Three days after the flight from Chengdu to Lhasa, even having slept a measly four hours, we finally woke up free of symptoms of Altitude Sickness.
It's seven in the morning, the time breakfast at the Yak Cool Hotel is supposed to start. The only employee present gives us something not “cool”. The cook had been late, it would only be possible after eight.
Instead of waiting, we left immediately, in the new jeep assigned to the trip. We stopped, still in Lhasa, in a house of momos (Tibetan dumplings). Freshly made, still steaming, the delicacy guaranteed us the necessary energy for the exhausting journey that would follow.
We leave for the south. We cross the Liuwu Bridge and the Lhasa River which lends its name to the Tibetan capital. The river yields to another, the Yarlung Zangbo. Points to the Himalayan range.
We follow it and its intricacies for almost 200km and around six hours. In that distance and time, we ascended almost a thousand meters.
We abandoned him in Gangbacun. Many twists and turns later, we arrive at Zhamalongcun.
Yamdrok: One of the Great Roof Lakes of the World
Instead of a river, we're left with a hyperbolic lake ahead.
Stretching over 72km, Yamdrok is one of the three largest sacred lakes in Tibet.
On a dry and sunny day, as is the case with almost everyone in these corners of Asia's roof, from the top of the Gampa gorge (4790m), the lake glows in the shade of turquoise blue that its Tibetan name translates.
It is surrounded by arid slopes, of a yellowish brown that contrasts with the blue of the sky and the slightly darker blue of the lake.
From the privileged viewpoint of Gampa, the colors don't stop there.
Sacred as it is, the lake warrants the presence of long multicolored ribbons of Tibetan-Buddhist flags. ok of prayer.
Passing believers ensure its renewal.
They place them, there, on a prominent and windy top.
It is up to the wind to wave the flags in such a way as to bless and bring good fortune to all sentient beings.
Starting with the inhabitants of the villages that we glimpse on the other side, above terraces that, when winter ends, will generate providential crops.
At greater distances, whatever the season, imposing snowy peaks emerge.
These are the peaks of the Nyenchen Thangla mountain range.
We had a long way to go.
Lobsang, the Tibetan who guides us, decrees the end of contemplation and photographs, due to lunch, which was late.
We stopped in Nagarse, at a restaurant somewhat removed from the road.
A black Tibetan mastiff is watching us, basking in the sun, adorned with a red crown that someone had placed on it as a collar.
After the meal, we continued west.
The Karo Gorge Slope Glacier
After another hour of journey, already above 5000 meters, we are surprised by the sight of a glacier perched on a rocky slope.
It was the end of one of the tongues of an ice course that arrived there from the northern slopes of Mount Noijin Kangsang (7191m), one of the four sacred mountains of Tibet.
We leave the jeep. We walked over slippery gravel.
Even a stupa from which several fluttering tentacles of prayer flags extended.
At that altitude, each stride we completed felt like a step on the moon. Melted and out of breath, we arrived at the base of the stupa.
We were impressed by the deep cracks and other whimsical cuts of the ice river. In the middle of winter, the probability of seeing the collapse of its ablation wall was small.
Accordingly, under persistent pressure from Lobsang, we resumed our journey. Until Gyantse, other phenomena and wonders would justify stops.
On the edge of a village called Shagancun, the road progresses over jagged slopes and above a new lake, at intervals, by headlands that reveal an unexpected icy panorama.
The Great Ice Reservoir of Manla
We advanced along the Manla Reservoir, known as the first dam in Tibet, with three distinct arms, fed by the Chu River.
Located at a “mere” 4200 meters of altitude, but with its natural flow stopped, the reservoir preserved an ice cover that was largely smooth, with a glassy and reflective look.
We hope that the route will ascend again to ideal panoramic heights. In one of them, with one of the arms of the dam exposed and the road zigzagging down below, we complained to Lobsang, our rights as passengers and customers.
