Tibetan Pilgrim
On Pilgrimage in the Land of Snows: Visiting the Sacred Sites of Tibet

 Mount Kailash

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Golmud 10 Aug 2004

We arrived in Golmud tired and with Ray feverish. Whatever he got, whether from the tick bite in Wu Tai Shan or from food, was really wearing him out. Golmud was to be our recovery stop and now that Ray is on antibiotics we hope to continue on the pilgrimage shortly. But not before I add a note about Golmud, city of cities!

Kippling coined the phrase, "the Back of Beyond" to describe the lands beyond the Passes of the high mountains that surround the Indian subcontinent. Well he might have been referring to Golmud! For this is truly the Middle of Nowhere. A town invented by the Chinese, built by the Chinese for mining and military purposes, and completely inhabited by the Chinese. It is a dream of Beijing that sprang up in the provinces, a little Rome in the wilds of northern England. All around are hundreds of miles of sand and stone and treeless hills and mountains. Not even a blade of grass in many places. Ray spotted some antelope from the train window at dawn before we arrived (I looked but missed them trying to focus my bad eyes), but that was about it for fauna as well as flora. It looks like the landscape around Leh in Ladakh, for those who have been there: pinkish hills and desert.

Golmud city is ... interesting! It is about ten blocks by ten blocks. Look down any street and at the end you can see the wilderness beyond just at the end of the street. The streets all end in dust and stones. But here in the center of town, things are jumping! There are luxury stores like Pierre Cardin and Italian clothiers, an outdoor gear shop featuring Swiss made imports, and this Internet Plaza with the fastest and best connections that we have experienced yet in China. All this at the end of the world. Hard to grasp when you try to put the entire picture together. I theorize it is all a kind of compensation for the Chinese who have to live out here. The best of modern China in the Wasteland. Fast food McDonald's-type restaurants, bars, shops and fashion. All to make up for having to live nowhere's ville. I keep thinking though about the marketing guys at Pierre Cardin's HQ in Paris. Did one of them suddenly get a brilliant idea and announce to the Board of Directors one day that it would be a really brilliant idea to open an outlet in Golmud?

The guidebooks describe Golmud as a hellhole. It isn't. Just small, weird, and restricted in the things you can do here. If you stay in the center of town it fools you. But "out there" is Tibet and the wilderness that the locals are trying to forget. I think the wilderness will win out in the end. When the resources run out no one will stay and the sands will sift back into town and erode even Pierre Cardin!


Text Copyright © 2004 Christine Skarda