19th December to 6th January

Monday 6 January

Hi everyone. It’s now the 6th of January, and we start again our adventure. We are in Kunming and arrived yesterday by train from Sichuan. We get up at 6h30 to finish packing our stuffs, and go to the airport to take the plane for Nepal. But first, here are a few lines of our two rest weeks in MianYang, in Sichuan, for the Christmas holidays.

On 19th of December, we took the train from KunMing to MianYang, in the Sichuan province, the city where the parents of Xin (Julien’s girlfriend), Li and Chen, live. The train is very comfortable, and we have a good sleep inside. The line has been built in the 70s, and passes through magnificient scenery in the mountains, between the provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan. Unfortunately, we don’t see anything of it, because of the night and bad weather. We arrive in MianYang the next day in the afternoon, and Li, the mother of Xin, comes to pick us up at the station. We are now no more in charge of the travel and can start to relax. MianYang is the second city of Sichuan. It is considered a quite small city, with 600 000 inhabitants. The city is an important centre of science and technology with university and part of the military nuclear program. Like most of the cities in China, they are building a lot of towers, generally 10 copies of the same tower in an area.

The weather is not so cold in Sichuan, the temperatuers being around 5ÂșC, but very humid. And if you add to the very often clouds due to the position of MianYang, in a basin, the smog you can find in all the Chinese cities! well, we did not see much the Sun or the blue sky. And in the houses, they generally don’t use much heater, but prefer to wear more clothes, including coats.

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In Sichuan, they eat very spicy, but Xin’s parents take care to prepare for us non spicy dishes. The local specialty is hotpot, or Chinese fondue, a kind of soup where you cook your food (meet, vegetables, noodles, mushrooms, seafood, !). We ate yak meat (it tastes like beef) in hotpot. Also, we ate several times lamb because for winter solstice it’s tradition to eat lamb in China. They produce a special pepper in Sichuanm that has the particularity to anesthesiate your tongue, and so not feel the spicy… this pepper is particularly used in the hotpot, and the homemade sausage (that dry in the street).

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We had many lunches and dinners, with the family or the friends of Xin’s parents. In the restaurants, it’s impressive how they serve you dishes. First, the tables are of around 10 people, they are round, and with a turning part in the centre. The waiters put the dishes on this rotating support, so that all the people can take what they want just by turning this part. And there are generally 20 or more dishes! so sometimes there is a pyramid of dishes in the centre. Generally, there are tables for women, where they talk and eat, and tables for men, where they eat little, drink a lot and smoke a lot. And at the end of the meal, more than half of them have not been eaten! so sometimes, food is put into plastic bags to bring back home.

Even though it is Christmas time, they are very few decorations. For the Chinese people, Christmas or Western New Year are just normal day, where they go to work normally. Only the shopping malls show some decorations: Christmas tree, some snowmen, ! with the goal of course to show how nice this Western tradition is, and to make more business. Xin’s parents bought for us a Christmas tree, that we prepare on Chistmas Eve. We feel a little more like Christmas now!

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Although we did not cycle, we still kept in mind our project: we visited two professors in the South West Science and Technology University, in MianYang, and one professor of the South West Economy and Finance University in Chengdu. We also were interviewed by the Sichuan radio, to talk about our trip and our feelings on Chengdu.

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During these two weeks, we visited the Huge Buddhist monastery in MianYang, enjoying a giant white reclining Buddha statue, and hundreds of human-size very colourful statues of followers.

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We went several times to Chengdu, for meeting the professor, going to the radio studio, or take the train. Chengdu is the capital of the province of Sichuan, a concentration of 10 million people. Of course the city is very polluted, with a constant smog. To decrease the number of cars in the city, they forbade some cars to drive in the city according to their numeral plate: cars ending with 1 and 6 are forbidden on Mondays, with 2 and 7 forbidden on Tuesdays, and so on! I don’t know if it is really efficient, but it confuses a lot. In Chengdu, we visited the Kuan Zhai alley, and the WenShu monastery. The Kuan Zhai alley are a preserved or rebuilt part of the old city of Chengdu. It is like the image we have of the traditional Chinese city (as you can see in Tintin for example), with pedestrian paved streets, and small houses or shops of dark grey bricks on the side. With a lot of people in the street, and many vendors. The WenShu monastery is a very peaceful place. When you enter, you leave the effervescence of the city, silence comes around you, and you feel so good. There are people praying, and burning incense. This monastery, although well adorned, is not for touristic visit, but for the local people to come to pray.

