Another Day in Paradise . . .

13 Jun

So, time to explore the rest of  Tibet. Or, at least some of it. So, we pack ourselves into a couple of LandCruisers and set off West.

Wednesday

First stop is the giant Buddha carved in the rock – local legend has it that it appeared by magic….

Leaving Lhasa (5)

we continue through the green and fertile Nyangchu Valley… and climb… and climb…. along twisty bends that should appear in a James Bond movie. The views are stunning over the mountains in the distance, and eventually we crest the Kang Pa La pass at 4700m above sea level. At which point Scott and I stage a rebellion. They’re not going to stop so we can take pictures over the valley! We resolve this fairly quickly (simply by getting out of the car) and get our pictures of the beautiful valley stretching for miles below us, and the mountains rising into the sky behind.

DSCF5960Kang Pa La Pass (5)Kang Pa La Pass (16)

On the other side is the turquoise of the Yamdro-tso lake, shaped like a scorpion poised for attack… the lake is a beautiful deep blue.  Prayer flags are everywhere, ready for the prayers to blow off into the wind.

Yamdro-Tso Lake (11)Yamdro-Tso Lake (25)

And so, too, are the souvenir sellers. We particularly liked the use of this snooker table

Yamdro-Tso Lake (24)Yamdro-Tso Lake (30)

We climb again to the Karo-La Glacier, by now at 4960m. I can feel the lack of oxygen, but it’s not really affecting me much. I just don’t plan going jogging for a bit. The women are all looking for a few yuan for a photo, although I managed

Karo-La Glacier (8)Karo-La Glacier ladies

And then we arrive in Gyantse, a town that seems largely untouched by the Chinese upgrade programme. Since we’re pretty early arriving, Scott and I set out for a walk, reaching up to the walls of the monastery, deep red brown in colour high above the town. There are gorgeous views over the town, too, showing clearly the ‘courtyard home’ with the house built around a central courtyard. Prayer flags adorn the roofs, while ingenious solar water heaters wait to collect the sun’s rays to boil the kettle, and cows happily sit in the streets as tractors drive past.

Around Gyatse (5)Around Gyatse (9)Around Gyatse (15)Around Gyatse (20)

There are more prayer flags to be found on a rocky outcrop above the town, while the old fort dominates the skyline

Around Gyatse (30)

We try to walk up to the fort above the village.. at which point, as if by magic, a young woman appears to tell us that it’s closed. We actually thought that’s what we were visiting… but we were mistaken.

And then dinner with a smiling chef with pyromaniac tendencies. And a brilliant line in caramel banana.

 

Thursday

Next morning, it’s off to the monastery in town. Kubum monastery means 100,000 images in Tibetan. The 35m-high chorten (stupa) is pretty amazing.. each of the levels has a number of little chambers, 77 in total, containing statues, Buddha images, gods and more. The views over the courtyards are impressive, with the faithful still pursuing their ritual walk and devotional pilgrim’s progress. Here, I decide that it’s definitely worth while paying to take some photographs inside, for the princely sum of 20 Yuan. So forgive the extra pictures in this edition! There are some totally gorgeous sand mandalas in incredibly vibrant colours. There are monks in morning meditation and discussion in wonderful headdresses. There are walls and walls of books and commandments and commissions. There are dozens of statues of Buddha, of scholars, or gods and demons. There are stupa in memory of previous heads of the monastery. And I do also pay for pictures at the top of the stupa – it seems a shame to climb so high and not get a photo.

Kubum Monastery (5)Kubum Monastery (20)Kubum Monastery (27)Kubum Monastery (35)Kubum Monastery (46)Kubum Monastery (65)Kubum Monastery (72)Kubum Monastery (79)Kubum Monastery (104)

After another long drive we turn up in Shigatse. If Gyantse was charmingly backward, Shigatse is a bomb site. It’s like the entire town is under construction. Lunch is at the Tashi – who completely forget to cook my chow mein. 

In the afternoon it’s time for a walk to visit the largest Monastery in west Tibet, the Tashilunpo monastery, founded in 1447 by a disciple of the first Dalai Lama. Hidden in here is the world’s largest gilded copper image (at over 26m high) of the future Buddha.

Tashilunpo Monastery (8)Tashilunpo Monastery (16)Tashilunpo Monastery (25)

This dude in the courtyard is playing some pretty funky tunes – to untrained ears (viz, mine) it sounds a lot like a banjo, and we’re expecting him to break into Big Bad Leroy Brown at any moment. I tip him a few spondulicks, but to my shame, I find the beggars outside and their cries of “Hello, money” and (worse) “Hello baby money” to try my patience (and perhaps tear too deeply into my soul).
Tashilunpo Monastery (1)

In the evening we decide that discretion is the better part of valour and choose not to risk the bomb site of Shigatse and eat in the hotel restaurant. Which is shut. The only restaurant we can find is the Tashi… who manage to cook me a meal this time.

Friday

This time we make our way to the Sakya monastery. Sakya is one of the four Buddhist sects – Sakya don’t believe in reincarnation, and the monks are allowed to marry. I’ve got to say, I am suffering from monastery overload. I sneak a couple of pictures – but in particular we are impressed by the huge array of books that line the wall behind the stupas of the previous panchan lamas (heads of the monastery)

Sakya Monastery (8)

Sakya Monastery (2)Sakya Monastery (4)

There’s a brief rebellion – our guide has suggested we go to Everest early since the weather might hold. Initially this sounds good, until we find that this will cut the tour short by a day, abandoning us at the border a day early. My passport will not let me leave until Monday, and the others have transport arranged. After discussion we settle for the original plan. We’re not convinced by the excuse of Everest views, and suspect the drivers and guide want to finish early.

And we’re off again on the crazy westward charge.. accompanied by Bollywood videos on the in car DVD. It’s dry season here, but when the snow melts, the water roars off the mountain, tearing chunks from the soft rock and carving deep grooves in the mountains before rushing through the valley driving everything in front of it. Man’s attempts to stem the flow seem often ineffective, and we see many signs of earthworks that have failed to withstand the mighty force of nature.

Gyatso-La Pass (9)Gyatso-La Pass (11)

And then we crest the Gyatso-La pass at 5200m above sea level – the highest mountain pass in the world -and descend (a bit) into Tingri. Tingri is growing slowly.. but the great opportunity here is to actually take a walk amongst the towering mountains. We are greeted in friendly fashion by the locals.. although the cry of ‘”Hello money” is starting to wear thin. The views are stunning though, and even a short walk reveals views over the Himalayas.Tingri (6)Tingri (9)Tingri (10)

The views are great, the room is OK – just the facilities are starting to get worse… no shower, the bathroom is an outside squat toilet over a cess pit, and water is provided in a thermos with a bowl to wash in. Oh, but the views, the views…..

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