China : Paradise in East [ Day 2 ] Morning starts with same old hiccup – findng a vegetarian diet. Our stock of instant noodles and cereals comes handy. Making coffee, and then cereals in electric cattle I had packed from Canada played role of a life saver in China. We were out by 12.0 noon and this time again we found ourselves roaming on streets which doesn’t show any shopping regions. I needed a bowl, spoon for cereals – thus we explored prices and articles in a local mall. After spending good one hour there – we tried our hands on chopping for a camera in a Camera market- but prices and build quality of the product was much higher than same available in Canada. Amazon looks much cheaper and providing wider choices than what I was watching on display in Chinese camera market. We had a lunch of Pizza with Coffee and then took metro to come back. That was end of the day for us. Prices are high where foreigners venture areas and those who lands up in China like us, thinking there will be cheap, cheap cheap….there is nothing cheap, at least we could not find anything cheap in that color and quality.
I think, one have to be precise or explore manufacturing outlets perhaps- that is only possibility of getting anything cheap, although-h I have serious doubt that business there too will be on volume based
China : Paradise in East [ Day 3 ]
We had to packup today, our train for traveling to Tibetan Plateau was leaving Shanghai at 12.05 PM and by 9.0 AM we were all ready to move out. Same old coffee and cereals help us in fixing up a healthy breakfast. Traveling in metro in China is very fulfilling experience for we Indian born. One can see people going to work, business and how to behave, act in public. People coming from all almost, every walk of life, almost every genre and character. I was once again watching youth, middle aged and Old generation of Chinese , all happy and contended. They are helpful and very positive people. Could not see depressed and sad and bored people. You can hear someone talking, women always find subjects to exchange notes J Shanghai railway station was a shocking experience – it look like a International airport and railway system is tweaked in a way that thousands of people are handled without any practical difficulty. Everyone shows ID and ticket before they enter in main building and then they move to respective platform. There are shops on both sides of a long hallway – people eat, buy necessities and then move to their platforms. Train number and departure time is displayed and 30m before departure, railway staff came to open gates and pubic moves in. Train was parked and one attendant was standing at gate- we didn’t knew which coach and which seat is depicted on ticket – so it was like going to basics. Showing ticket to every second attendant and we walked from Coach 14 to Coach 6. Finding seat was same exercise, showing ticket and making gestures…and were into Chinese AC TIER- 3 coach. Indian railways have to learn a lot about manufacturing f coaches. Chinese seems to e very easy, practical and very high quality in maintenance of sheets, blankets, pillows and general cleanliness. Our coach was full of people and there is Public Address System in every coach…local music plays on and it was a refreshing experience to listen to light music while on a long journey. There is no shortage of food and drinks being sold during journey and I don’t see escalated priced as we see in India. It was very good experience to travel in train in China- only sad portion was severely sick companion, suffering from throat and high fever …still managed well. Over to tomorrow evening ETA of JHANGYE.
China : Paradise in East [ Day 4 ]
Chinese train coach is perfect example of how engineering is used in benefit of people. There is 24 x 7 boiling water available and this is life line of one and all traveling in that coach. From Green Tea to staple diets of many variants of instant noodles – clean and hygienic boiling water is made available. Toilet sets are squatting / Indian style and there is no “western” seat option as we mostly notice in Indian Railways. Flush was without flowing error – and I see no contamination or malfunctioning of this system- there is suction as we see in planes and two flushes of water to start and end process of flush. Toilet paper was not replaced after it finished ..I assume Chinese use water to clean up and there was tap of water available for this purpose. A room freshener placed to give traveler a non-stinking smell- was successful attempt. Handwash – Shave and for Face wash, there is separate compartment with two sets of cold and hot water taps. I found Chinese with great civic sense, they do not litter, they respect others with great dignity and specially woman, kids and elders are treated with great care and honor. In this journey, I could not see even a scrutiny glance of any male towards any female, even youngsters were busy on their phones and as language was biggest barrier – there was no communication initiated from anyone. Train coach attendant , the most important and stressful job, I can say. She in responsible of .. 1. Identifying and admitting passenger – she stands out of coach and made checks and admit passenger. 2. She is responsible for all electrical gadgets and maintenance of break pressure and other circuits- although there are alarms, but she keep an eye on all readings. This includes, coach AC temperature, music being played on public address system. 3. She is cleaner and sweeper too. She mops and cleans coach floor almost every 4-5 hrs. 4. She takes care of toilet upkeep, supplies and general cleanliness. 5. She takes care of garbage bin- imagine people generating huge garbage of noodle cups, bottles and other things – she keep changing plastic bags and handles disposal of garbage. 6. This is her duty to make aware a passenger when his / her station approaches. 7. She opens Exit door and let passenger go- doors and locked and key is with her. Passenger can not just drop from a journey without exchanging ticket and informing her / documenting a early exit, if required.
