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rkkwan Jul 27th, 2010 07:17 PM

rkkwan's 3-week Adventure in Tibet 6/10 Part II
Continuing from this thread:

<b>Day 8 6/12/10 Lhasa to Yamdrok-Tso to Shigatse</b>

Because of the arrival back in Lhasa and K's visit to the hospital the previous night, we had a fairly late departure - leaving Lhasa at around 10a - on this short travel day. We took G318 towards the southwest - same route to airport initially. We'd cross the Yarlung Tsangpo into the <b>Lohka Prefecture</b> (山南地区, Shannan Diqu), and left the G318 for S307, which is the original and southern Friendship Highway between Lhasa and Nepal. [The new, current G318 follows the Yarlung Tsangpo to Shigatse]. The S307 made in incredible climb from 3,600m/11,500ft to the 4,794m/15,730ft <b>Kamba-la Pass</b> (岗巴拉山口) in 22km/14mi, for an average grade of over 5% with probably 50 hairpin turns.

Right over the pass, one can get a good view of <b>Yamdrok-Tso</b> (羊卓雍錯), the incredibly beautiful blue-green lake at 4,441m/14,570ft. It is first of the three most <b>sacred lakes</b> in Tibet we would visit. The top of the pass is now a "scenic area" with a 40RMB admission, which we bypassed, and stopped just below it for photos. We then took a lot more pictures after getting down to the lakeshore. There are lot of beautifully cows and yaks by the lakeshore, but if you just point your camera towards one of them, some guy will suddenly appear from nowhere to ask for money.

Next stop on the Friendship Highway is <b>Nagarze</b> (浪卡子, Langkazi), where we had lunch at the <b>Chongqing Restaurant</b> (重庆大饭店) alongside the road.

Continuing west on S307, we crossed <b>Karo-La Pass</b> (卡若拉山口) at just over 5,000m into <b>Shigatse Prefecture</b> (日喀则地区, Rikaze Diqu) - our 2nd 5,000m mountain pass. And just beyond it, we stopped for a close-up view of the 7,191m/23,592ft <b>Nojin Kangsang</b> (乃饮康桑雪山) and the <b>Karola Glacier</b> (卡若拉冰川) beneath it. This is the region pictured in the popular 1997 Chinese movie "Red River Valley" about Tibetans fighting the British Younghusband Expedition in 1903-4.

Late in the afternoon, we came down to the fertile plains of a different <b>Nyang River</b> (年楚河) and the town of <b>Gyantse</b> (江孜, Gyangze; 3,977m/13,050ft). We stopped at the main square in town for a view of the 14th Century fortress (Dzong). M saw a group of ladies sitting on the ground drinking <b>Chhaang</b> (青稞酒) - the popular alcoholic drink of the Himalayas - and she joined them for a few shots. Because of time and that none of the four of us is Buddhist, we skipped the Pelkor Chode Moanstery (白居寺), but stopped on the highway just outside town for pictures of the <b>Kumbum</b> (十萬佛塔), the largest chorten in Tibet.

We followed the Nyang northwest, and stopped at a watermill, where Tibetan hulless barley (青稞) is milled. Once roasted, this becomes <b>tsampa</b> (糌粑), which Tibetans eat with yak butter milk, regular milk, beer, or basically anything (from our observation of our guide Bianba).

Finally, we arrived at <b>Shigatse</b> (日喀则, Rikaze; 3,840m/12,600ft), the 2nd largest city in Tibet, and checked-in to the nice <b>Shandong Hotel</b> (山东大厦), which calls itself the tallest building in the highest city in the world - which may indeed be true - but still no free internet. For dinner, we had Tibetan cuisine for the first time, at the popular <b>Songtsan Restaurant</b> (松贊餐厅) on the Xigezi Pedestrian Street (喜格孜步行街). They have pizza on their menu, but we had Tibetan roast lamb chop, dumplings, etc, instead.

rkkwan Jul 29th, 2010 12:27 PM

<b>Day 9 6/13/10 Shigatse to Everest Base Camp</b>

One thing about our building in the "tallest building in the highest city in the world". Though our rooms face south towards the newer part of town, there is a nice view from the corridors towards Tashilhunpo Monastery and the <b>Shigatse Dzong</b> - a smaller version of the Potala Palace - that was rebuilt a few years ago after the Chinese destroyed it after 1959.

After breakfast, while Bianba went to the police station to deal with my permits, we strolled over to <b>Tashilhunpo Monastery</b> (扎什伦布寺), another one of the six main monasteries of the Gelugpa Order (格鲁派 or 黄教), and the seat of the Panchen Lama (班禅喇嘛). M and I paid the 55RMB admissions, while K and D would just wait for us. Photos inside all the main halls - including the 26m/85ft Maitreya (弥勒佛, or the Future Buddha) statue and the tomb of the 10th Panchen Lama (who died in 1989) - cost 75RMB to 150RMB at each hall. We decided not to take any.

After restocking our Land Cruiser with bottled water and <b>Red Bull</b> (official drink of Tibetan drivers), we left the modern world and headed south towards Mt. Everest. We stopped at a sign which marks 5,000km from Shanghai on G318, and then the 5,248m/17,220ft <b>Gyatso-la Pass</b> (加错拉山口), highest point on the entire G318 from Shanghai to Nepal. It is also the 2nd highest point and the 3rd 5,000m mountain pass in our trip. There are signs there indicating we're entering the <b>Qomolangma National Nature Reserve</b>. (Qomolangma is Tibetan name for Mt. Everest).

Over the pass, we had a late lunch at <b>Chengdu Restaurant</b> (成都饭馆) in the new county seat of <b>Tingri</b> (定日, Dingri; 4,300m/14,100ft). Also paid our fees to the park - 150RMB/person plus 400RMB/vehicle - 1,000RMB total. Just south of Tingri is an inspection station - the only one in our trip that each of us had to go inside with our passport or ID.

We then left G318 and turned onto a new 100km gravel road that was built just before the Olympics. In order to facilitate the transport of the Olympic Flame to the top of Mt. Everest and the increasing number of tourists, the Chinese built a new road to the Mt. Everest Base Camp. Previously, there was only a more primitive road that's not always passable - we would take that old road out next day. We climbed something like 50 switchbacks from 4,300m/14,100ft to the 5,120m/16,800ft <b>Pang-la Pass</b> (彭拉山口). It is a very beautiful spot where one can see four <b>eight-thousanders</b> on a clear day: Makalu, Lhotse, Everest and Cho Oyu. Unfortunately, the summit of Mt. Everest was covered at that time, but Bianba reassured us that we would see it later. We also didn't get off the car there as there were some very aggressive kids asking for money for photos.

Instead of following the switchbacks, our driver took a short cut to go straight down the hillside to the Dzaka Valley at about 4,100m/13,450ft. We stopped at a village there to give away some stationeries we'd brought from Hong Kong to some school kids there. Finally we followed the valley up to <b>Rongbuk Monastery</b> (絨布寺; ~5,050m/16,570ft) for some pictures. Supposedly the highest Buddhist monastery in the world, it is of the Nyingma Order, and strangely has both monks and nuns in its small compound.

