Day 15 part 1: The Road to Everest – Yamdrok Lake

This morning we all piled into the trusty 4Runner (the same model that every other tour group drives around in this city) and started the trip to Everest.  Sijila driving, Tsering in the back, and James, Sam, Kristy and I out-of-our-mind excited about seeing Everest (hopefully.  It will depend on the weather).  But Everest is a couple of days of driving away, and I assume there a few things to see on the road.

The road to Everest slinks along the hips of the lower Himalayas.

Driving out of the city and into the countryside was eye-opening.  Up until now I’ve been focusing on how different Tibet is than anything else I’ve seen.  But we got into the rural areas, including Sijila’s village where we stopped for a minute, and it was exactly like the poor, modest communities I’ve seen in Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, etc.  I realized, if you can recognize parts of Tibet from your own life, there is probably no place in the world you can truly escape your own experience.  It was also where we all realized that James finds some rare artistic pleasure in taking photographs of local men peeing with their back turned.

Yakkishness on the Road

As I anticipated, we made several stops along the side of the road – these are places the tour guides know offer impressive vistas or old women with their wares for sale.  We saw prayer flags dancing manically in the wind in front of mountain lakes.  We saw the road doubling back on itself nauseatingly on the steep passes.  And we saw beaded necklaces in bright blue and orange and green, incense holders, brass elephants, and Buddha statues being displayed proudly by kneeling locals.

Up-chuck switchbacks – the only way to get over mountains.

Kneeling locals (1/2)

Kneeling locals (2/2)

A few hours into the drive, after lurching through the final hairpin turn of a mountain pass, James spotted a turnout and parking lot at the top of the mountain where a bunch of tour busses and 4Runners had stopped.  He practically wrenched the wheel from Sijila’s hands in his enthusiasm to pull off.  Have I mentioned that James can be a bit…exuberant about sightseeing?  I didn’t think much of Tsering’s look of concern and worried mumbling.  Maybe she was just trying to avoid the huge crowd?

So we stopped at the Yamdrok lake overlook.  The lake is a startling blue set against the surrounding mountains.  There are puzzling little fertile coves on the banks, exploding with bright green agricultural life, so I take it to be a freshwater lake.  They say that the lake water was blessed by monks, so people do not swim or fish in it.

*gasps* A group shot?!  Well, this is us.  Sam and Kristy, be thankful I didn’t post the ones with all the poses.

And now, prepare yourself for a cavalcade of panoramas.

Eerie, tropical colors in the Himalayas.

Love the golden hill in the foreground.

I enjoy the road winding through the foreground.

Excuse me?!?  Get the hell out of my shot!

Hundreds of feet above the lake, we enjoyed the view and then turned our attention to the activity around us: women with traditional dress offered photo opportunities with Tibetan Mastiffs – gorgeous dogs used for centuries to guard a shepherd’s flock on the mountainside; others offered the (barely irresistible) opportunity to climb up on a real, live yak for a photo in front of the lake.  Rather than pay these people and look foolish, I fired wild hip shots to try and sneak some candid pictures.

Should have paid $1.

Prayer Flags and Incense.


The mastiff and yak mistresses taking a lunch break.

At one end of the parking lot many Buddhists (including Tsering) were attaching their personal prayer flags to a virtual mountain of flags – a twelve or fifteen foot tall mound of flags with long strings of flags extending in all directions.  (That sentence contains too many instances of the word “flags.”)  There was also some monument thing that I am guessing said “Yamdrok Lake” or something, and a nasty, aggressive woman guarding the thing like she built it, demanding money from anyone who wanted to take a picture of it.  James disagreed with her monopolistic attitude, and, favoring a more equal opportunity approach, boldly took some pictures.  The resulting altercation come close to fisticuffs, with the woman yelling in James’ face and shoving him in the chest.  It was awesome.

Tsering stringing up prayer flags.

The girls went to the bathroom and fervently declared it to be the worst facilities they have ever seen in their lives, describing with horrified glee the inches of dirty liquid coating the floor and how that one woman’s high heels must have gotten ruined.  I prudently decided to wait for the next stop to go to the bathroom.

By this time we were all piled back into the truck, waiting for Tsering to get in.  Waiting.  Waiting.  James finally took it upon himself to see what happening and enlisted my help, seeming to think that this was man’s work.  Tsering was talking to a guard-type person that the government keeps at tourist attractions to collect the fees from tour guides.  James got it from another guard that Tsering didn’t have the proper tour guide license required to bring people out here.  So she was trying to talk her way out of getting a fine.  No wonder that look of concern flashed across her face when we stopped.

It finally came out that Tsering is only a certified guide in the area around her home town, an area we are not going to visit.  And we now understand why she couldn’t tell us anything about Lhasa – she never learned anything about it.  So we got kind of pissed, (and James got really pissed) and Sam called the tour company in China from the car and demanded that we get a partial refund because we are paying for a service being inadequately provided.  Rather than do that, the company decided to send a qualified guide via taxi from Lhasa to meet us at our hotel tonight.  So we get to spend the rest of the day feeling incredibly awkward because Tsering has no idea and we don’t want to tell her.

Just shove your camera out the window of your moving transport (strap firmly wrapped around your arm, of course).  Something good is bound to happen.

Oops.  Another panorama.  Should’ve put this with the others.

After the lake we stopped at another vista overlooking a river, and at an amazing little temple structure called a stupa sitting in front of a glacier.  My first real life glacier!

Real Life Glacier

Stupa.  Colder processing.

Little baby goat clambering around the mountain near the glacier.

River View

Another tiny baby goat.  This one tied to the back of a grungy pickup at the foot of the river view above.

Finally, the 4Runner almost got hit by a bus and the girls got sort of accosted by some stoned teens looking for munchies.

So it has been a very interesting day so far.

Another panorama.

Prayer flags attached to anything that doesn’t move.  And maybe a little panorama snuck in here, too.


6 Responses to “Day 15 part 1: The Road to Everest – Yamdrok Lake”

  1. April 21, 2010 at 11:44 am

    this is so beautiful, I’m a bit jealous

  2. April 21, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    thank you very much, neneh! i get a bit jealous of myself, actually, when i think about it.
    i’d love to read your blog, but unfortunately i’ve lost all of my fluency in …dutch, i’m guessing.

  3. April 21, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    No words can adequately describe your panoramic shots. I hope you took a moment (or two) to just sit and inhale all that stunning natural beauty. Those little goats are precious!! (I know, I know – I love animals! As an aside…to me that last photo of the structure with all the prayer flags also looks like a goat. 🙂 )

    Your stories are PRICELESS! I feel as though I am riding in the car with you. (btw, I could have done WITHOUT the description of the bathroom – yuck. Reminded me of THE worst bathroom I’ve ever been in… Atlantic City Boardwalk…thought I was gonna hurl or catch soemthing…but I digress). Oh and I would have paid money to see ‘giant white dude’ on a yak! 😀

    Waiting anxiously for the next installment….

    • April 21, 2010 at 8:41 pm

      thanks tracy! i was really happy with some of the panoramas – i love the one of the mountain with the little pile of rocks. (and no, i didn’t put those rocks there myself!)

      i could maybe see that power station thing looking like a bull…so i suppose a goat isn’t such a stretch.

      if you’re anxiously awaiting the next installment, you’re awaiting more descriptions of dirty bathrooms. so be prepared.

  4. 5 Kristy
    April 21, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    I’m excited about the group shot! Proof we were actually on this trip, and sometimes I do need to be reminded.

    Also, not only was the lady wearing high heels, they were WHITE high heels.

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