30 Oct 2008

Mountaineering for Buses

I promise you, one day I shall write a book entitled the world's worst bus journeys. A recent contender was my journey in Sichuan province (south west China) from the town of Kangding to Tagong. At times I thought I was back in Afghanistan doing a never-to-be-repeated journey - www.alitravelstheworld.com/afghanistan
The start of the journey was not promising. We reached a police road block. Then engine chuntered out and the driver went to speak to the soldiers. I guessed that they were not letting us through because we were foreigners. Never forget that China is a country of rules, of control, or order and of face. Rules must be adhered to.
On a previous bus journey people refused to sell me tickets because I was a foreigner. Foeigners are not allowed to buy tickets for buses here. 'Why?' I asked, without answers. I waved my money around but the woman behind the counter didnt want to know. She didnt even give one of the famously awkwardly tightly clenched polite Chinese smiles.
The bus company even made announcements in English and the entire list of the Customer Satisfaction Requirements (their words, not mine) were printed out on a notice board
It was only becasue of the attentions attracted that a lady came over and took myself and two other English girls in a taxi to the outskirts of town, Here we waited uneasily, wondering what on earth we were doing, Then the same bus we had previously been refused permission to travel on pulled over and we got onboard. Rules can be bent in China, sometimes very effectively.
Anyway to reach Tagong there was only one road and we were obviously not going to be allowed to travel on it. So the driver came back, slammed his battered Hiace into a frenzied reverse and off we headed down a side road. We came to a village checkpoint. Money was handed over to some local women and we took a very severe turn up a steep rocky farm track. It was an excellent place to be robbed and left for good.
We careered around a brick wall, near shaving it. However, there were some other passengers in the vehicle, Tibetan men, and they urged us all to get out. The driver told us to find some large rocks to palce behind the wheels to prevent it rolling back down the hill. Then he required us to push the vehicle up the farm hill. What on earth was going on, I silently wondered, as I packed my body down alongside twoTibetan men in a an exhausting attempt to generate some momentum. Becasue we were at altitude (over 3,000m) the effort was near shattering. Somehow the driver gave it all he had and we made it to the top of the hill. We came out on a main raod, indeed the correct road. A few shouts of delight and the turnign on of some loud Tibetan techno music indicated that we had successfully, if exhaustively, circumnavigated the Chinese military road block.
The Sichuan-Tibetan Highway is the main road all the way from South West China up to Lhasa, Tibet's controversial capital. To call it a highway is a gross exaggeration. It is a tortorously twisting narrow mountain road, deeply unsuited to the volumes of heavy truck traffic which batters it every day.

more coming soon ( Chinese internet connections and electricity permitting!)...

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