The term <b>Everest Base Camp</b> on the Tibetan side can mean one of two places. One is the group of dining and accommodation tents for tourists like us, and it is just past Rongbuk Monastery. Or it can mean the real base camp for climbers 8km further up the road and about 200m/660ft higher. The latter is only accessible by park buses for 25RMB, and we didn't go.

At the tent village we stayed at, there are about 20 large Tibetan tents, with fabrics made of yak fur. Each is a diner by day, and have 6 beds for overnight stay (50RMB/person, set price). It's attached to a smaller tent behind it, which serves as the kitchen and where the owners sleep. A Tibetan stove in the middle of the main tent is used to boil water and for heat, fueled by yak and goat manure, as well as the paper cups from cup noodles. Solar panels generate electricity, which is stored in car batteries to be used at night. Two pairs of mobile toilets (no running water) serve that whole village, which also includes a post office (only open 10-3, I recall).

We stayed at one tent called <b>Xut Yu Zhu Feng Zang Can</b> (雪域珠峰藏餐), run by Tibetans. Dinner was some simple fried rice and noodles, but tasted good. As Bianba had guaranteed, the cloud dissipated over the Everest summit. We took lots of pictures at sunset, of course. Unfortunately, K wasn't feeling that well at this high altitude, so she basically just rested inside the tent. Later in the evening, we went outside again to look at stars and took pictures. But it was quite chilly (around 0C/32F), and too windy for the tripod shots. At over 5,000m, this would be the highest place we'd spent a night.

Kathie Jul 29th, 2010 04:40 PM

I really appreciate the level of detail in your report, Ray, keep it coming.

Therese Jul 30th, 2010 06:54 AM

Great information, and I really appreciate how well you write. Thanks for doing this report.

rkkwan Jul 31st, 2010 10:10 AM

<b>Day 10 6/14/10 Everest Base Camp to Saga</b>

I slept better than I thought I would, though the blankets were pretty heavy - they let the stove burn out after we fell asleep, and it got pretty chilly. Definitely needed both the heavy cotton comforter PLUS a wool blanket for warmth. We got up fairly early because Mt Everest would be very beautiful with the morning sun, and most of the clouds were gone. Very very pretty. For breakfast, we just had cup noodles at our tent.

We backtracked for about 15km and then turned northwest onto the much more primitive road towards Old TIngri. This was the primary route to get to the Base Camp before, but was prone to flooding, according to Bianba - and very few vehicles on this route these days. We saw one truck transporting some locals, a young Han Chinese couple touring in a <b>Toyota FJ Cruiser</b> - who stopped to ask ME for directions, haha - and that was it. (My 2008 Lonely Planet lists it as a 70km/3day trekking route).

We stopped several times, first to take pictures of some wild <b>antelopes</b> - not the highly endangered Tibetan Antelopes. Later, a very young Tibetan girl perhaps 4 or 5 years old saw our car coming and panicked. She ran down the slope away from the gravel road, but tumbled badly. We stopped to check on her, and she was okay. Turned out another girl (I believe her sister) was also nearby. We took lots of pictures of them and with them - these kids don't go to school, and they just help with the family with their animals. In fact, the younger girl was collecting manure from the fields - as that's the fuel for the household.

We continued on, passed the very gentle and broad <b>Nam-la Pass</b> (~5,090m/16,700ft) and stopped at the edge of a Canyon for pictures. To our south is the 8,201m/26,906ft <b>Cho Oyu</b> (卓奧有山), 6th highest peak in the world against the blue sky. Eventually, we came down a dry valley to <b>Old Tingri</b> (老定日) the old county seat at around 4,330m/14,200ft, for lunch. Sichuanese again, this time at the <b>Dayi 3rd Brother Restaurant</b> (大邑三哥饭馆); Dayi is a county 30km west of Chengdu. Old Tingri, now officially called Ganggazhen (岡嘎镇), is a dusty one-street outpost not unlike those in Western movies.

We got back on G318 for another 70km west and then left it for the gravel road through the Shishapangma Scenic Area. The last km-marker we saw on G318 was <b>5264</b> - that's how far we were from Shanghai by road, and about 200km from the border crossing to Nepal. The 8,013m/26,289ft <b>Shishapangma</b> (希夏幫馬峰, Xixiangbangma Feng) is not hidden like Mt. Everest by other mountains. Instead, it dominates the high plateau there, and can be seen from miles away. We paid another huge fee to cross the park, even though it's still part of the Qomolangma Nature Reserve which we already paid to get in the day before.

We would pass by the large <b>Peiku-Tso</b> lake (佩枯错, 4,580m/15,030), and then crossed the Yarlung Tsanpo once again to arrive at the fairly large town of <b>Saga</b> (萨嘎, ~4,480m/14,700ft). Problem with this place is that it has only ONE real hotel, the 2* Star Moon (星月酒店). It is the best accommodation on G219 between Shigatse (450km or one day drive to the east) and Ngari (700km or minimum 2 days of driving to the west), and is popular with Indian pilgrim groups who come up to visit and circumvent Mt Kailash. As a result, it is probably the most expensive 2* hotel in China, at <b>360RMB</b> a double room.

Well, we already stayed in a tent the night before, and would have two more nights at primitive hostels before arriving at Ngari. So, we did stay at the Star Moon that night. Bianba and the driver found a Tibetan guesthouse for themselves, which we would also stay at on our way back from Ngari. For dinner, we found the brand new <b>Authentic Lanzhou Beef Hand-pulled Noodles</b> (兰州正宗牛肉拉面) just around our hotel. So new they didn't have many things on their menu. Our hotel also has a fairly large supermarket where we picked up some snacks and drinks. [They even have ice cream.]

[At larger towns in Tibet, like Saga, there are bath houses where one can pay about 15RMB for a bath. So, we could have stayed at a Tibetan guest house this time (50RMB/person), and then tried out one of these bath houses.]

rkkwan Jul 31st, 2010 09:02 PM

<b>Adjustments to our itinerary</b>

When M first presented our itinerary to <b>Find China</b> (发现中国), our trip to Ngari would be a loop like this -

6/15 Saga - Paiyang
6/16 Paiyang - Jiwusi
6/17 Jiwusi - Darchen
6/18 Darchen - Zanda
6/19 Zanda - Ali
6/20 Ali - Gertse
6/21 Gertse - 22nd-Daoban
6/22 22nd-Daoban - Shigatse
6/23 Shigatse - Nam-tso
6/24 Nam-tso - Lhasa

The two-day return portion from Ali back to 22nd-Daoban via the <b>"Small" Northern Route</b> (小北线), or highways S301/S206. That is a 960km route all unpaved, entirely above 4,500m/14,800ft, via extremely sparsely populated area. Find China didn't say anything about it, but it's actually not feasible to do in just 2 days, and it is not safe to go with just a single vehicle.

Bianba discussed with us about that, and also told us to skip the portion to the <b>Guge Kingdom ruins</b> near Zanda. While it's very significant to archaeologists, the fees to get in is incredible - at over 600RMB per person. We would also skip the night at Darchen, as that town is now part of the Mt Kailash scenic area, and not accessible without paying the 200RMB/person admissions.

