Summer rains sweep through mountains. The wet earth, once vacant now sprout wild flowers. A bird sings, a group of yaks pass and the sound of footsteps fill the road. Pilgrims. The walk in numbers with large sacks of food and supplies on back, sometimes with a stick in hand. Some pull large carts filled with clothes, cooking utensils and grain, no matter what they carry they  all head for the holy city of Lhasa, more than 1000 km away. Cars too are filled with pilgrims of a different sort, men and women who bring the comforts of their homes and sleep in warm beds. In this way it is easy to forget the world outside and embracing the dreams we all forget at dawn. 




This pilgrim was prostrating his way, 3 steps one bow, to Lhasa.

Traveling has been very difficult lately. My Chinese Yuan supply has slowly dwindled and it is impossible for me to exchange money. I have therefore been subsiding on the bare minimum (fresh vegetables and cold noodles) and quickly making my way to Yunnan where I hope to find a large enough bank to withdraw funds. Hostels, hotels, and even apples are too expensive right now. The rain makes maters worse as I often spend hours pedaling up steep mountains only to find myself descending into a hail storm.

However it is too beautiful to be inside. Even when I am in the tent at night I want to open the fly and look out into a sky with patches of stars. I am too often invited by locals to stay inside warm wooden houses and each time I look down into forested distance and decline. It will take me several days to get to Yunnan, in the meantime I am riding when I can and when I can’t hiding in my tent beside soft streams.



Backroads of Sichuan

IMG_2884After graduating college I spent close to a whole year traveling China with my father. It was a time when anything was better than returning to the US and contemplating the next step in life, and traveling seems to occupy those moments in my life. My father too, had plenty to escape, his health was failing and his energy to conduct his antique business had long since left him. We traveled to so many Buddhist temples and holy places that I can hardly remember which ones were interesting and which ones were more like Buddhist amusement parks . Most if not all the monasteries had long since been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and had been replaced with flashy stucco replicas with large plastic golden Buddhas.



Native grass at 14,000 feet.

During our many temple visits we met a very interesting Tibetan teacher who became a close friend. We spent several days with him at the monastery, then invited him to our home in Guang Zhou. He had a very familiar laugh and a smile never seemed to leave his face. After my father’s death, we continued to keep in touch. He would call at 2 am California time and laugh about the time difference, and repeatedly ask when I would return to China.


Rin Chen Jer Po Rinpoche and Padma (my Tibetan name)


An offering. Rin Chen’s monastery in northern Sichuan


Rin Chen’s village, Zong Mai Xiang

After more than a year of silence, I hesitated, then called him while pedaling south through the deserts of Qinghai. He quickly remembered me and extended an invitation to visit him in Sichuan. It turned out that his home was not too far off my route so I braved a 100 km single track mountainous road to his home village.


Rin Chen making a call at the only place with service, the nearest tallest mountain pass 4,700 meters.

My friend’s name is Rin Chin Jer Po, who at the age of 19 was told by a senior Buddhist teacher that he had a strong potential in the practice of selflessness and Enlightenment. Immediately after hearing the news he decided to make a pilgrimage to India, and walked to the Holy city of Lumbini in northern India. When he arrived he met his future teacher  and decided to devote his life to the study of Buddhism. After a year in India he returned to his home in Sichuan province and began to teach in China.


En-Route to Zong Mai Xiang village.


Rin Chin’s village was almost impossible to find as it is extremely remote and not located on any maps. He gave me the name of his temple and told me that he was about 100 kilometers from a certain landmark. En-route it took me close to a whole day of cycling to and fro on a large highway looking for a small dirt road that would take me his way. Once found I quickly noticed that I would be riding on a road full of muddy pot holes, loose rocks and steep climbs. At times I doubted my resolution to visit him but continued on as he was very good to my family after my father’s death.IMG_3387

When I arrived at his village I spent close to an hour asking villagers about where he lived, no one seemed to have heard the name Rin Chin Jer Po. Did I pedal to the wrong place, I thought? The name of the temple was familiar to most but no one seemed to have heard the name Rin Chin Jer Po. Finally I asked a few monks at the monastery for the residence of the abbot, thinking this was his home I quickly entered expecting to see him. Instead I met a relatively large bald man with a very happy face. I apologized for barging into his home, however he seemed too surprised at seeing a foreigner that he didn’t seem to noticed that I had just walked into his home. I quickly described Rin Chin to him and made a long hair gesture as well as large earrings. He quickly knew who I was talking about and led me to his residence.


