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Total Solar Eclipse-July 22nd 2009

CHINA | Tuesday, 4 August 2009 | Views [733]

A river ran through it

A river ran through it

I woke up too early, probably because the Chinese group on the floor below had departed at 4.30 am; I must have become confused.  Eventually, when the breakfast of steamed bread and honey was finished, we set off to find the precise coordinates, which marked a good spot for the observation. 

There were at least two experts amongst us, and they discussed the ascension stars, the proximity of mercury and the distance of the nearest mountain to our spot.  It was good; our excitement increased from overhearing their knowledgeable banter.  Some of us felt rather absurd, travelling thousands of miles for just 4 minutes of darkness.  Nevertheless, it was the phenomenon that we all sought and it had already been witnessed from other places.  These far flung sites made great anecdotes to share with one another.  There was the one on the Lizard in Cornwall in 1999, the one in the Soviet Union the year before, the friend of a friend who had been to Egypt to see it, and the commitment to the next one, in Wyoming, in 2012.  Suddenly, we had galvanised as Eclipse Chasers.

En route, we passed several Tibetan watch towers in the area known locally as “Minyag”.  These towers were built with mathematical designs of 8 corners, star and square shapes from the 11th century onwards.  The village homes were brightly decorated with ornate window sills presenting the phases of the moon, Buddhist mandalas and colourful flowers.  Dahlias and cornflowers floated above the front flower beds.  There was a sense of prosperity and community about the area. 

As we continued, we started to descend deeper into the valley.  It was lower down than we had anticipated, but we followed the course of the river, passing meadows full of wild orchids, harebells and cowslips. 

Then we paused, checked the map, and scuttled out of the bus with as much of our equipment as we could carry.  It had already started, from 8.00am or so, and now it was getting seriously close to the time of totality.  What if we missed it?  At 9.07 a local farmer passing on his motorbike, stopped to wonder why we were staring up at the bright sun in the middle of the road.  Francis passed him an eclipse viewer, with a bit of adjustment, he nodded in agreement, yes, the sun was getting darker. 

By 9.10am, the sky was dark and the atmosphere had changed.  Everything was calmer and there was less noise a very few disturbances.  Only the horizon was glowing with the last glimpses of the sunlight.  Someone counted the duration, one minute, two minutes, three minutes, four minutes...

After we witnessed the solar eclipse, we drove onwards across the plains to Litang.  It was a long drive and we passed nomads on the plains keeping yak and children in harsh, but beautiful surroundings.  The roads were difficult, but they presented a challenge to the Chinese cyclists who were making a 30 day journey to Lhasa from Chengdu. 

When we finally made it to Litang, our hotel manager announced that there was no possibility of our staying the night, on account of the sub-station, which had been vandalised for metal the night before.  the robbery had cut the power supply to the whole street.  Amused, but in need of comfort, we found a “foreigners accepted” hotel of dubious sobriety and dropped our bags there.  Dinner was eaten across the road at Mr Zheng’s Lonely Planet approved restaurant. 

Oh my, Litang...what a wild and dusty town!  There were horses tied up in the street, staggering boys, colourful suits, furry hats, boom boxes blaring...all sorts of wild capers carrying on.  Of course, we were cautioned by our guide not to sign anything or to speak about anything untoward to anyone.  Harmony and perfection don’t always ride side by side.  What a great town.

Tags: solar eclipse

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