We would be taking the train out of Lhasa on 6/25, so it was also too tight to return to Lhasa only on 6/24. No margin of error, and we still haven't visited the Jokhang, or Sera Monastery, and my friends still have shopping to do.

So, our itinerary from here on became:

6/15 Saga - Paiyang
6/16 Paiyang - Jiwusi
6/17 Jiwusi - Ali
6/18 Ali (Pangong-Tso)
6/19 Ali - Paiyang
6/20 Paiyang - Saga
6/21 Saga - Shigatse
6/22 Shigatse - Nam-Tso
6/23 Nam-Tso - Lhasa

The two-day drive from Ali to Saga would be back-tracking on G219, but it's almost 200km shorter than S301/S206. Less exhausting and safer. Skipping Guge means we would return to Lhasa with a spare day. Bianba would take us to a nunnery and the Sera Monastery to watch the debates. Compared to the original plan, we would also stay two more nights in real hotels (Ali and Lhasa), compared to primitive guesthouses elsewhere. We ended up doing exactly that, and it worked out perfectly.

This is what traveling in Tibet is like. Have to be pretty flexible, and work with your guide and driver. Cannot and should not force things.

rkkwan Aug 3rd, 2010 10:04 PM

<b>Day 11 6/15/10 Saga to Payang</b>

Breakfast wasn't included in the 360RMB room rate at the Star Moon. My friends went out to look for breakfast, while I decided to sleep for a few more minutes. They were nice enough to bring me some buns back. Outside our room window is a large army barrack, and in the morning we heard the troops matching around. In fact, there's a sign in our room that reminds the guests not to take pictures of videos of the barrack.

In the alleyway between our hotel and that barrack was a Swiss (or Austrian, can't remember) <b>sleeper bus</b> that carried a group of travelers who slept in the bus, and were cooking their meals in a kitchen in that alley. That's another way of traveling in remote areas of the world.

Leaving Saga, we entered the 550km-long construction site called the <b>G219</b>. G219 is the 2,743km/1,704mi national highway between G318 in Lazhe (拉孜, Lazi) in Tibet, and Kargilik (叶城, Yecheng) in Xinjiang; also called the <b>Xinjiang-Tibet Highway</b> (新藏公路). It was mostly unpaved before, and unfortunately for us, they were starting to rebuid and pave the huge section in south-central Tibet. Not only was the road extremely bumpy and dusty, there were also hundreds of detours. Very unpleasant, and in general, we could only average about 50km/h or 30MPH.

Our first morning break was near the <b>Xiridajiling Monastery</b> (昔日达吉岭寺), built by the Guge Kingdom. From here westwards, we'd see some more fortress ruins. During that break, another Land Cruiser also stopped with us. Two Canadians and two Israelis met online and hired a driver/guide to travel Tibet together, and would go as far as Mount Kailash in Ngari. We would see them a few more times during breaks and lunches.

The land is very arid here, almost desert like at places, and villages few and far apart. The plain is wide-open with few vegetations. No crops being grown, and people there were simply ranchers who raised yaks and sheep for a living. We also saw plenty of wild antelopes and <b>onagers</b> (or wild Asian ass, 亞洲野驢). Scenery is a bit like West Texas or the High Desert in California, but with much higher mountains in the background.

We had a lunch in a small village just east of the new county seat of <b>Zhongba</b> (仲巴), at the <b>Sichuan Restaurant</b> (四川饭店). Several other Land Cruisers pulled up after us with a group of Chinese tourists, each carrying even bigger cameras and lenses than ours and talking loudly.

In the afternoon, we stopped at one of the most beautiful places on our trip. Well, D probably thinks it is the most beautiful place on earth, as she decided to build her own small <b>mani stone pile</b> (嘛呢堆) there. There are some pretty large sand dunes near the roadway, and beautiful snow-capped mountains far away. In between is a pristine blue lake - it has no official name, as it is basically a wider part of the <b>Damqog Zangpo</b> (当却藏布), the headstream of the Yarlung Tsangpo, also known as Maquan River (马泉河).

Finally, we arrived at the town of <b>Payang</b> (帕羊), our Land Cruiser covered in mud inside and out. This is another dusty one-street town with several restaurants and guesthouses. Lots of truckers also spent the night here. We stayed at the <b>Payang Yak Guesthouse</b> (帕羊牦牛旅舍, no kidding), and ate at their restaurant. There was no running water and electricity was provided only between 9p and 1a, when they started up a noisy generator. The outhouses were dirty and smelly, and of course there's no place for shower. We got a 4-person room for 40RMB/person, which did have a TV so we could watch World Cup soccer.

Right outside our room was a primitive dog cage and the owner's dog. But there were also another half a dozen dogs that roamed around the courtyard all the time. In the morning, dozens of dogs would be howling all around this little town. I think there were more dogs than humans.

The sky was clear, so D took out her tripod and we would take pictures of the stars and moon. Unfortunately, it was still pretty windy and that generator was shaking the ground.

mohan Aug 4th, 2010 09:03 AM

Your report is well-written and full of useful details. Having the names in two languages is definitely helpful.
'Several other Land Cruisers pulled up after us with a group of Chinese tourists, each carrying even bigger cameras and lenses than ours and talking loudly'.
Very funny! That's why I prefer JAL to Cathy Pacific. On more of less the same note, I agree with what you said on the Facebook, 'Life should not be defined by one's possession'. When people don't get that, they are living for others rather than for themselves. Very sad. Sorry I don't do FB, otherwise I would have responded there. Looking forward to more pix.

rkkwan Aug 6th, 2010 07:15 PM

<b>Day 12 6/16/10 Payang to Shiu Monastery</b>

We had breakfast at the <b>Mianyang Restaurant</b> (绵阳饭店) adjacent to our guest house. Steamed buns were actually obtained elsewhere, but we also tried something new - eggs boiled in wine lees (蛋糟). Quite interesting.

We continued northwest on that horrible G219, and the weather was deteriorating. When we finally left the Shigatse Prefecture and crossed into <b>Ngari Prefecture</b> (阿里地区, Ali Diqu) in the afternoon, it started to snow. We stopped for lunch in a roadside tent just past the checkpoint. It was the only place with food for miles, and in fact we had to wait for a group of Indian pilgrims to finish their lunches before we could go inside.

Lunches and dinners took up a big chunk of time during our travel. There is no fast food in Tibet, except for the Dico's chain (KFC clone) in Lhasa. The only thing fast is cup noodles. Everything else is slowly cooked to order; nothing prepared beforehand. In fact, at many restaurants in small village, they would <b>go somewhere else in the village</b> to fetch the ingredients after we ordered. So, as a result, it's minimum an hour for a meal, often longer.

