Currently we’re relaxing on the veranda of a bamboo bungalow in Luang Namtha, Laos. Recovering from 6500km thru China, mostly on the high plateau of Tibet.
Back to the post: The highest road in the world from West Tibet to Lhasa. 2500km over numerous passes over 5000m, on the plateau of 4500m, along turquois lakes and the mountain chains of the Himalaya to the heart of Tibet with its monasteries in historic towns.
Zanda, 18th September
Ali. The proud capital of West Tibet. It looks rather small; nevertheless it’s the 1st noteworthy locality since we’ve entered Tibet.
1st and most important: with Prado to the car doc. Examine why the hell 1 wheel makes some strange noises. Is it the wheel bearing, or should we change the axis, or maybe Prado cries for a decent home for sexy senior citizens? Who knows?
Anxious for the worst we wait for the diagnosis. And here it is. The brake pads we changed long time ago in Morocco were probably produced in China. And our car doctor has a lot of experience with this kind of spare parts. Due to certain economic reflexions of the producer the pads tend to expand while driving. Therefore, they slightly touch the disks – and that’s the sound. A quick cleaning of the pads’n’disks and the problem is solved – at least for the time being. If not, we’re recommended to cool down the breaks with some water. Cost of all: 0, because westerners even don’t know simple issues like these.
However still some signs of traditional culture; mainly in the shops selling lots of religious accessories.
A sumptuous dinner with some beer. Unfortunately we also receive a plate filled with greasy pork skin’n’beans. We had to ask for a doggy bag – sorry guys.
On the way some tire changing exercises, …
… the 1st pass with the Indian Himalaya Range in the background, …
… and we’re again on 5000m admiring the colourful mountains.
Later the famous Stone Forest in the surroundings of Zanda.
A landscape of loamy hills formed by erosion over 1000s of years.
Then we’re in Zanda. A small village in a lower part of Tibet at 3700m, only. The gateway to the Thoeling Monastery and the Guge Kingdom.
The next day a visit to the Guge Kingdom. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard about. Most people don’t. If you wanna learn all about this mystical place simply wiki it, or have a look at the pics below.
The palace, well protected high up on a cliff, …
… at the bottom a number of chapels, …
… a marvellous view from the top, …
Darchen, 20th September
After this absolutely fascinating place, far away from everything the next day we move on to the following must-have-been-place in Tibet: the holy mountain of Kailash. We drive some 250km; 6h on a good road to the village of Darchen.
… later lunchtime – unfortunately we’re constantly sent to these typical tour-group-eateries where you get the worst food at the highest prices. Places we’ve never entered before. Who knows, maybe it’s just part of the Tibet experience.
It’s a pity, surely there are much better places.
Darchen – in the past famous for its lack of any decent tourist infrastructure despite being the starting point for the famous Kailash Kora. Nowadays quite a change. New Chinese built hotels and GH, a number of restaurants and of course all kind of offers tourists may buy to fill up their cellars at home.
Unfortunately not everything developped for the better. We feel it immediately when we’re asked to pay the entrance fee for the 3 day Kailash Kora even before entering the village. Independently of whether planning to hike or not.
The whole area, including nearby Lake Manasarovar were commissioned to a tourism development company. Subsequently entrance fees rose significantly, roads were closed to traffic to promote their own extremely expensive transport facilities, etc. What a shame that tourism in this area cannot develop in a more sustainable manner in the profit of the locals.
Finally some excellent dumplings in a Tibetan restaurant.
It’s early morning and pretty cold. We’re on a hike at the starting point of the Kailash Kora. Exactly the distance Monika’s knee supports walking. A few pilgrims already on their way, the most energetic ones aiming at making the whole 54km of the Kora within 1 day.
We’ve planned to stay there overnight. Unfortunately the village at the seashore gives us such an abandoned and depressing impression that we decide to limit our visit and to return to Darchen in the evening.
So we simply have a stroll along the seashore, …
… and we’re on the way back to Darchen.
Everest Base Camp, 22nd September
Several passes well above 5000m rise up from the Tibetan plateau, situated at some 4500m; the Nepali Himalayan Range in the background, …
… and some more passes before we finally reach Saga in the late afternoon.
Saga: a rather non-descript town dominated by Chinese standard architecture. Nevertheless some interesting fellows and the opportunity to supplement our stocks. Especially Chinese non-perishable French bread – the only 1 available (tastes like an old foam mattress, but our only chance to evade the ever present noodle soup for breakfast).
We take the side road along Lake Palkül. The scenery is beautiful …
… and most interesting, this is part of the road leading to Nepal by the newly opened Gyirong Border Post. The road we initially wanted to take until we were informed that it’s still closed due to several landslides. We can clearly identify the junction of the road to Nepal. We see quite a number of trucks passing towards the border, according to the information we receive traffic seems to be pretty normal. Whatever. Maybe just 1 of the local mysteries we’ll never understand.
Some time later we enter the Friendship Highway. The road connecting Nepal and Shanghai until the road was partly destroyed by the earthquake in 2015.
Another mountain pass – this time hair pins only, …
Late afternoon we arrive at the Base Camp, altitude approx. 5100m. Initially we intended to stay at the GH of the Rongpu Monastery. As the Panchen Lama wants to visit this place tomorrow, his infantry has to make preparations – and to occupy the GH. So we’re left with the tent camp some km further up.
But Mount Everest remains pretty hidden behind the clouds.
