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Lolo's Travels

Horse Trekking in Songpan

CHINA | Tuesday, 21 March 2006 | Views [8480] | Comments [2]

Hey hey!

Well, I'm definately sore, and pretty darn cold. Northern Sichuan can give Canada a run for its money in the snow department, let me tell you. I just spent the last 4 days on horseback, riding up into the hills and mountains surrounding Songpan ~ a little town north of Chengdu. Most of the time the saddle was padded with all the gear and horsefeed etc that we needed to carry with us, but that didn't seem to make a big difference to my butt! Honestly, I think the only thing that saved me was the tibetan massage I treated myself to once we got back to Songpan!!!

The trek lasted 3 days ~ it was pretty scary for a girl who hasn't ridden on a horse unless the circumstances involved a grade school birthday party, a high school rec & leisure class, or a touristy jaunt on the beach in the Dominican. We were literally riding along ice encrusted, snowy, muddy, slippery, NARROW pathways, right alongside treacherous looking cliffs.....why, oh why, do i keep signing up for things involving heights???? It took me a while to trust that the horse doesn't want to fall to its death any more than I do ~ a thought that comforted me until I realized that no-one, horses included, ever INTENDS to slip and fall. The incline of some of the pathways was ridiculously steep and seemingly perilous ~ feeling my horse lose its footing and fall to its knees is something is wish never to experience again. That said, once I got used to it (as you do, after hours and hours....), the scenery was breathtaking. We were on a path entailing a slow and steady incline, so as to reach 'ice mountain' in a day and a half.

So, on our way, we passed more yaks than I could count (but it was exciting each time!!!), flocks of sheep and goats, pheasants, tiny tibetan villages nestled into the mountains ~ complete with wildly colourful flags and (duh) tibetan people! It still amazes me to see people all decked out in such traditional clothing ~ huge yak coats belted with bright red sashes for men; red head scarves and intricately braided and looped hair, turquoise and silver jewelry, and long yak-skin skirts for the women. Even the little children were wearing mini versions of these outfits ~ we saw so many of them headed off to school with their flushed, windburned cheeks and intense eyes. People and animals aside, the mountains were also full of pussywillows, burrs, milkpods, birch groves, pine trees....gorgeous streams running through deep valleys with clouds laying low between the mountains...

 We stayed both nights in a tibetan home, about 4 hours from Ice mountain. The house was painted bright red, with murals of traditional tibetan life on all the walls inside ~ the heart of the home was, of course, the kitchen ~ where we were served soft steamed white bread, weak green tea, and spicy sichuan vegetables for every meal. I've drank enough tea to fill a thousand bathtubs, I'm sure of it!! The trekking group that was ahead of us had paid the family to slaughter a goat in order to supplement the vegetarian fare on offer, so we walked in past a freshly shorn lambskin, and watched two elderly tibetan men with weathered faces and watery eyes RIP into the skull of that poor little lamb ~ picking all the little bits of meat off, and ripping the jawbones apart. FYI, these 2 jawbone pieces were later used as 'guns' by 2 little boys. A different world, I tell you. Of course, meals were followed immediately with shot glass after shot glass of bai geo ~ nasty, nasty rice wine. But I guess it warms you up! It was a real family atmosphere in there after dinner, too ~ little kids climbing all over us, the men playing cards and drinking, the women knitting and everyone so comfy around the open embers they laid on a metal tray on the table. As the sole source of heat, I might add. Bed, for my friend Katy and I, was the cold floor in the hallway. Although the living quarters are above the stable area for the horses, the floor was still like lying on ice. We had them fill plastic water bottles from the kettle as crude hot water bottles...otherwise, I feel certain I'd have died. Those of you who know, know that I CANNOT stand the cold.

And yet, there I was the next morning, staring out at the freshly fallen snow, about to head even further into the bitter cold in order to see this ice mountain. I was bundled up in long underwear (songpan special ~ lavender lovelies, only $3!!), 2 pairs of socks, jeans, a sports bra, tank top, longsleeve tshirt, turtleneck, TWO hoodies, a red scarf/cape, yak coat, toque, and scarf ~ in retrospect, I'm surprised I could even MOVE, let alone ride a horse. We warmed up with yak butter tea ~ pretty much exactly what it sounds like, and about as disgusting as it sounds.....and set off. Never mind all that ~ the view from up there was incredible. Worthwhile, all of it. Blue skies, fluffy white clouds, a tiny wee hailstorm, and a little caravan of 4 horses and riders making their way to the top. Didn't matter that I couldnt' feel my toes, or that we had to walk back down ~ too slippery to ride! I loved it.

Finally, on the ride home, we passed by a beautiful tibetan temple, complete with golden prayer wheels, flags, and devout villagers walking the circuit, spinning the wheels as they went. It felt surreal ~ and not for the first time, I realized how lucky I am to be able to SEE all of this. So, now I sit in a smoky internet cafe, waiting for the 6am bus back to Chengdu tomorrow, about to head off to my bed, and the glorious warmth of an electric blanket!!!!!! I miss all of you and hope you are all doing great...

BRAUNWYN, let me tell you my heart stopped when you told me about that accident. I'm SO glad you're ok....!!!! lots of love to you!

xoxoxo laura

Tags: Snow



just found your site. very cool stuff. only read this write up, the rest looks cool too... going to be reading it for a while

  Gustad Mody Mar 21, 2006 4:24 AM


I'm interested in taking one of these treks. However, I have heard a lot of negative reviews about the outfits that do this. It sounds like you really enjoyed yourself, which outfit took you on your trek?

  Justin Jul 26, 2006 4:48 PM

About lolo

Me at CKS Intl. Airport, very bored.  I was there from about 12midnight until my flight to Singapore, about 7am.  Ha ha, and also ~ you can see up my nose!  (but I still like this pic....)

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