Anyways, we sat down in a corner and sipped yak butter tea while waiting for our <b>curried rice</b> to be cooked. And then, it was like watching a play, with various people coming into the tent for food, or simply to get warm and get dry, as it was continuing to snow. First, it was a Han police, probably from the nearby checkpoint. Then a group of Sherpas - watching them enjoyed the cup noodles was fun. We had to tell some of them not to peel off the top completely. After that, there were several Tibetans who'd hiked for miles from the mountains. They wore traditional clothing, with their knives, small ornate boxes (for fire stone and bullets), ornaments made from seashells (Tibet used to be underneath an ocean), etc. Bianba talked to them, and they let us check out their stuff and take pictures. Finally, another Han police came in, soaked and freezing as he had been cruising in a motorbike. People from all different places, all different background, meeting in a tent in the middle of a storm in the middle of nowhere.

The curry turned out to be fairly tasteless, and we continued west again, going over a no-name pass of 5,200m/17,060ft. The land is even more barren here with few herds of sheep and yaks, but we continued to see various wildlife - antelopes, onagers, and then some birds - various ducks, gulls and cranes, as lakes are abundant on this part of the plateau.

Late in the afternoon, we arrived at <b>Lake Manasarovar</b> (玛旁雍错; 4,556m/14,950ft), the second (of three) sacred lakes we'd visit. The local government has drawn many of the vista points into a "scenic area" and charges a steep 200RMB/person admissions. Our guide Bianba thinks that's ridiculous and brought us to other points for pictures. One of this was on a slope next to <b>Shiu Monastery</b> (即乌寺, Jiwusi) on the tiny piece of land between Lake Manasarovar and <b>Lake Shashastal</b> (拉昂错), also known as the "Lake of the Demon". We checked out the chortens and the huge piles of mani stones there, besides viewing the beautiful lake.

There is a village just beneath the monastery with guest houses where Bianba said we could stay overnight without paying the 200RMB admissions if we got out of there early enough next morning. When we got there, the place was like a ghost town in the American West. Dusty and no sign of any living beings. Bianba got out of the car, and after a few minutes miraculously found the owner of a no-name guesthouse! This place was even more primitive than the one in Payang - part of the building had already collapsed, and there was no TV and no electric outlets in our room. There was a light bulb, but no switch! Rather, all the bulbs in the 10 or so rooms would lit up (and flicker) when they ran the generator from sunset (around 9pm) to 11, fed via some very long extension cords. There was a TV and electric outlets to charge our batteries at a common room - which serves as lounge, lobby, and also where we washed our faces and brushed our teeth.

The outhouse is quite far from our rooms, but it sits over a bluff and is fairly clean with no smell. There is actually a natural hot spring just down the bluff via a muddy path, and one can soak and bath there for 50RMB. None of us had any desire to try it out even if it was free.

Turned out there were more life forms in this village then we thought, and around the corner from our guest house, a "gift shop" opened up to cook us dinner. No dogs around here, though there were several goats, and I saw one cat.

rkkwan Aug 8th, 2010 09:42 PM

<b>Day 13 6/17/10 Shiu Monastery to Ali</b>

Let me start by explaining the nomenclature of the town we'd stay for two nights, as you may see it written and mentioned in many different ways. Regardless, it is the largest town and the capital of the Ngari Prefecture.

In Tibetan, the town is called <b>Senge Khabab</b>, named after the river Senge Tsangpo that passes through the town, and means "Lion Spring River". That is also the current Chinese name of the town, AND the river - 狮泉河 or, in pinyin, <b>Shinquanhe</b>. The Senge Tsangpo becomes the Indus downstream.

But it is also called <b>Ali</b> (阿里), the Chinese for Ngari. And it is the administrative seat of the <b>Ger</b> or <b>Gar</b> county (噶尔, Ga'er) and is historically known by that name. Confused? Well, it is the same town, and I'll call it Ali here.


Back to our trip. We left Shiu Monastery early without having breakfast, and left the Lake Manasarova scenic area before eight, hence saving ourselves 200RMB each. From here to Ali and a little past, the <b>G219</b> is nicely paved. Soon we'd stop on the side of the road to take pictures of the 6,638m/21,778ft <b>Mt. Kailash</b>. Kailash is its Sanskrit name; Tibetans call it Gang Rinpoche or Kangri Rinpoche (冈仁波齐峰). Sacred to many religions, it has never been climbed, but thousands of pilgrims came each year to trek around it, usually taking 3 days, and crossing the ~5,630m/18,470ft Drolma-la Pass. Unfortunately for us this day, the upper part of the mountain was covered in clouds so we couldn't see the summit. We took lots of pictures nevertheless, and hope that we'd have clearer skies on our way back. Bianba seriously reminded us to make a wish. I did, but it wasn't clear if it has come true or not.

We had a late breakfast/early lunch at the <b>Hemu Teahouse</b> (和睦茶馆) in <b>Menshi Township</b> (门士乡), another dusty one-street outpost. The teahouse was surprisingly clean and comfortable, and it looks like it is a bar/lounge in the evening. The Tibetan girl there cooked us some nice noodle soup along with yak butter tea and sweet tea. We spent a lot of time there, and we would come back two days later.

We passed by <b>Ngari Gunsa Airport</b>(阿里昆沙机场), which would open 2 weeks later on July 1st. At 4,272m/14,016ft, it is significantly higher than the airports in Lhasa and Nyingtri; but about 60m below the one in Qamdo (昌都), currently the highest civilian airport in the world, or the one being planned in Nagqu (那曲). From here a brand new section of G219 took us over a pass and dropped us down to Ali, at around 4,280m/14,040ft.

We checked in to the very new <b>Sanyuan Hotel</b> (三元宾馆) that sits right next to the Senge Tsangpo river. Despite its name, it costs 200RMB a room per night, not 3RMB. No internet in room, but new and clean. I had never been happier in my life to see a <b>squat toilet</b>, after two nights at places with only primitive outhouses. We took our much needed showers and just relaxed in our rooms for the rest of the afternoon, while Bianba went to the local police station to make a small amendment to my travel permit and our driver took the mud-covered Land Cruiser for a bath.

For dinner, we strolled through the town center to <b>Xingsheng Lo Mein King</b> (兴盛拌面王) for the Xinjiang cuisine "Big Dish Chicken" (新疆大盘鸡) and noodles. Across from the restaurant were a couple of fruit shops with a lot of stuff. I was craving oranges, so I bought myself a Sunkist navel. My friends were disgusted by my extravagance when they leanred that it cost 10RMB/US$1.5.

rkkwan Aug 11th, 2010 10:06 PM

<b>Day 14 6/18/10 Pangong-Tso</b>

This is probably the easiest day in our whole trip. K and D slept in, while M and I went across the street with Bianba and the driver to the <b>Yangyangxian Restaurant</b> (样样鲜) for some soya milk and <i>you tiao</i> (fried dough sticks). Those are common breakfast items in many parts of China, but it was the first time we found them during our trip. The fried dough sticks were sitting outside on the dusty street, but I tried them anyways, and they were good.

