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Moresby Meanders Observations From an Ongoing Journey

Songpan - A bad Trip on an Otherwise Good Journey

CHINA | Thursday, 27 March 2014 | Views [627]

Behind the glass window in the ticket hall of the bus station at the northern end of Songpan in the Aba prefecture of Sichuan, a middle age woman methodically typed information into her computer, printed and stapled together a two-part ticket and exchanged it for a few crumpled notes. Two men in front of us jostled for position, received their tickets and sidled off. We arrived at the window.

“We want two tickets to Liangmosi”.

The woman behind the glass stopped for a moment.


“Right” I nodded.

She looked up at a man standing to our left; they exchanged a meaningful glance and the man scuttled out of the room.

“Wait a moment”.

The man reappeared, they swapped a few words I didn’t catch, and she again turned to me.

“No busses to Liangmosi”

“Tomorrow”? I pressed.


Confused, my wife and I stepped out of line.

We had made an impromptu decision the previous day to head north to the Tibetan border town. It had come highly recommended by some travellers we had met heading in that direction a few days earlier, as well as the hosts at our previous homestay. There, we were told, we could witness life in a genuine Tibetan town, as well as join a horse trek through the surrounding mountains and plains, staying along the way with Tibetan nomads. It sounded too good to miss. With no tickets available north from our previous stop in Jiuzhaigou, we were told to head south to Songpan. From there it would be ok. Yet, here we were, ticketless.

A little irritated by the situation I began to walk away from the window when a young Tibetan woman stopped us and began speaking in English.

“You cannot go to Langmusi. No foreigners allowed. The roads are closed to foreigners. Even if you’ve got a ticket, the police will check the bus at roadblocks. They will send you back. That is why they will not sell you tickets. Maybe you can go by private car, but not by bus.”

My natural instinct was not to trust this woman. Past experience while traveling had taught me not to trust people trying to push private cars, in English to foreigners at remote bus stations. “Really?” I said disbelievingly and began to walk away.

“Really, too much trouble on the roads up there, too many people burning themselves. The government doesn’t want foreigners to see.”

I stopped dead in my tracks. I had heard that self-immolation had been an increasing problem throughout the region in recent times, but was not aware of the extent of the situation. I introduced myself to our new friend and we began to chat about different ways we could make it north to the border.

Having gathered some further advice, we decided that if we were to make the journey it certainly wouldn’t be until the next day, so we checked in to a guest house and got on the wifi in order to do some fact checking. There was one thing for sure; finding concrete facts on travel within the region is not easy. The best source of information was found at www.http://thelandofsnows.com travel advice site, where the pollitcal and social issues surrounding the region are discussed in depth and the associated road closures and restrictions updated as regularly as possible.

Our options were to try and take a bus north part of the way to Zoige and attempt to get a connecting bus from there, or hire a private car and travel through the dark hours of the early morning and try to slip by the road blocks undetected. I was determined to make it… But first we needed some lunch and to get some more cash out in order to fund the journey.

In town we grabbed a bowl of noodle soup and discussed our options. It seemed with our time and money constraints we should try for the ticket to Zoige first and if there was no luck with that, we should be able to take out enough money to pay for a private car up and back, and fingers crossed, we would not be detected by the police on the way.

On the way back to the bus station we stopped to take out some cash in the main street of the town. There was no service. “Check with your card provider” the screen read. On to the next bank. Same result. And again. My card must have been cancelled. I had just RMB 1500 cash in my money belt, which would only cover the cost of the car one way. That was it, the last remaining hope; try to catch the bus to Zoige.

I wasn’t sure if it was the stress of the uncertainty but I was starting to feel a little off kilter. As we headed back yet again to the station I began to feel unmistakably out of sorts. My head swam and a feeling of dissociation came over me. I asked my wife if she was feeling ok. She reported the same sensations. Food poisoning? I didn’t feel particularly sick to the stomach and I felt no urge to run to the toilet. I decided it was best just to ignore it and try to secure the tickets.

Back in the station, we approached the service window once more. The woman behind the glass tried to ignore us for a moment and then, realizing we weren’t going away, she turned her head and scowled.

“Two tickets to Zoige please”

Something seemed to snap inside her head.

“No bus to Zoige. No bus to Langmosi. No bus!”

“OK, thankyou”, I replied sheepishly, as we slunk off, tails between our legs. Feeling a little shaken and very much defeated, we returned to our hotel. Sitting in bed my vision began to blur as the feeling of dissociation increased. I felt decidedly unwell and began taking extended visits to the toilet, shortly followed by my wife. Mild hallucinations set in. The unfriendly tone of the town became amplified by the bizarre, mind bending effects illness and I began to feel more than a little unsettled. I decided I didn’t like it here in Songpan, my wife agreed. Things were not going to go our way.

After a restless sleep, we awoke, packed our belongings and headed down to the station one more time. The early morning air was cold and the town was shrouded in an ominous darkness as heavy clouds hung overhead. The woman at the service desk seemed relieved when we ordered two tickets back to Chengdu.

I still today fantasise about what it would have been like to make it to Langmosi, slipping through the night like a couple of fugitives. If the cash had been available, I would have happily chanced the journey north to experience the beautiful grass plains extending across the foothills and up the mountians in to the clouds of Tibet. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be this time, but there is always the next.

Tags: china, langmosi, sichuan, songpan, tibetan autonomous region

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