The morning of day four dashed any hopes of any green valleys.
Our tents were under 2 inches of fresh snow! (see
surprisingly all our yaks had disappeared. It took me a while
in the murky light
of the morning to figure out that the big snowy mounds around
were not big boulders, but our yaks covered in snow. These
animals are incredible - so oblivious to the elements.
started the long march down, again through mushy snow.
Spring was in the air, but the catkins on willow
trees had icy armour attached to them.
Had the trek been two weeks later we'd probably see the
in full bloom. I hear the organisers moved the 2006 event
two weeks into June.
green rhododendrons and willow bushes started emerging
and we shed our outer layers. After several hours of
marching we reached the first village -
Chanda, still miles from civilization. We were allowed
to visit the house of
of the villagers for a small fee. The house was built from
mud and stones and had a little atrium with high walls
protecting from the elements (and the ubiquitous prayer
flags protecting from evil spirits). In this middle of
I was quite surprised to see a small solar panel on the
wall. Precious electricity from this modern wonder fed
only one appliance - a TV set.
the first village we met more pilgrims going to the holy
caves above, and lots of local children. There
was no end to sharing sweets, pens and photographs.
Those at whom no lens was pointing were disappointed and
loudly demanded to be photographed. Tiny screens of our
digital cameras provided an endless source of giggles among
the models. It was here where we said goodbye to our
45 yaks and their 16 drivers, who looked
after us so well over the last 4 days. We had to restrain
ourselves so as not
to give them a round of applause, as clapping your hands
in Tibet means the same as booing in England. Sticking
the tongue out is a more appropriate way of saying 'thank
you'. Gifts of money, clothing and hiking boots were grossly
were advised by our great trek leader - Theo
it is better if for the last leg of our journey we take
a 'tractorish vehicle' available locally, as it would give
us more time for the Samye monastery and help the local
economy. A 'hellish vehicle' would be a more appropriate
name. The contraption consisted of a single cylinder diesel
engine with a flywheel mounted on two wheels, two long
steel rods for steering and a trailer. The latter had no
or padding of any description - just raw, welded steel.
The 'road' consisted mainly of boulders and ditches and
the tractor operators must have been reincarnated Ferrari
racing drivers. Those of us who survived the trek intact
had a chance to acquire a decent injury now. The next day
we added attractive purple streaks to our suntanned bodies.
The 'fun ride' lasted 1 and a half hours and brought us
(on 5 or 6 tractors) straight to the courtyard
of Samye monastery.
is a special place - it was here in 755 CE, after
scholars’ debate, that Buddhism
was made the state religion of Tibet. A stone pillar with inscriptions dating
back to those days still stands in the courtyard. Hundreds
of prayer flags crisscross the main square (main picture
above) and 4-metre high incense burners work at full
steam. It is a remote place - we'll need to travel another
25 km crossing a sandy semi-desert and spend 1 and a half
hours on a ferry to be anywhere near civilization. And
by some miracle, we found a heaven sent gift: a cold Coca
prayer wheel circuit and
all the other spaces were beautifully decorated with delicate
motifs, and you could tell
that they were very old and many were in urgent need of
we packed into two last public busses to head for a ferry
crossing over the Brahmaputra, which is locally
known as Yarlung. The 25 km dirt track lead through a
true sandy desert with real sand dunes created
by millions of years of the river changing its run. When
'ferry' I thought along the lines of Dover-to-Calais P&O
service, particularly if it was to take up to two hours.
What we saw on arrival didn't quite meet my expectations
- a large, open wooden boat with benches for up to 100
people (see the photo below). Much more pleasurable than
a buzz-cruise across the Channel!
journey was very peaceful and lasted 1
and a half hours. The 'captain' had to zigzag all the time
to avoid the sandbanks, the
river at this time of the year is not in its full flow
yet. Somebody passed around small squares of paper with
some Tibetan scripture on them. We were supposed to make
a wish, tear them into pieces and offer them to wind and
the other shore we were reunited with those who had to
be evacuated at the beginning of the trek (four of them)
and eventually arrived in the evening to a modern hotel
in Tstethang - the second largest city in Tibet. There
was no end to congratulatory hugs and kisses. The next
morning, after a two-hour journey to Gongkar (Lhasa) airport
we flew back to Beijing. The great adventure was over.
unspoiled and rugged nature touched us all. So did the
Tibetan people we met. As a tribute to them I created
Portrait Gallery devoted to them. For more
practical advise visit the Tips page. I
hope you enjoyed this virtual journey as much as I did
the real one. If you did, please drop
me a line. And do not forget to visit the Donations
page before you leave - I'm still
short of my fundraising target.
my Portrait Gallery of the Tibetans