We got back into the cleaned Land Cruiser and continued north for an hour on G219 to <b>Retok</b> (日土, Ritu) where pavement ends. Just a few km beyond town is the furthest-most point in our trip - <b>Pangong-Tso</b> (班公错, Bangongcuo). It is a long lake at ~4,300m/14,100ft that stretches into Kashmir, India. This lake has no outlet, and is wide with fresh water on the eastern (Chinese) end, and narrow and salty on the other. It is a popular place for bird-watching, and I took lots of pictures of ducks and gulls - many in flight above the lake. Earlier that month, a group of tourists visited the area and took a boat to an island with even more birds; unfortunately, the boat capsized or sank and many of them perished. We stayed on the shore.

We returned to Retok, a decent-sized town, for lunch at the <b>Western Hand-Pulled Noodle Shop</b> (西部拉面馆); and then back to Ali mid-afternoon. We went to the bank to deposit money for our train tickets from Lhasa to Xining, and Margaret developed some pictures to be sent to some people we've met along the way. We spent quite a bit of time at the post office there, also mailing postcards to ourselves. My friends received theirs in Hong Kong 2 weeks later, while mine arrived in Houston in 28 days. Bianba found a no-name <b>shish kabob</b> restaurant in town where we had early dinner. The owner is a caucasian from either Xinjiang or Central Asia, and they only serve two things - lamb kabob and a naan with lamb inside.

<b>Day 15 6/19/10 Ali - Payang</b>

This morning it was K and M who slept in, while D and I went for soya milk and <i>you tiao</i>. We went to a different restaurant called <b>Chuanfengwei</b> (川风味饭馆), and it was cleaner. For two days, we would leave modernity once again and track the same route back through Payang to Saga on G219.

We stopped at the <b>Hemu Teahouse</b> (和睦茶馆) in <b>Menshi Township</b> (门士乡) again for lunch. We had brought along a can of spam all the way from Hong Kong, and decided it was time to get rid of it. So, K and M took it into the kitchen and pan-fried it to go with our noodles. The Tibetan girl cook/server let us and was amused. Not-so-amusing was that Bianba also had a piece, only to realize later that it was the 8th day of the month in the Tibetan calendar, and he was not supposed to eat meat. He ended up not eating any meat for the remaining of our trip.

Late afternoon we passed by <b>Mt. Kailash</b> (冈仁波齐峰) once again, and this time the sky was totally clear. While we were clicking away on our cameras, four cyclists passed by and stopped for photos with us. Three of them were from Guangdong and the 4th from Shanghai. They had started their trip from <b>Kashgar</b> (喀什, Kashi) in Xinjiang Province three weeks prior, and they were about half-way to Lhasa. Pretty amazing. Before we left, Bianba again reminded us to make a wish. I didn't realize I can get one every time I pass the sacred mountain! I made my wish, and it has already come true.

At <b>Payang</b> (帕羊), we stayed at the same <b>Yak Guest House</b> (牦牛旅舍) as last time. This time we paid 50RMB/person instead of 40 because we forgot to bargain. We asked for a room further away from the generator and the smelly outhouse, but we couldn't escape the dogs as another dog slept right in front of our "new" room. We had dinner (and breakfast next morning) at the <b>Mianyang Restaurant</b> (绵阳饭店) where we had breakfast earlier.

<b>Day 16 6/20/10 Payang - Saga</b>

Late morning, a few kilometers passed the new county seat of <b>Zhongba</b> (仲巴) on G219, Bianba saw something interesting and we'd stop by a tent. A group of "yakboys" from two families were rounding up their yaks for shearing. We watched and checked out their harvests, and took pictures with them and of them. Since they live close enough to Zhongba, their daughter goes to school (by a tractor), and speaks and writes good Chinese. It really makes a huge difference.

For lunch, we stopped at the same village as five days ago, but at the <b>Nanchong Restaurant</b> (南充饭店), which is cleaner and nicer. They also have a few rooms for overnight stays. We finally arrived at <b>Saga</b> (萨嘎) at around 6pm. Instead of the 360RMB/room Star Moon, we'd stay at a Tibetan-style <b>Yajie Guesthouse</b> (雅杰旅店) for 50RMB/person in a 4-person room. It is very clean and is quite a few visitors. There is electricity 24/7 as it is inside the town, and they have big barrels of water for us to use. The outhouse is very clean. In our next room were a mom and her adult son came from northern Italy to visit Mt. Kailash. The mom was here a year ago, and this time the son came along. But he was clearly suffering from altitude sickness, resting in their room early.

We had dinner at <b>Shaanxi Qishan Noodle Shop</b> (陝西歧山面店). Their specialty is the "Whistle Noodle" (哨子面) from the Shaanxi Province, but what we remembered most was the horrible attitude of the server. We have found that of the Han Chinese who came to Tibet to work, more than a few of them seem to be really regretting it, and their attitude often showed. Before we returned to the guest house, we bought some ice cream from the supermarket at Star Moon. First ice cream I had in a long long time.

kimtonone Aug 12th, 2010 11:24 PM

It seemed that you have a good tour to Tibet.

rkkwan Aug 14th, 2010 12:22 PM

kimtonone - Absolutely. We were lucky to have a very very good guide.

<b>Day 17 6/21/10 Saga to Shigatse</b>

Bianba bought some steamed buns the night before, and we just had those reheated for breakfast at our guesthouse. The Italian guy in our next room was feeling better and was having breakfast with his mom. They came from northern Italy, hike a lot and both very fit, but again those mean nothing when it comes to altitude sickness.

We continued on G219 heading east towards Shigatse. This was a new route as we were hugging the Himalayas to the south when we headed west a week ago. And not too far out of Saga, <b>pavement</b> returned! We had finally gotten out of the contruction zone, which I measured to be about 550km/340mi on Google Map later; but the route is still very mountainous. We went over two no-name passes at 5,090m/16,700ft and 5,070m/16,630ft respectively; and then <b>Jie-La Pass</b> (结拉山口) at around 4,900m/16,080ft before dropping to a town called <b>Sangsang</b> (桑桑, 4,585m/15,040ft) for lunch at the <b>Chengyu Chuanwei Restaurant</b> (成渝川味饭庄).

We stopped for a break mid-afternoon next to a village. We were back to area where crops and vegetables can be grown, so villages reappear. There were a few small sheep roaming around that weren't afraid of people. I took some pictures of them, and even picked one up. Soon, we were back down to the Yarlung Tsangpo Valley, where G219 ends and we we rejoined G318. The last km-marker I saw was <b>2138</b>. That's how far we were from Kargilik in Xinjiang (叶城, Yecheng).

About 50km outside Shigatse, we passed through a town called <b>Jiding</b> (吉定, 3,900m/12,800ft), where there was a fair going on. Once a month, locals will wear their nicest clothes and hangout at the Jiding Garden (吉定林卡). We checked out the gambling games they were playing and then sat down on the grass for some beer. Ladies wear all their jewelry, so it was easy to tell whose family is the richest. And some of the young ladies aren't shy - one actually demanded me to take pictures of her.

