16.02.2013 - 09.03.2013
We made it to Sri Lanka, and have now been here for a wonderfully warm and relaxing fortnight and are loving it so far. China feels like a long time ago, but the last couple of weeks there were certainly eventful, some of which for the wrong reasons. Our plans to visit Labrang Monastary in Xiahe were curtailed at the police checkpoint 20 minutes before arriving there, as we were informed that foreigners weren't allowed into Xiahe, due to unrest by the Tibetan monks there (we found out later). This was made worse after the 3 hour bus ride which sped through gorgeous desert landscapes escalated our excitement about going to Xiahe, on a day where we left the hotel at 5am. On the plus side, we got to ride in a cop car as we were escorted back to the bus going in the opposite direction to Lanzhou where we had started the day. Dave rather enjoyed sitting in the front, whilst I played the part of crook in the back.
So, being stuck in Lanzhou for the few days we had planned to be in Xiahe was frustrating as well as particularly cold with fresh snowfall every day, but we brought our flight to Chengdu forward by a day and soon (but not soon enough) we were in Chengdu in the company of some adorable pandas of the Giant and Red varieties. Our visit to the Panda Breeding Research Centre was really interest from the scientific point of view but also to be able to see these illegally cute beasties which look like walking talking cuddly toys. The babies were especially my favourites but we easily spent hours watching the cubs climb trees, mock fight with each other and generally sit around nibbling bamboo and playing around.
We also spent our last day in China getting to know Chengdu, people watching in the park where the locals drank tea, played all sorts of card and board games, danced to music in the squares, drew chinese calligraphy on the pavements with wet sponges and generally did all they could to break the conception of Chinese people being cold and withdrawn. They defintiely have a sense of humour and know how to have fun! We also saw some great street art in the ancient alley ways on Chengdu, which showed a quirky and modern artistic side to the country.
Definitely a good way to bookend our visit to this fantastic country.
Now though, Sri Lanka is wonderfully warm. The chilblains from the Chinese winter have been replaced by mosquito bites, but so far, that's the only downside. We took a train running down the coast to Tangalle on the southern coast, and have felt incredibly at home. The culture and food is similar to my Pakistani upbringing, which is really nice. The people are very friendly and are generally curious about me and why I'm hanging out with the white blonde haired surfer dude, when I look so obviously like one of them. It's fun here and so much like an island paradise, it reminds me of our honeymoon in Mauritius and Madagascar. We've also dragged ourselves away from the coast and today spent the day in Yala National Park for a jeep safari. We were lucky enough to see a leopard, elephants, crocodiles, eagles and more. We have more mini-safaris planned, and then the plan is vague. We have 4 weeks left here, before we jet off to Singapore for a week and then fly back home. The time is going fast but we're determined to make the most of our time, and Sri Lanka is definitely a good place to do that in.