Road stories #46: Hitchhiking in Western Sichuan – from a Tibetan nomads camp to a fancy hotel (+VIDEO)
Hitchhiking on roads that existed no more
Hitchhiking out of Litang was a nightmare for two reasons. Firstly, the town was undergoing a total face-lift, so all the roads were either turned inside out or they completely ceased to exist, not to mention the road signs which stubbornly pointed in outdated directions. Secondly, we quickly learnt that Tibetan people were not that eager to stop for hitchhikers, an attitude which we decided to put down to their general mistrustfulness towards foreigners.
So, by the time the first car stopped for us, we had been standing on a dirt road (which we had no idea was the right road out of town) for about 2 hours, being, every so often, thoroughly scrutinised by the passing drivers. The car that stopped was a minivan packed full with a family and what seemed like all their lifetime’s belongings. Their car pulled over after a passer-by hailed it and pointing at us, hurriedly started explaining something in Tibetan. The door opened and after making some space for us and our stuff, which required some high-level Tetris skills, we were in.
Visiting a Tibetan nomads camp
The family dropped us off somewhere in a village along the main road and the waiting game started again. This time there was no question whether it was the right road or not, but the majority of the passing cars didn’t fancy stopping anyway. Those that did, asked for money.
The second lift were two guys who, after about 10 minutes of driving, explained they needed to make a detour but they would shortly be back on the road and take us further. As the whole conversation happened without using any language mutually understandable by both parties, other than pointing, gesturing and guessing, we had no means of asking them how long the detour would take. But since we were desperate as not many people were keen to stop, we decided to take the chance and stick with them.
Soon after that we left the main road and were driving off-road deep into the unknown hills of Western Sichuan. After 20 minutes we began to worry that we would never get back to the road, but it didn’t take that long until hundreds of tents appeared right before our eyes. They were all different in terms of size and colour and you could see numerous men, women and children, lots of them in traditional Tibetan clothes, walking between them, leading horses, cooking etc.
The car stopped in front of one of these tents and we were invited in. A whole family of four generations greeted us and told us to sit among them on the floor. There were cushions, mattresses, cooking equipment and a little stove. Soon the food was brought and it was a real feast consisting of rice, various types of meat and vegetables, and we were amazed by how much skill must have been needed to cook that great a meal in such rustic conditions.
Staying in a fancy hotel for next to nothing
After the meal the guys, as promised, drove us to the next town and we waited for the next lift.
Now, this place was nearly deserted and we only saw a few cars go past. One of them was a minivan packed full of people who initially wanted money but agreed to take us for free in the end (as we learnt later it was a taxi, so no wonder they wanted money :)
We went through one of the wildest stretches of this part of the province and hardly saw any other cars. In one of the villages on the way, the driver got out and bought horribly spicy chicken feet for everyone which, despite our best intentions, had to be hidden away as we simply couldn’t finish them off.
It started raining heavily and it was almost dark when we got to Xiangcheng, their final destination, but we were still far from the place we were heading to, so we decided to hitch on. After a hefty walk through town, we got to the road but although some people did stop, they were going in a different direction. So after another hour or so we decided to call it a day.
There was a little truck guest house nearby, so we went to enquire about the accommodation. It was more than basic, with toilets and showers outside, but the teenage girls running it recommended another place, which they even called for us. It was only slightly more expensive than their guest house, but on the business card they showed us it looked much more comfortable, so we decided to give it a go.
They called a taxi for us, which was ridiculously cheap and saved us walking up a steep hill in pouring rain. Having arrived at the hotel, we realised it was one of the poshest places we would have ever stayed at and looking at the room prices listed on the electronic board, we weren’t sure we even wanted to try it, but it was getting dark and we had no other lead, so we approached the receptionist. She didn’t speak English but understood we wanted a room and showed us the cheapest one, which was still far more expensive than we were willing to pay. I pulled out the business card the girls gave us and pointed at number 80 written in the corner by one of them. This was the price the girls had originally quoted, which is around 12$. I very much doubted they would agree to this price in such a fancy place, but surprisingly it did work and we got a magnetic card that open door to a fancy room. A sight very much appreciated after a hard day!
written by: Ania