Finally, we were back in <b>Shigatse</b> (日喀则, Rikaze; 3,840m/12,400ft). Bianba put us at the cheaper, but still nice <b>Jipei Hotel</b> (吉培大酒店), at 150RMB/room but no free internet. Bianba had some friends to meet, so the 4 of us went out to look for dinner ourselves. Right next to our hotel is the <b>Qionglai Gong Lamb Restaurant</b> (邛崃龚羊肉羊杂馆) that is an all-lamb (including internal organs) hot pot restaurant. It was excellent. Across the street is a supermarket, so we had ice-cream two nights in a row!

rkkwan Aug 16th, 2010 09:21 PM

<b>Day 18 6/22/10 Shigatse to Nam-Tso</b>

After having free breakfast at our hotel, we picked up <b>G318</b> again, heading east towards Lhasa. This is the new route between the two largest cities in Tibet, following the Yarlung Tsangpo through the plains and then a long gorge instead of climbing through Yamdok-Tso, the way we came west 10 days prior. About an hour east of Shigatse, we stopped in front of a mound that rose about 200m/660ft above the valley, and across from the Shigatse East airfield (no commercial traffic). It is one of the main <b>sky burial</b> sites in Tibet. We could see white smoke coming up from the temple on the hilltop, meaning that sky burial was performed early that morning there - usually around 3 to 4am.

We later left G318 and crossed the Yarlung Tsangpo onto the <b>S304</b> highway, heading north. This is a well maintaned unpaved route that passes through a few villages up the valley. We stopped twice, first time to play with more goats in a beautiful meadow. Further up the valley, our driver had to clean the fuel filter, and he picked a spot next to a big <b>mani wall</b>. About 100 feet long, 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide, it is built with hundreds of mani stones with characters carved onto them. A villager came to walk around it, clockwise of course, and we followed him a few times.

After the maintenance on the car was finished, we continued on S304 up to <b>Suge-la Pass</b> (also spelled as Shoggu-la Pass, 雪格拉山口), right around the snow-line. The sign there says 5,100m, but that was way short. Some books say 5440m, Google Earth indicates <b>5,445m/17,860ft</b>. This is the highest point on this trip, exceeding Gyatso-la Pass by about 200m; and easily the highest point any of us have been on earth. While documentation is scarce, it is very possibly the <b>second highest motorable road</b> in Tibet and in the world, with the highest being Semo-La Pass in Ngari. Cold and low in oxygen, Bianba told us to get back into the Land Cruiser after I snapped a few pictures.

S304 dropped us quickly down to the town of <b>Yangbajing</b> (羊八井) for lunch at the <b>Yulong Restaurant</b> (玉龙餐厅). Yangbajing is on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and the G109 Highway, and it has a famous hot springs. Also the main and largest geothermal power plant in China that supplies about 30% of electricity used in Lhasa.

After the late lunch, we took <b>G109</b>, the <b>Qinghai-Tibet Highway</b> (青藏公路) heading northeast, paralleling the new railroad. We stopped to take pictures of the main peak of the <b>Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains</b> (念青唐古拉山, Nianqing Tanggula Shan; 7,162m/23,497ft). Unfortunately, the summit was covered in clouds. The peak also separated us from Nam-Tso, so we had to continue northeast to <b>Damxung</b> (当雄, Danxiong) then north through the 5,190m/17,030ft <b>Laken-la Pass</b> (那根拉山口) before arriving the lake. Damxung is famous for its annual horse racing festival, and we passed by the vast field where it takes place.

After paying the 120RMB/person admission, our Land Cruiser crossed a causeway onto <b>Tashi-Do</b> (扎德岛), an island on <b>Nam-Tso</b> (纳木错, Namucuo; 4,718m/15,480ft). "Nam" means the sky or heaven, it is the last of the three sacred lakes we'd visit in Tibet, and I have to say that we indeed save the best for last. It is just incredibly beautiful, even though the weather was less than perfect, and the Nychen Tanglha Mountains were now totally covered in clouds. Nam-Tso is the highest lake in the world with surface area of more than 500 square kilometer.

Lodging at Nam-Tso is at a summer-only village at the end of the road on Tashi-Do. Bigger than the camp site at the Everest Base Camp, here the tents had been replaced by the pre-fabricated temporary housing units that were first seen after the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 but now all over China. We had a clean 4-person room at the <b>Chuancai Restaurant</b> (川菜饭馆) for 50RMB/each. Dinner there as well. No bathroom, as expected; and some kids were demanding 1RMB for using the public outhouse behind the "village".

After dinner, we went out to the lake shore with D's tripod. Took pictures of the remaining daylight over the beautiful lake.

Elainee Aug 17th, 2010 03:18 PM

Great report!! What an exciting trip but a bit too rugged for many of us. Glad you did it and I could experience it second-hand.

rkkwan Aug 19th, 2010 07:04 PM

<b>Day 19 6/23/10 Nam-Tso to Lhasa</b>

We were hoping that the weather would improve overnight and we could see the famous sunrise at Nam-Tso, but it was not to be. In fact, it was raining when D and I got up around 7 in the morning. Hearing the rain, I just went back to sleep some more. However, after our very expensive breakfast at our guest house - 10RMB for a bowl of porridge, though can't really blame them as it's a tourist area and the season is short - the sky really cleared up, and we headed down to lake shore to take more pictures. It was incredibly beautiful, but also nice and quiet with a pair of ducks swimming and flying, and only a few people around.

That would not last, though, as by around we were ready to leave at around 10:30a, vendors were starting to put up their souvenir stalls; and worse, the dressed-up yaks and horses and Tibetan dogs started to appear with their owners. On our way out of Nam-Tso, we saw at least 20-25 buses bringing day-trippers from Lhasa. We were so glad that we stayed the night there when the lake was serene. Not with hundreds of Chinese tourists trying to get their pictures snapped with the dressed-up yaks.

We skipped lunch, but on our way back to Lhasa, we stopped at a "resort" just past <b>Damxung</b> (当雄, Dangxiong) for yak butter tea. Near the railroad and only a meadow, there were some tents set up. We sat under a tent for like an hour, enjoying the now-clear weather. We saw one freight train went by.

Finally, our nomadic life came to a close, as we followed the G109 Qinghai-Tibet Highway down to Lhasa, 11 days since we were last there. After picking up our train tickets, we went back to the <b>Kyi Shol Hotel</b> (吉雪宾馆) once again, for our last two nights in Tibet. They were still only charging us 100RMB/room per night. First thing we did was laundry, and then to get online.

We were getting a bit hungry, and some of us really were really craving western fast food. There is no McDonald's or any burger chain, and Lhasa is probably the largest city in China without KFC. Fortunately, there are several <b>Dico's</b> (德克士), a Chinese clone of KFC with about 1,000 restaurants in like 400 cities in 30 provinces. The one we went on Beijing East Road was very quiet late in the afternoon, but very clean, including the bathrooms. Not cheap by Chinese standard, however with a meal costing over 20RMB.

