Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Gyantse / Shigatse

Road Trip! We had three days in Lhasa and were fully adjusted to the altitude. Now it was time to hit the road. Today we were off to view Yamdrok Lake, the Gyantse Stupa and Pelkhor Choede Monastery. We were going to travel approximately 350 km including the climb up the Kampa La pass which zigzag up to 4700 km. Our final stop would be Shigatse, gateway to Everest.

Leaving Lhasa we went through the first of what would be many police checks. All told through this trip we had to stop for 11 police and 2 military check points. The military check points were a bit intimidating. Remember Tibet does have a history of rebellion since 1959 and the young soldiers have indoctrinated well. I was more nervous going through check points in Tibet then I was when I crossed the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Wait, no I wasn't. In Egypt we were told that if the bus broke down or had a flat tire we were to duck down below the window otherwise there was a good chance that we would be shot. Yes, that was a bit more nerve racking.

We were heading towards Mt. Everest so figured our direction would get more impressive as we went along. Our first stop was atop the Kampa La pass at 4700 metres. The roads were scary switchbacks and I could now see why this trip is not available during the winter months. I would not want to walk up or down these roads let alone drive. As we climbed the pass there were various viewpoints of the valley below, each nicer than the previous one. Once we reached the top you could see how the Tibetans were embracing the silliness of tourism. They had photo opportunities with huge dogs and small goats and yes there was a yak there dressed up being abused by selfish snapping tourists. I guess it was better than laboring in the fields. It was a fun hour.

About an hour later we came to another pass that was covered in prayer flags. As we crept closer to the top the turquoise blue of Yamdrok Lake appeared and in the distance the peaks of the Himalayas. This being a standard route for the Everest Base Camp trek every car, van, bus and motor cycle was converged at this spectacular meeting point. We had a few hours here giving us ample time to take photos, walk down to the lake to take more photos, climb back up and take more photos and then just take more photos. I took over 1500 photos on this trip and as I delete and edit them I am hoping for 200 good ones. I do not need 30 of this lake no matter how fantastic it is.

Back in the van and off we went. The next stop on this 8 hour road trip was the glacier at  Mt. Nyechen Kangsar which was at 5039 meters, a personal best for me that would be topped at Everest Base Camp (EBC). The glacier itself was a hanging glacier that had reseeded from the roadway over the past 20 years. I had seen the exact thing in Banff a few years ago with the Athabasca Glacier. I had been there in the mid 80s and it was impressive, reaching the roadway. Now it is a 20 minute walk to get to it. Natural or man induced climate change is real and we need to stop ignoring it.

And off we go. There were long stretches of this road trip that were quiet. We did not have anyone overly chatty who felt the need to ramble the entire trip. The views were great allowing everyone their own personal introspective trip. Next stop was the town of Gyantse. Here we picked up our permits to enter the Everest "zone" which included both a police and military check point (yawn). Gyantse is also the home of the Pelkhor Monastery and the largest Stupa in Tibet. Like all others we were not permitted photos but it was impressive with its golden Buddhas and scroll works and books dating back 1000 years. The monastery was build into the side of a sheer rock face and was protected by a fort on the highest peak in the town. A fort no foreigners were allowed to climb. It was possible in the past but now it is home to "government activity".

Next stop, Shingatse, our hotel and a hot meal and we were ready. We climbed one more pass, the Kya Wu Lha Pass at 5198 metres, another personal best. It was from here that we had our first view of Everest which was standing high among the other peaks. Everest, the Himalayas and Tibet. The journey that was was long but now I was re-energized. It was Everest!

We were about an hour to Shigatse and were the first to arrive at our hotel. The others straggled in bus by bus and van by van and the you could see the long day had taken it's toll. It was now 7:30pm which put us on the road for just over 10 hours. The various stops were excited, even exhilarating, but 10 hours on the road is still 10 hours on the road. We found food, beer and a bottle of Johnny Walker Black that we had decided to bring to EBC to celebrate.

Sipping scotch looking at Mt. Everest was the perfect plan after a long travel day!

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