Monday, October 15, 2007

Rongphu to Zhangmu.

It was early morning at Rongphu Monastery. Baikuntha's alarm clock went off at 7:30am. Barry braved the freezing cold to watch sunrise over Mt. Everest. I had had a difficult night sleeping and I was toasty warm in my sleeping bag (with two blankets piled on top) - no way I was going to join Barry. Within the hour, we all had to get out of bed - just a few minutes to brush our teeth and grab a cup of altitude sickness tea. We quickly packed up and piled back into the LandCruisers for the day's ride.

It was an overcast morning and there was a light dusting of snow on the ground.
No sooner had we made it down the road when the LandCruiser that Barry, Bec and Jo were riding in had overheated. Steam was rising from the hood. Apparently, breakdowns are not unusual so the drivers are well trained in auto repair!

Since our car was okay, we gathered as many empty water bottles as we could and we double backed to a mountain stream to fill the bottles. We then headed back to the broken down LandCruiser and the drivers refilled the radiator.

Back on the road.

As the sun rose, the clouds began to clear - it would turn out to be a bright, sunny day! The landscape was as stark a landscape as I had ever seen - not anything green in sight!


Our ride soon went from unpaved road to ......"what road?" We were on the
Yak Path - a very bumpy, off road ride! The first few minutes were fun but soon it got exhausting - especially for me as I hit my head on the car window more times than I can remember!

Even with being bounced around like clothes in a dryer, I was so tired that I fell asleep and was pretty much asleep for most of the 3 hour ride to
Lao Tinggri.

A quick stop at Lao Tinggri for lunch and then back on the road. Our next destination. A checkpoint just outside Nyalam. On the way, I caught my last glimpses of the Himalayas. By now, I had gotten so accustomed to the view of snow capped mountains that they no longer seemed like such a remarkable sight.



. ....and then we pulled over at a vista point and I this is the view that I saw. It took my breath away - the majesty of the great Himalayas cannot be captured in a photo.

It was the last time I would also see the prayer flags and the stone cairns that often dotted the ground nearby. It was the last time I would feel the cold wind blowing through my hair....and it would be the last time I would see Tibetans in their native land.

Though it was sad to be leaving it all behind, I kept thinking just how lucky I was to have been able to see the unique sights of Tibet and experience things that so few others get to!! As we drove off, I kept looking out the window until I could no longer see snow capped mountains.

Our next destination was a checkpoint just outside the town of Nyalam where we joined a convoy of vehicles. We arrived around 5:30pm and were told that we would not be able to leave until around 7:30pm - that's when they would open up the mountain pass, under construction during daylight hours, to vehicles. Southbound vehicles travel from 7:30pm to 1am and northbound vehicles from 1am to 7:00am - actual start times seem to depend on what the authorities feel like. The gang passed the time, waiting at the checkpoint, playing Kings and Asses.



Just as night fell, the convoy started to move. Our first stop was to a gas station to fill up. We then made our way on the mountain pass. While Margaret, Claire and I sat quietly in the back seat (okay....., as quietly as you can while not panicking because you can't see the road!), our guide and driver sang along to Tibetan music playing on the cassette. I don't know if they were doing this out of boredom or to try and calm us but it worked for me! The song that you hear them singing is one that they both seemed to love - it was played numerous times on our trip and each time it played, they sang! As you watch the video, try and spot the road :-)

I wish I had been able to see the scenery that was passing outside my window as it would have been interesting to see how the landscape transitions from the stark, treeless Tibetan plateau that lies to the north of the Himalayas to the lush tropical highland that lies on the southern side of the moutain range. From the few glimpses that I was able to get, we at some point drove through what looked like alpine forest.     We arrived into Zhangmu late at night. We checked into our hotel which was pretty much a hostel - not luxurious but comfortable. Margaret, Claire and I shared a 4 bed room and there was a dormitory right outside our door where a group of about 10 backpackers slept. Facilities were really basic. There were two squat toilets on our floor. Showers and "Western style" toilets were on the floor below. We were told there was hot water but by the time I got in, the water was tepid - still too cool for the hot shower I had been looking forward to.    On the 5th floor of the hotel, there was a platform from where we could see the town (which hugs the hillside) and hear the sound of water raging over rocks. Looking up, you could see the star filled sky. The sound of the running water had a very calming effect on me - needed it after that ride through the mountain pass! I lingered long enough to see the stars disappear over the horizon as the earth rotated! A quick dinner and it was into bed. I slept like a log that night.