All these duties are performed with a Walkie-Talkie set [Kenwood] which every policeman and railway servant carries on train. There is plenty of food and fruit available and there is lot of verity. Our problem was communication and it was very hard to make anyone understand that we need Vegetarian diet. In absence of internet and active phone number – we were paralyzed. Thanks to my Canada supplies of noodles and Cereals- it came handy in addition to fruits. Prices are fine by Canada and Chinese standards but very high by Indian standards. A 8 Yuan Instant noodle cup comes to 80 INR which is considerable inflation. There is designated area / seats made available for those who wants to eat. A window seat – with a tray provided for collecting garbage which one can throw in coach garbage can, later on. Chinese loves to eat and their choices are having lot of options too. Traveling in China, you can not miss perfect blend of Westernization with culture and tradition. Right from shoes, they are mostly of international brands,all made in China but some locals were wearing local made leather shoes too. People mostly wear jeans, pants and I could not see any “traditional” dress in Metro, Cities, towns and even in villages. T Shirts, Shirts are national dress of men and woman wear various tops, t shirts, shirts and other dresses and there is no hesitation in keeping dresses as airy as possible. Young girls I Shanghai wear jean shorts, and sometimes they are considerable short by any standards – but as I mentioned above, woman in China seems to me more safe and secure than any developed country / civilization of Europe or North America. Cell phones are having English keyboard but language used is Chinese ! China’s national chat software is WeChat and national search engine is www.baidu.cn Our journey ends with Coach attendant ordering us “ follow me” – wish she could have generated a smile, but taking consideration into her such a hectic and responsible job- I think I can live without having one. 😛 We came out from station – and from Exit , we entered into Entrance to get Tickets of return journey issued. There was no TAXI , TAXI mafia after us – no one came close to us offering any ‘ services” and after getting tickets [ Showing Passports ] we came out from station, having no idea where our hotel is. I personally do not like this blind movements in some alien nation. While Cheena, as usual is tension free and enjoying views from a “ woman’s “ perspective – I was desperately looking for some sign, some indication that we are heading towards “ West Ring Road”. Cheens confirmed that hotel was 5-6 kms distance from railways station and as usual, male mind in such scenario is not to take risks ..I inquired from driver – speaking slow, imagining he will be able to catch up RING ROAD atleast. None ! I was talking to a wall – all I could understand was, 2 minutes drive more. He was right – he charged 14-15 Yuan and this was very honest and rightful charging…I was ready for paying him 60 because he made signal of 6 – it was Kms and not money he was trying to convey. Check in, was smooth as usual and after recording our passports – we were given a room which was much better than anything we encountered in last 4 days. But we have to buy a jacket, managing dinner and have to inquire about our journey to Danxia. Lot of time went into struggling with language, requesting shopkeeper to type MILK POWDER …and after buying some eatables – we were looking for jacket which has now become a expedition in itself. We could not find what we were looking for and after spending good time- we reach back to hotel at 10.0 PM…too tired….I dozed off without any memory of where I am .
China : Paradise in East, Visiting Danxia GeoPark [ Day 5 ]
We started late from Jhangye but got bus ready for Danxia. It was 40 kms. Travel and I didn’t miss typical Punjab driving this time. It was a sher contract of driving rules and behavior I saw in Shanghai but here, I was seeing rash and risky drive – thank heavens, bus driver was not speeding. We were dropped at roadhead – gate of GeoPark was 500m walk. Sun was harsh and need of umbrella was realized. After purchasing water bottle, we paid 120 Yuan [ 60 / Person ] in which 40 Yuan is park entry and they charge 20 for Bus ride. Bus leaves you at one site and move on with passangers who had seen that site – you are free to spend your time at this site. Come back and board a waiting bus- move to next site. Almost every site has considerable stairs to climb – but this is worth of the effort. Views were stunning, almost unnatural – Sun through clouds provided every possible shade for some classic clicks. In this manner, we hoped from one site to another and by evening, we finished a tiring day under Sun and climbing thousands of stairs. Danxia is super natural, almost artificial…without understanding rock formation , chemical reactions- it is impossible to understand how surface of a huge lake turns upside down due to tectonic plate collisions and then various chemical reaction on sediment rock, made such a beautiful colors and formation.
