Tibet (Days 16-17) – Road Trip: Lhasa-Gyantse-Shigatse-Shegar 7 July 2009

green fields

These two days our road trip took us to the major Tibetan cities of Gyangtse and Shigatse. Mostly traveling through valleys bright with florescent-yellow mustard fields and surrounded by rugged, brown, rain-starved mountains, we wound our way back and forth up an amazing, Chinese-built road over Khamba La pass at 15,750′ (4799m). Engineers’ efforts to tame nature by channeling the occasional but powerful rainstorm runoff away from and under the road are simply awesome.

As we crested the pass, we could finally see a beautiful, snow-capped crook of a peak above the clouds beyond the monstrously huge Yamdrok Yumtso reservoir. Even so, it is still only Tibet’s 3rd largest. glacierthe Nochin Kasang peak and glacier at 23,418′ (7138m). We were headed in that direction and would cross Karo La (La means pass) at 16,686′ (5086m); I love that name – it sounds so exotic! But we made a short stop at the reservoir and Achi and Lester got to sit on a heavily decorated yak, while I took photos of cute kids and their baby goat and massif puppy (for tips, of course!).

We took a long lunch stop in Gyangtse to visit the Kumbum Stupa, one of the largest and most beautiful stupas in the world. kumbumIt is one that visitors can enter and circle, rising higher and higher with each circumnavigation, and then climb to the top via stairs for a sweeping view of the valley and the nearby mountaintop walled 16th century fort. I was still feeling quite sketchy from my intestinal problems, so I opted to wait below the final steps for the others, but was in no way disappointed with my views! This was one of my favorite places.

Having continued on to Shigatse for the night’s stay with plans to visit the Tashilhumpo monastery (home of the Panchen Lama), thankawe were tickled to learn that we had arrived on the 3rd day of a three-day annual festival (coincidentally also celebrating fellow-traveler Andrea’s birthday!). A HUGE – 10 stories?? – thanka (wall hanging) of the “present Buddha” was on display, and would be brought down at noon. We wandered around the monastery, and I suddenly realized that we were hearing the 15-foot long (?) horns used for special ceremonies! We finally found them, sitting like two disembodied eyes on the rooftop of a building near the path up to the thanka wall. These are such beautiful instruments (Aren would *love* them!) – the horns are constructed in sections which collapse inside each other, so when stored they stand about 6′ tall, with the mouthpiece end about 3″ across at the top, and the horn end at the bottom about 18″ across. We kept wondering and asking how in the world anyone can produce enough air to make any sound? Apparently, they use circular breathing, so the airflow never stops, but even so…

And as if this day weren’t full enough… everestWhen we reach the highest of two passes for the day – 17,280′ (5267m) Gyatso La, two tribes had come up to picnic and dance in celebration of the full moon, and just over the pass we SAW EVEREST for the first time!!!

Needless to say, MY day was complete!!