequently chew Beetle-nut. I have talked to some guys in my age and they told me all about rap music and Bob Marley. Most are huge soccer enthusiasts and the guys could list all the players on most of the important soccer teams. 

7.) The Good Merit 
It is really amazing to watch the Bhutanese collect their good merit by either walking around stupas, bowing in the temples or any other mean. We went to a big stupa in the capital of Bhutan and the older generation all had their food packed for the day so that they could walk the entire day around the stupa swinging their prayer wheel in one hand and going through their prayer  beads in the other. 
Today I went to a temple where I saw 3 boys, who were probably all around 4 years old do their prayers and bows. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Last Few Days In Kashgar

After the dessert I spent the last few days in Kashgar buying little things for people back home and for myself (an amazing Afghan carpet, which no one will be allowed to step on). Kasghar is really a gem. There are no Western influences yet, which means that by today I was about ready to eat chocolate and drink coffee again. The old town dates back many thousand years, but the Chinese government recently decided to destroy it and rebuild it so it is safer in case of an earthquake. Even though I have to say the Chinese government surprisingly did a pretty good job one cannot ignore the fact that Kashgar is not really near an earthquake zone......(Also these buildings have been standing for 2000 years and when the terrible earthquake in Sichuan happened in 2008 the worst damage was caused due to new school buildings collapsing, because they were so incredibly poorly built. I could go on.) 
If you ask my personal opinion it looks as if the government just kind of wanted to show the people what it is capable of doing and I couldn't ignore the fact how many security cameras were installed EVERYWHERE. 

Never the less, Kashgar is awesome and very far away from everything I know. The spices are mind blowing. I bought some spices to bring back home and no matter how many plastic bags I pack them in they smell so intensively that I am currently keeping them outside my hostel room, because the smell just penetrates everything. It is pretty awesome when it is in food, but I am getting sick of all my clothes smelling like cumin all the time. 


 I had my Kashgar city tour on a Friday and when I saw Tudajim that morning he told me that we need to take a break in between 12.30 and 2, because he wants to go to the mosque and pray. I learned that day that the praying on Fridays at noon is the most important and I did not really want to believe it, but surely enough the city completely shut down. Every Uighur man closed his business and went to the nearest mosque to pray. The mosques filled up quickly, which meant that men were rolling out there praying carpets on the street (all facing West of course). 

After praying there is a huge market that opens every Friday and 30 seconds after the quietness of the praying the screams broke out. People were promoting there products all over the nearest streets to the main mosque and quickly the masses all venture to these tiny streets. People were selling everything (mostly targeted towards men, since they were out praying) 

Afterwards I went to the local steel production place where a man was making every possible tool. I really wanted to buy one to bring back home, but the Chinese police would have taken it away from me (yes, even in checked luggage). Watching the process was pretty great and I would have loved to support such great craftsmanship. My guide told me that the local people who make knifes are running out of business, because the police is taking away any sort of sharp tools from luggage and so no one is buying them anymore. 

Okay. I just had a really long travel day and am really tired. I hope you forgive me for my short post. 


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bonding With a Baby Camel

Yesterday, I went to the dessert and spent the night between dunes, which was pretty awesome, but cold cold cold. 
Before that I went to the biggest natural stone arch in the world, which was also pretty impressive. You had to hike up a bit to get there, but me, an Israeli hiker we picked up along the road, and my guide were the only ones up there besides some Sichuanese construction workers who were sadly in the process of making the place more accessible to lazy tourists. 

The most awesome thing though was that I rode through the dessert on a camel. (Really uncomfortable by the way. I think hiking would be the better option I think) However, I was riding on a female camel, which had just given birth two months earlier and the baby was following its mother everywhere. I obviously bonded with the baby camel. 

It was a great moment as I am sure you can tell. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Kashgar Livestock Market & The Karakoram Highway

Ever since reading Peter Hessler's Country Driving I have always had an urge to visit the Karakoram Highway (KKH) myself. I had google searched plenty of images and had read numerous blogs about the experience and all in all it seemed like everyone enjoyed the time on the highway a lot. The reason why the highway is famous is because it connects China with Pakistan and it is the highest altitude paved road in the world.
So I was really excited when despite all the issues arising out of this region I could come visit this place and see for myself.

After a day in Kashgar my guide first took me to the livestock market outside the city and I wish my words could describe how truly unique this place was. It is rumored that this market is over 2000 years old and visiting the place really is only reaffirming the rumors. Generally sheep, camels, goats, horses, cows, and bulls are sold on the market and locals bring in their livestock from near and far. The numbers vary from person to person. One guy might bring one goat and another might arrive with 50 sheep. The whole market was moved three times by the government, but it looks like its pretty stationary where it is right now.
The whole culture and feeling around it is just so amazing. Nothing I have ever experienced.
For now I will just include a couple images and maybe sometime find me in person, because by then I might have found the words to describe the incredible environment.

This was great, because the bull was massif! My guide told me that just a couple weeks ago a bull ran around the market blindfolded and no one could stop him until he was tired out. Apparently he tore quite a lot of huts down, but no one got hurt. 

After the Market Tudajim, the driver and me headed for the KKH. The thing that was making me nervous was that just a day before my arrival there was a huge sandstorm and there was still so much sand in the air. You couldn't really see all that far and I was really worried that I couldn't see any of the mountains and glaciers along the highway.  
This KKH is not really a highway. It is a two lane street, which is to 75% paved and to 25% barely existent. The Chinese government is putting great effort into finishing the road soon. I can't imagine how difficult it is to pave a road in such high altitude. 
Our first stop was a 3 hour drive away from Kashgar. I spent a night at a local shepherd's house along the Kala Kule Lake. These families usually live in 2 villages. One for the summer and one for the winter. The one we were visiting was the summer village, even though it was freeeeezing cold. These people's lives is pretty amazing. They spend most of the day outside herding their sheep and yak in really cold temperatures (in the winter time it can get as low as -20 degrees celsius) for around 10 hours! 
Anyway, in order to get to this village we had to drive for some time and the awesome thing was that 
along the way there are numerous intersections leading to other countries. 

This intersection was for a road to Afghanistan, which was around 30km away. Obviously it was illegal to use the road. 

Here the sign for the road to Kyrgyzstan! How awesome is this!!!!

Anyway. We got to the tiny village and were greeted by the family. The house looked a lot like a box made out of clay. It was amazing how well insulated it was though. It was heated by one tiny stove, which was also their stove at the same time. I knew the surrounding should be beautiful, but I couldn't see much, because it was cloudy:
BUT, when I woke up the next day and opened the door I could barely catch my breath. What I saw in front of me was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.  
This is what I saw: 

It really was one of these moments where I wanted to rub my eyes and see if it really was real. Hard to believe, but it was real. 

After a quick breakfast we ventured on to get to Tashkurgan. First though we had to get over a pass, which obviously was also a great picture opportunity. 

(Kein Unterhemd... Ich weiss) 

And then we got to Tashkurgan and I really could not believe that I was still in China. No one looked Chinese! Everyone looked far more European than Chinese. Their clothes, language, food and entire culture was way more European than Chinese. No wonder they don't identify themselves as Chinese no matter how many propaganda posters the government plasters along the roads... 

Okay I will post this now and will continue writing when I get another chance. I am heading to the dessert tomorrow and will spend a night there. Hopefully I won't get lost.