Kangding, Sichuan, 2011-10-03
morning in Kangding the town is squeezed into narrow valleys where two rivers meet I was feeling the need to get away, having worked furiously the past couple of months teaching up to 30 class periods a week. I took four days out of the week-long National Day holiday and traveled west to Kangding, nestled among the mountains and a world away from Chengdu. Kangding is the county seat of Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and at an altitude of 2,600 meters (8,530 feet), the air is thin and the heart rate increases to compensate for the lack of oxygen. Kangding is the meeting-place of Chinese and Tibetan culture, and was an important stop on the ancient tea-horse trail. I caught the tail end of a procession at Namo Monastery. By the time I had my camera out and focused, the long Tibetan horns, drums, and other instruments had passed. The umbrella is a symbol of a high-ranking monk or lama. I’d been to Kangding in 2006 and 2007, but I was shocked at the changes I saw this time around. Not only has the city caught “development fever,” but it’s turned into an overpriced tourist town. Hotel and restaurant prices have risen steeply, there are upscale boutiques everywhere, and the city has extended itself at either end with new construction. I hadn’t remembered so much noise last time; everywhere was the blaring noise of too-loud car, truck, and bus horns, amplified by the narrow streets and the steep valley.