“Aapni Bangla bojhen ?” (Translates as- “Do you understand Bengali?” ) I heard someone calling from behind. My mother tongue is Bengali and I was talking to my wife while waiting for the tempo traveler which would take us to our next destination. I found a young white skinned lady was smiling at us and saying “Hi, I’m Lucy”.
We were surprised but exchanged a broad smile and said “Hi, ami Raja r o Uma aar haa amra Bangla bujhi – boli – aar likhi” (Translates as – “Hi, we are Raja and Uma and yes we understand Bengali, speak Bengali and write Bengali”). Lucy replied back in clear Bengali that she could read and speak Bengali as she had studied in Dhaka University, Bangladesh. She thought we were from Bangladesh but we made a humble correction that we were from India the other part of the Bengal province which was torn apart during the ‘too expensive’ independence which we got from the colonial British rule. She was an American married to an Italian guy, did her PHD on linguistics in Dhaka and she was then working in Nepal for the people who were devastated by the earthquake which had almost grounded everything in Nepal in 2015. We met her husband Silvio and two other members Luca and Juliana from their group. We all were going together to the Namtso Lake, the second most holy lake in Tibet situated at an altitude of 4,718 mtrs.
It would be around 220 Kms drive from Lhasa (read here my post on Lhasa and Shigatse) . The weather was good when we set out from Lhasa but soon clouds came and it started raining. When we reached the highest point of our journey, the La-Ghenla Mountain Pass at 5190 mtrs, everything down below was covered in thick grey cloud and it was heavily snowing up there at the mountain pass. Looking at the weather condition our driver decided not to stop and we missed the scene we thought we would be enjoying. It was around 2 pm we reached Namtso. Because of the cloud the environment was gloomy and the bleak. It was terribly cold out there. We settled down in our temporary shelters which luckily had electric blankets but no toilet. If one wanted to give a visit then he/she needed to go to the community toilet which was shared by all the tourists and the nomads living there. There were total three such community toilets at three different corners of the peninsula for more than a few hundred population. The restaurant nearby was warm. They were burning dried Yak dung cakes as fuel to warm up the restaurant. We ate very little in the lunch and decided to roam around near the lake.
This lady was collecting the Yak dung fuel cakes for the night to keep her tent warm. Fortunately this photograph got selected for one of the Nat Geo assignments last year
We just started a casual stroll by the lake and the snow storm started again and we had to take shelter under a horses’ stable.
The snow fall started. Horsemen rushing towards the stable where we already had taken shelter
The snowfall stopped soon but the weather remained the same. By that time our guide had finished his lunch as per the itinerary we decided to do the Kora (clockwise journey around a holy thing in Buddhism) around the small peninsula. Lucy, Silvio and their mates remained stationed near the lake. They didn’t want to loose energy by walking around and wanted to take some photos of themselves with the lake in their background.
We started walking at around 4 pm and the 2 km walk took more than 2 hrs because of the terrain and less oxygen. We met some pilgrims walking really fast.
Our guide told us that they do Kora around the lake in a week time whereas for us it would take 15 to 18 days. We were happy that we chose to do Kora around the peninsula only and not the whole lake. I stopped some of the pilgrims and asked for few photos.
They agreed to pose for me for 5 RMB each i.e. each model I had to pay 5 RMB.
I met a mom and her kid. I was wondering how the mummy was carrying her baby on her back and walking so fast. Not only that she would be doing Kora around the lake. Whereas we were talking breaks every now and then to fill our lungs with air.
There was a rock by the lake with a hole inside. The localities believe that the sinners could not get through the whole and they would stuck and would require some help from a pure hearted person to take him / her out. Only the pure hearted could get through the hole on his/ her own.
Lucky I was that I am not a fatso and easily managed to come out of the hole myself. Although I am not sure if I have got any sin tagged to my name 🙂 .
As per the itinerary we were supposed to enjoy the sunset over the horizon of the lake. But we finished our part of karma i.e. doing Kora and reached the western most point of the peninsula and couldn’t see the sunset. The horizon was covered in dark cloud.
