Road to Shigatse

Trip Start Sep 08, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  , Xizang,
Friday, November 26, 2010

Driving out of Lhasa in utter darkness (it is already seven but still following the absurdity of Beijing time it will be another hour before the sun begins to rise) feeling wretched. Glands swollen. Body aching and tired from lack of sleep (unable to get to sleep and then waking up, frozen, before the 6 o'clock alarm) but cannot sleep in the van - too terrified of the driving. Thrown around the back seat as we ascend the hairpins. Crazy over-taking around treacherous blind bends. Sheer drops, first on one side, then the next, with the barest concrete curbs and the driver absolutely gunning it. The frost-wrecked tarmac broken up by vanished teams and left as a horrific patchwork of potholes. Bounce around on the rear suspension. Hitting our heads on the roof. But the landscape. The landscape!
Police checkpoints. "Speed checks" apparently. We're not monitoring your movements, honest. Just pop your name and number plate in this ledger. Speed = Distance / Time. Drive as fast as you can, stop for five minutes, have a fag and in the process manage your speed, drive round the bend and log in at the next checkpoint.
Prayer-flagged mountain passes. Five-thousand metre headaches - they're the best kind!
Squat toilets in concrete stalls, rectangular holes in cut out of the floor and shitty fingers wiped around the walls. Be careful of the updraft. That'll be 1Yuan, please.
Turquoise lakes - how such colour? - with cairn-studded shorelines. Migrating waterfowl resting on the improbable tincture. Are there fish in these waters? Yes. Do the fishermen catch many? No fishing. Waters Sacred.
Mountains becoming mountains - snow peaked brilliant whiteness. Wind blowing snow off the sheerest faces into the bluest skies.
Temperatures once again soaring unreasonably. Strip off layers.
The optics of my sunglasses are so bad they give me a headache at the best of times (thank you, TK Max). Here they are unwearable and I am left to fend off the dazzling brightness by myself.
Silver streams and salt pans. Tilled fields and houses clustered into Chinese-authorised villages. Concrete and Yak-pat.
This is where you will eat. Oily and over-priced. Because of all your photos and the fact you insisted on actually stopping at the lake we are running behind schedule. You will have to be quick. I don't care if you're about to throw up.
Yaks in vans. Sheep on the back of motorbikes.
Pool tables on the pavement and ludicrously pretentious triumphal Chinese arches and absurdly oversized empty concrete community squares.
A glacial pass.
A walled monastery - an oasis of scholarship and learning in this harsh dessert.
Dried earwax? No: Yak cheese and yak yoghurt.
Majestic white birds - the rare and protected black-necked cranes.
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