Scenic Route to Shigatse
The time had come to experience the wilder side of Tibet. Hooking up with two other Brits, both touring Asia and badly in need of a bath, a rugged 4WD and Tibetan driver were engaged for the following day. Our destination was Mount Everest on the border with Nepal, via a circuitous, backroad route that took in Yamdrok-tso Lake, the fortress town of Gyantse and Tibet's second city, Shigatse.
As we crept out of Lhasa before dawn in blizzard conditions, our driver Jamdun soon put pay to any further sleep with a tape of lively Tibetan techno-pop. In any other environment I would probably have cut off my own ears rather than listen to this ultra-cheesy production, but as we wound our way along valleys, across bridges and over mountain passes, the heavy bassline and catchy chorus proved strangely soothing.
As the first rays of sun illuminated our surroundings, we traversed the Khamba-la Pass (4794 m) and came to a halt above the sacred, partially-frozen Yamdrok-tso Lake. Ethereal early morning mist clung to the caramel-colored peaks on the other side of the fan-shaped lake, obscuring views of the huge Mt. Nojin Kangtsang massif.
The exposed turquoise waters were thrown into sharp relief by the intense white of the snowy shoreline and the cobalt hues of the rapidly clearing sky above, and everybody piled out into sub-zero temperatures to appreciate the awesome landscape. A few minutes of joyful photography later and I was back in the warm confines of our vehicle painfully nursing two sets of numb fingers – Sherpa Tenzing would have been deeply scornful.
Hugging the frozen shoreline we reached the remote village of Nangartse, briefly stopping for breakfast before climbing again to the Karo-la Pass (5054m) and the glaciers of Mt. Nojin Kangtsang. At the foot of one mist-shrouded glacial tongue a couple of colorful flag poles and squat stupa had been erected, accompanied by what must be one of the highest (and most primitive) toilets in the world. After experiencing near frostbite in my fingers earlier, however, I had no wish to risk any other bodily extremities checking out this thoughtfully-located facility.
We finally reached Gyantse in mid-afternoon, with stiff backsides and growling stomachs. Once an important trading center on the routes between India, Sikkim, Bhutan, Tibet and China, the town's imposing fort, Gyantse Dzong, still dominates views of the valley. Gyantse is also the site of the Pelkor Choede Monastery and beautiful Kumbum Chörten (10,000-image stupa). Commissioned in 1440, this religious structure contains 108 chapels on its four floors, and is the last of its type in Tibet.
After several years hacking his way through London's PR and advertising jungle, and another couple of years in recuperative sabbatical in France and Korea, Daniel Allen's quest for a more Bohemian-styled life of art and journalism led him to the Chinese capital, Beijing.
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