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Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The Friendship Highway: Journey from Nepal to Tibet - Page 4

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 Friendship Highway: Journey from Nepal to Tibet, shigatse

The next morning we walked around the Tibetan part of Shigatse. I just couldn’t believe the radical difference in the two areas. Here, warm, friendly Tibetan women in traditional dress walked along the narrow, cobbled streets, smiling at each other. Colourful market stalls lined the streets and sold an array of items ranging from Yak butter to warm woollen rugs and authentic Tibetan crafts. Groups of men dressed in woollen suits sat in circles on the floor sipping tea out of clay bowls.

 

Everyone seemed happy, unlike the Chinese who seemed sad and repressed. We visited the Tashilhunpo Monastery, the largest functioning monastic institution in Tibet. The scene that greeted us was so spiritual and vibrant – old woman prostrated fervently outside the monastery, in a complete trance and in total oblivion of the several tourists, including ourselves, staring at them in complete awe. Inside, monks clad in deep red robes busily spun prayer wheels whilst reciting mantras....and then, rudely breaking the peaceful atmosphere...beep beep.....a monk receiving a sms!!The Friendship Highway: Journey from Nepal to Tibet, monk sms

Gyantse

After another long but beautiful drive we reached Gyantse (3950m), a tiny village, but by far the prettiest place so far. Our little guesthouse was actually very impressive – a four-bedded room, covered in parquet flooring, with authentic Tibetan furniture and daintily-decorated clay jugs and basins to supposedly wash ourselves in. A short walk away was the Pelkor Chode monastery, a dark and gloomy place lit up by several yak butter lamps. We struggled past hundreds of Tibetan women, whose collective body odour was so pungent that it set us sprinting up to the roof for some air (and spectacular views). Supper that evening consisted of Yak steak, which left our jaws aching long after we finished chewing the beast.

The last leg to Lhasa

The next morning was the most exciting as we knew we would finally reach Lhasa. The six hour drive took us up to the Kamba-la pass at 4794m, and then to the Karo-la pass at 5045m with spectacular views of the Nojin Kangstang glacier. Distracting us from this jaw-dropping scenery was a Tibetan farmer waving us over to pose for a photo on his Yak, looking rather sheepish with red woollen pom-poms hanging off his one-metre, sharp slender horns. In shameful tourist-trap mode, we took it in turns to sit on the shaggy beast and put on our bravest smile for a silly photo (which we had to pay the farmer for). A couple of hours later, our eyes were feasting on the dazzling deep turquoise Yamdrok-Tso lake, one of the four holy lakes in Tibet.

Finally, at 5pm, after five days on the road we had reached ‘the heart and soul of Tibet, the object of devout pilgrims, the city of wonders’. Our necks stretched right out of the window, all fighting to be the first to catch a glimpse of the Potala Palace. We were in the holy city the Dalai Llama once called home –Lhasa.

©Carolyn Bonello

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

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