Tuesday, June 19, 2007

it's like NZ but with yaks

for Robina and myself, this was the first time we visited the Qinghai-Tibetan (Qing-Zang 青藏) plateau. Qinghai is just next to Tibet and has a large number of ethnic Tibetans (plus Hui Muslims too!). with it's rolling hills, wide expanses, livestock and lakes, Qinghai really seemed like New Zealand to me. Unlike NZ, the air is thin with less oxygen due to the high altitude.
Of course, there were plenty yaks in the fields. they look just like shaggy cows. this one was quite curious and rolled his eyes at nosey tourists. I found it quite comical with its "cow-like" black n white patches. nervous yaks almost caused several accidents when they try to sprint across the road into our coach when they were startled. this happened several times and our driver had to jam brakes!

As our tour group drove around the scenic Qinghai Lake, we caught glimpses of Tibetan herdsmen around the lake (which is holy to the Tibetans). We also stopped by a Tibetan town to take a look at how the locals live. The Tibetan people are shy but friendly. Although Robina and I looked like Han Chinese, I told a Tibetan chap that we are foreigners, he said that he knew about Singapore.

A Tibetan herdsmen was driving his sheep flock when we stopped at the edge of Qinghai Lake. Robina was standing right amongst the flock. The herdsman was riding a beautiful horse and has a spare black horse.
We admired the grace of a people born in the saddle and kept their horses in such wonderful conditions. Although he was quite annoyed at us bunch of tourists frightening his sheep, but the enterprising chap was soon offering us to sit on his horse for photos (for a fee of RMB5!)
Our guide told us that motocycle had replaced the horse as a mode of transport by the Tibetan people who used the bike to round up livestock. Tibetans apparently loved their bikes so much that they used their former saddle blankets to drape their motorbike seats. We saw a lot of motorbikes in the Tibetan town. Many of the saddle blankets were in traditional Tibetan motifs.
During our coach drive, we could spot Tibetan Mastiffs guiding flocks. These huge dogs, that looked like a bear, were known to be fiercely loyal and could fight off wolves. This one above was just three months old and was guarding a Lama monastery.
Along the way, I bought some cordyceps from the herdsmen who harvested them from the surrounding hills. Literally known as "Caterpillar in Winter, Grass in Summer" (冬虫夏草), this is actually a caterpillar infected by a fungus. the stalk growing out of the caterpillar is the fruiting body of the fungus like a mushroom or toadstool. Cordyceps is a very expensive TCM herb. However since they were produced right here on the Qing-Zang plateau they are available very cheaply. I was able to bargain the price down to 15 cordyceps for RMB100 (SGD20). As an entomologist, I could tell that these were the real stuff (there are plenty of fake ones out in the markets). Back in the provincial capital Xining, almost every other shop was selling cordyceps.

My Qinghai album is located here. If anyone from within China has problem viewing the pics on Flickr, please download Firefox browser (you should be using this browser anyway) and then download an extension from here to bypass the GFW.


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