White Yak which is quite rare and mostly found in this region
We realized that it was just the back of our temporary shelter and we jumped over a 2 ft high wall,
yes you read it correct it was just 2 ft high, and sneaked through a kennel and a Yak shed to get to our tent. Obviously the dogs barked and few of them were curious enough to come out of their kennels to shout at us. But we quickly slipped into out tents. The tent had no heating and as I mentioned previously had only electric blankets. We turned on the power so that the ice cold blankets could get a bit warmer before we could finally go to sleep. We made the arrangements for sleeping and decided to spend the evening at the restaurant because that was warm and we would be able to socialize a bit as well. Our fellow travelers were already there chatting over a cup of coffee. We turned towards a dark corner and what a pleasant surprise we met our train fellows from Thailand there at the restaurant. They were just half a day behind our schedule and they could see a glimpse of the Mt Everest from the base camp, yes Mt Everest which we missed because of the bad weather. I heard that their travel agency took the chance to stay back half a day and it proved to be lucky for them. Our guide started talking about India where he had spent 19 years while studying in Dharamshala, a mountainous settlement in northern India. He could even speak Hindi. He spoke in fragmented Hindi that how he climbed the icy mountains to get into India illegally to reach Dharamshala. We met two Singaporean school girls who had just finished their school. They had packed their bags for 6 months and were travelling alone various locations before they start their university life. An old British couple who were not happy with the basic arrangements at Namtso were shouting at their guide. A lovely and jovial Ecuadorian couple who cracked bad jokes every now and then. Oh ! it was a gala evening and it looked like the whole world had sent their representatives to that remote part of the world to witness the nature and the native people who call it their home.
We finished a bowl of noodle in tomato and egg soup and bade good night to all and went back to our tent. The blankets were warm enough to be able to sleep. But the problem was we both had to go to pee. We went out but we were damn sure that we were not going to use the community toilets. I did a survey of the place earlier and it was more than a hell. Unfortunately we had to pollute the open space behind our temporary shelters beyond the dog’s kennels and that 2 ft high wall. Obviously, in the afternoon, we already had earmarked a place which had natural cover with big boulders on all the sides creating almost like a cave. After reaching there we realized that many people thought the same way we did. The dogs barked again 🙂
It was nice sleep inside those warm blankets. The next morning we woke up early in expectation of enjoying the sunrise. The weather was good. We finished our morning rituals at the same place where we did the last night and used bottled mineral water for the noble cause. Well I must mention here that I lost a glove from the pair last evening and the cold was taking its toll in the early morning.
The sky got clear and it was blue again, but I only had my iPhone with me and the camera was in the tent so I missed some photo opportunities. By the time I could get my camera from the tent, the sun was already up high.
We started just after the breakfast and this time when we reached La Ghen La Mountain Pass the highest point of our entire journey. We could see Namtso from above.
Last night’s snow storm had created a unique landscape.It was like heaven on earth.
We saw some nomads with their cattle migrating and taking . I requested Luca to help me take a photo who was also holding a big DSLR as I was sitting at a position from where the window was not accessible and the driver couldn’t stop the vehicle just anywhere.
The photo Luca snapped disappointed me but I had to say ‘thanks’ for at least having a snapshot.
Another shot from the dirty glass of the SUV
By noon we were at Yangpachen Hot Spring. It was a leisurely place where one can take a bath in the warm water rich in minerals. None of us had their swimsuits so we cancelled the plan for getting into the water. The Singaporean girls were already there in the warm water.
Finally we bade them good bye and started our journey back to Lhasa.
The driver took a short break and we enjoyed the beautiful view of the surrounding mountains.
We reached Lhasa in the early hours of the afternoon and decided to visit the Potala Palace for the last time in the evening.
We were tired but our souls were not ready to go back to the hotel as we knew that was the end of the life time trip. The next morning we would fly back to Chengdu and then the next day from Chengdu back to Hong Kong, our sweet home.
Here I must say that our flight got delayed for 4 hours because the military had taken over the runway. Lhasa airport shares its runway with the Chinese military.
But all the frustrations were gone when we were up in the air and what we saw was snow, snow and only snow.
Well the main reason we traveled to Tibet was because we wanted to see Mt. Everest before we die.But the weather God was not with us. May be some other time we would come back again to see the highest peak in the world.
Waiting eagerly for my next trip.
Nyinmo delek and jema jay-yong !