Lobsang agrees to stop. We follow the path of a red truck, from far away, in our direction.
When the car passes us in an obvious effort, we return to the jeep's grip and to the main destination of the afternoon, the city of Gyantse.
A Depressed Guide to Chinese Oppression
In this section, Lobsang and the driver again vent about the frustration in which they (and the Tibetans) lived due to the already long Chinese occupation.
And the destruction of the Tibetan culture and ethnicity that Beijing was rushing to replace with the Han ethnicity, the predominant one in China.
They felt doubly oppressed because they were forced to work for Chinese agencies and bosses.
China only allowed visits to Tibet if booked through Chinese agencies. We ourselves had no choice.
The problem was compounded, however, when Lobsang's frustration and depression made him, by default, shirk his responsibility to provide us with a decent trip through Tibet.
Whenever possible, Lobsang delayed morning departures. Throughout the day, he shortened the time in each place, thinking only of prolonging contact with other guides he knew, in villages that were not even on the initial itinerary.
Gyantse: a Majestic Fortress City
We arrived at Gyantse. The guide goes back to trying one of his subterfuges. A meaningless imposition that we only had twenty minutes to peek, after which we would move on.
Aware that it wasn't what was on the program, ecstatic with the monumental beauty of the city, we activated our own chronometer.
The Swede Jacob and the American Ryan who accompanied us noticed and agreed. Lobsang is forced to wait.
We were facing one of the most relevant historical cities in Tibet. The secular Gyantse deserved all the time and then some.
In order not to waste it, we almost ran from one side to the other, also moved by the disbelief of the scenery.
Gyantse arose in the heart of the Nyang Chu valley, on the ancient Chumbi trade routes that brought Tibetan wool to the kingdoms of Sikkim, Bhutan and parts of present-day India.
Gyantse: from Feudal Origins to the Inhabited City-Museum of Today
It was built during the XNUMXth century by Pelden Sangpo, a monarch of the region who sought to consolidate the fief that served him.
In 1390, the importance of Gyantse was already such that it justified the construction of the fortress (jong) that resists there.
We see it hovering, in a reddish hue, like an indelible mirage, on the crest of a sharp, rocky hill, surrounded by a 3km long wall.
This wall defends the monastery of Palcho and its incredible kumbum, a school structure sakya of Tibetan Buddhism.
It has six floors and 77 stacked chapels that contain over ten thousand murals.
For a long time, Gyantse was the third largest city in Tibet after Lhasa and Shigatse.
The Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 robbed Gyantse of its leading role.
The Chinese closed the old trade routes, to the detriment of Lhasa. During Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, they looted the monastery, temple kumbum and even the fort.
After the 1959 Tibetan uprising, around four hundred monks and other religious were imprisoned in the monastery.
Most of the local craftsmen were forced to flee the city. Even so, Gyantse's population later recovered from eight thousand to around twenty thousand inhabitants.
Unlike other settlements which, due to the influx of Chinese and the economic and cultural interference of Beijing, outnumbered it, Gyantse remains mainly Tibetan.
Its people reactivated part of the religious function of the monastery and temples.
They continue to walk the streets with their hairstyles and in their traditional costumes.
Once prodigious, the local multi-ethnic market, once visited by Nepalese, Bhutanese and even Muslims from Ladak and elsewhere, no longer makes sense.
The Unlikely Visit of the Four Western Outsiders
Gyantse subsists, above all, as a large inhabited museum city with a growing tourist demand.
At the height of winter, however, it would be just the four of us and a few other wild cats, the foreigners visiting Tibet.
The Tibetans watched them with delight and surprise.
Astonishment that the Swede Jacob, a man of almost two meters in height, redoubled.
We could have spent the whole week discovering Gyantse. Nearly three hours later, Lobsang had had enough. He came to meet us.
He complained about his manipulation of the trip.
About eight in the evening, we entered Shigatse.