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So after two weeks of rest and big meals, we take the train back to KunMing. In the train, we get our first troubles for this new year. We come back to KunMing on 5th in the evening to take the plane on 6tj. However, the ticket reservation we printed shows that our plane ticket is on 5th. How is it possible that we mistook the date? Now what can we do? Get out of the train to take a plane to KunMing, to arrive faster and take the plane on 5th? Buy a new ticket on 6th? After some more research and many phone calls, Xin tells us that our plane is correctly on 6th (it had been changed by Opodo some time ago, but we had not printed their last reservation). But only the first part of our trip is confirmed, from KunMing to Kuala Lumpur. The second flight, from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu has been cancelled by Opodo for no apparent reason. As soon as we arrive in KunMing, we contact Opodo to know what’s happening. Apparently, they changed the date, and their system crashed, but now there should be no problem for our second flight to Kathmanu. Malaysia Airlines confirms that now they have our tickets for this second flight also. It’s a pity that we don’t stay in Kuala Lumpur a few days! we were already full of joy to meet again Kurt and Roihan.

So let’s come back to today! we just got up, it’s 6h30 and we pack our bags for the plane. We leave He Jian’s house around 8. Thank you He Jian for welcoming us these days in KunMing. It’s a pity the weather was not so good in December, we would have enjoyed much more the City of Eternal Spring. At this time, it’s the rush hour in KunMing, so all the taxis are full. But we find a particular car that proposes to drive us to the place we tell him for 30 RMB. So we go like this to the bicycle shop, where we had left our bikes before Christmas. Hui, the owner of the shop, arrives at the same time.

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We load the van he booked for us, and we can go to the airport. As we check in, in the Malaysia Airlines counter, the responsible of the company comes to help us. He had been contacted some months ago by Roihan, to make sure that we could take the bikes in the plane. So there is no problem for the boxes. We only have to pay extra, since in total, our luggage including the bags and bikes reaches 90kg, instead of 30kg per person allowed. So we pay 2040 RMB for these 30 extra kilos. It has been very difficult to pay this extra, since we do not have enough cash with us, and our cards have problems to be read in many Chinese ATMs. But we found one that works. Finally, we pass the X-rays control. Here too we have problems. We had forgotten two spanners in our hand luggage. It is considered as weapon so they have to be checked-in. The responsible from Malaysia tries to make them pass the control also, but without more success. He’ll then try to send them to KL by another way, and there we should go to pick them up with the luggage, to check in again.

The travel to KL is very nice, with a beautiful view on Laos and Thailand. We remember the places we have been these past months as we fly by them! Yunnan, Bangkok, Phuket, Surat Thani, Perlis, and Kuala Lumpur. In KL airport, we also have some trouble to get the ticket for Kathmandu, but it is solved quite fast. In the end, we do not go to the luggage belt to pick up eventually the spanners since we would have to pass all the customs, and X-rays controls. So we’ll do without them to mount the bikes, and we’ll buy some new in Nepal. One thing we saw in the KL airport is that the extra batteries are not allowed in the hand luggage. Although we did not have problems with the dozen we had in our luggage, we have to be more careful in the future about this!

We take the plane to Kathmandu without more problems. We arrive in Kathmandu at 22h30 local time. The time zone of Nepal is a bit strange: it is UTC + 5h45. Why? Because they want to be different from their big neighbour, India, which is UTC + 5h30. As soon as we arrive in the airport, we see signs praising Nepal: Nepal is the second country in the world with more water resource, it has the highest summit and the smallest man of the world, the country has never been taken by foreigners, it has most World Heritage Sites, the country opened its borders to foreigners only in 1950, ! It’s easy to get the visa and pass the customs. Once outside the airport, we start mounting the bicycles. We are constantly surrounded by 4 or 5 Nepalese, curious to see what we are doing. It takes us quite maybe two hours to get ready. We had dismounted many things on the bikes to make them fit in the boxes. Finally, around 1am, we leave the airport. In direction of the house of Sophie, our couchsurfer. It’s not far away, but we have to go around the river. The road are in very bad states, with many potholes. And with no lighting, so we go very slow. Also, many of the road indicated by the GPS are only dirt tracks, or maybe are cut at some point. So we prefer to make a longer route, by taking big roads. We arrive to Sophie’s house around 2am. She is still awake. We have a nice chat with her, about our trip, and she explains us many things about Kathmandu and Nepal. She has hosted a lot of travellers, and likes this contact. We enjoy very much our bed tonight, after such a long day.

And the video? Here you are!