China : Paradise in East, Jhangye to Xining and Qinghai Lake [ Day 6 ]
Traveling on a bullet train was very good experience and the way Chinese had handled crowd, ticketing and discipline is awesome. There are no pushes and pulls as we see in India and Japan at railway stations. People are sitting in waiting rooms and as soon as railway employees opens gates – crowd walks to designated platform and stand under supervision of staff , in line as per their compartment numbers. When train arrives, attendant opens door and people walks in – settles their luggage. We could not buy anything on train – packed meal was 40.0 CYN but I was not interested in experimenting. They do not supply / have sweeteners along with Coffee or tea and this is major setback for those who do not want to consume raw sugar. Coming out from railway station and my perfect tourist ordeal started. We were misguided from ‘ Inquiry” and it was not shocking for me when I was told mya gorgeous girl that there is no bus for Qinghai Lake. She wanted us to board Taxi and I knew there is catch ! Walking out from station and we were into another domain now – BUS STAND ! Surrounded by agents, taxi drivers – this was a typical Indian scenario. And everyone was trying to convince us that there is no bus for this lake – I wanted to try my way. Lot of attempts to make people understand – wrong pronunciations perhaps and we were escorted to a bus by a booking clerk, only to be told in English by very young girl that we are in wrong bus- she took extra pains to get out from bus and I was of the view that she would be pointing or guiding us to right place- wow ! she was a agent , and was trying to handover us to taxi drivers …I thanked her – made her understand that I am in no mood of using Taxi for this region. Walked back to Bus Terminal, again…with rucksacks ! My shoulder 😛 Again started the same exercise, trying to make myself understood and one driver made a nod that he is going to Heimai. We boarded – again a dramatic experience , this was a wrong bus and he was going exactly opposite to where we should be heading to. I tried to make open, social conversation with whole bus – but no one understood a single word I was speaking ! Noticing my concern, driver indicated that he is not going in that region and this was when we found ourselves, standing on road with our luggage. Trying to grasp and still confident that we can make it – we wanted internet connection, a free open WiFi – I noticed a Bank and we walked in. Guard tried to help – but language was a big barrier and this was when someone from inside the bank came towards us. This guy speaks English and he guided us to take a taxi and go to Pai Lo bus station and from here, we will get bus for the lake ….. HellLooJaaah !!! We got taxi, reached Pai Lo station and it was 2.0 PM – our bus was at 4.0 PM and a chance talking, trying to make sure that destination printed is exactly the same where we want to go – we become friends with a English speaking young couple – Anna and her husband ..we were travelling together for 3 hrs. We saw beautiful mountain topography with huge grasslands, shepherds and their hurds…it was coming back home, coming to life ! Getting down at Heimai was again a dramatic experience …WIND and COLD ! High velocity wind and bitter cold – changed my idea of using swiss tent for night stay – we wanted to shoot star trail / galaxy but cloudy weather plus wind and cold forced us to look for hotel room now. We walked into Anna’s hotel – she had booking made through some online portal – and we were sharing room with them – and paying CYN 180 for a night. This is same like any Himalayan mountain city – tourists are charged like that- although I was not expecting this in China but so far so good, keeping an eye on clouds, waiting for Sky to be clear..I dozed off. It rained and sky was cloudy in early morning 4.30 AM as this was time for sun rise shoot. Qinghai lake is a salt water lake having radius of approx. 220 kms. This is summer resort and I noticed many youngsters with friends, newly married couple coming here for some lifetime memories. Situated at a height of aprox 3200m – weather changes here very quickly. There are numerous tented colonies alongside the lake but mostly these are supported by taxis and buses who bring tourist directly to these places. My original plan was to stay in these, because these gives freedom to move in and out in night – people who are interested to do night photography like star trails and galaxy shoots- tented accommodation suits them but I have to change my plan right at the moment I landed in Haimai. One, We decided to try for taxi or bus to go ahead OR to reach back to Xining. Inquiries about TAXI went offbeat – they were asking for almost five time , we wanted to spend thus focus on turning back from here- got a bus within minutes and we reached Xining , got our tickets printed from Ticket clerk [ Reservations made online gives you a booking number, you have to show your passports and booking number to get electronic tickets , you can not board or even enter with a printed paper in hand ] By 2.30 PM we were in hotel – checked in, dropped luggage and as we usually do, were out in city to eat something.