The Tent Camp quite a big compound with some 50 tents accommodating 8-10 persons each. Nevertheless, not as bad as rumours say. In the evening well heated, provided you bring your own food you won’t sleep hungry and supposed you have your earplugs you may even sleep. Toilet: à la nature with 500 others or well protected in a row of 3 at a time.
The next morning: still cloudy and cold. Well below 0. Towards 9 am the sky starts clearing up.
Somewhen we can even see a bit of the top of Mount Everest. Convinced that this will be the maximum of the day we’re getting ready to leave. Poor Prado gasps a little – and that’s it. Of course low temperatures – cold diesel. So a kind of spa – a hot water treatment. Doesn’t help. It seems the only way to get Prado out of his hibernation would be to wait for the sun warming up its diesel pipes.
A little after 10am the sun starts warming up Prado. We apply some more hot water treatment; and finally with a huge cloud of white smoke Prado gets back on duty.
Shigatse, 23rd September
On to the monastery of Rongbuk. As the Panchen Lama should arrive this morning, odd tourists are not allowed in. So just a short look from outside and we drive back to the Friendship Highway leading to Shigatse.
On the way a last glimpse of Everest (right) and Lotse (left).
Then back on the Tibetan Plateau. Eastwards some 350 km, 7 h to Shigatse.
On the way another example how to economise public expenditures: Instead of having real policemen operating a speed trap and consequently filling their pockets they use a fake one. As he doesn’t collect money of the poor sinners to fill his pockets later on the government even doesn’t need to pay for the trial and the imprisonment.
Now we’re approaching the Tibetan heartland with bigger towns; the cultural triangle of Shigatse, Gyantse and Lhasa. Thus, no more awesome landscape, but great monasteries.
Nevertheless, until we arrive in Shigatse some more great vistas.
On the way we pass the milestone 5000. It’s just the distance to Shanghai. Happily we didn’t opt to reach this town.
Late afternoon we arrive in Shigatse.
The next morning to the must-have-seen-place in town: the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. 1 of the largest in the country; seat of the Panchen Lama.
Gyantse, 24th September
After all this splendour on to Gyantse. Just 100 km; about 4h drive on a good road. Rather boring due to the excessive speed limit of 30km/h. They note the time at the beginning of the journey and check it at the end. Hence you respect the limit or drive as usual and wait shortly before the 2nd check point until you reach the imposed driving time. Stupid – isn’t it?
Gyantse, a medium size town south of Lhasa. Famous for the Kumbum of the Palcho Monastery, a huge fortress and its old town. Don’t know what’s the Kumbum? Don’t worry, wiki knows it.
The next morning to the Palcho Monastery. Even if largely restored after having suffered from important damage during the Cultural Revolution, the monastery remains an atmospheric place with gloomy chapels.
Then a visit to the Kumbum, the 6 storey Stupa next to the monastery with numerous small chapels.
Lhasa, 28th September
Further on the Tibetan Plateau, along some turquois lakes, …
… on the way some tiny villages, admiring local beauties, and …
… then the 5045m high Karo-La, …
… some good views on the glaciers of the Laghoi-Kangri Mountains – unfortunately a place getting many Chinese tourists, thus parking there is now subject to prohibitively expensive fees. Happily this does not apply to cars just stopping in the middle of the road and consequently causing huge traffic jams. Whatever – who cares.
Then we arrive at the Yamdrok Lake. 1 of the holiest in Tibet; not only visited by many local pilgrims but even more by tourists coming from all parts of China. The latter 1s got some vista points. Of course immediately converted into a kind of Disney World to produce all kind of awesome selfies and other nice pics.
In town we stay at Yak Hotel: very centrally located, it seems it’s the place to stay and a narrow, full but secured parking for Prado.
Of course, the ultimate must-have-seen-site in Lhasa is the Potala. The former residence and admin. center of the Dalai Lama nowadays attracts so many visitors, that even a sharp increase in entrance fees could not stop them to come. So the guys introduced a reservation system to get your personal ticket. To reduce the number of visitors they made this system so inefficient that it requires at least half a day queuing up to get the reservation for the entry ticket only. Therefore, we delegate the task of getting the entry tickets to the travel agency of our guide Thubten.
Happy that we don’t have to waist all our time in getting these tickets we enter the compound, have ourselves and whatever we have x-rayed, our passports checked for any visits to terrorist’s countries, climb up the stairs to the palace, digitize the magnificent view from the top …
… and finally arrive at the entrance door to the Potala. There’s another counter. Our guide explains us that now we have to buy the entrance tickets. Quite astonished we learn that all the money we paid up to now has only been for the reservation of the tickets, but not for the entrance fee itself. Great confusion. Somehow our dear guide was not really too clear in this regard and our optimistic angle of view of all tasks confined to him leads to the situation that we even don’t have enough money to cover the additional cost for the real entrance tickets. Well, nothing to do. We remember well that most visitors to the Potala are rather disappointed and consider the whole procedure to get in not worth the effort. So we walk down again all the stairs and decide to limit our visit to the outside of the building.
… and the adjacent Jokhang – the most referred religious structure in Tibet. Thus, the whole area full of pilgrims in front of Jokhang, waiting to get in and on the Barkhor to circuit around the Jokhang.
Then on to Sera.
So far our adventures on the 1st part thru Tibet. More of the same and even much more of much different stuff in our next post.