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Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The Friendship Highway: Journey from Nepal to Tibet - Page 2

Written by Carolyn Bonello
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The Friendship Highway, a 920km stretch of road, links Kathmandu in Nepal to Lhasa in Tibet. The drive takes five days, stopping at some of the most authentic Tibetan villages and highest mountain passes in the world along the way. It has been described as ‘A journey to the roof of the world’ and ‘Without doubt one of the most spectacular highways in the world’. Reading those descriptions, I knew I had to go there. The trouble was getting across the border to Tibet.

The road to Tingri

Our destination for the day was Tingri, which lies at an altitude of 4390m. We had been warned that the discomforts of sudden altitude gain would be likely to make it an unpleasant stay. This did not even begin to alarm us and we urged Chimpy the driver to press his little foot on the accelerator and just get going. The initial part of the route lead to a place called Nyalam, which means ‘the gateway to Hell’ in Tibetan. This is because the narrow road drops into a mossy gorge of waterfalls and crevasses, and is usually submerged in a sea of cloud. Thank God, being September, the monsoon was over, so visibility was good and relatively safe. In our case, blue skies and wisps of light cloud made everything look even safer. Nyalam is nothing more than a one-street derelict town, with dug up roads and absolutely nothing promising in sight. And so we drove on.

The nightmare roads soon gave way to smoother, wider roads, linking barren open spaces together. A feast of snow-capped Himalayan peaks dotted these spaces, offering the most spectacular 360-degree views I have ever seen. A couple hours later, a rainbow of prayer flags indicated that we were up at the Lalung-la pass (5200m). In spite of feeling extremely cold and light-headed, nothing could have dampened my enthusiasm at that moment, and I truly felt I was at the top of the world. I wanted to scream out loud and echo my thoughts back home, hoping that maybe someone would hear and be able to experience just a tiny fraction of the beauty present before my eyes.

The lalung-la pass, Tibet,  The Friendship Highway: Journey from Nepal to Tibet

Life in Tingri

Arriving in the village of Tingri was shocking. This was the most primitive, yet authentic Tibetan village we had seen so far. A few mud houses and a couple of old guesthouses lay scattered along one relatively wide road, little rosy-cheeked kids ran carelessly along, energetically chasing a couple of shaggy-haired one-tonne Yaks, a display of fly-infested carcasses hung off flimsy wooden poles, and a young boy rode his donkey alongside the Yaks. At the other end of the road, in sharp contrast to all of this, a shiny modern pool table was proudly displayed outside a shop (cleverly named ‘Tibetan shop’!), where what seemed like the entire male population of Tingri gathered round taking it in turns to figure out this new, exciting game. In Tibet, reality is harsh, and whilst men play, women work – in fact, across the road, the nearby fields were dominated by the entire female population clad in colourful, striped traditional Tibetan pinafores, hair neatly wound into thick plaits, painfully doing the tedious work that Tibetan men simply do not do.

We spent the night at a cute guesthouse – the Everest Snow Leopard Guesthouse, where the highlight was definitely the toilet! The room, more suited for snow white’s seven dwarfs, contained no more than 4 small rectangular-shaped holes in the ground, around 50cm apart, separated by pieces of flimsy, red cardboard, 30cm high, which may as well not have been there at all!!

Altitude sickness

The next morning, I experienced the joys of altitude sickness. I had never in my life had such a terrible migraine, where my head throbbed continuously, and trying to flex my neck more than 5 degrees initiated a series of sharp spasms all the way down my back. The nausea was extreme and a night of dry retching culminated in a half hour session of vomiting at 6am, just outside the wonderful toilet!! Trying to distract myself from this horrible sensation, I decided to join my friends who had positioned themselves strategically on the roof of the guesthouse to watch the sun rising, amidst several towering Himalayan peaks which seemed to have suddenly appeared out of nowhere, on this crisp, cloudless, beautiful morning. My headache seemed to melt away as I focussed on this magical sight around me.


The guesthouse owner claimed that she had the best remedy for altitude sickness and 5 minutes later we were sitting at a table with a feast of pancakes with Yak butter and jam, eggs and Yak milk displayed in front of us. Not too convinced by the Yak products, I managed to force down a few bites of pancake, which my stomach was not too pleased with and violently refused a few minutes later when I was back at my vomiting spot, disposing of it all. Knowing that we had a long drive ahead of us, I vowed not to touch another morsel of food until we reached our destination, Shigatse.

(Page 2 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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