China : Paradise in East, Xining to Shanghai by train [ Day 7,8 ]
By now, we were used to procedures and methodologies. Our train from Xinning to Shanghai was on 9.30 AM and by 8 we were entering in Xinning Railway station. Biggest setback for a foreigner , traveling in China by train is if one is told, this is not the correct station. There are stations like Xining West, Xining North and so on. One have to be sure that Taxi driver understands you correctly, and best method I found was showing them train ticket. So far, so good although there is room for time to move by taxi from one station to another.. Anyway, train stations are just like airports- I could not find any difference. They are super clean, people movement is under disciple and everything is in order and at place. It was easy to find our platform, I confirmed I am at right place by showing ticket to a railway officer. Settling down, purchased water, instant noodles and snacks. At 9.0 AM, we were checking in- this procedure is done by making lines and tickets, their validity is checked electronically and public is allowed to board train which is parked with attendants standing outside their coaches. This was SOFT TOP seats, this means two berths at one side – and it was a cubical of 4 seats. There was TV for every seat but it was not working. There was restaurants, we had one of the best food , thanks to a English translator but it comes expensive too- we spent 126 Yuan on this Lunch which is way expensive for a traveller or mediocre Chinese. June 14th 2016 – We reached Shanghai at 12.20 PM and after walking in Sun, realized that we reached at wrong hotel but right chain of hotels. All ends well- booking shifted and it was time to watch Euro Football – only channel one can enjoy at present. Its 8.0 PM and I am hungry – going out for experimenting another encounter, you have to have lot of patience as no one understands you and you don’t understand anyone !
China : Paradise in East, Shanghai Shopping
It took us two days of hit and trials of searching yahoo and getting info which was least related to us. We were looking for shopping regions and what we were getting was expensive and posh regions like East Nanjing, West Nanjing like sports which were not what we were looking for. International brands and expensive jewelry is available in India and Canada too. AT last we found Luban Road, this was famous Camera market where one can buy new as well as second hand, repairs and almost every possible camera/ photography accessory. But you never can trust on it’s being original – China is famous for fakes. Luban road has one Mall which was good place for various shopping articles- I especially liked Bone Chine Dinner Sets. Staff was good and we moved to YunYuan Garden using Metro to East Nanjing and then changing line to reach this Mecca for shopping, eating out and having feel of past and present of Shanghai. This garden belong to royal family and you still can see Princes Statue there – its architecture is old Chinese grandeur days…and you can eat lot of variety of food and snacks here. Shopping is huge criteria – there are malls selling various things, and pricing is your art and smartness to handle bargaining- Chinese are mostly smarter than us. They have pretty good idea of what you would come to – they pitch so high that you cant buy them out. I experimented with coming down to 30% of pitched price and I pretended to be walking out – she called me back and we had a deal ! Mostly, tourist shops situated in key points and roads are expensive because …they have to be expensive- same thing which you bought for 50 Yuan would be 350 Yuan and she don’t even bargain ! I spent almost 3 days in shopping in this region , eating out, experimenting with various foods…and trust me, it was never enough ! Shopping is an art- needs lot of patience..and good memory too. You should be knowing / having pretty good idea of what you saw, its quality and pitched price.
China : Paradise in East, Goodbye Shanghai, Good Bye China !
Hotel chain we used for these 5 days was HANTON – and I found this very good one. We decided to check out at 12.0 noon and move to airport. We were of the view that as our departure flights are close- we will be comfortably handling check-ins and baggage issues, if any. But we came to know we have different terminals. Check our ticket carefully, both terminals are kms apart- Cheena had slight issue with her Baggage, they objected on her shopping of nail polishes and lipsticks. Do not buy these from China- your airline may not allow- but my airline had not issues, and I managed to get clearance without much fuss from China Eastern Staff. Security clearance was easy and immigration department took 5 minutes – I am sitting 2 hrs to go for boarding and cursing non-availability of internet. This is law here, that you have to have a active number to avail free wifi and in hotel, they document your presence and usage to certain router. There are no free wifi which works on any laptop or cellphone without having a active sim. Going back to home is always a emotional and very ‘homecoming’ feeling- when and where these two weeks gone…I have no Idea. Seeing Tibetan Plateau and Silk Route from Chinese side was very enriching experience …Canada Calling !!!