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Snow-Capped Mountains to Sand Dunes

One day from Lhasa to Gyantse

sunny 18 °C

Today, we embarked on our week-long road-trip from Lhasa to Kathmandu. Driving out of any built-up area is always interesting - if a little hair-raising - and we passed twelve foot long scaffolding poles being transported on bicycles, and groups of kids in grubby blue and white tracksuit uniforms on their way to school. Later, we saw a group of maybe fifty children performing jumping jacks en masse in a school courtyard.

As we drove out of Lhasa, we passed what we took to be some kind of police or military establishment. A pair of very smart young men stood to attention either side of the entrance, and wearing green uniforms at least two sizes too big for them. We had to smile at the giant sun-umbrellas they had been given to keep them cool. Bright red, and emblazoned with the Red Bull logo! Perhaps the Chinese military has a sense of humour but, in any event, talk about Communism meeting Capitalism!

We did not drive directly from Lhasa to our first overnight stop in Gyantse. Instead, we diverted to the Kamba La Pass to admire a staggering view of Lake Yamdrok set amidst snow-capped mountains. It was quite a drive up to about 5,000 metres, and it was our first real taste of cold since Botswana! My new jacket came in very handy, although the vista would have enticed me out of the car either way.

7,200 metre Nojin Kangstan overlooking Lake Yamdrok

We were stunned by the beauty of this vista. It was a beautiful day, and as a result the water in the lake was just a perfect blue. Bluer, even, than the waters of Jiuzhai Gou, and beautifully framed by the snowy peaks in the distance. Just a taste of things to come.


Back down the Pass (the road straight through is closed right now), we stopped at one scenic point and I took advantage of the bathroom facilities (i.e. the nearest bush that would preserve my modesty). Little clumps of toilet paper (and no doubt other delights if I had taken the time to look) marked the spots visited by others, and as I tip-toed my way out of the bushes, I noticed that some people had apparently been caught unprepared, as they had used one yuan banknotes as toilet paper! There's a fortune down there if someone is willing to, ahem, scrape off the residue.

Our chariot. Who needs seatbelts?

We drove for almost ten hours in total, including one final diversion which we certainly were not anticipating! Whereas just a few hours earlier we had been surrounded by snow-peaked mountains, we were suddenly surrounded by sand-dunes! We'll need to do some research to figure out what exactly is going on here, but we had fun running down the dunes, marvelling at the incredible diversity of geography that we were experiencing in just one day.

Our shadow stretched out 15 metersdown a sand dune


Leaving the sand dunes behind us, the last few hours took us through Tibetan farming villages. Houses seem to be quite similar whether they are in a rural or urban setting: grey stone, square buildings with skillfully carved and brightly painted window frames and doors, and four chimney-like structures at each corner adorned with Tibetan prayer flags in primary colours. Our visit coincided with harvest, and so the fields were hives of activity: reaping crops or ploughing land. It was wonderful - if humbling - to experience the incredible work associated with the harvest, and - while Chinese writing was omnipresent on signs in the villages, even on the children's school uniform - we felt closer to the real Tibet - if that still exists - than we did in Lhasa.


Our excitement grew as we approached Gyantse, inspired by the towering 13th century fortress Byantse Dzong which looks like something straight out of Lord of the Rings. We quickly checked into the Jian Zing hotel, which had suspiciously smelly rooms and beds hard even by this region's standards, but were more anxious to explore the environs and find something to eat. Immediately outside the hotel, we chanced upon a tailor and took the opportunity to have Lloyd's trousers patched (remember the ones that were damaged in the laundry in Kenya all those months ago?). The tailor and his assistant found the silver duct-tape that's been keeping the trousers together quite amusing, but made light work of patching,

The best five yuan we've spent in a while....

We also couldn't resist diverting to the local fruit and meat market, which was close to shutting up shop, but offered unique insight into life in a small Tibetan town. The market was indoor, although both ends of the 100 metre long structure were open to the elements. Along the length of the market, there were four rows of stalls (although only three were in action), variously displaying fruits, vegetables or meats. The veggies were gloriously fresh and presumably organic: if that is indeed the case, then we are converts because these veggies were picture perfect. At the meat end, we saw a yak that had been cut into maybe twenty different pieces, some still with yak hair attached! Just about every part of the beast was up for sale, and only the entrails had been discarded and lay inches from our feet. About a dozen dogs roamed the market, gnawing on bones or looking for the next tasty morsel.


Down one full side of the market were the homes of some of the vendors: maybe five metres square. By peeking through some of the doors which opened onto their own stall area, we could clearly see the sleeping area, the cooking area, and television blaring one of the many Government CCTV channels.

After an adequate if not particularly tasty dinner at Tashi, we strolled back to the hotel, avoiding streams of spit and who knows what else falling from the windows above, and picking our path carefully in the midst of street garbage, stray dogs (appropriately termed 'mangy curs' in our Frommer's), and the odd cow or goat. At the end of a glorious day, we were charmed by a tiny black kitten that had apparently been locked out of its home. For the record, I've not allowed myself to pet another cat since I left my twelve year old cat back in California in June. But this one was perhaps the hardest one to resist so far.


Posted by jacquiedro 19:23 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world

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