A large Tibetan meal of Blood sausage, boiled beef and beef buns. The yogurt (in bowls) was really good!

Seeing Rin Chin through his second story window brought tears to my eyes and his large smile met mine. My doubts about coming quickly vanished and I was invited into his home and treated like a royal guest. A Tibetan  feast of fresh beef, yogurt, milk tea, and lots of Sampa was soon prepared and a bed in the monastery waited me. It took me a day to get used to Tibetan customs as women do everything for the men; wash their clothes, cook, serve, and prepare all the meals, wash their feet, make and serve tea the daily tea.


Preparing to eat a large bowl of butter and boiled roots, a Tibetan delicacy!!


The boiled roots are added to a large bowl of butter, the liquid butter is sipped while the roots are chewed. I must have eaten close to 3 sticks of butter. The white cheese looking like stuff is milk curds.


Spring has finally sprung at 14,000 feet.


I am headed south again, towards the province of Yunnan. It is warm, humid and rainy. Food rarely deviates from Tsampa, boiled beef and buns. My bags are full of gifts from Rin Chen and I must have at least a months worth of Tsampa and butter in a large bag.

What George Orwell can teach you about China

555 Again!!!! I am in the situation where no one can tell me anything. I have cycled over 800 km by route of some of the tallest mountains in China and blocked by a police checkpoint from entering the province of Sichuan by way of Se Da city. Minutes before I watched as a small bus of white tourists with guide passed unnoticed, but as soon as I pedaled closer I was stopped and told to use an alternate route. Another 150 km detour!!

I am now beginning to feel that Chinese tour guides no longer tell one where to go but rather where not to go. There is no information online or from the police department and every time I ask whether or not I can go to a certain place the answer is ” I don’t know”. In some ways I understand, if it were written somewhere that certain cities are forbidden to tourists China would be admitting that there is a problem. Ignorance is strength.


Large Buddhist Stupa in rural Qinghai


A long climb

I spent a few days teaching English in a rural orphanage at the Qinghai/Sichuan border. Wandering the streets looking for a place to stay I met the local English teacher who invited me to stay in his room and be a guest of the orphanage for a few days. I quickly learned that privacy and personal possessions are socialized in Tibetan culture as I returned one morning to find that my friend had opened my bag and was using my computer. He smiled and then asked me how to use my I-pod.

The bathroom consists of one deep hole in the ground, no stall, just a roof overhead. On several occasions while using I would look over to see someone standing a few feet away waiting for me to wipe. The mountainous rural villages in southern Qinghai are predominantly Buddhist, with a Tibetan majority. It is quite common for me to find that no one speaks Mandarin, and that I have to resort to asking adolescents to translate. Hospitality is unsurpassed though and I am often invited for tea and Sampa by complete strangers. On one occasion a friendly man gave me a few pounds of Sampa flour, sugar, yak butter and milk curds refusing any form of payment.


One of my favorite students



Small Tibetan village

It is quite shocking to observe the complete lack of hygiene. Each morning I watch as chamber pots are tossed on the sidewalk, men and women spitting everywhere (even inside supermarkets and banks), and children with slits in the back of their pants re-leaving themselves throughout.


Sichuan countryside

I have finally descended to an elevation of about 12,000 feet, and have been in the province of Sichuan now for 2 days. For the first time in 2 weeks I am cycling passed trees, and waking in the morning to the sounds of birds. Nights are so warm that I find myself waking and taking off excessive clothes! On to central Sichuan.