With my work schedule being night shifts Sunday through Thursday and a 1700 start on Sundays, I almost have a three-day weekend each week so, from next month, will plan at least one mini-trip each month. My first, in August, will be back to Seoul rather than traveling here in China as there are a few loose ends I need to tie up there and people to see.
But, on with the Lonely Planet recommendations:
21. Labrang Monastery, Xiahe, Gansu
From Lonely Planet:
"If you can't make it to Tibet, visit this more accessible part of the historic Tibetan region of Amdo in Gansu. One moment you are in Han China, the next you are virtually in Tibet."There is a Monlam (Great Prayer) Festival in the Tibetan New Year, which will be early March next year and seems an ideal time to visit, so I have time to decide on this one.
22. Dunhuang, Gansu
Also in Gansu but a long way from Xiahe and the Labrang Monastery, Dunhuang was a major stop and natural staging post on the Silk Road. Also known as Sha Zhou, or the city of sands, Dunhuang is an oasis on the edge of stunning desertscapes. Images online show the city and Crescent Lake nestled among soaring sand dunes and caravans of people on camels traversing the desert.
An added extra is the Magoa Caves, also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, one of the greatest repositories of Buddhist art anywhere, and the lesser-visited Western Thousand Buddha Caves, that are excavated out of the cliffs.
There is an airport at Dunhuang and I can't resist the idea of being part of a camel caravan so I think this one makes the "to do" list.
23. Cycling Yangshuo, Guanxi
Guanxi is also home to the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, where I definitely intend to go, and the two are reasonably close. A recommended half-day trip is to board a bamboo raft with bike from Yangshuo to Xingping (15 km) then cycle back south, crossing the Li River by ferry just past Fuli then again by bridge just out of Yangshuo.
That sounds a great mini-trip to combine with the rice terraces -- I just need to research the best time of year to do so. There's an airport near Guilin, which is about midway between the two sites.
24. Mt Kailash, Western Tibet
Mount Kailash is not only considered sacred to four religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and the shamanic Bon-po) but is the source of four major Asian rivers -- the Indus, the Sutlej (a tributary of the Indus), the Brahmaputra and the Karnali (a major tributary of the Ganges).
Buddhists believe a "kora," or pilgrimage around the mountain (three days is the recommended time for travelers but most Tibetans complete it in a 15-hour day), can atone for the sins of a lifetime. (I wonder if that includes sins not yet committed?) Others simply believe the journey will bring good fortune.
Interestingly, Lonely Planet says nomad tents along the walk provide beer as well as other snacks and beverages -- I can see this becoming a Tibetan adventure reminiscent of "The Way," although the ashes will be metaphorical ones of my many sins.
I may have to do this one.
Nos 26 through 30 still to come . . .