Tuesday, 7 June 2011

A wild goose chase around China

From Lhasa we arrived in Chengdu on Sunday morning. Chengdu because the travel agents in Kathmandu had said that this was one of three places in China where a Tibetan permit could be extended. We had our doubts. And, even more irritatingly we had had to come in completely the wrong direction to get to Chengdu and were now 4 days of continuous travel away from our intended destination.

At 9am on Monday morning we stood in the Public Security Bureau (PSB) to be told that a visa extension was “not possible”. We only had one option - to leave China before our visa expired. Back at the hostel we worked out the train times and bought the next possible train ticket to Turpan – a junction in  the train line from where we would try to catch an onward train to Kashgar and then a final sprint to the Kyrgyz border from there.


It was a shame that our stay in Chengdu had been cut short as it is a nice city with a pleasant climate. We had visited Chengdu when we first travelled in China 8 years previously. Since then it has completely changed. The hutong (traditional Chinese street) that the hostel was located on no longer had street vendors cooking dumplings and people having their hair cut underneath leafy trees. Instead, Chinese tourists thronged the streets full of boutique shops selling exquisite teas and designer handbags, and exclusive bars and restaurants. The middle class Chinese since our last visit had developed a taste not for eating dogs but for keeping them as pets. Lap dogs were popular but also larger breeds especially Labrador and Retrievers. I tried to befriend a yappy little dog but when it realised I didn't have any food it tried to bite me. When I did coax it into letting me scratch its back it tried to hump my leg.

Luckily away from the now Disney-ifed hutong there were still plenty of little local eateries. Our favourite sold steamed meat dumplings for 10p each during the day (two were plenty for lunch) and then it turned into a stir fry place in the evening, where we could select the ingredients to which the chef would add spices and cook up in front of us – delicious.

Chengdu market - fresh eel and toad for dinner anyone?

We preferred stir fry

A boutque hotel? No youth hostelling in China. The lovely Loft Hostel

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