The Lonely Planet Guidebook describes Langmusi as “an Amdo Tibetan village nestled among steep grassy meadows…a delightful place surrounded by countless red and white monastery buildings, flapping prayer flags and the mesmerising sound of monks chanting at twilight.” This may have been true a few years ago, but now nothing could be further from the truth. The grass meadows are rapidly giving way to a massive building project, and the mesmerising chant of monks, if it even exists, is drowned out many times over by the din of construction. A toxic looking river clogged with litter writhes its way painfully through a network of concrete channels – so tamed into submission that it more resembles some tired circus animal.
From the moment we stepped off the bus and into the muddy quagmire that is the main street, we could barely contain our frustration at the devastation that is being wrought on this place. Through the cranes and hollow carcasses of half-built apartment blocks one can just make out the golden roof of the temple at the centre of the old town. This cluster of Tibetan buildings on the hillside sits awkwardly with the large concrete town which is rapidly consuming it. We wondered what all the new buildings would be – hotels, apartments, shops? If this is what Chinese tourists want, then there is no hope for the conservation of China’s ethnic minorities.
Josi had been suffering from a bad stomach for 2 weeks and decided to stay in bed and start a course of antibiotics. Desperate to get out of town, John set off walking towards a deep gorge which stretched several miles to the west. After half an hour he was hiking through it, enjoying the peace and tranquillity. But then he came across two tourists with a Chinese guide. “Are you alone?” the guide asked. “Yes” said John. “Ahh, then you should turn around now! Tibetan people are uneducated and they have been robbing tourists! Very dangerous” he warned. Could it really be that one of the most peace-loving people on earth had resorted to violent crime? Unconvinced, John pressed on. Rightly or wrongly, we later concluded that the guide’s comments were just more propaganda to undermine the Tibetan cause.
Wholly unimpressed with Langmusi, we decided not to stay as long as planned and instead boarded a bus heading to Songpan.