With our excursions outside Lhasa completed, Mr Wu of Find China and his two employees came to pick up the balance of the tour costs, and then took us to an out-of-the-way Tibetan restaurant <b>Quesonglin</b> (雀松林藏家宴) for dinner. The place has a quiet courtyard, and is run by a partner/friend of Mr. Wu. We were the only guests that evening. We had lamb chops, Tibetan pork, Tibetan dumplings, etc - only the 2nd true Tibetan meal during our trip.

rkkwan Aug 23rd, 2010 07:32 PM

<b>Day 20 6/24/10 Jokhang and Sera Monastery</b>

For one reason or another, we hadn't visited the #2 attraction of all of Tibet, the <b>Jokhang</b> (大昭寺, Dazhao Si), so on our final full day in Lhasa, we would visit it. We had walked around the Barkhor and in front of the Jokhang many times, and knew that it is most crowded in the morning, but we still decided to go at that time. Morning is the time where Tibetans go there for worship - and in fact, they totally outnumber the tourists - so we would actually see the Jokhang as a real temple, not a museum like the Potala. Second, many of the chapels aren't even open during the afternoon when the tour groups visit.

Admissions for tourists is 85RMB, but theoretically one can dress like a Tibetan, carry a thermos of yak butter (sold in many stalls just across from the temple entrance), and then just line up in the pilgrim's line along the left wall once inside the courtyard and get in for free. Anyways, there are also hundreds of pilgrims outside the front and in the forecourt prostrating endlessly. It was quite a sight.

With tickets in hand, we skipped the line and walked through a gate in the middle from the courtyard into the Inner Sanctum. At this time of the day (~9a), all the chapels were open and the worshippers' line snaked through all the chapels on the left. We cut into the line into a few of the chapels, but skipped most of them. The main chapel in the Jokhang is the <b>Chapel of Jowo Sakyamuni</b>, which contains the statue of Buddha at the age 12, and was brought in from China by Princess Wencheng (文成公主) in 7th Century. We tried again to cut into the pilgrim's line to get close to the statue, but were stopped by a monk. I guess there were simply too many pilgrims and worshippers at that time of the day to accommodate the tourists. Anyways, we could still get a good glimpse of that statue from about 20 feet away. Signs throughout the Inner Sanctum said cameras would be confiscated if used.

The chapels on the right side were much less crowded, so we went in most of them, as well as the ones on the 2nd floor. Finally, we went on to the roof to get the view of the city and the Potala. Up there, we only found tourists - Chinese or foreign. I later found out that Tibetans do not go onto the roofs of their temples.

We met up with Bianba after our visit to the Jokhang. We wouldn't need a car this day, and we learned that our wonderful driver had already gone on another excursion. This was tourist season, and they simply don't rest. We walked through a lot of alleys in the southern part of the old city that we hadn't explored before to get to <b>Ani Sangkhung Nunnery</b> (仓姑寺) on Lingkor South Road. [The longer detour was necessary as the Barkhor is one-way, clockwise]. Nuns there runs a popular teahouse under a canopy next to the temple, and also serves noodles and dumplings for lunch. BTW, the noodles have meat, as it's not forbidden. Bianba's wife joined us during her lunch break, and we were there for a long time, chatting, sipping tea and eating.

Last attraction would be <b>Sera Monastery</b> (色拉寺) on the northern outskirt of town, which we arrived by the public minibus #503 (2RMB). Sera is another one of the six main monasteries of the Gelugpa Order, and the 3rd one we would visit. Bianba took us up to the most important hall of the monastery, the Chapel of the <b>Tamdrin</b> (马头明王), and explained to us the meaning of some frescos. Then we went in to see the statue of the horse-headed diety, also known as Hayagriva in Hinduism. We saw quite a few parents taking their young kids to be blessed and protected.

After 3pm, we headed over to the debating courtyard, where apprentice monks <b>debate</b> about the scripture there six days a week. It is really worth seeing, even though we didn't know what they were talking about. Plenty of foreign tourists there as well. I tried the video mode on my Canon 7D for the first time, and here is a short clip I posted on Youtube: The ones standing and clapping their hands were testing the seated ones.

We said farewell to Bianba after returning to city center. Again, it was really our luck to have him as our guide for the past 16 days. We handed him a fairly substantial tip, but he said he would use all of the money to buy clothing and supplies to nomads' kids like those we met near Mount Everest. We were super-tired, and went for some ice cream and pastries and shaved ice at the <b>Aili Bakery</b> (爱的礼物) on Beijing East Road before going to develop some more photos to be mailed to a few more people we've met along the way. And of course, some last minute souvenir shopping for my friends.

In fact, K and M spent so much time shopping they couldn't find time for dinner. Instead, they got take-out from our favorite restaurant, the <b>Luwo</b> (驴窝餐厅). That was our 3rd meal with food from them.

rkkwan Aug 30th, 2010 08:10 PM

<b>Day 21 6/25/10 Train out of Tibet</b>

Sadly, our stay in Tibet was coming to a close, and on this day we would take train <b>T224</b> out of Lhasa at 1:10p to Xining in Qinghai Province (青海西宁). As in the rest of China, long distance train tickets can only be bought at the boarding station 10 days before departure, and on certain routes like this one, sleeper tickets - especially soft sleeper - can be hard to get. During our initial stay at Lhasa, we inquired about this, and the going "fees" for getting the tickets is around 100RMB per. Mr. Wu of Find China said he could get them for us at 80RMB each.

But our guide Bianba told us not to worry, as he has his own connections, and he wouldn't charge us any fee. There were some complications, but in the end he came through. We got 4 soft sleeper berths in the same cabin at face value of the tickets - 783RMB for upper berth, 810RMB for lower berth, plus 5RMB each ticket charged by the station. The only thing was that we had to go on the 1:10p train to Chongqing, and not the earlier ones to Beijing, or to Guangzhou or Shanghai. We didn't have to get up so early, but we would miss part of the scenery in Qinghai after dark.

A driver and a staff of Find China came pick us up at around 11a. We crossed the Lhasa River on a new bridge to the newly developed area on the south bank where the train station is. The station is huge and beautiful with a large plaza. But no pictures allowed outside and we had to go through a security set up in a little trailer. Kind of ironic. Flammable stuff is prohibited, and my friends' last can of "dry shampoo" was confiscated.

We sat at the separate soft sleeper waiting area and my friends bought some cup noodles for lunch. We were allowed to board before the regular sleeper and "hard seat" passengers, at around 12:30p.

The T224 goes to Chongqing (重庆) and runs every other day, alternating with T24 that goes to Chengdu (成都). Both of these trains were run by the Chengdu Railway Division, so all the cabin staff and cooks were Sichuanese. Two of the GE NJ2 locomotives specially-ordered for this railroad would pull us over the Changtang Plateau (羌塘/藏北高原) to Golmud (格尔木, Germu) in Qinghai. Our train consisted of 16 cars; from front to back were one generator/baggage car, 4 hard sleepers, 2 soft sleepers, one dining, 2 hard seats, and then 4 more hard sleepers. We were in Car 6, right before the dining car.

The cars were specialized versions of the 25T with oxygen concentrators and oxygen supply valves, and waste from the bathrooms are collected. Because of the extra equipment, there are only 8 cabins in the soft-sleeper cars than than 9. So, only 32 people in our car. One end has a squat toilet, the other a seated one. Three wash basins on one end. There is also a tap for hot drinking water, and a thermos is provided in each cabin. I had traveled in soft sleeper from Guangzhou to Beijing in 1988, and the configuration was basically the same. But now there are nice reading lights at each berth, and the music feeded is pop, mostly from Taiwan, but also Hong Kong and mainland, rather than communist propaganda songs. There are individual LCD screens, but when we asked our car attendant about it, she grimaced and said "they have never worked".

