Slowing Down

Qutan Monastery Murals

I’m not sure I ought to put my name to this shot… © Jo James

I’ve discovered that I’m a bit of a hypocrite. While I love and wholly subscribe to the idea that travelling slowly is preferable to travelling quickly, I’ve been whisking my way along my route as fast as I can. In the last ten days, I’ve been to some completely incredible places and stayed for just a few hours before hopping on the next bus out. I calculated yesterday that in the first nine days of my trip, I spent over 30 hours on buses, 18 hours on trains, visited eleven temples, three holy mountains, and stayed in seven different hotels. I’ve barely had time to write my notes up, let alone write any new posts, for which, gentle reader, I apologise.

Clouds and Monk at Qutan Monastery

Clouds worth gazing at © Jo James

Yesterday was a case in point. I had travelled for three hours from Xining to visit Qutan Monastery (瞿昙寺 Qútán Sì), which I completely fell in love with – it’s a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in a remote valley that was built in the Ming dynasty in the style of the Forbidden City by a brown-nosing abbot. Most Tibetan monasteries were seriously damaged during the Culture Revolution, but somehow Qutan escaped with its stunning wall paintings intact. Today, the community of ten monks have a quiet life – from what I saw, they divide their time between dozing in the sunshine and cloud-gazing. (One monk called to me as I was taking photos and pointed up at the sky – “Take a picture of that cloud, it’s so pretty.”) Snowy mountains in the background, bees buzzing around the courtyard gardens, it was completely idyllic. How long did I stay for? Forty minutes.

His Holiness the Dala Lama

His Holiness on show in his home province © Jo James

I know why I’m trying to go so fast (missing Mr Yak), but it’s a false economy in this case – the faster I move through places, the less information I absorb, the more I forget and the more time I have to spend doing background research to fill in the gaps. It’s clearly time to slow down – which I’ve spent doing today, catching up with myself in Xining.

Latte Art in Xiahe

Xiahe’s Barista © Jo James

The first week of my trip was excellent – interesting and productive. China still has the capacity to surprise me, even in places I thought I knew well. Xining turns out to have a buzzing cafe culture, and latte art has reached Xiahe. There are Tibetan monasteries where people can leave furtive offerings for the Dalai Lama. A curious traditional herbal remedy is improving livelihoods across the region. Local buses make stops to eat yak yogurt (yay!), rather than taking coffee breaks. Obviously it’s not been bad, but it could be even better if I wasn’t rushing myself – next time I have the opportunity, I plan to join the monks in their cloud-gazing for just a little longer.

P.S. And yes, it did stop raining 🙂

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