The back road to Sichuan Province

The morning of departure for our backcountry bus tour in to Sichuan dawned dreary and raining.  The bus station was a swarm of confusion, and to my despair the conductor gave no option but to load my glider bag on the roof.  Fortunately it was wrapped in 5 garbage bags inside of the duffel, so begrudgingly I handed it up and did my best to forget it.  We took our seats and stuffed our heads out the window, gasping for fresh air against the cloud of cigarette smoke inside.  When the bus was finally loaded full we pulled out of the station and around the corner, and then parked in front of a small crowd of people in the street.  Immediately bags of rice, stacks of soft-drink pallets, and bundles of blankets and goods were shuffled onboard the already-packed bus, followed by a second capacity of new passengers scrambling for a bit of space on top of of supplies.  We rattled off down the road and everyone slowly jostled in to place.

pit stop

The BANG of an exploding tire an hour up the road signaled that it was time for a rest-stop, so we unloaded to stretch our legs and have a look around.  We were provided with the entertainment of watching a bunch of men with a 40 pound sledge hammer and a 2 meter breaker bar attempt to free the fused lug-nuts from the rim.  As would prove consistent throughout our travels, despite seeming hopeless a solution was soon accomplished and we were back on our way.

As we approached the big mountains we left the pavement behind, then started up steep winding passes.  Near the summit the roads became hopelessly muddy, and eventually we rounded a bend to find ourselves trapped behind another bus that was buried in the mud.

Fully loaded and stuck in the mud

Again things seemed hopeless as we wrestled to free the bus, carrying rocks from the hillside and dropping them in to the mud to fill up the ruts.  But eventually the bus popped loose and rambled on, which meant it was our turn.  Our driver took the high outside line around the hopelessly deep ruts, surfing his wheels along the slimy edge of a precipitous tumble down the banks into the abyss!  He cleaned it, and as we descended off the other side of the pass the beauty of the experience overpowered our fear and our sore behinds.  We found ourselves completely in awe.  The scale of the mountains was bigger than anything I had yet experienced, with a vibration and beauty to match.  The noble Khampa style Eastern Tibetan houses stood like castles perched in the vertical realm of the steep mountainsides, and were also gathered together in pools of golden light in the valley bottoms.  Inside the bus you could feel the collective change in rhythm from the passengers as we moved further from the busy world of China and deeper in to the sanctuary of the mountains.  We were going home.

Khampa houses in the valley bottom

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