There is a misconception that these trains are pressurized, but they are not. Instead, they are sealed for air-conditioning, and the oxygen concentrators can increase the oxygen level inside the train. The units run, but the display said oxygen was at 21.4% during the journey, which was only 0.5% point above the normal 20.9-21%; or a 2.5% increase. I don't know if that was normal for the train out of Lhasa or not. There are valves for oxygen at each berth, and all along the corridor, but I don't know what percentage of oxygen those provide. I also didn't see any tubes and masks in our cabin, though the attendant should have them.

Our train departed on-time at 1:10p, and soon we crossed the Lhasa River and climbed the canyon northwest of Lhasa along the G109 Qinghai-Tibet highway which we traveled back to Lhasa 2 days prior. Within an hour, we would reach Yangbajing (羊八井) at 4,300m/14,100ft and would stay above 4,000m for about 10 hours. At around 3:15p, we stopped at a siding at the tiny station of Wumatang (乌马塘) for almost an hour, waiting for some locomotives to pass. [This railroad is single-track.]

At 5:40p, we pulled into <b>Nagchu</b> (那曲, Naqu; 4,510m/14,800ft), the largest city in Northern Tibet and only one of 3 intermediate stops between Lhasa and Xining, an hour late. Because of the delay, the stop was shortened, and I only had time to climb down to the platform before they asked everybody to get on the train again. The platform at this station is actually shorter than the train, so they only opened the doors near the center of the train.

Before Nagchu, the area we traveled through were mainly wide, green plateau with lots of sheep ranches and snow-capped mountains fairly far away. But north of Nagchu, the scenery became a lot more pristine, basically tundra with little signs of human activities. The mountains become higher and more lakes and rivers. Unfortunately, we didn't see any Tibetan gazelles before dark. The last major settlement we passed was Amdo (安多, Anduo; 4,702m/15,426ft) at around 7pm.

We went to the dining car for dinner. Food was okay and reasonably priced, but the service from the Sichuanese server was bad. And just an hour before we would leave Tibet, we saw the nastiest Han-Tibetan conflict on our whole trip when some Tibetan monks would not leave the dining car to go back to their hard sleeper. The train conductor had to be called, and so on.

At around 8:11p, we crossed the <b>Tangula Pass</b> (唐古拉山口) at 5,072m/16,640ft, highest point of the railroad and crossed into Qinghai. Because of the hour-long delay, it was starting to get dark, so we missed the scenery of the famous <b>Hoh Xil</b> (可可西里, Kekexili) plateau, one of the least populated area on earth.

Since the railroad and the railcars are all new, and since the speed was limited on the permafrost at 100km/h (62MPH), the ride was very smooth, and I had no problem getting to sleep at all. I also didn't wake up during the stop at Golmud.

rkkwan Aug 31st, 2010 02:59 PM

<b>Day 22 6/26/10 Xining</b>

I woke up just before 8a and found the train snaking through some loops and horseshoe bends. I later found that it was the <b>Nanshan Range</b> (南山) to the west of Qinghai Lake. The oxygen concentrator had been turned off at this time, but the railroad still reaches a tunnel at 3,680m/12,070ft, which is higher than Lhasa. I also found that the two GE locomotives had been replaced by two Chinese-made Dongfeng DF4D models at Golmud overnight. After coming down the pass, I saw the portal of the <b>Guanjiao Tunnel</b> (关角隧道) being built under this range, which at 32.6km/20.2mi will be the longest rail tunnel in China.

Rather than paying for bad service at the dining car, we just ate up all our remaining snacks for breakfast. At around 9:15a, we started to see <b>Qinghai Lake</b> (青海湖, 3,205m/10,515ft) and we would follow its north shore for about an hour. Mountains, lakes and sheep ranches were soon replaced by fields and towns, and at 11:40a, our train pulled into the Xining Station (西宁站), 12 minutes late. We covered the 1,972km/1,225mi trip in 22h30m, averaging 87.6km/h or 54.5MPH. Xining's elevation is 2,275m/7,464ft.

We took a couple of taxis (~10RMB each) to the <b>Home Inn</b> (如家快捷酒店) on Shengli Road (胜利路). It is a nice chain business hotel that sits on top of a computer mall, and cost about 200RMB per room a night. Very airy and our rooms have good view of the lake at Renmin Park (人民公园). Plenty of restaurants nearby and we had lunch at the <b>Laoshajia Paomo Restaurant</b> (老沙家羊肉泡馍馆) one block east of the hotel. Paomo is a specialty of Xian, and is basically crumbled nan dropped into a lamb soup.

After cleaning up (no shower on the train), K decided to stay behind for more rest while M, D and I took a special Huangzhong County (湟中县) taxi to <b>Kumbum Monastery</b> (塔尔寺, Ta'er Si), about 27km/17mi south of Xining. They charge 10RMB per person when sharing a cab, or 40RMB for the whole thing. Kumbum is another one of the six main monasteries in the Gelugpa Order of Tibetan Buddhism. In this trip we had visited Drepung and Sera in Lhasa and Tashilhunpo in Shigatse already. The only two we didn't visit was Ganden (甘丹寺) about 2 hours east of Lhasa and Labrang (拉卜楞寺, Labuleng Si) in southern Gansu Province.

Admissions cost 80RMB each, and there is significant difference between Kumbum and the ones we visited in Tibet. Because it is closer to mainland China, there are a lot more Chinese influence in its architecture. We saw Tibetan style buildings right next to Chinese style ones, and there were some with mixed influences. There were also a lot more tourist groups - all Han Chinese. After seeing the more "authentic" monasteries in Tibet, Kumbum seem very touristy.

We paid 10RMB each to some guy with a private car to drive us back to Xining afterwards, and then went with K to the <b>International Village</b> (国际村) area on Xiadu Road (夏都大道). We had dinner at <b>Guanzhong Noodles</b> (关中面庄) before heading to the <b>Lemon Tree Cafe</b>, which is co-owned by a friend of M, for coffee. We wanted to check it out and chat with the other co-owner. This is a very new area of Xining with plenty of bars and cafes.


<b>Day 23 6/27/10 End of Journey</b>

For breakfast on the last day of our trip, we had soymilk and dumplings and fried dough, etc at the <b>Taiwan Yonghe Soymilk King</b> (台湾永和豆浆大王), a chain store near our hotel. Then our pre-arranged minivan (170RMB) picked us up for the 45-minute ride to <b>Xining Caojiabao</b> (西宁曹家堡, XNN) airport for our flight. It is a fairly small airport with just 3 jetways and 3 bus gates. Our one-stop flight CZ3214 Xining - Xian - Shenzhen was uneventful.


Well, that was it. I will give some thoughts on the trip later on.

rkkwan Sep 2nd, 2010 03:59 PM

I am starting to post pictures taken during this trip. Have first album up. Will take a while to finish, so check back once in a while:

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