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Making a Break for the Hills

After two days of monasteries I rebelled against my government minder’s program and convinced him that on my last day in Tibet I simply had to get out of the city to look at some scenery. First, he wasn’t really interested but then understood that I meant business and wasn’t going to submit myself to another tour of yet another bleeding temple… I was on strike and he better believe it. Of course, as you saw, the temples are indeed extraordinarily beautiful and magical, but there’s only so much temple gazing you can do in a certain amount of time. It reminded me a little of these Scottish castles we had to go look at as kids, when my family spent its summers in the Grampian mountains in a little stonewall cottage outside a place called Blairgowrie. They’re great but after a while they start to all look alike.

So, off we went along Lhasa River Valley to Lake Yamdrok-Tso, one of Tibet’s holy lakes, about 125 km (ca. 85 miles) south of Lhasa. Once outside the outskirts of town, the roads become very narrow and I was glad I wasn’t the one who had to do the driving. There’s actually quite a lot of traffic on these roads, but besides running an obstacle course of sheep, cows, people and rocks that fall onto the road from the hillside after each rain, driving these paths also becomes a game of serial chicken on a winding road: The paved surface is hardly wide enough for two cars, but of course most of the locals drive these tractor-like vehicles that crawl along rather slowly. So, any self-respecting driver needs to pass on the inside, loudly honking their horn and feverishly hoping that the driver who’s doing the same pass coming the other way, makes it back into their lane before they hit him. Again, these roads reminded me a lot of the ‘highways’ that used to cross rural Scotland: narrow single file roads with the occasional passing beth and every time you came up a hill and turned a corner, there were a bunch of sheep sleeping on the road just where you couldn’t see them, warming up on the tarmac. Or then my bus ride from New Dehli to Agra about 11 years ago, where I sat for six hours at the back of a rather unclimatized bus, hoping that the driver wouldn’t either commit suicide, run over a kid that had to cross the road just as we came along or bump into a cow that decided to take a nap on the only roadway through town …¬†Earlier on my trip through India I had spent three hours sitting in a plane on the tarmac at Madrass airport. A cow had died on the runway just as we were approaching for take-off. So, of course, the poor animal had to be buried before the runway could be used again, with full funeral proceedings.

Already in Beijing I realized that traffic regulations in China basically follow one principal rule: I’m stronger than you so you better get out of my way. The more you’re convinced of that, the longer and louder you honk your horn and hope your opponent gets the message…

Still, the escape from Lhasa was well worth it, even though the weather again wasn’t what it could be. Lake Yamdok-Tso, coming up right after you wind yourself up to a mountain pass of 14,250 ft (4,750m), is very beautiful, as is the little bit of flora that can be found growing on the hillsides. We even passed some bikers on the way up. They were trampling, not walking …. Nut jobs!

Anyhoo, here’s the view. Supposedly, you can see the Himalayan Range from the lake, but with the clouds we had: no dice.

Lhasa – Lake Yamdrok-tso

From the lake we drove back to the Lhasa airport, back into the Lhasa river valley and somewhat south of Lhasa. As a final farewell from Tibet, I did get to see Mount Everest: Once my plane took off from Lhasa airport and worked its way up through and above the clouds, there it was, floating on a sea of white cotton, shining brightly in the sunlight, majestically looking down on the rest of the world.

Mount Everest
Mount Everest

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