Arriving in Langmusi from Xiahe felt like a step deeper into Tibet. The town was small, surrounded by towering green hills, grasslands, and prayer flags. You could walk from one end to another in five minutes. There were two large, impressive monasteries, which the rest of the town had been built around. Several guesthouses, restaurants and shops now line the main road, it was apparent the town had a fledgling tourist industry, still in the early stages of development – but Langmusi on first impression felt nice, really nice.
We found a lovely little Tibetan run guesthouse, ran by the loveliest Tibetan family. Our rooms were new, modern and comfortable – and great value at 160 RMB per night. It’s just as well, for in coming days I would later be thanking my lucky stars for our nice, comfortable room, hot shower, and clean, usable western toilet!
Our first afternoon we walked up to one of the monasteries. We climbed the hill, and admired the lovely views below; of the town, surrounding landscape, and the marvellous golden roofs of the monastery.
We carried on walking up, and soon the town was out of sight. The landscapes were dramatic. I was reminded of home, as the wind shrieked around the lush, rolling green hills and drops of rain fell from above.
In the distance, we could see some kind of shrine on top of one of the hills marking something out. We decided to head towards it. When we got there, we found a lot of prayer flags, but also, to our surprise and initial amusement, bottles of alcohol.
“What was this?”, we wondered.
“Maybe this is where the local Tibetan youths congregate on a Friday night and get lashed.”, I joked.
It didn’t take long for us to actually work out what it was. We quickly realised the alcoholic bottles were dotted around an area of scorched earth, where someone had clearly lit a fire and burned belongings of some sort.
We then looked to our right, and saw numerous axes, saws and an array of other instruments, presumably used for dismemberment, littering the area. Then we saw a skull. A human one.
“Urgh… is this what I think it is?”, I asked Amelia.
“Urgh, gross. I guess it is.”, she replied, weirded out by the sight before her.
It was unpleasant, slightly disturbing and not something we had planned on seeing, having read about it was enough for us – but as we were here, and had stumbled across it by accident, why not have a look around? You know, when in Rome…
So, naturally, that’s what we did – albeit, for not very long. We counted four or five human skulls, too many instruments of dismemberment to remember, and dozens of other bone fragments, and even thigh bones, some that still had flesh on. The smell wasn’t great, so we soon retreated.
In Tibetan culture, they don’t bury their people into the ground when they die, or cremate them. They take their bodies to a local mountain-top, dismember the body into small pieces and leave it there for predatory birds and other wildlife to devour.
We had accidentally stumbled across one of these places, known as a Sky Burial site.
“Now that was interesting”, I said, “But pretty grim”, Amelia added, as we walked back into town, reflecting on what we had just discovered.
We spent our first night with our new friends; Wayne, the coolest 68 year old I have ever met, from Australia, and Valentine, a young French backpacker, putting the world to right whilst eating fairly rubbish, over-priced food at the Black Tent Cafe.
Our second morning in Langmussi, the weather was atrocious; cold, windy and rainy. We had planned to go for a walk, but didn’t fancy it given the weather conditions. After a morning of doing nothing, we decided to go out and brave it, for we were getting restless.
So off out of town we went, walking up a long, deserted mountain road. We wanted to go further, for the scenery was becoming increasingly beautiful, but we had been told to be extremely wary of the local dogs. We’d heard bad stories, and to be quite frank, we felt nervous. The nomads and local people had huge Tibetan Mastiff guard dogs, which were rarely tied up. We’d been warned that they have been known to attack and maul passers-by. In the end, we didn’t walk very far, for we didn’t want to get mauled, or worse, by an overtly aggressive, possibly rabid dog, when the nearest even half-respectable hospital is a fifteen hour drive south in Chengdu. So day two was a disappointment as we made our way back to town…
Day three, supposedly our last day in Langmusi, started off great. Amelia and I, plus Wayne, went for a hike into one of the gorges. I could write an infinite number of superlatives to describe how great it was, and it still wouldn’t do it justice. It was a wonderful walk, and we had a great day, despite spending the first two hours walking around in circles trying to find the correct starting point!
Unfortunately, my run of three years in Asia without getting full-on food poisoning was up. As we walked back into town in late-afternoon, I was beginning to feel pretty rough, and wanted to get back to the hotel. By the time I got back to the hotel, I was so exhuasted and felt so terrible, I had resigned myself to the next 24-48 hours being spent snuggling up to the toilet. Little had I realised, when I abandoned Amelia and Wayne in my rush to get back to the hotel room, that Amelia still had the key.
I was frantic as I tried to explain to the hotel owners through pretty ridiculous body language, hand gestures and (very) broken Chinese that my girlfriend had the key, I was going to throw up / shit myself any second on their lovely, clean, white tiled floor, and that I needed them to open my room with the spare key as a matter of URGENCY.
They seemed to understood that I was ill, didn’t have a key, and needed the toilet urgently – but they just stood there, gathered in concern for the poor, distressed white guy, but doing nothing, they didn’t know what to do. And they didn’t have a spare key either!
This was now becoming a nightmarish situation. I was breathing heavily, trying my absolute best to not chunder everywhere and keep it down / in a little longer. “Hurry Amelia”, I thought, but Amelia was no-where to be seen, as she had no idea how ill I felt.
Suddenly, as if god had shone a light on the room next-door to ours, to my delight, I realised nobody had checked into the room next to ours, and the door was open and unlocked. “Can I?”, I asked, as I pointed towards the room, “Yes”, they replied, quite clearly aware that it was either the toilet or the floor that gets it.
And I legged it in, much to my, and probably the hotel owners relief, it was the toilet and bucket that got it, instead of the lovely white tiled floor in the public area. Twenty minutes later, I was able to leave the bathroom and collapse into my own bed.
Amelia later told me, to my amusement, that a Chinese couple checked into the room only minutes later, completely unaware of the destruction that had been wrought upon their bathroom only minutes earlier. We cleaned up of course, but no effort was made by the hotel to sterilise anything before the couple checked-in.
The next two days were spent in the confines of our hotel room, boredom set-in, and I longed for the developing world comforts of Nanjing again. There was no internet, no English TV channels, nothing.
My days were brightened by Amelia and Wayne, who happened to take this very funny photo one morning whilst walking around the town.
For some reason, no manholes in the town were covered. This proved problematic for us, especially at night-time when there were no street-lights, as it was utterly impossible to know where you were walking, it was actually quite scary. On the bright side, at least the locals had difficulties too, even in broad daylight.
After five days in Langmusi, we were ready to leave. Our next stop was Sertar, only we didn’t know how to get there, or how long it would take us.