(This post is part of a series I am doing called “First Impressions. . . my first few months in Asia“. If you would like to read about this series and other articles, please CLICK HERE.)
Z-land is not the real name of the place, but it is, in fact, real. It is a politically charged region of the world, so I am leaving its real name out of this article. I would like to avoid having my name and it linked in search engines. I have been there several times, now. Each time with official permission. However, I just need to not mention the exact name. I hope you understand! This is my impressions (and a few pictures) from the first time I visited. . . um. . . Z-land.
As a broad summary statement, to say it was a different world would be the understatement of the year. Definitely unlike any place to which I have ever traveled. Though my body felt like it was being constantly pummeled for 4 straight days, the time was unforgettable and invaluable. Many of the faces and images will be burnt into my mind for a long time to come.
The Z-land people perhaps made the largest impression on all of us. They really are delightful (sorry if this word doesn’t sound like me, but it was most appropriate). Their smiles are as electric as any I have ever seen. They have a quiet confidence that seems to just stick out.
We had the privilege of staying in a hostel in the middle of the ancient side of town. It was a place that catered to western hiker/drifter types. We were able to stay for the equivalent of $5.70 a night. It was one of those places where the bathroom
was the floor below us and the shower down yet another floor. It was adequate, though. The only part that bothered me was that it was incredibly loud at night, with the sounds of honking taxi’s and music and stray dogs ringing out for most of the night.
Z-land is easily one of the most beautiful places on the earth. It is housed in the midst of the largest mountain range in the world. As a result, the flight to get there is amazing.
Our first full day in Z-land, we rented Land Cruisers and went to the top of a mountain which overlooks a huge lake. It was an incredible sight, with the blue water and the towering snow caps in the background. At the very top, we were a little over 15,500 ft. above sea level. For those of you keeping score at home, that is 1,000 feet HIGHER than Pike’s Peak. Oxygen was so scarce that you could only walk around 20 yards before you would need to stop to catch your breath.
On our way to the mountain, we went through several small villages. This was easily one of the highlights for me. It was amazing seeing where and how the people live. It was primitive to say the least. At one point, a group of naked boys run up to our car. They had been swimming and ran over to greet us when they saw us coming. It was quite a sight.
Also in Z-land, Yaks are everywhere. They are huge and are used for everything from plowing fields to providing the meat for Yak burgers. We ate our weight in Yak meat while there! One guy was walking down the side of the road with his Yak. We stopped, got out, and posed for pictures with it.
The Z-land people are known to be one of the most staunch Buddhist peoples in the world. You see monks everywhere. Many of them are surprisingly young, often becoming monks in their early to mid-teens. There are temples everywhere.
The first day in Z-land, three friends and I went out to visit the main temple for this entire sect of Buddhism. It was literally within 150 yards from our front door. It is a type of Mecca for the Z-land Buddhists. People will literally WALK hundreds of miles to get there. It was both wild and troubling to see such legalistic devotion on the parts of the people.
After looking around for a little while, we went to the roof to take some pictures. While up there, three little boys (approx. 10 years old) befriended us. From then on, they took it upon themselves to be our personal tour guides. They were extremely cute and fired up to be hanging with us. They took us everywhere. They took us to a bunch of places that I’m sure foreigners never have the opportunity to go.
No matter where we went, though, people were always very welcoming to us. We needed to use the rest room, so one of the little boys took us to his home that was directly behind the temple. It was great getting into a Z person’s home and even meeting his grandfather. We ended the day with them taking us to a place for dinner. The food was good. It was in a place that rarely saw foreigners, so many of the local children heard about us and came into the restaurant just to be near us. It was really funny, though not a very relaxing meal.
The third thing about Z-land that I will always remember (unfortunately) is the climate. In a word, it is brutal. In the low points of the city it is 12,500 ft. above sea level. With the altitude being this high, dehydration is a constant threat to foreigners. I must have drunk 8-12 bottles of water a day. I still felt dehydrated most of the time.
With the altitude change, most of use suffered with headaches, off and on, for the entire time. I don’t think I have ever taken so many aspirin in such a short duration of time. The second day, I caught a stomach virus and began puking my food up. It actually provided for some great stories.
There is one story I will share (the others are just too gross). We decided to tour the local university campus. After we got to the campus, we broke up in two’s, separated, and walked around. Let me remind you that these people see very few foreigners. Anyway, as I began to walk with my friend Tim Waddell, it came with a fury. I feverishly ran over to some nearby bushes, got on my knees, and began making some of the most ferocious sounds known to man. I heaved, dry heaved, and then dry heaved some more. We were laughing about what a freakish sight that must have been to the locals. I’m sure I made some dinner table conversations that night.
Though I swore I would never go back, I have now returned to Z-land three other times. Each time, I have enjoyed it more and more…each time my heart for the people and place has been enlarged.