Suitcase and World: Offroading in Tibet.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Offroading in Tibet.

On the road from Lhasa to Gyantse.
Our return from Lhasa back to Kathmandu was going to be an overland journey. Though I knew it was going to be a long trip, I was still excited at the thought of driving across the Tibetan plateau and then cutting through Himalayan mountain passes to reach Nepal.

As we set off from Lhasa, the ride was a smooth one. Our Tibetan guides often serenaded us, singing along with cassette tapes that had been brought along for the journey. I was riding with Margaret and Claire. We had settled comfortably into our seats. The day was beautiful and the scenery spectacular. Bright blue skies. Gentle, winding roads. Rolling streams. We kicked back and enjoyed the ride. Life was good.

As we rode along, I couldn't help but remember Baikuntha warning us that our overland ride back to Kathmandu would often be a bumpy one. We did hit a few bump stretches of road on our long drive from Lhasa to Gyantse but nothing noteworthy. Then came the "Yak Path" - an unpaved stretch of road from Rongphu Monastery to Nyalam. Claire, Margaret and I were in the back seat and we were being bounced around like lottery balls in a spinner! We all joked that at least we hadn't eaten any breakfast or drunk any water before getting into the car that morning! The person giggling towards the end of the video is me. It was either laughing, screaming, or peeing in my pants. Take your pick :-)

And then there was the scariest ride of them all - a three hour drive, nightime drive, from Nyalam to Zhangmu. The road, a mountain pass under construction. In order to allow for construction of the road during the day time, the only time that vehicles are allowed is night time. Fortunately, traffic from 8pm to 1am is one way going south towards Nepal - traffic direction is reversed from 1am to 5am - so we didn't have to contend with any head on traffic. It was pitch black and fog had started to drift over the mountain tops. rain started to fall as we got underway so the unpaved, hard road soon turned to unpaved, muddy road. As we drove along, we would come across the occasional waterfall - some large, some small. We even stopped under a couple of them to get a free "carwash". Although there were moments where seeing a waterfall was cool all I really could think of was "mudslide". Call me a pessimist but "waterfalls + mudslides + rain + fog" does not equal "Good Thing" when driving along an unpaved mountain pass!

Then there were the canvas tents that lined either side of the road. These were the tents that housed the road workers. For some reason, they erect the tents just inches from the road. Are they crazy? Often, the road was so narrow that we barely skimmed the outside of a tent. .....and with no rail guards to mark the edge, I prayed that our driver, even with high beams on, could see the road that I could swear didn't exist!

All along our road trip through Tibet, our driver and guide would often break into song, singing along with the music from the many cassette tapes that the driver had brought along. I often wondered if they sang along to distract us from our fears....especially on this ride. Before we got underway on our night journey, Baikuntha told us that we had VERY experienced drivers and that we were in good hands. The next morning we continued on our journey through Nepal and came across this sight.

We realized then just how lucky we were to have had our drivers and when it come time to figuring out how much to tip them for their efforts, there was no doubt that their efforts in getting us safely through Tibet deserved to be generously rewarded!